Thursday, January 31, 2019

Keep Moving, Keep Moving, Keep.

Another  Danceworks Denville  Moving Company season is in the books. Or is in on the books?
It’s definitely in the past whatever the relationship to books is.

Once more, due to the fact that we’ve all agreed to use the same calendar, it coincides with the anniversary (Eight years plus one day) of this blog. 

It’s nice to have a connection to something nobler than the standard twice a week foolishness that goes on here for this annual acknowledgment.  Miss Chris’s concentrated efforts to bring musical entertainment to those in rehab centers, assisted living and senior residences certainly counts.

Our family’s involvement continued and grew. Anabelle completed her second year in Senior Company. She and her peers are now reaching the point where they “adopt” members of the Junior Company, since the bonds Danceworks forms are awesome.  She’s also closer to the dancers older than her, due to years of training together and random laughter filled post class conversations about life in general that I probably don’t want to know about.  (Though I couldn't think of a better and more trustworthy bunch for her to have them with. Kinda like I'm glad she learns profanity from me, because at least I know it is used correctly in a sentence. Or possibly the opposite of that.)  Both my nieces, Aurora and Veronica are in Junior Company now, and their mother Kim is one of several of the hardworking backstage moms helping hold it all together.  She’s also part of the adult tap group that did the “Cool Vaudeville Chair Thingy” (I'm paraphrasing, that may not be the actual title) in some shows.  This year, my wife Rosa videoed the performance again, at one of the places with a real stage, for end of the year viewing.

And, me?  I just push a button.

It’s a pretty strong testament to my technological cluelessness that I say that line whenever I'm asked about helping out by playing the music.  The reason is- Miss Chris has all the music on a touch screen IPod, meaning there’s minimal button involvement.

In some of the odder speaker position places, having my face on a Bose while the microphone speaker is elsewhere makes accurate judgement difficult.  Between Rosa, some other parents, Miss Chris and her husband “one man stage crew, roadie, transportation and tech support” Mr. Carl, there’s enough people I can look to in better hearing locations for signals.  It’s lucky that there’s a bunch, as when anyone’s child is dancing, they’re far too engrossed to offer insight.  And when one of the dancer’s older brothers lent a male voice to the performances, all ages of the crowd (to use a Looney Tunes Reference) turned into “Swooning buh-bee-buh-bee- Bobby Soxers” as he masterfully Johnny Mathised the heck out of a couple numbers, leaving me to best guess it.

This year’s theme was “Dance,” which I guess is every year’s theme.  Then again, much of the music was somehow connected to vaudeville, classics and standards, which are always a hit with the older crowds.  

Something I noticed this year:  I’m rapidly being shoved towards the “older crowds” age, meaning they should be a few generations removed from the time of those “standards and classics.”  Yet those always seem to work to get the crowd enthused, clapping and singing along. I wonder if that will always be true, or if some point in the near future a Woodstock or Ozzfest themed Moving Company is in the cards?

Watching the dancers improve and grow, not only year to year, but show to show is always amazing.  Once again they were faced with randomly sized and shaped performance areas, with unpredictable levels of floor friction.  They maintained professionalism when squeezed into tight locations, adapting by occasional comically minimalized movements, and once in a while bouncing subtlely, yet gracefully off of each other or the furnishings.   That professionalism held up on stage, but collapsed into piles of hysterics in the wings. 

There’s something fantastic about when people that talented and graceful let go.  It’s a special kind of ridiculous freedom when they dance off stage at the end of the show in a non-choreographed manner.  To make another reference I’m not old enough for, and most other people won't get (way to expand the readership, Jeff)  Spike Jones and the City Slickers could only generate their brand of symphonic ridiculousness by being extremely competent musicians first.  It takes an accomplished dancer to look that fun and silly in time to the music.

The size and shape of the place issues had effects on each group, but they were varied.  Pointe is insanely hard enough on its own, and the fact they survived intact performing to a funky instrumental "Sweet Dreams" (Because Miss Chris is awesome) on slick tiles, obstructed carpets and parking lots is nothing short of a miraculous testament to their ability.
Both Junior and Senior theater jazz had the largest casts, making space a premium, yet they made room for one another in numbers that had every crowd clapping and moving along. This was nothing compared to the finale where the entire troupe came out and somehow danced without knocking anyone unconscious.  

The two lyrical groups had less performers in their always graceful performances than jazz, but lyrical is very flowing, and flowing things always fill their container, not providing much relief.  (I don't know much about dance, but I know physics.)  

The modern dance only had four dancers, but took up the most real estate due to its nature. I often expected a side lunge to require vaulting over the microphone speaker, yet they maintained poise and unaltered insurance premiums.  Modern also leads to many headaches if I interpret the movements correctly.  It's kind of embarrassing that after all this time, aside from, "It looks really cool, it takes great effort and skill and I like watching it" I haven't figured anything else out about modern. I need a book.   

The other two dance types had different volume problems.  Not counting friction issues, tap on a tiled floor easily overpowers the music they need to time the tapping to.  And yet with all these issues, they pulled off amazing crowd pleasing shows week after week.  

Of course the graduating Senior dancers filled the room with their stage presence.  
(*sniff* Yeah, I'm pathetic.)

The singers impressed me, as they do every year, by facing an audience alone with only their voices.  A couple graduated last year, but the younger performers grew every show, and are on the early and late phases of their transition from singers to performers as their confidence catches up to their talent. I'm really hoping they're both back next year to see where they go from here. 

(I probably mean "hear."  
Not for that final "here."
As in - "hear" as opposed to "see" ...
Not the other "here."  
"Good Grief, the Comedian's a Bear!"
Because I like vaudeville too.)

Similar to last year, I usually refrain from noting individual, non relative’s names, ('cause I don't really expect anyone other than relatives to read my stuff most of the time...Hi Mom!) But since she’s a Senior:
It was a privilege watching Lindsay evolve performance to performance from a timid kid with a melodic voice to an absolute show stopper.

That’s the one thing I’m not sure I like being involved with this as years pass.  
At first, it was a little sad knowing the top dancers would be leaving. 

After that, it was worse knowing dancers we’d seen for several years were leaving. 

Now it’s my daughter’s friends that are leaving.

We will not speak of the inevitable next step in this progression.

Since all of them are nominally “Her Kids” and this year one  Senior really was, I’m stunned at how well Miss Chris held it together to keep this thing planned out, organized and running fantastically through the myriad variables every week.  I'm also thrilled the Seniors kept saying “Wait until June” when anyone would bring up emotional control issues. I'm glad they were concentrating on that idea, since it meant they probably didn't notice me misting up each show to a point that the little pink IPod was blurry. Because I'm pathetic.

Every season has too many memorable moments to annotate, but here’s a few showcasing the performers’ professionalism and talent, and the never ending string of comedy materail that is my life, which stood out.

The opening shows are always outside.  The first at a farmer’s market was blustery but nowhere near record cold.  If the dancers didn’t require, and succeed at, multiple quick changes before needing to sprint across the parking lot, that might have mattered.  Knowing how to use the IPod and volume controls, I approached the first show with confidence, even without needing to go to the day before’s run through to learn the equipment, like last year. 
My confidence evaporated in a cloud of intense focus when I realized: since I had only seen sporadic rehearsals, I was in the dark about what the end of most numbers looked and sounded like.  Focus is a valuable thing.

Speaking of record temperatures, the other outside show at the Black Friday open house was the second coldest in Danceworks history.  Normally, only the Junior Company is allowed to wear insulated “underarmor” with their costumes, but the bone chilling sub-freezing temperatures led Miss Chris to not only allow, but suggest it for the Senior Company.  I was proud that my daughter showed the sense to be one of two that showed up wearing it.  But I think I was more proud of the show biz mentality when the two of them noticed they wore a different color each, and that none of the others brought it. They all decided to perform in only their costumes.  Honestly, I think the fact that a large amount of alumnae come to the show, being home from college for Thanksgiving, assisted their decision. Probably something along the lines of, “If they never wore the underarmor we’re certainly not going to.”  This is usually the one show that the already set up audio technicians for the night run the sound, but the temperature was low enough that their player didn’t function.  Knowing how to use the iPod, I was drafted to both cue up the music, and try to infuse the heat of my hand into the little pink thing to keep it from draining or seizing up. The dancers could only tell if they were centered on their wooden “tap coins” by sound as they lost feeling in their feet pretty early on.  Once again, they overcame it all.

Somewhere between the outdoor and indoor shows, I received a great honor. An official Moving company t-shirt like the dancers and the people who do actual work backstage get... with my name on it and everything!   Miss Chris said I didn’t have to wear it, since the letters were in pink and stuff. 

Are you kidding? 

I wore it to work! 

Considering I am normally pathologically averse to wearing something that matches other people, it says a lot about Danceworks, that I not only wore it to each show, but hand washed it myself when there were performances two days in a row.  I think I only did that once before in my life, way back in my living alone and single days-  connected to the post "macaroni and cheese debacle" blender explosion I believe.  

The feeling comes from where I'm usually positioned to play the music, facing the audience.  The people who sing along, and cheer and clap are nice, but they aren’t the best part.  

It's the little smiles.  

In some places, almost the whole crowd is in wheelchairs, or bedridden in extreme cases, several with almost no mobility.  When they see a well-executed dance, or hear a song that ties to an old memory, I can see tiny changes in expression, sometimes with visible effort.  It’s the smallest of those smiles that show how much Miss Chris’s and the performers’ efforts mean to these people.

Surprises abounded inside as well.  There’s a physical rehab center with a tiny, slippery performance space and a history of musical glitches.  Fortunately the only one the glitch affected this year was me.  While the dancers were adjusting their choreography to avoid more than the occasional smack into the wall behind them, (normally by my relations, it must be genetic) the IPod lied about what track it was playing.  Let’s just say there were a lot of high speed adjustments everywhere, and fortunately, no one ended up having to check in to the center.

There was a different space constriction in a retirement home played at another week.  The carpeted area (with some Mr. Carl taped down outlets) was wide in the rear of the “stage” section of the room, but narrowed by columns in the front of it.  There may have been a few leaping near misses (and possibly a near hit) of those columns, but since I was usually tripping over the piano bench with the IPod on it trying to stay out of the way “backstage” while stretching my arm behind the column to reach the volume controls, I can’t be sure.  Sadly, gracefulness is not contagious.

The biggest on the fly adjustments was the place that billed them as “Dance Force” for the second year in a row.  It had the same set up of shows for assisted and unassisted living they performed last year.  We pulled in to the lot and saw Miss Chris heading from the place of the supposed first show, to the second location.  The initial location seemed to have forgotten we were coming.  The second one sent us up the elevator (which we did in the first place last year) to find no performing area. We then came back down, and into the dining hall for the show, which is where we asked if we were going again in the first place. Not the actual "first place" location, the first place of the second place, which was now first.   Then we went back to the theoretical first place where they did perform upstairs last year, and the people in charge did an impromptu, “Go ahead use the main lounge down here.”  Miss Chris and I engaged in quick furniture moving, with the exception of the world’s heaviest coffee table.  The dancers and singers (including an impressive alumni return) performed both shows spectacularly. This is really impressive since frankly, I'm still confused.

Another venue with two performances had double challenges.  This is not counting the mass of missing Junior Company Members that their fellow young ‘uns choreographed around, pretty much on their own.  The “Unassisted Living” area had its own stage.  The stage however, was unusually narrow for its depth, plus it was slick. The dancers handled it with their usual skills, aside from ad-libs with the rear curtain.  The performance in the assisted living section was in an extended narrow room with the dancers along one long wall and the residents wheeled in along the other.  I was wedged into a corner with the music, using a unique system to insure the levels reached the length of the room without being overpowering.  I kept an eye on the elderly woman right opposite the table I hid behind, raising the volume until she made a squinchy, “It’s too loud” face and then backed off one.  

The truest demonstration of the dancer’s skill and control happened in this location.  As usual, back stage was a nearby room (corridor, broom closet, whatever) where the definition of “nearby” varied wildly.  In this case, they had to come across a hall, and then through a door in the back of a storage hallway leading into the performing room.  While a solo singer was on “stage,” the entire tap group made their way down that extended, hard, echoey, tile floor hall. I looked behind me before each switch to make sure the people matched the playlist, and saw a mass of highly confident, talented and -above all- graceful young women, doing an exaggerated, tippy toe sneak, like a metal soled Scooby Gang, to get into position.   

The final show had a stage as well, which is always cool for a sense of occasion and it was nice to see them perform spectacularly from the front for a change.   There was a last minute switch in music order.  I learned that just because I advance the paper clip down my list to track the spot, the iPod doesn't advance.  
Go figure.  
At least I caught it by the first note and once again only confused myself. 
I can be taught.

I got flowers again!

I may sound like a doofus (in general, but specifically here) when I keep talking about the honor of being asked to “push the button.” However, I can’t dance (as demonstrated scientifically in a classroom environment), I can’t sing (as demonstrated to fellow drunken “Hotel California”/ “Eye of the Tiger” performers in the woods) and no one gives a damaged rat kidney about a juggler after about the age of five. (As demonstrated by the woman who used her stroller to push me out of her way while I juggled axes.) Therefore being able to help bring this much joy to this many people who normally couldn’t experience it IS truly an honor.

The final honor was being allowed to come to the end of season party.  After costume returns, they all watched the video of the show, and I must say it was nice to see it without existing in a constant state of panic about botching someone’s accompaniment.  (I take my “push the button” seriously.)  Mostly, however,  I did what I do during the performances: audience watch.  How much they bonded over bringing their talents to all of those people showed once again in their positions and reactions watching it together.

Then came the moments that there are really no adequate words for.  Miss Chris cued up each number from the show, and invited any dancer who didn’t perform that one to try it out.  They’d seen these dances at best partially, if at all, from backstage throughout the season, and then on the video right before.  There was a marvelous combination of outstanding physical skills, and virtually no knowledge of what to do next. Those who performed the dance in the show shouted out guidance throughout, and cheered wildly whenever someone got a move right. There was unbridled joy on both sides of the “stage” and it was outstanding to see further evidence of the Danceworks bonds in action.

After the last attempt, the real Seniors got up for their number to show everyone “How it’s done.”  Then, with some sillier faces than usual and the occasional laughter inducing outburst that wouldn't have been in a show, they performed their dance.  This time it wasn’t for a separate audience, it was for their friends, and the bond between everyone was even more coherent and visible.

Luckily the total focus of the Seniors was on their cast mates, and the total focus of the rest of the Moving Company was on their leaders.

This way no one could see me drying my eyes again. 
Because I'm pathetic.


Will Not Bill said...

Wonderfully written! You did a great job again this year. As the Mom of one of the seniors I shed a few tears at their last venue.
Ellen Lanza

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx, on both counts.
Especially for sharing the journey.

Deborah said...

Brilliant, as always! ☺
-"Charlotte's Mom"

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx much for reading and posting. And for the link so we can follow her singing.

Deborah said...

My pleasure. Your writing is brilliant -- entertaining and thinkworthy! Your profile pic, however, looks nothing like you! ☺

Jeff McGinley said...

Again, many thanx. There are some days where, first thing in the morning, that picture is pretty close.