We’re back from The Pulse. Julian is tired, happy to have danced with some great choreographers and to have learned some cool choreography, and a bit disappointed not to have won a scholarship of any sort. I know…I know. The scholarship isn’t important. Tell that to Julian. He had several choreographers talk to him and tell him he was doing a good job, but no real “recognition.” To him that means he isn’t yet good enough.
I attended all of Saturday’s classes and the last class on Sunday. So, while I could only relate what Julian told me after the Nuvo convention, this time I actually analyzed a bit of what was going on when it came to choreography and how the kids interpreted it or “copied” it, and how they were, indeed, getting recognized. And now I can tell you what I think…or what questions came up for me…for whatever that is worth.
First, let me say, that there were some pretty awesome dancers there, especially when it came to the boys. Saturday was almost totally focused on hip hop classes. I thought some of these boys would disappear on Sunday, which seemed mostly focused on contemporary, but when I go there for the last class most of the boys were still in attendance. And most of them were just as good at contemporary as they had been at hip hop. (They did combine the advanced and pro class for that last class that I watched, because they were short one teacher; Mia Michaels was sick and didn’t show. I guess Julian is destined not to dance with her. Instead they had Brian Friedman for a second class.)
So, here’s what I noticed: First, according to Julian and from what I heard while I was in the room, at this convention all the teachers told the attendees to make the dance “their own.” That makes the question from my last post mute. And it gave the kids the freedom to learn the dance and then go beyond the basic movements. Most of the kids, however, did the choreography pretty much as taught. The difference between how one dancer did it and another and who got put on state and who didn’t (and who got scholarships and who didn’t) seemed to me to come down to the amount of energy, feeling, accuracy, and precision in the movements. The kids made it their own not so much through interpretation that changed the choreography in any way but in how much they bent their knees, how much emotion was portrayed in the movement of a head or hand, how quickly their torso moved, etc.
As I watched them move, and as I watched Julian, a question arose in my mind: Is it possible that a boy’s dancing (or a girl’s) can be inhibited by their developmental stage at any given time? I think the answer is a resounding “yes.” And here’s why.
Let’s take a simple example first. One of the first dances the kids did on Saturday was to a song that was very sexual in nature. It was all about taking a girl home and having her do to the guy what he normally did to her. While the choreography could be done by anyone, the kids who performed it best, did so in a very sexual manner. They had the pelvic thrusts and the sways of the hips and the movements of the hands down the body down to a sexy art. (It’s a bit appalling actually to think that 14 and 15 year olds know how to dance this way…The room was filled with 14-18 year olds.) More to the point, if a 14 or 15 year old (or 16 or 17 year old) doesn’t have the developmental wherewithal to know how to dance that way — to drum up the feeling to dance that way, they aren’t going to carry off the choreography well. Their performance is going to be missing something that a boy who maybe has had a sexual experience, or whose hormones make him feel sexual or sexy, or who has watched a lot of movies with sex scenes, or who simply is older and can relate to the words of the song will have. Their movements will belie their knowledge, understanding and depth of feeling, while the other boys movements will be lacking. And I definitely saw some that were lacking in that way…and some that were not.
A less simple example comes when you have a kid whose developmental stage makes him insecure. Take your average freshman in high school, who is trying to fit in, find himself, and discover even a small sense of self-esteem. The lack of these things will show in their dancing despite any superb technique or ability to mimic choreography or even make it their own. Their performance just won’t be as strong; it will wreak of all those insecurities they carry with them all day long, even if they feel fairly secure on the dance floor. Wherever they carry that insecurity — in their upper bodies, in their arms, in their shoulders — that’s where you’re going to see their dancing falling short and looking weak.
All this to say that the dancers I saw really “hitting it” at the convention seemed to have a maturity about them, a strong sense of self and a confidence that allowed them to carry out the choreography in a way that made you notice them. They were not only really going for it and making sure they got noticed, they were putting their heart and soul into the movements with a true sense of self.
This all became clear to me during the question and answer session. Someone asked what the choreographers looked for when dancers audition for parts in shows. Two choreographers responded. Tyce Diorio said something along these lines: “I look for people who are real individuals.” From this I took him to mean that that sense of individuality and strong sense of self comes through in their dancing.
Laurieann said, “Spirit is like a muscle, and you have to exercise it every day.” As she elaborated on this, what I took away was that as you exercise your spirit, strengthening your ability to bring your spirit forth in your dance (which means bringing more of yourself through your dance), you become a better and more unique dancer.
Both of these pieces of advice require confidence and a strong sense of self. (They don’t require a big ego; in fact, a large ego is usually a symptom of insecurity.) And many young dancers — boys and girls alike — are still trying to find their individuality, struggling against the pressure to conform in order to fit in, and their spirit. Thus, they may not have these qualities yet. They have to find their individuality; they have to know who they are, be okay with themselves, feel good about who they are even if they don’t fit in, even if they are different. They have to like — love — themselves. And then they have to dance in a way that expresses who they are.
I think Julian’s stuck in a developmental stage right now that isn’t helping his dancing. I suggested he go into the studio alone with his music and “find himself.” Actually, during the question and answer session someone asked if dance class or time spent dancing alone benefited a dancer’s education more. I believe Wade Robson said, “Both are beneficial.” Julian doesn’t spend much time dancing alone.
Now, I’m not sure that dancing alone will help Julian find himself in school or socially, but it’s a start. One area at a time.
And for every boy that is still struggling to find himself, I wonder if the same advice doesn’t apply: Be an individual. Exercise your spirit muscle. Go into the studio alone and find yourself.