All posts by Laura Rensing

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!  

12 Dance-Inspired Costumes for Halloween

Stumped for a Halloween costume?  Ditch the witch hat and try these dance inspired costumes on for size!

1.  CENTER STAGE

Center Stage / Center Stage
From http://soicankissyouanytimeiwant.com/

Come on.  You KNEW this was coming from the moment you read the blog title.

2.  BLACK SWAN

black-swan-makeup-ideas
From http://blackswanmakeup.wordpress.com/

Just stick with the eye makeup for a fun touch for Halloween, or go for full prima devil.

3.  JABBAWOCKEEZ

Jabbawockeez1
From http://www.vegaschatter.com/

Need a group costume?  Grab a mask, a baseball cap, and group pose your way into neverending Halloween candy.

4.  STRICTLY BALLROOM

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From http://www.fanpop.com/

Ballroom: where the hair is ALMOST as big as the shoulder feathers.

….or you could look less like an ostrich and more like a BAMF.

strictly-ballroom-movie
From http://lancerivera1.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/strictly-ballroom/

 

5. THE FLAPPER

Flapper dresses
From http://www.shotinthedarkmysteries.com/flapper-costume-ideas/

Flapper dresses have the advantage of looking cute on anyone.  The hats…not so much.

6.  THE NUTCRACKER

Stretch - Nutcracker
From Costumestore.com

You know how the ladies can’t resist a man in uniform.  But if the Nutcracker is too risque for you, you can always try…

7.  MAGIC MIKE

Magic Mike
From thewrap.com

Officially the cheapest Halloween costume ever.

8.  DIRTY DANCING

dirtydancing
From http://madisonmovie.wordpress.com/

It is obligatory that “Love is Strange” plays the ENTIRE time you wear this costume.

9.  BRING IT ON

BringItOnBigPic
From hellogiggles.com

Now that “Bring It On” is a Broadway musical, you can bust out your old high school uniform without shame.

10.  SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Cyd_charisse_singing_in_the_rain
From wikipedia.org

Sure you can skip around in a big yellow raincoat and umbrella…or you could be the Girl in the Green Dress and set the barre as high as your extension.

11.  FLASH DANCE

Flashdance_Sweatshirt with tuxedo
From:http://nickverrreos.blogspot.com/

I’m pretty sure Jennifer Beals is the only person who can pull off a baggy sweatshirt with high heels and a tuxedo in the same movie.

12. WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?

Stretch - what-does-the-fox-say
From onepopz.com

Who cares what the fox says, your friends will say Ring-ding-ding-ding-ding if you break out in this getup. 

 Tune in again on Thursday for more Halloween fun when Stretch Dance Co. puts a spell on you with their latest video on our YouTube channel!

Teaching A Thousand Years in 90 Minutes or Less

Last week, this video popped up in my Facebook newsfeed, showing college kids being asked questions about the Holocaust…and being unable to answer them.

Now I don’t expect people to be experts on the subject matter—I’m certainly not one myself—but some of these kids couldn’t even answer name which country Adolf Hitler led during WWII.  Another student thought that WWII was waged 300 years ago!

Stretch - Calista FaceThis is a critical gap in our education system.  In past blogs I’ve explored how ignorance and indifference fueled the Holocaust grow from one extremist party to a world war, and the danger lurks not just in the past, but in the present.  When we hide ignorance and hate, or ignore its potency, we give it room to grow untended.  We cannot prevent the Holocaust in 2013, but we can use the knowledge gained from the experience to combat genocide today.

The video makes an excellent point that these students are not to blame for their ignorance, but their lack of education.  As a teacher’s daughter, I know just how that time is almost as tight as money in public schools.  But I also know that the responsibility of education does not fall solely on the shoulders of the teachers themselves, but on each and every member of the community.

This particularly applies to the arts. I’m sure we’ve all heard about arts funding being the first to go in budget cuts, and I’ve heard many debate about the usefulness about the arts and humanities at all.  Shouldn’t we have more doctors, more engineers, more teachers!

The answer is yes, of course!  But we also have a vital need for those who can see the whole story, and tell it to the engineers, Stretch - teachingthe doctors, the teachers, the lawyers.  Armed with that information, they can do their work that much better.  But how can a doctor treat a wound they don’t know about?

This is why I Have Lived a Thousand Years and other educational projects from outside of schools are so vital.  We can provide vital support to our struggling schools and give direction to the students of tomorrow, whether they want to be dancer or a doctor.

It doesn’t take much to made a difference. A 90 minute show can be the introduction of a new generation to a brighter future.

Dance to Start a Movement

How do we talk about that which is taboo?

It’s not that we don’t know that there are problems in our world, in our government, even in our home spheres.  How is that we find it easy to share images of soldiers coming home to families, but not PSTD; of cute videos of puppies, but not animal cruelty; of our endless lists of first world problems, but not the lack of basic resources in third world counties?

Stretch - Reaching
Lyndell’s “Sitting Sadly By Your Side” tackles the tough subject of those who suffer from Depression, as well as its impact on those close to them.

To be fair, there’s not a really a good way to bring up these heavy issues in everyday conversation.  You can’t just drop a “Hey, did you hear about the Somalian civil war this morning?”  at the water cooler and expect to get much of an honest dialogue going.

In an increasingly politically correct world where even newspapers don’t take sides in issues as huge as the Federal Shutdown, how can we find the words to start these conversations?

Maybe, we don’t need words, but a movement.

William Forsythe
William Forsythe is a famous choreographer known for taking on controversial issues.

I will never be one to dispute the power of the pen, but it can be hard to know how to begin to approach such dangerous topics as war, racism, mental illness.  Every conversation needs a springboard; why not dance?

Dance is such an incredibly versatile form; records of its existence date as far back as the records themselves. Almost everyone can dance, whether they’re a full-fledged ballerina, a prancing football player or just your average Joe who bounces to the beat in private.

But for all its adaptability, for all its powerful use of expression, dance is a launching point for a conversation.  These ideas, be they about war or peace, will be left on the stage without those who are willing to discuss the issues brought up in their pieces.

Dance teaches people about team work and respect, to think creatively and express themselves. It can break down gender inequality and teach people to support each other.” says Restless Theater Dance Company CEO Kumori Middleton.

I can’t think of a better place to start a conversation then from there.

 

What You Missed While Watching A Thousand Years…

I bet that after watching our preview video, you may think that you’ve gotten all the juicy parts from Stretch Dance’s Stretch - Watchingproduction…but you’d be wrong.

Heck, I didn’t know what I was missing, and I’m in the show!

We had a chance to view the video of the whole show back when we filmed Applause.  To be honest, I thought I’d be bored rewatching the dances that we’d rehearsed over and over again.

Boy was I wrong.

It was an out-of-body experience for me.  It was surreal to watch the steps that I’d repeated so many times, and yet be surprised by moments in the show that you miss as a performer.  There are so many snapshots that stick in my mind—particularly of the scene about “Is It True About the Smoke.”

While performing, that number is a whirlwind of emotions and activity.  Not only am I rushing from costume to costume in the space of a few counts, but from one extreme emotion to another.  Not to mention I have to make it across the stage in four counts without running over any of my fellow dancers while still attempting to look graceful (that’s what we really go to ballet for all those years for).

But watching the piece…it was breathtaking in a totally unexpected way for me. To see the scared victims transform into the breezy, white dancers was quietly, profoundly beautiful to me.  It wasn’t my favorite number to perform onstage, but it was my favorite to watch.

And yet, as amazing as it was for me to watch the show, I couldn’t help missing something of my favorite elements while performing it: sound.

My sister—my inspiration for becoming a dancer—always jokes that dancers are meant to be seen and not heard, but it’s amazing how sound in dance can truly link up the dancer and the music.

Stretch - Breath
Some exhalations were choreographed into this number. It fit with the emotion and helped keep us together!

There are a few moments when we were choreographed to breath together, o.r for Jill to hum softly in parts of the show, but even just the natural sound of the movement contributed to the pieces.

I remember standing in the wings while Jill performed “Teen Vanity”—the chapter where Elli sees herself in the mirror for the first time after being shaved and starved.  I couldn’t see her at all, but I could hear her strangled breathing, the hard thud as she executed a huge leap, the soft swish as she turned.

These sounds made the taped soundtrack a living collaboration between the musician and the dancer.

So next time you have a chance to see live theater—Stretch Dance Co.’s new performance or otherwise—go out and see it.  Don’t settle for a recording, or a photo, or even a blog entry.

You’ll never know what you may miss.

Stretch - Denai White Words

The Next Era of Dance

Same Love   Stretch Dance Company   YouTube
Theatrical dance relies on the emotions underneath the piece to inform the dancing, not the other way around.

WHAT IS THEATRICAL DANCE?

Put this question to a professional dancer and even they might be stumped.  It’s not really musical theater dance.  It’s not concert dance.  It’s not the dance you do while waiting in the ridiculously long line for the bathroom at a theater.

We may not know it yet, but theatrical dance may be the next evolution of movement, thanks to new generation of versatile dancers.  Whereas it was once good enough to be the master of one form, the modern dancer must be as fluent in ballet as they are in break dancing to remain competitive in an increasingly diverse environment.

Television and YouTube have helped bridge the gaps between the different types of dance, and myriad studios offering any and every kind of dance have given birth to a new type of dancer who has learned Bollywood and ballet in the same studio.

Such a diverse and talented new generation of dancers have set the stage—literally—for shows like So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Next Best Dance Crew, and even Dancing with the Stars, ushering in a whole new era of dance that blends the established techniques of different forms to tell create story-specific movement.

Think back to your favorite piece from So You Think You Can Dance.  Do you remember the amazing dancing, or the amazing story told through the dance?  I’ll bet you’ll remember the story better than you remember how many pirouettes, or how high their jumps were.

Stretch - Bench
Many routines on SYTYCD uses short, yet intense stories to capture the audience

These shows have capitalized on their dancers utilizing a wide range of techniques, but have blended it with strong–yet succinct–story telling.  It’s the perfect format for today’s fast-paced world: a snippet of easily digestible story with a strong narrative.

Add to that a modern flair that mixes hip hop dancers with ballerinas or tappers with a contemporary vibe or a pas de deux with aerial—something that the dance critics would have found horrifying fifty years ago–and you have the recipe for a form of dance that is as powerful as it is adaptable.

Each of these shows relies on each dancer’s individual talents and their ability to seamlessly adapt to new styles and partners while still maintaining a through line.  Shows like SYTYCD gleefully reimagine how dance is pieced together every single week.

This adaptability makes theatrical dance the perfect form for Stretch Dance Co.  Theatrical dance takes advantage of the many talents of our dancers, focuses on the individual strengths of each one, and is flexible enough to transition from a dramatic look at the Holocaust to playfulness of Lady Gaga.

Theatrical dance takes the richness of all the traditions of dance, and yet eagerly steps outside the box to suit its purposes, which is exactly what Stretch Dance Co works for in every dance, every song, every story.  This new trend in dance is already popping up onstage, on screen, and on the streets, but few have realized that these dances reach beyond traditional forms and into a brave new frontier.

Stretch - Fierce

What Makes a Stretch Dancer?

Miss our weekly video? We’ve missed making it!  But don’t worry: we’re coming back with a hearty round of Applause from Lady Gaga this coming Thursday! Stay tuned on our YouTube channel to see it first!

Do you think you have what it takes to be a Stretch Dancer?  After watching our dancers back in action at our latest rehearsal, I’ve compiled a list of what makes a SDC member stand out above the rest!

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A Stretch Dancer is…

Disciplined – When you only rehearse once a week, you have to be on your A-game.  This doesn’t apply to just  polishing the combinations learned during rehearsal, but making a personal commitment to keep our dance skills and knowledge at its best.

Versatile – Versatility is key for a Stretch Dancer.  One week we’ll go Gaga, the next we’ll turn Pink, then head into history the week after that.  Dancers need to be able to make those leaps without missing a beat while still portraying their character honestly and respectfully.

Stretch - Stretch
Carrie’s got the Stretch part down pat!

Exceptional Actors – Stretchers come from a variety of dance backgrounds ranging from contemporary to flamenco, but we share one thing in common: a solid set of acting chops.  Lyndell’s choreography is extremely story-driven and would wouldn’t pack as much of a punch without some amazing storytellers  behind it.

Stretchy– Dancers have to be flexible, and not just on the dance floor!  Since we come from such different backgrounds, everyone has their chance to shine…and to stretch their abilities. From dance steps to emotional vulnerability onstage, each dancer has to face moments where they move past their comfort zone.

Passionate – Above all, Stretch Dancers are extremely committed to dance and storytelling.  Dance is more than a job or a workout to us; it’s expression at its purest form.  This week’s video might suggest otherwise, but we’re not in it for the “Applause.”

Interested in learning more about becoming a Stretch Dance member?Find out more StretchDanceCo.com! 

Stretch - Awesome
We’re also just an awesome, open group of people who love to dance!

 Got a dime to spare?  

Stretch - Donate