It’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.
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.