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It’s been a while since I’ve seen a dance video that was filmed in almost a single shot. Video choreography seems to cater so much to close-ups and rapid-fire angle and shot changes. I find the choreography in this video (Beyonce – Single Ladies) a little odd, but it is at least unabashedly so. It’s also quite refreshing not to have to watch yet another closeup of the singer mouthing the words to the song.

Kind of calls to mind this one…

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In searching for some West Side Story clips to listen to at work (getting in the mood for the revival which opens here in DC on December 15— today is T minus 50!) I came across this hilarious Scrubs clip. Why did I not know about this scene before? I love Scrubs for its zany alternate reality sequences such as this.

Read the first two installments in this series:

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We finally started learning the choreography after a few weeks of vocal rehearsal. It was a very exciting day for me; after all, it was the whole reason I had embarked on this project. Of a cast of 36, five women and two men had been cast as dancers. All but one of the women were significantly younger than me (teens/early 20s), and I was the oldest, and also the only one who did not have years of ballet training under her belt. This became a source of apprehension when the choreography turned out to be largely ballet-based, rather than in a more familiar idiom to me such as jazz or salsa.

In the projects I’ve been involved in, I now realize I was spoon-fed the choreography. The sequences would be taught in small sections over the course of a month or more, going back over each section to make sure it was solid before embarking on the next. On the other hand, our big dance number for the show was taught to us in its entirety in the space of two hours. No doubt this is how the pros do it, but I’m most definitely an amateur and I quickly realized I was going to have to up my game.

We were basically expected to have learned the choreography in that one session. In the next practice, the singing and non-dancing parts were added in. We would come back to a few rough patches just a couple times more, but we never went through the piece more than twice in any subsequent rehearsal. Add to this my own personal paranoias about being too old, too inflexible, too slow to pick up choreography, and too weak ballet technique, I entered a several-week crisis of self esteem. At each practice I thought to myself that there must have been some mistake and they were probably regretting casting me as a dancer. One day, I misread a new version of the casting sheet that was handed out and thought they had replaced me on another dance number due to my poor progress on the first one. As it turns out, I had looked at the wrong line and I was still in there, but my deflated brain was playing tricks on me.

What did I do to address these insecurities and limitations I was mired in? In addition to practicing in any spare moment (at least the parts I could remember without help), I changed my dance class schedule. Rehearsal was four days a week, and on the other days I had the energy I attended basic ballet classes in an attempt to focus my technique and apply any new insights or knowledge to the choreography. I also took every opportunity to ask my fellow dancers questions about the choreography and technique in general. Finally, the assistant choreographer offered me the opportunity for a one-on-one hour in which to polish the combination, which made a huge difference. With just about two weeks to go to opening night, I finally felt comfortable with the choreography, and with just a few days to spare, was able to relax into it enough add my own personal style and be more aware of all that was going on around me.

Why was this such an emotionally trying process for me? Well, there was a lot of truth in my insecurities– it was harder for me than the younger, more experienced dancers. Also, I am a perfectionist by nature and I hold myself to a high standard. Even if my pay or job are not on the line (keeping in mind this is a volunteer, community production and I have no real career aspirations in this area), I always want to do the best possible job I can. I don’t want to let anyone down– not my fellow cast members, not the production staff, and not the people who come to see the show. I don’t want to let myself down either, thinking I could have practiced more or tried harder. That said, seeing myself rise above those barriers in the end made the whole undertaking extremely gratifying. While I’m not the best, I’m my best, and in the end I’m dancing for me, because I love doing it, period.

Stay tuned for more installments on putting all the elements of the show together and the performances.

I was very saddened to read that Cyd Charisse, an inspiration to me and a highlight of Hollywood’s golden age of musical cinema, has died at the age of 86 (link is to NYT article). From the moment I saw her in Singin In the Rain I knew I’d found my style and dance icon. She will live on on the silver screen.

She said her husband, the singer Tony Martin, could always tell with whom she was dancing. “If I was black and blue,” she said, “it was Gene. And if it was Fred, I didn’t have a scratch.”

(from the NYT Obituary)

 

I said in my last post that I’d be writing about a new challenge I’ve embarked on and the new experiences and lessons that have come with it. What is it you ask? Ok, the title of this post gives it away, but all I have to say, is: Broadway, get ready, ’cause I’m on my way! Not so fast, this is community theater.

A little while back, a coworker who’s heavily involved in community theater forwarded me an audition announcement. They were looking for dancers. The musical, only one of my favorites of all time, was one that I knew backwards and forwards, having listened to the soundtrack a bazillion times with my sister when we were younger.

It was an opportunity I’d sort of been waiting for in the back of my mind. Unless you count being in the orchestra pit in high school way back in the day, I’d never done theater before. A lot of musicals have some amazing dancing, and they look like so much fun. More fun than some of the dance performances I’ve been involved with, dare I say…I figured the dancing in it would be latin-ish, so I might have something to bring to the table. The one catch was that I would have to sing, but my coworker assured me I just needed to be able to carry a tune. That I can do, though I can’t speak to the quality.

Bottom line: I had nothing to lose and figured the audition process would be a fun experience that would fortify me for the future. I had absolutely no expectation of making the cut. In the end, I think this gave me the ability to be relaxed and to be myself.

First, I had to pick a song. I’ve got a low range, so I went with Big Spender from Sweet Charity. Another good choice, as it allowed me to show my sassy side. I downloaded the sheet music and the song and sang along with it a bunch of times by way of practicing.

When I got to the audition I had to fill out a form stating availability, experience, part auditioning for (dancer, of course), and some other stuff including my “age range,” basically the ages I felt I could convincingly portray. I asked about this and was advised to go ten years younger and ten older. As I waited to be called I asked the other auditioners if they had any advice, since it was my first time. “Be charismatic” seemed to be the main tip.

I’d asked my friend if I should dress the part, and she told me not to as you don’t know what they have in mind, so it’s best to be a blank slate. When I got there, all the women seemed to be wearing red dresses (going with the latin-ish theme). Though I was dressed to dance, I was also funnily enough wearing a red shirt with black pants.

We were brought into the audition room in a group of five. I was to go last. As each person finished their audition, they left the room, so I actually auditioned in front of the judges only. I’m not sure if that helped my nerves or not, but I focused on charisma, and tried to move as naturally as I could while singing, despite having noticed the others stood still while they sang. Then again, none of the others seemed to be trying for a dancing part. A couple sashays and arm flourishes actually elicited a couple saucy “oohs” from the judges so I think that tactic worked. After the singing, the judges were most concerned about rehearsal and performance conflicts. One girl immediately got cut because she would be in Greece for a month during rehearsals (duh). After that was verified, each person was asked to do a chaine. Except for me– they said since I was a dancer I obviously knew how to do chaines and I could do choreography during callbacks.

I was a little miffed that I was all dressed to dance and couldn’t even do a chaine, but also a little psyched because it seemed I was making callbacks. Sure enough, the call came pretty soon that I was to attend callbacks a few days later. That’s when I started getting nervous. I hadn’t actually planned on making it that far!

At the callback, all those trying out for lead and dance parts had to learn a combination. It was moderately challenging and technical and took me a couple times to learn fully. Definitely more ballet than latin. I thanked my lucky stars I’ve been going to ballet class lately. Thinking back to the advice I got, I tried to focus on charisma, and on really nailing the moves that felt natural to me. It was impossible to tell what was going on– there were a number of expressionless judges and they kept assigning people to different places in the lines and moving the lines back and front. I have no idea how they kept track of anything, nobody even appeared to be taking notes. They may have been but it almost seemed they were going on memory alone.

I should note that there were tons of women that auditioned and not so many men. The dancing of the men left, for the most part, much to be desired. It was clear that as usual, the fiercest competition in dance is among women.

After the dancing portion, everyone else was brought into the room and we had to sing an excerpt from one of the show’s big choral numbers. No harmonizing was required, and the director moved rather quickly through the room to see how each person was blending with the group. Again, no visible note taking. I have no idea how they did that with so many people trying out. It was eerie.

At that point the audition was over. . .I honestly had very few expectations for myself. Not because I thought I did a bad job, but because I’ve never done theater before, and there were so many people auditioning I didn’t know if I’d stood out or would meet their casting guidelines. Still, I felt hopeful to have the opportunity for a new experience, and for a musical I love so much on top of that.

Stay tuned for the next installment to see if I got the part!

The First Season of Step It Up and Dance concluded last night. I was very impressed by all four of the final contestants. Each one truly had their own unique style and I enjoyed everyone’s choreography.

Cody won, and I definitely wasn’t surprised. He has been the most consistent throughout the season technique-wise and in handling all the challenges. His solo was stunning. He moves like a cat– very fluid– and at times looked like he was flying.

At the same time, he was the most predictable winner. Miguel takes the most risks both artistically and generally (as evidenced in the flawless job he did on the sprained ankle). His style is unique and entertainment/tv-wise he has something really interesting to offer. I don’t doubt we’ll be seeing him on tv again soon.

I enjoyed Mochi and Nick’s solos a lot– nothing bad to say and lots of good things to say– but this wasn’t their night. Perhaps, even though they took a lot of personal risks, they were too safe in the end. Mochi got an awesome consolation prize of winning a spot in Akon’s next music video. Nick would be completely at home on Broadway.

I enjoyed this show moderately and I hope they do it again, with some of the issues ironed out. For example, winning and elimination groups have got to go– everyone, save possibly whoever is immune– needs to be up for elimination every time. Also, less pressure has got to be put on the contestants in terms of choreography. Bring in more guest choreographers– and hopefully not some of the usual suspects. Get some people from the art world that would benefit from the exposure and educate the public about good choreography. Finally, there need to be more opportunities for standard technique to shine in the first episodes.

What are your thoughts on the show– in terms of both the overall show and the winner?

The Tony Award nominees were announced today and the cat in the front was so excited he threw his feather headdress in the air and made some purrfect jazz hands. The black cat in the background is all like, “Fosse is sooo two decades ago, it’s all about salsa and hip hop on Broadway now. Let me see you shake your caderas.

In the Heights, a musical featuring some amazing salsa and hip hop dancing (at least from the youtube clips I’ve seen) that has broken the mold for Tony nominees, leading the pack with 13 nominations. I’ve been so excited to see it and now these accolades will ensure that I’ll have to wait even longer to snag tickets. Dear Producers, let it be known that I will shamelessly promote your musical on this blog if you comp me tickets to In the Heights. I would like to see Celia as well.

From Dance Metro/DC:

Dance/MetroDC is proud to present our second annual Dance Is The Answer event! During National Dance Week 2008, area nonprofit dance organizations have united to introduce, energize and excite the public to the benefits of dance. From April 25-May 4, 2008, over 120 free classes, performances, workshops and open rehearsals will be available from over 30 organizations to help you experience that Dance Is The Answer.

Dance Is The Answer to achieving and maintaining good health
Dance Is The Answer to reaching weight management goals
Dance Is The Answer to finding an inspiring creative outlet
Dance Is The Answer to enriching your social life
Dance Is The Answer to deepening your connection to community


For listings of Free Classes and Workshops, click here.
For listings of Free Performances and Open Rehearsals, click
here.


A special thank you to all our participating organizations:

American Dance Institute, Rockville, MD
AVAdance, Washington, DC
Bowen McCauley Dance, Arlington, VA
BlackRock Center for the Arts,
Germantown, MD
Capitol Movement Inc., Washington, DC
CityDance Ensemble,
Washington, DC and N. Bethesda, MD
ClancyWorks Dance Company, Silver Spring, MD
Capitol Region Educators of Dance Organization,
Washington, DC
Dance Place,
Washington, DC

DC Dance Collective, Washington, DC
Dhoonya Dance, Arlington, VA
Expressions Dance Theatre,
Clinton, MD
Dream in Color Dance Studio,
Alexandria, VA
Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, DC
Indian Dance Educators Association,
Washington, DC
Jane Franklin Dance,
Arlington, VA

Joe’s Movement Emporium, Mt. Rainier, MD
Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC and Bethesda, MD

Kathy Harty Gray Dance Theatre, Alexandria, VA
Knock on Wood Tap Studio,
Silver Spring, MD
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Takoma Park, MD
Maryland Youth Ballet, Silver Spring, MD
Mason/Rhynes Productions, Washington, DC
Momentum Dance Theatre, Washington, DC
National Dance Educators Organization,
Washington, DC
Publick Playhouse,
Cheverly, MD

Sitar Arts Center, Washington, DC
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
The Washington Ballet, Washington, DC

I recently saw Silk Stockings again, a 1957 film starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. With a humorous script and countless great dance numbers, it’s one of my favorites. Since I first saw her in Singin’ in the Rain, Cyd Charisse has been my favorite dancer from the golden age of Hollywood musical films– my muse, if you will. Silk Stockings in particular showcases her dancing ability, and those gorgeous legs.

In this number, Ninotcha (Charisse), a Soviet spy, gives into her temptation to taste the decadent sartorial delights of Paris.

here is the second part of the number

In this scene, Ninotcha and her fellow former spies relive their love for the joyous Parisian life in their shared Soviet digs.

It’s a pity that there aren’t any musicals like this any more. By that, I mean that musicals from this time had long, uninterrupted shots of the dance numbers so you could really appreciate the choreography and the skill of the dancer. Dance movies today are edited MTV-style, with cuts every 5 seconds or so. As a result, the quality of the dance is less the ability of the dancer or the choreography, and more in the editing.

On Wednesday we took the train up to Baltimore to see So You Think You Can Dance Live. All in all, it was worth the trip and the price of the ticket.

The details of the show have been pretty well covered by now (Ted linked to a blow-by-blow LJ account of the show if you want to know what all the routines were), but for all the anxious fans I do want to let you know that there are two routines that had been taken out and are now back in. Due to various injuries, I’d read that the breaking piece with Sara, Dominic and Hok, as well as the Neil/Danny Two Princes routine had been taken out for a couple of the tour stops. Not so for Baltimore. They were back in the show, and definitely two of the most memorable pieces at that!

I’ll start with the low points before I get to my “in-depth analysis.” I really could have done without all the rehashing of the show on the video screens. They showed the “loser” reel with our friends Sex and the guy that had to get first aid assistance, as well as all the people that fell on their heads. Each dancer was introduced with the same reel that was shown when they were eliminated from the show. There was some new video material, but not much. Would it have killed them to come up with some new footage or at least a different way of presenting it? There was also some badly scripted banter that the dancers had to say between acts. They are dancers, and not (with a few exceptions, namely Dominic and Neil) adept at speaking to large crowds. I do understand the function that played in presenting the dancers as real people to the fans, but some of it was pretty lame.

My final disappointment was that they didn’t perform one of my absolute favorites from the season, Apologize with Anya and Danny. I understand why they didn’t do it because Anya was not in the top 10 and so her role in the show was limited, but still I was very disappointed. A moment of silence please, while I sniffle and watch it [again, and again] on youtube…

Alrighty then… moving on…

The most interesting thing about seeing the routines from a TV show translated to the stage (pretty literally, it seemed) was seeing what worked better on stage than on TV, and also what was really better suited to TV. The individual solos were better on TV. Routines whose strength lay in a great deal of facial expression, such as the Midnight Cabaret were better on TV.

Hands down, the group performances were all better live. There was so much cutting between shots and angles on the show that I was never able to get a good idea for each piece as a coherent work. The Shane Sparks Matrix routine was fantastic live. The choreography is really designed for the piece to be seen as a whole. I liked it on TV but appreciated it even more in the round.

Speaking of Shane Sparks, the Lauren/Pasha Transformers piece was so cool. The stage had a lowering platform (which was used to great effect throughout the show, including a very nice entrance at the beginning) which added to the fun, as if the transformer was coming out of some cavernous depths. That was a piece that I had not gotten as much on TV, but live I really appreciated Sparks’ choreography in all its humor and smarts. Perhaps Lauren and Pasha also gave a better performance of the piece on Wednesday.

Other pieces that worked particularly well in the flesh: Sara/Dominic/Hok’s breaking routine (lots of fun– a choreography with a sense of humor); Sabra/Dominic’s Make It Work (*wistful sigh*…oh, and another Sparks routine at that!); and, Oh. My. God….Hok/Jaimie’s Hummingbird & Flower piece killed me. It’s just so incredible that Hok can move in such quick, sharp movements. I swear that part of me had thought they’d sped up the tape on the TV show, but no, he really does move like that. I felt so sad when it was over.

And now, here’s a shocker for my regular readers about what worked better live. It’s a well documented fact that I Did Not Like Lacey At All during the show and had No Clue why she got so far in the competition. Well… I am here today to admit to you that Lacey works so much better live for me. Dare I say it, she really is a wonderful dancer.

Dear Lacey, I have an apology to make to you. My hostility should have been targeted at the dirty old cameramen, producers, and wardrobe people who kept doing everything possible to keep the emphasis on your butt and your campy facial expressions. Viewed from afar, as a faceless dancer, you are beautiful. All the pieces you danced in were a revelation to me, as I had never appreciated them since well, you, were in them on the show. I have to admit, the Viennese Waltz with Danny (Keep Holding On) gave me chills, you were beautifully expressive and graceful in the Mia Michaels piece about her father that you danced with Neil, and your samba with Danny? Wow!

[moving back into the 1st person now…]

I still love Sabra though. The Mandy Moore “power lunch” routine brought the house down (another one that made me sad when it ended– I have two exclamation marks and a heart next to that one in my notes), the pinstripe quickstep with Pasha and the paso doble with Neil were both incredible and fresh, and as I said before, Make it work with Dominic made me sigh wistfully.

I did not stay with my crazy friends by the stage door until 1:30 am to meet the dancers. They did and got a lot of great pictures with them, but I was content to escape the hard pouring rain and get into bed with the experience of seeing the dancers from my favorite show of the moment live.

I am too exhausted and uninspired to write much today (saw SYTYCD live yesterday and Baltimore and a long rehearsal of the chorography this evening), so this cute kitty with jazz hands from I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER will have to suffice.

I just got back from a lovely trip to Arkansas to celebrate my grandma’s 90th birthday (the other one turned 90 in June– I am a lucky granddaughter!). Needless to say, it was an incredible occasion and blogging was pretty far from my thoughts.

I don’t want you to feel neglected, so I thought I’d go back in the time machine and present a selection of some of my favorite posts. If you are new to this blog, you probably haven’t read them yet anyway. The time machine doesn’t have to go back too far– June 16 was my first post– but it’s amazing how many posts one can put up in the space of 5 months.

  1. This blog has really helped me to focus my discovery of all things dance. When I started writing, I knew that I would have to constantly learn new things and find new sources to keep my blog interesting and informative, and to enhance my own background knowledge.  Discovering dance criticism chronicles my first serious foray into reading written impressions of dance. I knew I needed to find a writer that I liked and was inspired by.
  2. Dance dialing documents another step in my journey of discover– this time into innovative elements of the choreographic process.
  3. What do you want to read about? was a rather navel-gazing post about balancing your interests with the interests of your readers. Looking back, I realize that the most important thing has been staying true to my own voice. There are so many blogs out there that you don’t need to cater to anyone– if readers are interested in what you have to say they’ll come to you. Statistics are tempting– I know that if a post is heavy on certain key words (i.e., most references to TV shows, popular musicians and dancers) it is going to get more hits. It would be sorely tempting to post only about those things, even beyond what interests me about them for the satisfaction of getting higher readership. However, then I would lose all the people who are interested in my own voice and who regularly post their thoughtful and intelligent comments which is really what gives me the most satisfaction.
  4. You decide… is a fun little ditty of a post containing the viral Fosse set to UNK video that was so popular earlier this summer.

So much to see this fall! No clue how to pick and choose! Dance cognoscenti, which are the performances to not miss under any circumstance?

I have been perusing some swing dance blogs this week, and came up with a number of interesting posts that are worth a look:

  • Watch a video tribute to the Harlem Congaroos, and then watch the original clip from the 1940’s, which is all kinds of awesome on Alain’s Dance Blog. The energy level on that original clip is just incredible.
  • Over on Just For the Halibut, Bernadette finds her muse from the golden era of musical cinema.
  • Song and Dance shares a hilarious video of musical comedy sketch on the ubiquity of Pachelbel’s Canon (not dance related, but the rest of the site is and there are some interesting posts to peruse).
  • Carl’s Dance Blog talks about the importance of a live band that understands dancers’ needs. A dance band has a very different function than a normal band, and if a band doesn’t understand my needs, I’d rather have a DJ.

One of the most fun classes to take at Joy of Motion is Doug Yeuell‘s Broadway Jazz. It’s at 10:00 am on Fridays which, as a working girl, means I only make it there once in a blue moon. Doug embodies dance (or shall I say, DANCE!!) like no one else. He is just so exuberant and sincere, it is hard not to catch the dance bug once you’ve taken his class. Friday’s Post had an article about this class, and several of my friends were quoted in it. These ladies are an inspiration to me. I often speak of the challenges I face as an almost-30 adult learner, but these 50 through 70-somethings put it all in perspective for me.

Here’s the link to the article: Broadway and All That Jazz

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