last saturday night i went to school to see the dance department’s dance concert. i had never been to one of these dance performances before (even though they happen every year) and i went kind of on a whim. actually, i don’t think i’ve ever been to a dance show, outside of watching a grade school friend in the nutcracker about five winters running. and then i guess i was in a dance show when i took swing dance classes at a little school. and musical theatre obviously does not count. so I had never been to a strictly dance show.
i entered the school theatre as an audience member.
not as an actor.
not as a techie.
not as a girl playing fashion designer.
this night in the theatre was happening independent of me.
and i entered the theatre alone. i found myself a seat in my favorite spot: a few rows up, dead center.
the show began twenty minutes late. but when it finally began, it blew me away. there were over twenty numbers and each was totally different. some were big; some were small. some were choreographed by teachers, some by students. most told a story. i hadn’t ever thought of choreographers as playwrights, but that’s basically what they are, just in a different realm of performance. and i hadn’t really realized that dance was so …emotional, i guess would be the best word, i mean, i knew it could be a vehicle for story, for emotion, but somehow that just wasn’t a reality that’d i’d seen happen. i hadn’t really thought about the dance department at my school much either. they’re there. they have a room with a hard wood floor and mirrored walls. students wear leotards in that room. actually, the dancers are probably much like the theatre kids. we feel under appreciated by our peers and walk through the halls unknown. we have a different kind of space that we gather in.
i have a great amount of respect for dancers (i did even before i saw the show). i like that a dancer’s body is her instrument, that if you have a body, you can dance. same with singing. if you have a voice, you can sing. in a way they both feel like very pure and natural art forms. there is no need for brushes or paint or paper – the skill, the art, the finished product are all contained within one universal instrument: the human body, and that’s pretty cool.
but dancers have it rough. on average they are the lowest paid artists and their instrument wears out quicker and more painfully than other artists’. that seems somehow unfair. as a side note: i would really like to see a chorus line which is currently on stage downtown.
but shall i tell you about the show? well, a few of the numbers were pretty amazing in their spectacle. in how those dancers made their bodies move so perfectly in sync or how impressive a certain move was. dancers are artists and athletes.
two numbers in particular really affected me. the first was titled “carpe diem.” it started with three groups on the stage – three circles of maybe eight or ten dancers each, with a singer in the middle. everyone was dressed in black. it was the only number with live music. the song was “will I?” from rent, it was so beautiful. i’m not even a big rent fan or anything, i saw the movie and it was really good and all, I just mean that the fact that the song was from rent didn’t really make a difference to me. the singers sang beautifully and in between the sung parts were what I guess are recordings of the lines from rent. i remember this one moment when the recorded lines said something like “she hit rock bottom,” and a group of dancers were drifting across the stage and every now and then one would fall and the rest would turn and catch her in their arms and buoy her back to her feet. and it was so simple and sad and beautiful. and the song was about the future and the now and “carpe diem” messages always make me think. and i started to cry.
i didn’t mean to, i was just thinking and all of the sudden a tear hit my chest and more were sliding down my cheeks and my nose was running. i wiped my eyes and smeared tears all over my face. i couldn’t believe i was crying. but it was so beautiful. i felt a little silly and loud, wiping my eyes and sniffling, but i decided that i didn’t care.
then later, another number made me cry. it was the “senior tribute.” all of the seniors took the stage in coordinated tops and danced a dance they had choreographed themselves. by the end several were crying. i guess i started to cry again because i know how that feels. you walk through the halls and no one knows you’re a dancer and yet you work so hard for the show, the art and you worry and fret and sometimes you say you can’t wait until it’s all over, can’t wait until you’re out of school, and then you’re actually finally onstage and your show is over and you would give anything in the world just to do it one more time.
i wondered what rituals the dancers have before they take the stage. are there hugs and huddles and prayers? there must be warm ups. i wondered what memories they have built for themselves backstage. i have so many memories on and off that stage. the wings hold secrets. the backstage holds tears and hugs and dirt. and anger. when the director wasn’t around, a lot of venting happened. the theatre was a second home, one of the few places in school where I felt okay, welcome. i know that stage so well. i don’t like how it looks very much. big and clunky, too far from the audience. but when watching the dancers on it, i thought it was almost a perfect stage because the dances weren’t about the subtlety of a facial expression, they were more about the grandeur or subtlety of movement of the body. so it was also interesting to see the proscenium stage used well for the first time almost ever. and it kind of made me sad that i was thought the dancers were using the stage so much more beautifully than the drama club. it kind of made me wish i had another chance on that stage.
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