Backstage at the Los Angeles Carnival Choreographer’s Ball

1456745_10151708267366237_598503973_nIt’s just past midnight as we wait backstage to go on for the Los Angeles Carnival Choreographer’s Ball.  Some of us have been here since 3:00pm for tech, others of us have filtered in after work, but no one cracks a yawn, tired as we are.

Is it adrenaline or the cold air bursting through the open door that has us jumping up and down as we struggle to concentrate?

We try to warm up stiff limbs while dodging dancers in Cleopatra costumes and gold leggings.

As the dance onstage starts to wind down, Stretch Dance Co. circles up for one last huddle, our excitement arcing between us like electricity in a lightning storm.  We whispered well wishes and encouragements, squeezing hands for support.

“Don’t mess up,” I say–I always know how to ruin a Hallmark moment.

Some of the Stretchers tittered, but our laughter dies out as the lights went out on the dancers onstage.  It was show time.

But for me, the show had  started the minute I walked through those doors.

I’d heard so much about Carnival Choreographer’s Ball from dancers who had performed there in the past, but I had no idea what to expect when I arrived on scene at the Avalon in Hollywood with two bulging bags full of potential costumes and my work bag past the bouncers who, if they weren’t Russian mob, had been trained by them to scowl like supervillain henchmen.

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It was like I had stepped on the set of every dance movie ever made.  I had to quickstep out of the way of hip hop dancers practicing in the lobby, tiptoe around a couple salsa practicing a steamy routine on the landing in front of the stairs.

It was humbling to see all the amazing talent at the show during the dress rehearsal.  From a cute holiday mall-themed hip hop dance where the “mannequins” come to life, to a clever burlesque piece that shows that being sexy isn’t all that’s cracked up to be, to steamy Latin dancing… there were so many jaw-dropping dances and dancers  that it was easy to feel overwhelmed.

And I was feeling a bit overwhelmed in spite of myself.  I’ve been performing since I was three years old and I still can’t get over the preshow jitters every time I’m in the wings.  How was I, little music theater ensemble kid, supposed to measure up to all the talent that had already been onstage tonight?

But as the first twinkles of Macklemore’s “Same Love” filtered through the speakers, the jitters died. I wasn’t here to outdance anyone at Carnival tonight. I wasn’t here prove myself the best performer.  I wasn’t even here to be seen by the jaded agents and directors watching sleepily from the back seats.

I was here to spread a message: that underneath all the makeup, the technique, the costumes, we all share the same love for dance.

Don’t mess up, I whispered to myself.

And then I joined the dancers of Stretch Dance Company onstage.

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You Know You’re a Dancer When…

After four hours of filming in pointe shoes on Friday night, my legs were aching, my feet were bleeding, and I walked like an eighty-year-old escapee from an assisted living community I could think of was:

Yesssssssss. 

You may think I’m crazy, but any dancer knows that feeling.   There’s something incredibly satisfying about pushing yourself to the edge of what you think is possible for yourself, and surpassing it.  Every muscle ache, every blister, every sweat stain is proof that you pushed past the ugly obstacles to create something amazing.

The truth is, being a dancer can be a pretty unglamorous lifestyle, and you can feel like a little bit of a freak because you find people sitting on you really relaxing.  But every so often, I see someone walking like a duck down the street, and you know they’re a dancer when…

…you know what a hairnet is, and use one regularly.

Stretch - Hairnet
People always think that I’m pulling out my actual hair when I take a hairnet out. Last time I checked, my hair does not have elastic in it.

 

…you rock out to the music playing in the grocery store.

 

…your car and washing machine will never be completely full of bobby pins

 

…you tell the pedicurist NOT to remove your callouses.
you OWN at Dance Central (DDR is a little harder…unless you’re this guy)

 

…you can tell what kind of dance someone does by their muscle tone

Stretch _Dance muscles
Break dancers tend to have very defined arms and abs, while salsa dancers have awesome shoulder and calf muscles. Ballet dancers have long, lean leg muscle tone.

 

…you have tons of options for Halloween costumes already in your closet

 

NOTHING stops you from getting to dance class, even getting your wisdom teeth out

 

…you dance like no one’s watching, even when people are.

 

Don’t forget to keep your eye out for Stretch’s new pointe video, coming soon on our YouTube channel!

Life Lessons Learned From Dance Class

I’ve been dancing since I was three years old, but it’s only recently that I realized that all that time spent onstage has taught me some vital life lessons beyond pointing my toe correctly and fluffing my tutu.

1.  Be nice to your costume designer.

In theater, one person you never want to piss off is the costume designer.  Why?  The costume designer can make you look fabulous…or they can stitch your pants just tight enough to show your muffin top.  Not many of us have costume designers in real life, but this important life lesson has taught me that every job is vital, and every person has their specific purpose.  An architect’s design is only as good as the team who assembles it.  Treat everyone with the same respect, even if they aren’t the ones in the spotlight, because chances are they’re the ones who can make your job that much easier…or make you wear a mustard yellow spandex unitard.

 

Stretch - Dance Class

2.  Practice makes permanent .

In my dance studio growing up, the phrase wasn’t “practice makes perfect,” but “practice makes permanent.”  If you practice the wrong things, that’s what’s going to stick.  If you always procrastinate, or if you only do your work with half the focus, that’s how you’re training yourself to respond to all situations.  The same holds true outside the studio as well.

3.  How to set goals like a pro.

I also learned that progress is a series of tiny, almost invisible improvements.  I don’t aim to do everything perfectly in dance class, but I focus on a few goals to get me through the day, like lifting my leg a little higher, or going for an extra pirouette across the floor.  Life is the same way.  It can be hard to try a new fitness routine, or on keeping my car clean, or to cook more than I eat out, but if I focus on the baby steps each week, I’m much closer to make progress.

4.  The small things will get you hired…and fired.

There is a very strict, mostly unspoken etiquette in dance. Showing up early, wearing clothes that don’t get in the way of dancing, turning off your cell phone, and a strong focus on the task at hand prove a dancer’s mettle almost as the diva who can whip out 32 fouettes, but shows up half an hour late all the time.  These same mannerisms, along with my ability to pick up on unspoken etiquette, has gotten me jobs outside the theater.  It’s amazing how much the little things can make an impression on others…and conversely, I’ve seen others deal with the fallout that seemingly insignificant practices.

5.  The final performance is out of your hands.

Now matter how many weeks and hours you practice, live performances are subject to last minute disasters.  I’ve seen broken bones, fire alarms, slippery floors, tangled jump ropes, broken shoes, and countless other small catastrophes that are almost impossible to prepare for, but at the end of the day the show must go on.  Life is a live performance.  It’s important and necessary to prepare as much as you can, but at the end of the day, you have to work with what life throws at you.  It’s no use beating yourself up about what you couldn’t prepare for, so be happy with what you did accomplish and get on with the show!

Stretch - Denai Being a Badass

Dance Where You Least Expect It

If you’ve been anywhere on the internet in the past few weeks, Virgin Airlines’ new safety video must have clogged up your newsfeed at least four times by now.  What I love about this video is how Virgin has integrated dance into something as mundane as buckling your seatbelt, and it got me thinking…what other unusual situations are dancers pop and locking up?

 

Here are just a few to get you started:

On a train…

Flash mobs AND Julie Andrews?  What more could you want from a dance routine?

Out Shopping…

Stretch - Arianna-Bickle
From http://www.dancersamongus.com/photos

Dancers Among Us is a photography project by Jordan Matter.  Matter was inspired by the storytelling abilities of dancers and their complete commitment to the worlds they create in the mundane.  His photos combine the extraordinary beauty of dance in ordinary surroundings.

On the street…in roller skates

Roller skating is a pretty common pastime.  Tapping is a little less common, but not unheard of.  But tap dancing in roller skates?  Only Gene Kelly can make something make roller tapping look as natural as walking.

On top of a car…

Ever gotten bored while waiting for your gas tank to fill?  Why don’t you take a leaf out of this guy’s book and take a little spin on the roof of the car?

Underwater…

Synchronized Swimming

They might get made fun of for their sometimes terrifying makeup, but synchronized swimming is no joke.  Swimmers train both on land and off to make their routines picture perfect and worth their salt!

Down some stairs…

If anyone else besides James Cagney tried this, they would end up with a broken neck, but he doesn’t even seem to have broken a sweat.

 

What other examples of dance in unexpected places have you come across!  Feel free to chime in on the comments or on our Facebook page!