A New Adventure

This evening started a new teaching opportunity for me. I wrote a few weeks ago about taking a brave step and reaching out to my community and offering dance classes and today was the first one.

As there was no sign up and no commitment, I was unsure of how many preschool aged dancers I would have for my Creative Movement class this evening. I was pleasantly surprised to see 6 or 7 young kids -including two boys!- come to dance with me. There was a small hiccup with the doors to the neighborhood clubhouse not being open, but we embraced the summer evening and danced on the deck.

I was hesitant to invest much money in my own preschool dance supplies- floor markers, props, stickers, etc until I knew the interest level and grabbed a few things around the house before headed off for a short walk to the clubhouse. The round outdoor place mats that I had grabbed just minutes before class ended up being a stroke of genius- everyone had a place to dance, a place to sit while they waited to dance across the floor, and two of them together made a perfect “puddle” for leaps. I will definitely be using them moving forward, and will probably hang on to them for as long as they last into my future studio.

I am excited and optimistic about this new adventure. I am set up to teach three classes a week at the clubhouse on top of my regular studio hours. This means I get more teaching time, an opportunity to be a part of the neighborhood, and some extra cash to start putting away money in a savings account for my studio.

My dream studio is beginning to seem very reachable!

Spring Recital 2017

Last Saturday, during Memorial Day weekend, our studio had our annual spring recital. We actually do two performances, one with mostly younger girls, and one with just the older students. I had seven numbers that I had choreographed spread across both shows, including the one where my mom made the skirts (see “Costume Woe’s” and “Costume Woes Update”). Overall, my students performed well and both shows ran pretty flawlessly for a studio production.

While my younger students did a great job with their dances, my older students, for the most part, got out of it what they put it. I struggled for much of the year, and certainly when rehearsals started in earnest, to get the kids in one of my classes to commit fully to their technique and to class in general. Rehearsals were rough and only once or twice did I feel like the piece would look good on stage. My fears were real when the ended looked like what we in the dance world refer to as popcorn- every dancing at a different time much like popcorn popping at its own speed. Those dancers that gave it their all in rehearsals looked great on stage, those that didn’t give 100%, threw much of the dance off.

Another class, of younger students, had a rough time in several of their rehearsals, but worked really hard and it paid off. For all their troubles dancing together or remembering choreography in rehearsals, their hard work and persistence gave way to a great performance that the students, the parents, and myself were all proud of. While I didn’t speak to the kids in the above class afterwards, I’m not so sure they felt the pride that the younger kids did.

Other than these two classes on different ends of the performance spectrum, my other dances went as expected. They went on stage, gave it their all, and danced well. I was proud of their performances, but it their rehearsal and performance stories weren’t as dramatic as the others.

Backstage is a crazy, chaotic place, but I did manage to snap a few pictures of the handmade skirts and pieced together costume in action. I also managed to grab a selfie with the class that had struggled but triumphed in the end.

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Performance Memories Part IV: My favorite choreography

For the final part of my month long performance memory series, I want to talk about some of my favorite choreography from working with my current studio. Our spring recital is tomorrow and its always fun to look back at past recitals.

– “Chinese Warrior”- My second year at my studio I had a private lesson in which I worked with my student to improve her technique in all styles, her favorite being tap. Our recital theme that year was “Around the World” and when I asked her for thoughts on country and dance style, she replied with “a Chinese tap dance”. Definitely a struggle to figure that one out. What ended up was a tap dance with a sword to Chinese drumming. This piece sticks out to me because it certainly made me stretch my choreographic comfort zone and because I was so proud of the progress that my student had made come recital.

Savannah recital

-“Circle of Life”- During the same year as the Chinese Warrior dance, I choreographed a modern dance to “Circle of Life” in which the dancers were paired off as different animals. I loved finding ways to incorporate ways to include characteristics for each animal in a large group piece and it allowed me to really highlight each dancer’s strengths.

– ” Sleeping Beauty Waltz”- This was one the first classical pieces that I put my own spin on. I combined my pre-pointe and pointe classes for a larger production to the iconic “Garland dance” as its commonly known. The pre-pointe class made up my corps de ballet and the pointe girls the demi-soloists. I felt as if I was really exposing my students to an important part of ballet history and culture, they had fun dancing with the garlands, and I was quite proud of their performance.

Sleeping Beauty walt

– “Uptown Funk”- Last year, I worked with a small group of beginner pointe girls and we seemed to always find a great balance between hard work and fun in class, so I decided to choreograph something a little more fun than a classical piece for our reality TV themed recital and picked a string quartet version of the popular song. Although I struggled with the choreography (see the post titled “Choreographer’s Block” from last spring), I was very happy with how it turned out. And to top it off, my dancers danced their hearts out on stage. While I am always proud of my dancers’ performances, I was particularly so with this piece because I honestly felt like they had given it their all and could not have danced it any better than they had. All around, a super fun piece that was a huge hit on stage.

I enjoy looking back and seeing not only how my students have grown technically and artistically each year, but also how my own choreographic skills have improved year after year. I look forward to watching this year’s “God Bless America” recital tomorrow and will certainly post about that within the week or so.

Performance Memories Part III: A few of my favorites

In continuation of my month long series of performance memories, I am excited to write about some of my favorite routines and productions through my formative years as a dancer. Of course, I gave (most) every performance my heart and soul and enjoyed (most) every minute of every dance, but a few stick out in my mind.

– “Dance, Dance, Dance”: When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I started taking tap lessons. One of the first tap routines I performed was to the Beach Boy’s song “Dance, Dance, Dance”. There were only about 3 or 4 of us in the class and we really had a lot of fun on stage, including a bit of choreography that including us mimicking strumming a guitar along our leg as we hopped across the stage. It was also around this time that I was realizing how passionate I was about dancing in general and this was the first dance that I remember really feeling inspired while dancing.

– Mouse King in The Nutcracker: As I mentioned in my last post, I performed in The Nutcracker for many years. My favorite role and performance was also my first solo opportunity as the Mouse King. Our studio did not have any male dancers that would be able to fill the roles of the Nutcracker prince or the Mouse King and I had gotten in my head that I really wanted to fill the role of Mouse King, especially when I found out that one of my closest friends was playing the Nutcracker. We had so much fun in rehearsals together despite learning to battle each other through dance. We finally managed to stay in character during dress rehearsal, but managed to speed through our choreography during the performance. But despite having to think fast on stage and improvise about 32 counts of battle with my friend- and being on the loosing end- I have nothing but fond memories of my time as the Mouse King

– “Your Song”: This was a lyrical duet that I performed in early high school and enjoyed the choreography so much I ended up adapting it (with my teacher’s permission) into a solo that I competed with at a church convention. Unlike some of my other favorites, I don’t remember why the I connected so much with the choreography, but it holds a dear place in my heart nonetheless.

-11 grade modern dance: While I have always enjoyed the movements of modern dance, many pieces that I have performed or watched have been a little too abstract or too out there for my taste. One of the exceptions to this was the piece that I performed as part of my 11 grade fall dance concert. We had structured our piece to represent the evolution of modern dance and the different technical styles of different modern dance pioneers that we had studied. We wore brightly colored, but practical, costumes and performed high energy movements that included a number of West African inspired steps and didn’t try to portray this deep, abstract concept that audience members would struggle to understand.

Peter and the Wolf: I switched dance studios in the middle of high school to a school that had just opened. Their inaugural spring performance was a production of  Peter and the Wolf at the local street fair in which the music was interlaced with a verbal narrative of the story. I was honored to be chosen as the lead and felt like my commitment to rehearsals and my hard work in technique class had been recognized. The advanced ballet class split the main roles of Peter, the Wolf, Grandpapa, the bird, and the cat, and the younger classes played supporting characters. Despite the “postage stamp” stage on which we danced, the opportunity to dance a silly story and improve my miming and storytelling through movement skills in a relaxed atmosphere really stuck with me. On speaking with some of my classmates from that time, they regard this performance as one of their favorites as well as it was so much fun.

-“Prayer”: This was a variation from the 3rd act of Coppelia that I learned for our spring production my junior year of high school. I went on to perform this solo many times throughout the community until I went off to college, including at the libraries and grocery store that I spoke of in my last performance memories post. Its not just memorable for the number of times I danced this variation though- my instructor became a coach during rehearsals and helped me prepare the piece for college auditions. I enjoyed the one on one time with my favorite instructor and gained so much invaluable knowledge and insight into ballet technique and performance. I consider these rehearsals and performances to be the height of my ballet studies.

-“Time”: By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, the advanced ballet class was a tight- knit group of girls that had been taking classes and rehearsals together every day for about 3 years (when the studio had opened). We had a guest choreographer come in and set a lyrical piece on us as a culmination of our time together- 3 of us were graduating seniors, one girl was moving away, and the 5 was staying at the studio- and this was the last time that we would all dance together. The song “Time” was about always remembering each other fondly, no matter what life throws our way. The 5 of us poured our hearts and souls into this dance, understanding that our time together was over, and ending up crying in a large group hug onstage at the end of the piece. The 5 of us spent so much time together training and cared deeply about each other and life was about to separate us. It was a moment I will never forget.

I very much enjoyed performing during my years of training, but now I find myself caring more about being behind the scenes cheering on a new generation of dancers. The final part of my performance series will be my favorite choreography projects on my students.

Also: It’s recital week! Gearing up for tech rehearsal on Wednesday and two shows on Saturday!

Taking a Leap of Faith

I want to continue my serious of performance memories, especially since the next in the series is about my favorite performances, but today I took a leap of faith with teaching.

This morning, I made a few cold calls to places in my community that could benefit from offering dance lessons. I am hoping to get my foot in the door at a few places this summer and slowly built my teaching hours. I also applied to an open position at a studio that is a ways away from my house, but could be totally worth it.

Cold calls are always hard, especially when it comes to selling your own services- dance lessons. I wasn’t expecting to hear back from one place, especially not right away, but I have an interview set up to speak with them next week. I am not sure if anything will come of it, but a meet-up is certainly a step forward towards my goals.

One of the entrepreneurial puzzles that I have been trying to solve lately is how to build clients and find a space to teach lessons without having the large overhead of renting a space when I don’t yet have students. I am hoping that by teaching my dance lessons at local community centers that I can do exactly that- build a student base and earn some extra cash that I can eventually put towards my start-up costs.

Sending out my resume is a huge leap of faith right now as I navigate multiple schedules and busy season at my full-time job. It’s messy waters at the moment figuring out ways to add more teaching opportunities without loosing the needed stability of my day job. I have made a huge and hard step with reaching out and offering my services, but I have a long way to go.

I am asking for positive thoughts, prayers, vibes, whatever you’ve got to help me through this messy phase of pre-start up and work towards my goals of studio ownership. And of course, I will continue to chronicle the highs and lows.

Performance Memories Part II: Stage Troubles

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.

Performance Memories Part I: Costume Fails

The beginning of May means its performance season- our spring dance recital is about three and a half weeks away. Performances can be stressful for dancers, no matter how experienced, but the more you dance on stage, the easier it becomes to adapt to any mishaps, mistakes, or costume troubles. I thought I’d take some time this month and share some of my performance memories- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today, I’ll focus on the worst costumes I’ve had to wear.

Teachers should take their time choosing a costume for a particular piece- one that fits all dancers, works with the theme and message of the dance, stays within a set budget, and of course is age appropriate. Sometimes teachers take their students’ opinions into consideration, but ultimately, have the final say. This means, not every dancer is going to like every costume they wear, but most look great on stage. Not every costume works however and I have some stories that I love to share:

  • When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I performed a tumbling routine to a Mickey Mouse version of “Whoop there it is”- straight out of the early ’90s. We wore a two piece costume with multi colored ruffles on both the top and bottom. Other than it being questionably age-appropriate with the bare midriff, its biggest problem for most dancers was that it was just a sign of the times. However, for my scrawny self, the ruffled bikini style bottoms were too big and made me look like I had a full load in my pants. Luckily, my aunt was able to alter to help it, but it still never looked great on me.

 

  • It’s now the late ’90s and I’m in middle school. Our school dance department’s spring performance was themed around the future as we approached the new millennium. For our modern/jazz class, our teacher had chosen a trendy costume, though it was quite impractical, and honestly, quite hideous. We wore these halter dresses that had blue crushed velvet bodices and a skirt that was this white vinyl-y faux leather material. It felt weird, the halter top was not sturdy, and a dress was not the best option for the piece with lots of inversions and floor work. Gross.

 

  • Another horrible middle school costume came when I was in 8th grade. My dance studio was putting on a production of Cinderella and I was cast as a horse with one other classmate. Now, the color choice for our costume was the first questionable decision. The director could have chosen a dark brown shade, but instead, she chose tan. Think nude for a Caucasian- i.e. both dancers. We wore nude unitards on stage with the headdresses that my mom created to the best of her ability, but regardless, it didn’t look good. In my aunt’s words, we looked like “naked Indians” from the audience. If that wasn’t bad enough, remember that we are in middle school dealing with puberty and the many changes  that come with that- suffice it to say I was uncomfortable and nervous that entire performance.

 

  • My time in my high school’s dance department brought a few crazy costumes and challenges. One year, my teacher tried to create Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory through dance. The piece was a colossal failure at best and we were wearing street clothes, many of them not meant for dancing. My classmate, who portrayed Violet -the character who turns into a blueberry- wore a halter dress and danced with a large yoga ball. During her solo, her halter strap broke, she almost had a Janet Jackson moment and had to run off stage and tape her dress back together. I was an oompa loompa and had to spray my hair green (in the movie it was orange but okay?) for every. single. on stage rehearsal. My hair had green in it for weeks after. Another year, the same teacher decided it would be cool for a modern dance for us to wear tutus that had sections rubber banded to create a messy look- it was not cute.

Throughout the years, I’ve had plenty of fabulous costumes and even more unmemorable ones, but I always reach for these stories when my dancers complain that their costume is too itchy/poofy/boring/ugly/whatever. When choosing costumes myself, I try to take everyone’s body shape/size, their age, and the movements of their piece into great consideration. Oftentimes, I struggle to choose a costume or reject one that my colleagues might have chosen because I don’t think my dancers will be comfortable- I don’t need them to like it, but I do need them to feel good wearing it, or their dancing suffers.

Stay tuned for more performance memories including dealing with small performance spaces, onstage mishaps, and more. No pictures for the worst costumes, but there will be some for other memories 🙂