Performing in the community is important- which is why its one of my core studio fundamentals. Not only does it spread the art form to those who may not otherwise have access, but it helps dancers adapt to different performance conditions with grace and fluidity.
Continuing my theme of performance memories, I will share a few stories of performance conditions that were less than ideal but helped me grow as a dancer and a performer because of them.
- One of my first community performances was when I was about 8 years old. We were dancing at an outdoor festival and it was unseasonably cold out and it started snowing shortly before we were supposed to dance. Our costumes were just our studio leotards and tights, but fortunately we were able to wear a studio sweatshirt if we had one with us. While the sweatshirt helped, our legs were still barely covered and kneeling on the ground as part of our piece was unpleasant. Luckily the dance was short and there wasn’t much snow (less than an inch), it was still one of the first times I had to really adapt to my dance space.
- When I was a little bit older, my studio was doing an American themed spring recital. My tap number was to the Harlem Globetrotters theme song, which sounds like fun, until you factor in a dozen 10 year olds on stage, each with their own basketball. Now, we practiced how to plie and not how to dribble in our after school hours and even by recital time, most of us couldn’t keep control of the balls. The choreography included us dribbling our basketballs while tapping – hard enough for an adult, let alone a kid- and then passing the balls back and forth. It was definitely a struggle to maintain composure, keep control of the ball, and of course tap all at the same time. I don’t remember much about this piece other than it was a disaster.
- I had the opportunity from late elementary school to early high school to perform in The Nutcracker every December. I’ll probably do a whole post on all these stories one day but I slipped on soapy “snow”, put out a fire onstage, improvised half a battle with the Nutcracker as the Mouse King, and danced two performances sick as a dog. Lots of quick thinking and adapting there!
There were also times that the given performance space could have hardly been called a “stage”:
- In high school, we danced at a craft fair that my family’s church was hosting. I’m not sure the fair coordinators were fully aware of the details of our performance or just didn’t think things through completely. So the eight or so of us dancers ended up performing in the middle of the main walkway, at the base of the staircase 90% of people had to use. The space was skinny and not conducive to the circles in the folk dances were showcasing.
- It was with this same studio that we danced at the twice yearly street fair that the studio’s city held. It seemed like each time we performed, the stage got more and more warped and splintery. It was nice to know the size of the stage and to expect worsening conditions each time though.
- During my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to dance in the community many times and luckily I had encountered enough unpredictable situations at that point to be able to quickly work with what I was given. During National Dance Week we decided to perform in two local public libraries. I can say that I have never encountered a performance space as small as one of these libraries. Instead of allowing us to use their children’s story time room (which wasn’t large but feasible), we danced in between bookshelves. I’m sure the audience felt like they were watching a tennis match instead of a ballet variation with the way I went back and forth across a short, narrow space that was barely to ADA regulations for patrons with wheelchairs. My variation was meant to take up space and fill a large stage with a number of traveling movements and all of sudden I had to make everything stationary.
- I think the most memorable performance set up was because it was the most bizarre, not because it was the worst. Over the summer after high school graduation, we performed the same pieces (a few folk dances and a few ballet variations) from the library at an even crazier space- in the middle of a grocery store! My variation started with a number of curtsies, and I still joke about bowing to the cheese, the nuts, and the wine. The space was small, but after dancing at the library just a few weeks prior, we felt like we had a ton of space. However, everyone- the customers, our parents, and us dancers- were confused as to why our director had chosen for us to dance in the middle of a Whole Foods. I’m all for performance opportunities at no cost to the audience, but there is a time and a place and a grocery store in the middle of summer is not really the place.
Stay tuned- next week I will share the stories of my favorite performances and the week after will focus on my choreography projects of the past.