To flow in a rhythmic partnership can be a wonderful experience- but it takes work to get to that special zone. I recently particiapted in a performance routine for an event called "Dancing with the Stars" a local version, in Towanda, PA of the TV show of the same name. Although a popular series that I've heard about for sometime, I've never actually seen the program. The Bradford County Arts Council in Towanda just produced this event with attendance at the Keystone Theatre maxed out and then another 300 or so watching on a live stream.
It was a spectacular event with every performance incredible and inspiring- and from partners who had never danced together for the most part. For many of us it was more than we had anticipated and there was more than a small amount of apprehension going into it- especially leading up to the final performance.
I intially thought it would be a causal social dance that would be fairly open and not too challenging in terms of content or time. Boy was I mistaken. We were paired up and given a song and a choreographer. My partner, Carol Madil, the long time music teacher at the high school in my hometown and the procucer of many theatre productions was a wonderful stroke of luck. She is a wonderful and vivacious person who was able to put in the time and energy for this dance. We danced together many years ago in a production she directed of Grease- where we did jotterbug routine with a few flips and dips. We were so fortunate to have been assigned a truly gifted and gracious choreographer, Melissa Pickering Smith who crafted our routine. I have been dancing, teaching, performing and taking dance classes and attending week-long dance events for decades. So I know about the rigor and requirements of performing. Melissa has to be one of the best that I've had the pleasure to train with. And the fact that her dance studio is on Main Street in Wyalusing, my hometown, is even more remarkable. She is a local treasure- as I am sure her ability could be appreciated in a metropolitan area of theatrical renown. But getting to know both Melissa and Carol as people was a special perk that goes beyond the dance. They are truly gracious ladies.
Our song turned out to be fortuitous as well, as it was assigned to us. It was the beautiful and iconic "Hallelujah" orgianally penned by Leonard Cohen. I was told there are multiple versions of the lyrics by him. His gritty and low-register vocals make the song especially memorable. But our version, was the equally iconic version done by K.D.Laing. I love this tune and connected with the spiritual content as inspiring for a dance.
Our routine that Melissa had orchestrated was perfect, although out of my familiar range of dance experience. I loved the movement however, and enjoyed the expressive and interpretative nature of our movement. It included some kneeling poses with fun rolling type of torso movements. That is why I thought of it as a kind of kinestetic art for two, similar to yoga. Eventually in this partnered dance we came to incorporate some social dance, namely Night Club Two-Step, which I have done some.
There were some personal challenges to moving ahead with this as would have liked. One was a health issue, my high school football injury, a dislocated hip had recently resurfaced as arthritis in both hips, so this was disconcerting as it undercut my confidence somewhat. Not knowing if this would abate or increase put a certain amount of stress and worry into the challenge. It turnsout that this has become manageable for now. Part of approaching 70, I suppose and the general aspect of the impermance of the body.
The other part was the fact that Linda, my partner and I took a two week trip to Amsterdam just before our performance. This trip was an intense excursion with a guitar seminar and lots of museum visits and plein air painting too. I did manage to practice the routine each day however as kind of morning or eveing exercise. After our return, during the last week before the big night, Carol, Melissa and I doubled down and nailed the routine.
The dress rehearsal the night before, turned out to be a 5 hour endeavor and the actual performance night was also a big social event prior to the performance and both came to be about the same amount of time as the dress rehearsal. It was great however to be at the Keystone Theatre for such a wonderful event. And wonderful as well to connect and network with so many and meet old friends and make new ones. The upshot of the dress rehearsal was to gain an appreciation for all the behind the scenes efforts that went into staging this event. Sound technicians, audio and visual coordination (as there were taped interviews of the performers) before each performance, the dramatic lighting tuned specifically for each number and so much more were all part of the prep. Our number even had dry ice atmospherics blown out onto the stage!
The audience was primed and unbelievalbly supportive. Wes Skilliings the MC was amazing as were the judges, who also for the most part had no dance experience. We did not win one of the prizes, but it was still a wonderfully rewarding experience. One of the dancer's partners told us that he was absolutely stunned and brought to tears watching us from the balcony! I asked him if I could quote him. How did it feel you may ask? It felt really good and we both partnerd nicely. Although it felt good and the audience loved it- I am somewhat reluctant to view the video as the stark visual reality of seeing myself in action often produces some cringe factor. Carol helped out with a certain amount of back leading which was helpful and appreciated. A choregraphed routine does not have the inherent spontaniety and lead/follow aspect as social dance- yet our connection was good. Melissa said she was very proud of us.
But as Carla Salsman, the main gal at the BCRAC who spearheaded and directed the entire production said, this event underscores the importance of the arts as bringing people together and bridging differences. Indeed the arts locally showed the human spririt and creative exhilaration that can transcend differences in politics, backgrounds and so much more.