*Photos by Tereza Venn and Crested Butte News, video (see bottom) by Cody Buchholz
The past few months have been overwhelmingly awesome. Sure, I took a new job that I’m extremely stoked about, but more on that later. Here, I’m referring to the amount of work I put into a dance performance and the amount of pride I took away from feeling it all come together after the past few months of hard work. And no, I never thought I’d hear myself say that. Well, the good feelings as a result of hard work part, yes, but not the dance performance part.
It’s wild to think back a few years and compare that place to where we actually ended up, especially when life moves so fast. I definitely didn’t think I’d be co-choreographing a 50s rock dance for four nights of sold-out shows in front of literally half our town. Nor did I think I’d play a part in a passionate, heart breaking tango duo and have all eyes on me…err, us.
I did the math as the show approached, and with it nerves. 260 seats x 4 shows = 1040. That’s literally half the population of Crested Butte, Colorado. Fortunately, it’s one of the more open-minded and inspiring towns on the planet. At least, so say a world traveler or two (or twelve) that I know well. It’s tough to get on stage in front of that many people, whether knowing any of them or not, and enact what has been practiced behind closed doors for months on end. And it’s reassuring, to say the least, to hear the positive feedback afterward.
Daniela Runge and I choreographed two dances for Move the Butte 2016. We began with tango and the second dance sort of formed itself. I remember when she asked me to partner with her. We hit it off on a downtown dance floor one night last fall and she asked me to join her in tango for the community’s annual theatrical performance. Sure, why not?
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We met a few weeks later to outline our routine. It began with a vague understanding of what we (she) wanted to try and pull off and improved very slowly. For some reason, while practicing tango during one of our twice-per-week sessions, I threw out another idea.
“You know what would be cool,” I asked. “A 50s rock piece with multiple dances of varying dynamics and difficulties where the guys and gals are in slight disagreement and the energy builds from one dance to the next…”
Just kidding. That’s not what I said verbatim. I don’t actually speak that well. I use words more like “dude” and “bro” and “dope”, and phrases like “Dudebro, that’s dope.” So I can’t recall exactly how I suggested the new routine but I do remember throwing the idea out there, then Daniela coming back the next week with a list of interested dancers who wanted to make it happen.
“So…you’ll be my partner, right?” she asked me.
“Sure, why not?” I replied, somewhat reluctantly. I had been thinking something farther down the line, like next year, but what the hell. Why not add yet another project to the already chaotic honey-do list?
In addition to our tango piece, we worked together for three months to choreograph two dance routines that many people we see on a daily basis would eventually pay to watch. Little did I know we would recruit such a fun group of dancers for such a fun, energetic piece. And little did I know how awesome it would turn out to be and how much I would truly enjoy being onstage, amidst all that action, moving to nothing but muscle memory and some really good tunes from our parents’ youth.
We practiced both the tango and Jukebox biweekly for three months straight. Daniela and I met twice per week for tango and the Jukebox squad met once per week for 50s dance. We called the 50s rock piece Jukebox, and we even had a life-size plywood jukebox painted in great detail the best plein-air artists in the valley. Since there were four audio clips from different musical genres strung together, each about 40 seconds long, we needed a way to blend together without missing a beat. Having dancers visibly skipping songs seemed like a good solution and placing a jukebox prop on stage worked perfectly. We studied at YouTube University and relayed what we learned to the other dancers in our squad. It was awesome watching everyone learn the steps and fine-tune all their unique additions to the routine.
Thank you SO much to our fellow dancers. Stephanie Marziano, Brian Barker, Sasha Cuchadoff, Carson West, Shawn and Dawn Horne, Zack Gustafson and Wendy Fisher, you helped make a dream reality and I’ll never forget the experience we created together.
We danced the Jitterbug, the Twist and the Lindy Hop, and us guys learned to disconnect our hips from the rest of our bodies and move with rockin’ rhythm like Elvis Presley did when he revolutionized live musical performances and forced young women to wear Velcro shoes so their socks wouldn’t be knocked off. Some of our moves were challenging and some others, extremely difficult. Most of us were scared, at least a bit, when we imagined ourselves doing it all on stage for a packed house. I loved watching the group progress as a whole and learn to have faith in them selves as well as in one another. That, my friends, is something to take pride in and worth pursuing for the greater good.
It’s a bummer to think that it’s all over. I will miss our weekly dance practices. I will miss the tacky 50s smiles (is that generationist of me?) and the polka-dot dresses, but the swingin’ steps and aerial maneuvers should stick with me for years to come.
As for tango, I only know some basic steps but they’re steps in the right direction and I imagine they’ll shine through whenever I participate in partner dances from here on out. I must give credit to Daniela, my beautiful Argentinian dance partner for her instruction and patience as I learned to keep my “white boy moves” at bay. Tango is not an easy dance. It requires moving with confidence and maintaining a formal, structured composition. My ultra-white hips and shoulders took a while to adjust to such little swagger but once I got it, it stuck.
I think I had pretty damn good form at show time. As did Daniela, naturally. She moves with grace and a cool, casual style that is hard to replicate. I held my own, which was my role as the male lead in our Latin dance, but of course I brought a bit of that good ol’ white boy flare. Watching us together, people reported they could feel the passion. They made comments like, “You two were amazing! I could feel the heat,” and, “Wow! You move so well together,” and, one of my favorites, “You’re dating, right?”
That’s just some of the viewer feedback. A video would be ideal, but we don’t get to see that for a while so these will have to suffice for the time being.
Yea, we looked damn good.
Video taken during dress rehearsal. Our routine wasn’t perfect, but close. It improved with each show over the next three nights. Please excuse the blur and the head that blocks our feet. This was the only video we could acquire.