Monday, June 29, 2015

the end of the year — Dance showcase

Since this was the first year for the dance program, we weren't quite ready for what I would call a formal dance concert; so instead, we had a "Dance Showcase — a celebration of dance learning," with the various dance forms we studied throughout the year mostly taking the place of student choreography. I do want to cultivate a focus on creative work and choreography as the program grows; but this year, when performing was optional (many students were taking Dance simply as a PE alternative with no thought to performing), the focus had to be on learned dance forms for purely logistical reasons.

All dance students had two options for their performance final: perform at least one dance on stage at the showcase, or perform in class during the final exam period. I put out sign-up sheets for all ten of the dances we had learned: basic jazz, Thriller, Lindy hop / Big Apple, Brazilian Samba, kahiko hula, 'auana hula, Tahitian, Central African / Congolese, Baile Folklórico, and ballet. As I expected, a large number signed up for the Polynesian dances, especially kahiko (ancient) hula; and another large group wanted to perform ballet (it is gratifying to know that so many students are still interested in these forms with strict, codified technique). What surprised me was how few originally signed up for Samba, with such enthusiasm while we were studying the form — my guess is that it was so fast and aerobic that many felt it was too difficult to attempt on stage, in front of a crowd (this is not to say, of course, that ballet and hula are not technically challenging! — only that the dances I chose to teach for those forms were relatively short and simple, with fewer steps and patterns to remember, and students probably felt they were less likely to "mess up"). With encouragement, we ended up with enough dancers to perform each dance, with the most dependably enthusiastic performers holding down the more challenging dances.

The difficulty this year was getting the dances rehearsed (while also spending most class time creating final choreography projects), and getting students from the three classes together for each dance. Because these were nominally beginning dance classes, an after-school rehearsal schedule had not been set out in the syllabus at the beginning of the year, so all I could do was set a schedule and remind students they needed to be at rehearsals in order to have the privilege of performing on stage. We had exactly two weeks of rehearsals, once the musical was over — unfortunately, the two weeks right before finals, when dancers were often making up work in other classes, so even the most dedicated dancers missed a time or two... The process was nerve-wracking for me, but comes with the territory of a first-year, all-Beginning Dance program. We never had a real tech rehearsal, since that late in the year the theater was constantly in use for awards and the like — our semblance of a tech was our one and only run-through on stage, two weeks ahead of the show. Our tech director sat and took notes on all the pieces, I emailed him the show order once I set it — and the performance was beautifully lit, as if by magic! I have now discovered what a godsend a good tech theater director can be.

By the time the performance arrived we had had 30 in the cast — some in just one dance, some in three, four, five, or six, and a couple in nearly every piece. I picked two student emcees to briefly introduce each dance (mostly so those dedicated dancers cold catch their breaths between pieces). We did also have one piece of student-choreography — I had invited any groups who wished to show their narrative choreography finals on stage, although I had not expected many among my beginning dancers to take me up on it... but one group was brave enough and showed their (quite dramatic) narrative.

The performance went smoothly — all the dancers kept track of the show order and backstage monitors, and appeared in the wings exactly when they needed to. So if the rehearsals were nerve-wracking, the actual performance was probably the least-stressful show I have ever conducted. Such a pleasure, and I am so looking forward to next year!

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