An American in Paris or Can I Still be a Ballerina?

Lindsay Timmington 

  • OnStage New York Columnist

White Christmas” is one of my all-time favorite films. I love classic movie musicals. They remind me of my grandma, who loved the genre and was a walking Wikipedia page able to recite every line and obscure fact associated with these movies.  They make me nostalgic for a time I never knew, but often yearn for as a jaded(ish) single woman living in New York City longing for the day of chivalry and courtship. The grand romance and idyllic view of relationships is soothing to my cynical heart and I love disappearing for a few hours into the stories. 

I love the way romance is portrayed, the way men are charming and courteous, the way women are treated and how the strong but feminine female character began to emerge at this time. I love that every male/ female encounter ends in a big, spin-y dance number. I love that the female is always, ALWAYS wearing a sweeping, flowing dress that twirls just right and that the dance is punctuated with the most romantic, Hollywood dip of a kiss imaginable at the very end.

All that said, I put off seeing “An American in Paris” for some time. Not because I had anything against it, but because I knew nothing about it. It was a movie musical I hadn’t seen, a show I hadn’t read reviews for—I was a blank-slate audience member. A friend who saw and enjoyed it warned that it was “heavy on the dance” so when I decided to go it seemed fitting that I would take my close friend who should have been a Rockette. Dance dreams—they’re damned hard to forget and sometimes I think we need reminding of the sweet daydreams we had as children. They fuel the daydreams we should have as adults. 

My mom loves to tell the story of how my first theatrical experience was The Nutcracker when I was three. According to her, I wore a pink tutu, ballet slippers and was so enthralled I didn’t move from the edge of my seat for the entire show. My love for dance began with that show and I soon started dancing at Ms. Eva’s school of ballet. Ms. Eva was an elderly Czech woman who ran ballet classes out of her basement and while I loved dancing, what I loved more was the piece of butterscotch handed out at the end of class and then rolling down the massive hill in her backyard. Ten years later I was dancing competitively when I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis.  For the remainder of my formative years I was braced from chest to hip severely limiting my ability to move, let alone dance. My dancing career was sidelined and even after the brace came off at age 18, I never danced again and didn’t really think much about it until “An American in Paris.”

We sat smack in the center in at the very back of the theatre but I loved our seats. As my friend said, this is a dance show and anything with an emphasis on dancing is better at a higher vantage point because you can see EVERYTHING—the entire scope of the show. With “An American in Paris” you want the whole damn picture because it’s beautiful. It’s a lovely testament to the film—which I watched the day after— and was delighted to see many of the original design concepts realized onstage. I tend to not like stage adaptations of films (I refuse to see the staged “White Christmas”) but this production is utterly sweet, without being saccharine and so delightful that for a few hours I find myself escaping into this lovely world of dance, romance and beautifully executed Gershwin tunes.

When the music swelled and the curtain lifted, I found myself (and my wannabe-Rockette friend) on the edge of our seats. We were enthralled by the music, by the dancing, by the sweet innocence of this 1950’s story and how well this production transferred it to stage. We were swept away by the phenomenally talented dancers, the choreography, the staging and the set design. There’s very little not to love about this production and there’s much to applaud as they’ve successfully taken what could be seen as an antiquated story with no real staying power and highlighted the very thing that makes it so wonderful: the dancing. 

The little that I didn’t love? 

One: that dang ballerina got THREE guys in the end. I can’t even get ONE to text me back. Come on. Two: the “come to Jesus” moment I had while watching extraordinary dancers cavort and twist and jump and spin. It’s safe to say that since I can’t even make it up a flight of stairs without my knees groaning that my chance at a dance career has passed me by. But I can still watch these extraordinary dance shows, from the edge of my seat, and enjoy every last minute. And they can’t take that away from me. 

 

Choreographers; the Lords and Ladies of the Dance.

Monica Moore

  • OnStage New Zealand Columnist

The impact of excellent choreography that tells the story, supports the singing and keeps the audience interested should never be taken for granted.

A great script, awesome music, an attractive set, costumes, an enthusiastic talented cast and there’s a great show in the making. 

Right?

Wrong. 

As a ‘green’ director in the early days I never fully recognised the significance of story telling through dance and movement until
I worked with someone who did.

Choreographer Crystal Pite in rehearsal with Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers. Credit: Photo: Lindsay Thomas

Choreographer Crystal Pite in rehearsal with Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers. Credit: Photo: Lindsay Thomas

She had an eye, an understanding and an attention to detail that I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw the first finished piece.

By creating bite-sized movements and then carefully and sequentially bringing them together to create a moving picture that not only supported the storyline and singing; it enhanced it.

She was able to bring together her creative ideas, making allowances for those who ‘were not born to dance’ yet she never compromised on the overall outcome.

I remember a song about a great adventure. In essence the lyrics were about the importance of friendship and solidarity as you travel through the unknown in life.

I had diagrams and instructions to have the cast moving in all different directions on different levels.
 
In that wonderful realm known as hindsight, what I’d planned was a cacophony of discordant movement, juxtaposed and suffocating the intention. 

Fortunately this choreographer supreme ignored me and pulled everyone into a bunch indicating togetherness. A few simple moves in the right places and I could not only see but feel the message of the story coming through loud and clear.

Just like a florist, the cast members were ‘arranged’ and came together in something that could only be described as beautiful.

She teaches dance now and continues to choreograph.

Never under value the Lord or in this case Lady of the Dance.

Dedicated Parents Drive Dancers

Monica Moore

  • OnStage New Zealand Columnist

It was a diverse group of dedicated parents and children but they all had one thing in common – dance.

Coming from a variety of careers in the rural sector, teacher, journalist, engineer, caterer; these parents went that extra mile (literally) to ensure their children danced.

This wasn’t a group of supporters of the arts. None of them were standouts on the dance floor. 

It was never about that. 

The fundamental belief that a dance experience would enhance the development of their children amongst the sport, the music, the speech lessons, the chores and school. They believed it was important.

They were right.

This was a group of Ballroom and Latin American enthusiasts. The parents took turns at the 320km (200 miles) return trip for weekly and at times twice weekly lessons. It was a 6-hour mission on a Friday afternoon and included feeding the troop.

Additionally there were 1000km round trips to competitions and the flights to compete further afield. Time and money squeezed out of already busy life styles but for an important purpose.

Funding the shoes, the costumes, the travel and lessons was difficult to say the least but this group of focussed parents found a way. Amidst their fulltime jobs they fundraised. They ran dinner-theatre evenings cooking, acting, decorating and cleaning up. They put their hand up for local grants and community support. They got it. 

So what was the point? 

Was there a point? 

The experience of competing, the discipline, the creative experience, interacting with others, the posture, the strength, the confidence; all great skills learned for life. 

Today any of them can jump up at a social gathering and jive, waltz, samba or foxtrot with the best of them. One continues to be highly placed as a competitive dancer. One choreographs. 
But it was more than that. The confidence and exposure to so many life skills is immeasurable.

Now adults they are making a success from their lives and are all over the globe; the nurse in London, the builder in NZ, the newly graduated teacher, the postie, the business graduate, the principal of a school in China and the Traffic Manager. 

All have the memories and unique valuable skills from a time gone by that lives with them today.

Dance. It’s worth it.

Re-igniting my passion for dance as an adult

Libby Parker

  • OnStage Guest Columnist

I danced from age 3-13 in ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical before taking a break to pursue my equestrian passions. But at age 16 I had a gnawing feeling that something was missing, and asked to re-enroll in dance lessons. At 16 I had no interest in ballet, leotards on my pudgy adolescent body, or the slow piano music; so I signed up for hip hop and break dancing. That lasted all of 3 months, when I found even with the technical steps in place, I didn't look the part. 

Around that same time I got really into east-coast swing dance, and my real love emerged. I started taking ballroom, then teaching my peers. I went off to college, and started the first swing dance club on campus where I taught, performed, and lived out my dream. Then I transferred schools to a major university known for dance. I knew I was going to be a small fish in a big pond, but I joined their swing and salsa clubs, and let the music take me away. Dance became my stress reliever, my social crutch, and the way to make my science degree have a creative side. By the end of college I was known as a dancer at my school, and was president of the salsa club.

photo of my tattoo from last year: a reminder that I need to dance

photo of my tattoo from last year: a reminder that I need to dance

During college, I had taken a break from acting. A musical theatre geek in high school, college was too demanding to allow for more rehearsals especially with dance taking up my evenings.

When I left to move to California for an internship, the first group I sought out besides a church community was a dance community. My people.

Fast forward a year, and I was getting married, he had dislocated his knee and was not up for dance, and the clubs started too late for this early-bird. Slowly social dance became almost non-existent in my life, let alone studio dance or lessons that I had not touched in 10 years. I was becoming clinically depressed, but had not idea why.

Then I got cast in our community production of "A Chorus Line." Rehearsals were rigorous. 8 hour dance rehearsals on Sundays, 3-5 hours several other days each week. My body had changed from when I had last danced. I did not know where my balance was, I had no idea of the terminology I had long forgotten, and my body struggled with the complicated combinations. But I was so alive! 

That show did so much for me. Though I was "only" a swing that never got to go on for any of my overstudies, I had made friends, and re-ignited my passion for dance!

Now three years have passed, and I have been back in the studio taking dance lessons (yes, even ballet) and appreciating every moment in a way I hadn't when I was a kid. Now my struggles are a place to grow from, my hour of class a time of pure freedom and meditation, separate from "real life." I have gone on to act in more shows, dance in more classes, and I am not letting dance out of my life again.

Libby Parker is a Registered Dietitian specializing in Eating Disorders by day, and an actress by night. She lives in San Luis Obispo, CA with her husband and two dogs. 

Dance: Let’s hear it for the boys

Monica Moore

  • OnStage New Zealand Columnist

Coming from a rural town that was all about hunting, fishing and sports one would think it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a male child to become a dancer and a recognised one at that.

Not. At. All.

He was a boisterous rugby-mad kid. He was reckless forgetful and fun loving.
Through a series of events he experienced a contemporary dance class as a 7 year old and he excelled.

The tuition-free program for younger boys at the School of American Ballet. Credit Ellen Crane

The tuition-free program for younger boys at the School of American Ballet. Credit Ellen Crane

A masculine powerful dancer who I swear went through a metamorphosis when he stepped on the dance floor, he was supported by those who knew him. His code on the rugby field was dancer-boy.

The stereotypical image or perception of a male dancer held by the small town inhabitants of the 90’s did not fit who he is. He was different. He changed minds.

His first live dance show he watched was River Dance and he was mesmerised. He went to a ballet performance as a 9 year old and he was captivated. He struggled to sit in class or stay still for too long but anything dance and he was engaged.

By age 11 he was a National Champion and by 17 he was dancing on television in another country.

He danced in musical theatre shows and acted and danced some more. He loved it.

He states until this very day that dancing was far more strenuous and demanding than rugby. He loved it with a passion. He would rehearse until he would literally bleed. The craps, the battered feet, the agony was worth the ecstasy.  

Contemporary, ballet, hip-hop, Ballroom and Latin-American.  He loved them all.

So boys and dance – a big yes! Encourage it, foster it; change the thinking. It’s demanding, it’s character and strength building.  It improves co-ordination, muscle tone, discipline and pure joy. 

The co-relation between a co-ordinated body and a clear mind is well researched and documented. 

Mental strength, stamina and confidence; dance offers it all.

He choreographs now and loves it.

An Open Letter to the Dance Teacher that Changed my Life

Sarah Elizabeth Ferguson

Thank you.

I know we met a little later than most, but it feels like it's been a lifetime. There are never going to be enough words to express how thankful I am for everything you've done, though I sure can try. Thank you for the countless hours you've spent working with me. Thank you for providing me with all the tough love I could ever ask for. Thank you inspiring, helping, and motivating me to achieve things I never thought possible. Thank you for providing me with a home away from home. 

You have taught me so much that I will never forget. You've taught me that it's okay to fail and fail again, and if something isn't working there's another solution. You've taught me to be patient, to know that the greatest victories come only after the toughest battles. You've shown me how to be a leader; to aspire to inspire always and to never give up on people. You've taught me to demand respect. Even when I was unsure and unconfident, you taught me how to demand the respect of my peers and everyone around me. 

Last but certainly not least, you've taught me that blood does not define family. In the time that we've known each other you've become family to me, and you've shown me that dancers truly are family. You have welcomed me with open arms and even when I leave you, that bond will remain.

Please don't ever think that I don't need you. You have made one of the greatest impacts on my life and there will always be a time when I need a kick in the butt or a helping hand. You are a big reason as to why I do what I do and you have touched not only myself but all your students in a special way.

With love,

Your Student 

 

Photo: Hamilton.edu

When Choreography Makes(or Breaks) a Great Show

Anthony Piccione

OnStage Connecticut Columnist

~~~~~~

When an audience goes to see a musical – whether it’s Broadway or off-Broadway, a major regional theatre or a local community theatre – they aren’t just watching any form of theatre. What they are treated to is a mixture of theatre, music and dance that all comes together to form one grand spectacle unlike any other art or entertainment. When the actors rehearse for these shows, the process is very intense. Perhaps the most intense part is rehearsing for the most dance-heavy musical numbers in the show. It requires a great deal of focus and dedication – as well as some very talented dancers – in order to pull off the high-quality performances that audiences come to shows expecting to see. However, the amount of dancing that is often included in these productions – particularly when it comes to community theatre – might not always contribute to the show as much as the individuals involved in the production would expect.

To be clear, I am not writing this with the intention of degrading any dance choreographers who may be reading this. I’ve worked with many great choreographers over the years, and all of them contributed a great deal of talent to the productions that each of them were involved in. My issue is not with just any kind of dance or choreography in shows. That said, I have personally seen a good deal of productions here in Connecticut where choreography is often added into certain musical numbers that weren’t previously intended to be dance-heavy numbers. Whatever the intentions may have been, they all too often come across as more of an unnecessary distraction and addition for the sake of making the shows bigger than they need to be. Not that there’s anything wrong with big spectacles, as that’s what musicals ought to be. But even in musical theatre, there is such a thing as “too much”. If anything, it turns out to be more of a grand mess than a grand spectacle in these cases.

Some of the people reading this are probably wondering why I would make such a big deal out of this. Well before writing or commenting on why I bother to point this out, or why I even believe this to begin with, let me ask you these two questions: Would you agree that the main focus of the show should be telling its story? Isn’t the dancing, in addition to the acting and the singing, just a means of telling this story to the audience? I would say that the answer to these questions – especially in the case of musical theatre – would be “yes”, and I think many people would agree with me. If we were talking about a more experimental, avant-garde show that is entirely different from the kinds of shows I’m referring to, I might have answered those questions differently. But when it comes to musicals such as the ones often performed in theatres right here in Connecticut, and across the rest of America, I do believe that storytelling should play just as much of a role as acting, music and dance. In many cases, it often does. But sadly, there are too many theatres that either don’t share this view, or seem to have lost sight of it along the way in the rehearsal process.

Most of the local productions I’ve been involved in – for example – have stayed true to the original Broadway musicals, which have been able to balance the respective arts of dance and storytelling. However, some others have been less successful in achieving this goal.

Some theatres have decided that it is a good idea to take shows, and add additional choreography to scenes in which they are not originally included. Often in musicals, scenes may be intended for the entire ensemble to come out – usually at or near the beginning, middle or end of a show – and perform a magnificent dance number that brings the audience to its feet. But more often than that, there are scenes intended for a small group of lead actors – maybe two or three, at maximum – to sing together and do a minimal amount of dancing in the process. It is in these scenes where I’ve seen large amounts of choreography that were added that prove to be completely unnecessary, and it showed. It was this element of the shows, in my opinion, that tended to be the most unnecessary change that had been made from the original shows, and had ultimately made them mediocre productions of what were once great musicals.

The degree to which it matters to others might depends on why they go see musicals in the first place. If you’re someone who is going to a show just to cheer on a friend or family member, or maybe to just sing-along to the irresistibly catchy music, perhaps you wouldn’t care much to see some additional big dance numbers added to a show. But if you like to go and pay attention to what the musical is supposed to be about, and are entertained by stories and characters that make you either laugh or cry, then what exactly is the point of the extra dance numbers other than for the sake of giving choreographers more work to do, and for giving more time on stage to the entire ensemble? This doesn’t seem to be what the writers of theoriginal musicals intended, and it’s probably not what many audience members intended to go see either. So here’s a word of advice to talented local theatre artists across the country from someone who has seen a lot of these community theatre productions before: If you don’t want your show to end up being a total mess on opening night, I’d recommend just rehearsing for only the dance numbers that are originally intended for the show. They are in the scenes that they are in for a reason. Rehearse and produce the show that way, and believe it or not, you still will likely get the same standing ovation at the end of the show that a Broadway theatre might get at their productions, and that’s really all that matters once the curtains have closed.

Broadway Workout Playlist

Erik Bailey

So many of us work to get that “Broadway Body,” and if you’re like me then you like to listen to some great music while you’re working out.

I’ve created what I find to be the ultimate Broadway workout. When I go to the gym I just put this playlist on shuffle and it always helps me work through the workout. 

Here it is in alphabetical order:

•    “Aquarius” Hair
•    “Be the Hero” Big Fish
•    “Big Girls Don’t Cry” Jersey Boys
•    “Brooklyn’s Here” Newsies
•    “Carrying the Banner” Newsies
•    “Ces Soirees-La” Jersey Boys
•    “Corner of the Sky” Pippin
•    “December 1963 [Oh, What a Night]” Jersey Boys
•    “I Can do That” A Chorus Line
•    “I’m Alive” Next to Normal
•    “Just Another Day” Next to Normal
•    “King of New York” Newsies
•    “Lay All Your Love on Me” Mamma Mia
•    “Legally Blonde Remix” Legally Blonde
•    “My Shot” Hamilton
•    “My Strongest Suit” Aida
•    “Nicest Kids in Town” Hairspray
•    “On My Way” Violet
•    “Once and for All” Newsies
•    “One” A Chorus Line
•    “Opening: I Hope I Get It” A Chorus Line
•    “Out Tonight” Rent
•    “Prologue/ Little Shop of Horrors” Little Shop of Horrors
•    “Rent” Rent
•    “Revolting Children” Matilda
•    “Sherry” Jersey Boys
•    “Simple Joys” Pippin
•    “Step in Time” Mary Poppins
•    “Strangers Like Me” Tarzan
•    “Super Trouper” Mamma Mia
•    “The Bitch of Living” Spring Awakening
•    “Tomorrow is a Latter Day” Book of Mormon
•    “Totally F.” Spring Awakening
•    “Voulez-vous” Mamma Mia!
•    “Walk Like a Man” Jersey Boys
•    “Welcome to the 60’s” Hairspray
•    “What you Want” Legally Blonde
•    “When I Group Up/Naughty (Reprise)” Matilda
•    “Whipped into Shape” Legally Blonde
•    “You Can’t Stop the Beat” Hairspray
•    “You’ll be Back” Hamilton
•    “You’re the one that I Want” Grease

Feel free to leave any songs you would add in the comments below.

How a Dance Class Made Me a Better Performer and a Better Person

Rikki Ziegelman

Going into college as a musical theatre major at a liberal arts college, I wasn’t afraid of taking academic classes or of struggling with grades- I was afraid of dance.

Since I was younger, I always distinguished myself as a singer and an actress, and the last thing I would look at myself as was a dancer. In fact, I would constantly joke about the fact that I was the worst dancer in the world and that I had no sense of rhythm or direction. I was hoping to turn into the dancing queen when I turned 17, but I soon realized that Mamma Mia lied to me (maybe that’s why it’s closing) (I’m totally kidding).

But all of this was probably because I had never taken a proper dance class in my life, and because of my self-doubt, I really didn’t want to. Honestly, I felt unworthy of even being part of the musical theatre program because dance is such a pivotal part of being a performer and I had never indulged myself in the activity. But I had to remind myself that I was at this school for a reason, and that I was paying money for training, which is exactly what I needed. 

The first day of dance finally came and I definitely debated not showing up, but I knew this is something I had to do. I put on my brave face and danced in front of basically strangers, and I ended up having an amazing time. Maybe I wasn’t doing all of the steps right, but I was sure as hell trying and having a great time doing so. From that day on, I fell in love with dance even more every single day.

More than anything, I think I learned that dance isn’t just movement with background music. Dance taught me a lot. First and foremost, it taught me to never judge something if you’ve never done it before. I regret all the times in high school when I would say I “hated” dancing, because in reality, I had no idea of the thrill and the happiness it could bring someone. Dance is an excellent form of physical activity, and most definitely waking up at 8:00am worth it. I would walk into dance class exhausted, but walk out bursting with energy from the insane work out that my body experienced, and that energy would last for majority of the day! Dance exposed me to an amazing support system and some incredible friends. Maybe I just got lucky, but I don’t think I would love dance half as much as I do if I didn’t have such wonderful people surrounding me and helping me each step of the way.

Dance gave me a new sense of self-confidence that I didn’t really know that I lacked. Dance just has a way of making you feel wonderful about yourself. And most importantly, dance taught me that it’s never too late to face your fear and start something new. Whether you’re 19 like I am, 109, or anything in between- you can always learn something new. 

This isn’t advice from one performer to another; this is advice from one person to another.

Even if you’re not a student in school anymore, you’ll always be a student to the world. There are new things for you to go out and explore every single day. Don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from something you might actually enjoy. And once you find something new that you like, don’t stop! Keep looking, keep exploring. There’s always something new.

And above all else, keep dancing through life. (Yes, the Wicked pun was intended).

 

Photo: Oksana Dance

10 Great Dance Numbers in Musical Theatre

Anthony J. Piccione

So since it’s still Dance Week here at On Stage, I figured that – after my last article that I wrote about how unnecessary big dance numbers can be, in some cases – I should come up with a good list that shows off some of the best examples of dance in theatre, and how much they should be appreciated.

The 10 dance numbers that are included in this list reflect some of the best examples of thrilling, exciting and heartwarming songs in Broadway musicals that are also accompanied by some incredible dance choreography. So without further adieu, here is the list of the 10 Best Dance Numbers in Musical Theatre for you to see and judge for yourself…

10.  No Bad News – The Wiz

9.      Be Our Guest – Beauty and the Beast

8.      Turn it Off – The Book of Mormon

7.      America – West Side Story

6.      Seize the Day – Newsies

5.      All That Jazz – Chicago 

4.      Too Darn Hot – Kiss Me Kate

3.      You Can’t Stop the Beat – Hairspray

2.      The Hot Honey Rag – Chicag

1.      One – A Chorus Line

So there you have it. Do you agree with this list? Any dance numbers that aren’t on here that you’d like to see on here? Be sure to let us know in the comments!