Have you ever been in a show? Particularly a musical, given their extraordinary oddness. You spent weeks and weeks returning until the songs will never leave your head; you ladder every pair of ballet tights you own because those things are not designed for jazz leaps, especially on a splintery wooden stage; and you emerge the other side usually covered in glitter.
And then you have opening night.
Opening nights are kind of terrifying. There are all sorts of factors in that: if it goes badly, then fewer people will come to the other performances, and you’re trying to live up to the expectations after last year’s show received a standing ovation every night. Plus, if you screw it up, you’ll probably be on edge for the rest of the week, whereas if it goes well, you’ll be encouraged and confident.
Yesterday was the opening night of our production of Fame! in which I had an admittedly fairly minor role, though I did get a line consisting of two words, so I even spoke. I know. Next stop, Hamlet. It went pretty well, with only minor errors or mistakes, and I felt I did my part without any disasters.
This year is my first year since 2009 actually on stage in the school musical — the last three years, I’ve been hiding in the band pit, and the year before that was the single year where I wasn’t involved at all. Being a dancer and a chorus member is both more and less exhausting than being in the band, because on the one hand there are a lot of numbers I’m not in and I can have a bit of a break while I get changed, but when you’re in the band at least nobody cares if you look miserable as anything while you play. On stage, you have to make sure you’re smiling throughout every dance.
Many rehearsals left me with the overwhelming feeling that I’m totally not suited to being on stage. My memory for choreography isn’t brilliant. That is to say, once I’ve learned it, I’ve learned it and that’s done, it’s in my head. But it’ll take several rehearsals for it to properly sink in, whereas other people might get it in one or two. And thanks to a minor inconvenience called A-Levels, there were a number of rehearsals I missed.
But halfway through a dance number yesterday I realised I wasn’t fake-smiling anymore. I was genuinely enjoying myself. The opportunity to perform in front of people I know, and people I don’t, was less terrifying than fun.
Acting … acting’s different. My least favourite scenes are the ones where I’m in the background and have to figure out facial expressions, to look interested and engaged instead of vacant. But dancing I can do. Dancing it’s either “smile like a dentist’s advertisement” or “look tragic and intense” and I can do that. The steps are there and all you have to do is … well, do them.
My love of dance is something I often manage to forget, which seems weird, but it’s true. It’s partly because my stupid body likes to make it as painful as possible, and therefore I go through periods where dancing isn’t much fun, but it’s also because I get so hung up on other things that I can’t remember what’s so good about dancing.
I’m often reminded of old posts on my blog when Google searchers or other readers stumble upon them, so they appear in my stats. One of them that recently popped up was called Why I Dance. It’s from back in 2011, so many of my reasons have changed. I thought I’d talk about why I dance these days.
I dance because it’s a chance to step away from a computer screen or a book, to look at something other than words. To take my glasses off, rest my hands from typing, and give myself a break from using my brain and eyes so much. I dance because it gets me up from my computer chair where I sit most of the time, forcing me to move my body, to use it as much as I use my brain the rest of the time.
I dance because it grants me time to think. When I’m dwelling on a problem, it’s often only when I deliberately think about something else — such as the steps to a routine — that I come up with a solution.
I dance because it proves to me that my body isn’t useless. Sometimes I grow frustrated at the limitations that my dodgy wrists impose on my writing, on my creativity, on my music-making. Sometimes I get so annoyed that I just ignore the pain and get out my violin anyway because I’m fed up of not being able to play it. But dancing reminds me that there are things I can do … at least on the good days.
I dance because it represents control, and I’m a total control freak. Dance is about learning where my limbs are, which is actually pretty difficult for me (a side-effect of hypermobility), and then moving on from that to control where they are. I have moments when I feel like I am completely in control of what I’m doing. Admittedly, they’re only moments, often broken by crashing into something, but they make it worth it.
I dance because I have friends in my ballet class, people I’d never have got to know otherwise, and I dance because my ballet teacher is lovely, and I dance because it’s fun. It’s a distraction, it’s an escape, and it’s enjoyable. That’s why I do it. That’s why I’m doing this show, too.
Now I just have to get through three more performances before my life becomes entirely dominated by rehearsals for Peter & The Wolf, which we’re performing twice on the twelfth…