All posts by Laura Rensing

Out-Stretched: Interview with Level Ground


No art exists in a vacuum; neither does Stretch.  That’s why this interview is focused on reaching out to other dance and art collectives with a focus on community, education, and acceptance. We interviewed Niko Palacios, the Program Development point person for the Level Ground Festival.   Level Ground is becoming a national innovator in film festival programming, art curation, and dialogue.  Level Ground uses art to create safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality in the  hopes of cultivating a better way of speaking across differences and disagreements.

14128LG-2015Poster_03dWhat drew you to Level Ground?  When did you first start working with the project?

Level Ground comes out of an experience with other friends at Fuller Seminary.  It was the first LGBT group at an evangelical institution that wasn’t about challenging the platform or having an agenda, but was focused on building empathy.  We were surprised at the traction we found in the first few years.  The original founders decided to bring it to a more international audience, and during the second year, decided to bring me on.  I really believe in the methodology of Level Ground, because I myself have found myself caught between two worlds: the gay and Christian community.  Everyone who participates in it has a lot at stake, and is so courageous, but it leads to lots of conversation.

Level Ground does start the conversation in a lot of ways—it’s a very multimedia group.  Can you talk a little bit about why it’s so important to have a diverse approach to this conversation?

We do believe that people are more likely to experience art with someone they don’t know, or who they perceive to have different values.  It’s easier to see for a moment in someone else’s life journey, to build empathy, and expose stories and narratives in a far-reaching method.

What do you hope to see in the future with Level Ground?

We’ve done a great job historically at widening discussion and Memes2015_0000_A (1)perception around gender and sexuality.  We’ve exposed unheard narratives and stories around the country—we had 6-7 different festivals in our first year alone curating art and fostering artists in the community.  I’m constantly surprised at what I’ve learned along the way.  These stories provide rich nuance and context, and prove there’s more than the face you see on TV.  Looking forward, we hope to go wide, to really broaden our scope of topic matter by using great tools and effective dialogue.  Racial inequality, interfaith matters, and so much  more.  In the past, we’ve been really focused on sexuality, but now I think we can explore how it intertwines with other political conversations.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m just so grateful to the participants, the sponsors, and contributors, who put their art, themselves, and their reputations on the line to deconstruct the narrow ways of being seen in the world.  I just really want to say thank you to the artists, and I look forward to hearing more stories.


Level Ground’s Festival is going on this weekend in Pasadena.  Find out more here, or click this link to attend!

Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Brian Barrale

Brian BarraleBrian Barrale is the man behind the music of Stretch Dance Co.’s Bells and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies videos (be sure to check them out if you haven’t had a chance!).  Brian took a moment from preparing for his tour to talk about his process for creating music for Stretch.  You can find out more about him on his website at: and be sure to check out his music from the Stretch Dance videos on iTunes.

Was this the first time you composed for a dance?  How does it differ from when you compose on your own? 

It was great.  Most often, I have done work for hire or commission. I’ve definitely done cabaret shows where I’ve composed songs for more of a one-woman or one-man show, and  I’ve also done original musicals and short vignettes that had choreography involved.  Lyndell gave me a broad scope of what her vision was, but she also gave me a lot of room to experiment.  She gave me specific outlines, the backbone of what she wanted.  But she also let me be who I am and let me go deep with what I had in  mind. She was wonderful to collaborate with.

 Sugar Plum Fairies

Do you compose music differently when you know you’re composing for dancers? 

I’m used to being told what to do and what’s expected.  Lyndell just gave me some specifics, and let me go at it with that in mind.  I had just bought a new computer at that time, and I wanted to experiment with a fresh set of sounds.  So I bought a whole set of orchestra specifically for the project. I wanted to experiment that fresh set of sounds.


You bought…a fresh set of sounds? 

(Laughs) Yes, but don’t tell Lyndell!  (Interviewer’s note: whoops).  As an electronic composer, I do compose with live instruments, but when it comes to an orchestra, I don’t always have live music.  I use sample libraries—my go-to is CineSamples.  It hooks up with your electronic keyboard, so when you press a key on the board, you can actually play snippets of an actual orchestra.  Everything worked out wonderfully, so much so that I actually put it on iTunes and it actually hit number 13 on the Holiday music chart.


Do you always use sample libraries, or is this something you did so you could get the orchestral effect for the videos? 

Sample libraries are my palate—that’s where I go to create.  You know how Jerry Seinfeld only uses 9×12 legal pads to write his stuff?  I use sample libraries when I’m doing music.  I’ll start with the electronic version first, even if I know I will have a live orchestra.  That’s because I have worked for film, TV, and video games, and they want to have the closest thing to what it will sound like as a final product.  That is my go-to way of composing.


Beyond Cinesamples and Lyndell, was there anything else that inspired you while working on the music?  Was there a difference for your Dark Bell Carol and Viscous Plum Faeries? 

First of all, the “Dark Bell Carol” was based on Carol of the Bells.  I took the traditional Ukrainian bells and worked off of that.  Traditionally “Carol of the Bells” has no lyrics, so I wanted to work the sounds of the bells.  And then I added the middle section which was really dark and agitated section and explored the string sections—I really wanted to get the scratchy textured sound.

(You can hear what he’s talking about around 1:09)

As for Viscous Plum Faeries – that was very much directly inspired by the score for Coraline, specifically the end credits. It had that a very fast and staccato plucked sound.  And–you’re going to love this–the driving force for the beat was that I used one of the plastic water bottles, like you would find at at an office, and used the end of a drum stick to get the sound that I wanted.  It’s a very soft, but aggressive ba baba ba bum bump bumpos (Interviewer’s note: I tried to capture the sound effect).

Speaking of Viscous Fairies, that’s such an interesting name.   What made you choose it? 

The word viscous has stuck with me since I learned it.  Ha!  It’s this thick gooey black dark, evil gross kind of thing, and that’s what I was going for in the music.


Stretch Dance Co. sends out a huge thank you to Brian for his contributions to the Stretch Dance Co. videos.  Don’t forget to check him out on Spotify and his Facebook page!

Behind-the-Scenes: Bells & Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

Lyndell took a break from choreographing, filming, editing, and dancing, and a million and one other things to fill me in on the inspiration behind the two pieces Stretch is releasing in December.  Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making these videos!

What was the inspiration to do both Bells and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies?  Did you have a strong vision for both, or did one inspire the other? 


Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies came first.  Pentatonix came out with a Sugar Plum Fairy version that was on the darker side.  It gave me a vision of little mischievous fairies as opposed to the pretty ones we’re so used to seeing. I thought, “That would be really interesting.”

At the same time, I had to think about “How do I make this accessible to everyone?”  Because with copy written material, YouTube won’t allow people to watch it phones and iPads.  I hate thinking that way, but you have to think about how people can connect with your material. Matthew Bourne says something to effect of, “Half is business, half is art.”

In comparison, Bells, is less dark than a lot of the pieces we’ve seen from Stretch so far. 

It is less dark–we’re wearing white! But it’s still somber.  I had no idea which one I wanted to do, so I just listened to a lot of Christmas music. “Carol of the Bells” came on, and I had this image of the dancers embodying the vocalization and instrumentation of the song.  I thought that would be a nice juxtaposition to the Sugar Plum Fairy piece.


I noticed on your Instagram that you have a picture of you writing dance steps on the music.  How do you choreograph without words?  What techniques do you use? 

Actually, Bells is the first time that I wrote directly on the sheet music.  Usually, when I come up with the idea of choreography, the dancing just happens in my mind. Sometimes it’s a visualization, sometimes it’s a story–I stick with what inspired me.  For Bells, I was choreographing to the vocals that didn’t exist; the dancing stood in place of the vocals that were missing.  I wanted movement to match sometimes, so I had to find exactly when the vocals matched.  I was literally drawing little people under the notes.

(Fun fact: the dancers were split up into four different vocal parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Each “vocal” part had a slightly different timing.  See if you can spot when we split into our sections! Hint: try watching at 0:16 & 1:10)

How was it working with the composer, Brian Barrale? Were you very specific about what you wanted, or did you let him run with it? 

I had worked with Brian on the promo for my husband’s Kickstarter, and I thought “Hmmm…there could be something here.”  And there was! After we established that he loved Christmas music, he asked me for things that he absolutely needed to know.  I gave him a time limit, a tempo, a tone that I was looking for, and a style, and I let him run for it. I like to give people as much artistic freedom as possible, because the end result is always better.

What kind of things were you looking for? How did the collaboration work between the two of you?   

For example, for Bells, I wanted it to be very classical, but free—I didn’t want it to sound like a metronome. I still wanted to use classical instruments, but have a tone like CoralineCoraline has very dark, yet naïve innocence to it.  Brian played out the skeleton of it, and then he would send it back to me, and the movement I created was inspired by it.

Ninety-four percent of what he sent the first go around was there for me—we were very in sync artistically.  Both of us like stuff that’s a little off. He sent me a version of the song, and wrote to tell me that he wasn’t sure if it would be too dark.  But when I listened to it, I thought “Yes! So good.”

Don’t forget to watch “Bells” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” on our YouTube Channel!    

If you loved the music and want to download it, The Dark Bell Carol and Viscous Plum Faeries are now available on iTunes.  

Is Dance a Sport–and Should We Want it to Be?

I was planning on writing a post a post to discuss whether or not dance should be considered a sport, but Misty Copeland’s ad proved that dancers are athletes in less than 120 seconds.  Don’t believe me?

She has more muscle in her calves than I have in my entire body.

Sometimes a gif is worth a thousand words.

The real question is not whether or not dance is athletic enough to be a sport, but do we want it to be one? 

Risa Gary Kaplowitz writes in her article on Huffington Post that  in response to the “Olympian approach to ballet” and other dance disciplines is making dancers lose their artistic edge in order to focus on gaining an athletic one (read the whole article if you have time–it’s a great read!).

Some might not see a problem with this approach.  It’s easy to applaud the backbreaking, leg-splitting, gravity-defying tricks that are so popular today, but I think Kaplowitz points out an important trend that dancers should be aware of.

In making dance a sport, we then confine it to rules, and its dancers to mere players.  In creating rules, we make breaking them a taboo.  And yet dance thrives on breaking rules and doing the unexpected.

As artists, we have the freedom to be our own agents.  A basketball player may comment on the game, but rarely does their opinion matter on the outcome of the final score.  A dancer’s interpretation of the dance steps can completely change the meaning of the piece.

Take for example, these two different interpretations of “Too Darn Hot,” a musical theater and dance competition fave.

Both dances are amazing.  In the first clip from Season 10 of So You Think You Can Dance, Makenzie Dustman’s long legs flash through our ennui.  We can appreciate the flawless execution of the lightning fast turns and sizzling footwork.  Right from the start, Mackenzie’s limb-tearing extension promises us a show, and delivers.

In the second clip, performed by the UK cast of Kiss me Kate, you can practically see sweat dripping off the languid yet sensual movements of the dancers. It’s a feeling many of us can sympathize with (particularly if you’re caught in this heat wave in California at the moment).  Whereas the first clip promised to wow me from the first developée, I was constantly surprised at the turns the dance took in the second.

Both dances were performed by professionals.  Both featured amazing extension, technique, and tricks. So who’s the winner? 

No one—and that’s the beauty of dance as an art form and not a sport. Both dances are saying different things: the first seems to say that their moves are too hot for the rest of us, whereas the second revels the delicious yet draining heat.  If dance were a sport, once would have to be deemed “better” than the other.

Dance is a form of expression.  It is a universal language that can be found in every culture.  It is a way around the rules of language, borders, class.  For every social or political line that exists, there is a dancer toeing their way around it.

Why would we give up that freedom for a trophy cabinet?

Bonus question!  Which version of “Too Darn Hot” did you like best?  I personally love the fun surprises and comedy (particularly the trio around 7:15) of the UK Kiss Me Kate cast, but I’m also a musical theater nerd, so I’m  predisposed.  Speak up in the comments, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

A Year of Stretch Dance Company: Where We Were Then, and Where We’re Going

Hello Friends of Stretch!


You didn’t think we’d disappeared, did you?

Just in time, too.  As summer comes to a close, so does my first year with Stretch Dance Company.

It has been an unbelievable year.It has been a year of unexpected pitfalls and victories, of friendship, of dance, and especially hope.

If I sat down with the Laura from a year ago, she would have a very different idea of how things would turn out.

A year ago, I had just started writing for the blog and Stretch had just closed its preview performances of I Have Lived a Thousand Years.  A year ago, I thought the hardest part of being in a dance company was trying to make it Lyndell Perfect Land a reality.

As the lights went down on our final preview performance, I thought that the hardest work was complete.

Ah well, I did say it was a year full of hope, didn’t I?

Shortly after the preview closed, I began working with Lyndell on the backend of the company.  Let me tell you, if you think Lyndell Perfect Land is hard on the dance floor, try it on a desktop.

But the hardest about making a dream dance company a reality?  The reality part.  The truth is, it takes time to grow a company—dance or otherwise—and there are a whole host of problems.  From finding the right people to securing a dance space, to finding time to rehearse (while you have the space), to nabbing funds, to promoting the company, which usually means you need more funds…unfortunately dance is often the last thing on the list.

But it has also shown me the kind of company that Stretch could be once it’s off the ground.  Though there have been some drawbacks, I have been so inspired by Lyndell and the rest of the Stretch Dance Company and everyone’s commitment and generosity to pledge their time, their talent, and themselves to this adventure.  I have been bowled over by the excitement of our fans, by my friends who are always there to support and ask me about what’s going on with the company, and even by interested third parties who hear about us at a workshop, or in passing.

The message that Lyndell is trying live—through dance, through the very mission of Stretch Dance Company—is hope.  Each dance she choreographs is a step closer to this ideal.  We are surrounded by news and stories that remind us just how awful the world can be.  Lyndell and Stretch Dance Co. offer a different story: one of optimism founded not in naïve ignorance, but based in the strength of those who have come before us, and in the richness of what we create now.

It will be a hard slog from here, but I believe in my fellow Stretchers, in Lyndell, and most of all, for what we stand for: hope.

Name that Dance Movie!

How can you possibly stand the wait until Stretch performs onstage again at Carnival?  There’s no real cure (except perhaps watching our YouTube channel), but I’m here to help.  In honor of our Carnival piece, inspired by the upcoming movie Maleficent, I’ve put together a quiz of movies inspired by dance.  How many dance movies can you name?

Step 1: Match the quote with the movie and see how many you can guess correctly.

Step 2: Watch all the movies for the answers you got wrong.

Step 3: Watch all the movies for the answers you got right.

Step 4:  Come see Stretch perform at Carnival on April 30th!

Can Can
Are you excited to take my quiz?!?

1. A: So are you two sisters?
B: We dance in the same company.
A: Ah, ballerinas. No wonder you two look alike.

2. You won’t get any dancing here, it’s illegal.

3. You need to take off that 5th grade dance lookin’ top.

4. Just because I like ballet doesn’t mean I’m a poof, you know.

4 Singin' in the rain

5. A: I told you to bring tights
B: Do I look like I own tights?

6. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.

7. I do ballet because it has nothing to do with the people. Give me tiaras and boys in tights any day.

8. I’m not dancing with you, all right? I’m not dancing with you ’til you dance like you’re supposed to!

3Save the Last Dance

9. A: It’ll never work.
B: Why not?
A: Because I hate you.
B: There’s only one business where that’s no problem at all.

10. I’d kill to dance like that. It’s like sex on hardwood.

Show me the answers!

Waiting to hear the results is always the hardest part.

Question 1: The correct answer is the Black Swan.

Question 2: The correct answer is Footloose.

Question 3: The correct answer is Save the Last Dance.

Question 4: The correct answer is Billy Elliot.

Question 5: The correct answer is Step Up.

Question 6: The correct answer is Singin’ in the Rain.

Question 7: The correct answer is Center Stage.

Question 8: The correct answer is Strictly Ballroom.

Question 9: The correct answer is Chicago.

Question 10: The correct answer is Take the Lead.


Pointe Break: Dancers on Break

Sometimes, when I feel horribly uninspired to make it to dance class, I fire up my Pinterest and drink in dancers leaping through the air and reminding me that watching So You Think You Can Dance is not the same as taking a dance class.

But there are some inspirational photos I enjoy much more than dancers wrapping their legs around their head…that is dancers doing the complete opposite.  Sometimes, it’s nice just to see dancers not when we’re they’re on, but who they are off-stage.

Window ballerinas


Smoking dancers


Feet up



hip hop dancers



Flamenco dancer

DIY (Dance it Yourself): Dance Survival Kits

Have all these earthquakes got you on edge?  You can never be too prepared for the next disaster—dance disaster that is!  Build your very own dance survival kit

Your standard dance kit for extra-long rehearsals, workshops, and classes should include these basics:

Tiger balm: I don’t know what they put in it. Hopefully not actual tigers…
  • Band aids are a must for blisters and rubs.
  • Tiger balm for sore muscles.  You can buy it at your local drug store and save yourself a world of pain.
  • Shoe laces, elastics, ribbons, or whatever else keeps your shoes on your feet and not all over the dance floor.  Your local dance store will have them by the bundle, but you can save a bundle by going to a craft store.  
  • Screw driver – a must if you’re a tapper with some screws loose.  They have all sorts of nifty mini screw driver kits at dollar stores that are the perfect size to slip into your dance bag.
  • Sewing kit–whether you need a little extra thread, or a safety pin to hold you together
  • Bobby pins and hair elastics
  • Aspirin
  • Snacks!–Everyone has their favorite power food, whether it’s a Cliff bar, trail mix, or a little bit of sugar.
  • Extra water bottle–you can either a tiny one small enough to slip into your dance bag, or large enough to keep you set through the Apocalypse.

For shows and auditions, pump it up with additions:

  • An extra pair of tights–because if you’re anything like me, you’ll only remember
  • Double sided tape
  • Lipstick and mascara
  • Make-up wipes
  • Hot glue—you never know when your shoe is going to fall apart at the worst moment.  When that moment comes, you have hot glue.

If you really want to pimp out your bag, add these few extras:

Mini Rollers
These are super handy to roll out sore muscles–and they’re much smaller than a foam roller!
  • Mini massage roller–you can get small ones at Target that are perfect size for on the go
  • Theraband–find it at your local dance store, or online.
  • Potpourri bag–because your dance moves may be pretty, but the smell coming from your dance bag is not.


Growing Pains: Growing into a Professional Company, Part 2

A few weeks back, I wrote about the difficulties of getting a new dance company off its feet and onto its pointe shoes.  I quickly realized that there are a lot more difficulties than one puny blog post can detail.  Now, back by no demand, I bring you a few more obstacles to starting Stretch….and how we’re getting around it.

Our dancers are awesome…too awesome.

Stretchers are amazing dancers from all different genres and types of dance and are held to very high standards (you have to in order to make it in Lyndell Perfect Land!).  Unfortunately, that means our dancers are good enough to book gigs, which means Lyndell is constantly scheduling around other rehearsals and sometimes even losing dancers to overseas commitments.

Denai and Chris
Denai and Chris also lead dance warm ups when Lyndell is off doing…whatever creative directors do.

How we’re overcoming it:

We dance around our schedules as much as we dance around the studio.  Usually, the only time everyone is free is on Saturday nights.  It’s not always the best time, but we’re making it work for now.  We also have two awesome dance captains, Denai and Chris, who learn every single dancer’s choreography so that they can jump in when someone is missing.  We also take a video each rehearsal (the edited versions are posted on our YouTube channel!) to catch up on any choreography that we missed.  This means that each dancer has to be really on top of their choreography and able to follow it ourselves.

Time is…time.

Like all artists, Stretchers have day jobs.  This means we have anywhere from 20-40 hours of work and/or school in our week before we even begin attacking Stretch rehearsals.  This doesn’t just apply to rehearsals, but to the administrative side of the company as well.  Every assistant, every designer, and especially all of the creative and magic that Lyndell does on her end.  Finding dance space and writing pitch letters may sound boring, but it’s vital for a baby dance company to find its feet.

How we’re overcoming it:

I can honestly say that I’ve never worked with such a selfless, caring group of dancers.  Each dancer does their part to help out.  Whether it’s passing along grant opportunities, finding ten new possible VIPs for our premiere, or a certain dancer typing up a blog every week, each person does their part to help Stretch become an established company in record time.

Almost kissing in a handstand with pointed toes…only in Lyndell Perfect Land.

Lyndell Perfect Land is a hard place to live.

I’ve referenced Lyndell Perfect Land in past blog posts, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully explained what it is.  Lyndell Perfect Land is an amazing place where gravity only exists sometimes, our spines can bend in two, our costumes are designed by Hugo Boss, and there are 92 hours to every day.  It’s amazing to see it become reality, but getting there is as difficult as getting somewhere over the rainbow without a tornado.

How we’re overcoming it:

Practice makes Lyndell Perfect Land!  It’s always amazing to me when Lyndell says something along the lines of “Ideally, I’d like this to end in a backbend that you hold for two minutes…” or “That cartwheel looks too pretty; can you do it on your elbows instead?”  (this is usually the point in the rehearsal process where I say something snarky).  But somehow, through sweat blood, and the right amount of chutzpah, we make the leap into Lyndell Perfect Land.

Lyndell wants YOU to bust out sixteen pirouettes.

Dance Etiquette for Dummies: Encore Edition

After my post a couple weeks ago with  some people who can’t get off their phone in yoga class, I went to a show where I got a double dose of inconsiderate theatergoers.  We were in the middle of the ingenue’s ballad when I heard a scrtich scratch scritch scratch behind me.  Someone was actually filing her nails in the middle of the show.  It was like the theater gods had put her in my path on purpose, telling me that my job was not yet done.

Since it would be a three-act tragedy to go against the theater gods, I’m following up on last week’s post about class etiquette with audience etiquette.

Take care of your personal hygiene at home.  Maybe you brush your teeth while watching TV at home, but we’re in public.  Here’s the short list of things I’ve seen audience members do during the show:

  • Clipping and filing nails
  • Flossing
  • Brushing hair
  • Putting on mascara
  • Putting on deodorant

Leaving during the final scene.  Do you just stop reading a book when you know what happens at the end?  Do you stop driving one exit away from your house?  I think the idea that these early rises have this strange idea that if they leave five minutes earlier, they’ll magically miss LA traffic.  It’s not saving you that much time, and you’re missing out on the epic finale number.

Stretch - Bad Theater Goes WIlkes
John Wilkes Booth was the ultimate bad theatergoer: he not only shot the president, he jumped from the balcony and ran across the stage. RUDE.

TURN OFF YOUR CELLPHONE.  SERIOUSLY.  Nope, not to vibrate. Turn it off.   You may think that no one will notice you updating your Facebook status from the audience, but even the dimmest cell phone setting illuminates your face, meaning that you stand out like a lighthouse in a sea of faces. And you’d be surprised how far we can see.

This is my BIGGEST pet peeve about going to the theater.  I get it.  I also think that the zombie apocalypse will hit minutes after I turn off my cell phone, and I’ll lose my chance at getting out on time.

However, by leaving your cell phone, you’re really robbing yourself.  Live performance is an amazing, yet fragile experience.  It can be a transformative, amazing experience if you let yourself get lost in the world that the artists have created, but it is very easy to break that fourth wall.  You’re not only stomping all over the hard work of the performers that you paid to see, but on the impact of the performance for yourself.

So do yourself a favor: put away the cell phone and the nail clippers for two hours of your life, sit back, and enjoy the show.  Believe me: they’re still be there when you get out of the show.

Note: Know what’s surprisingly okay at a show?  Falling asleep.  Performers know that theater isn’t always exhilarating for everyone, not to mention it’s dark, sometimes we’re actually singing you lullabies, and the seats can be pretty comfy.  The biggest faux pas disturb the performance, but so long as you don’t snore to loudly, you won’t attract the ire of (most) performers, though we may giggle about it backstage.