Perhaps it’s time to talk about some kids other than mine.
So, a week late… let’s talk about the school play, “A Night at the Wax Museum”. It was worth writing about, although the words will never do it justice.
It was a cute play, created by my colleague Mr. A and his actors, about two kids who get accidentally locked inside the “time tunnel” exhibit at a wax museum where (naturally) the statues come to life. Two actors, ten dancers, and three tech kids, all Grade 4-6 (except one especially talented Grade 3 dancer). I became sole choreographer for this when the main choreographer was prescribed bed rest for her pregnancy, and although I was worried for a minute there, it was incredibly fun.
I choreographed clips of swing, Elvis, Austin Powers, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, and Black-Eyed Peas. Here are a few things I learned while researching different dance styles on YouTube:
- The Bee Gees don’t even dance. They walk around with their big hair and high voices, and occasionally bob their heads. Were they sexy at the time? ‘Cuz… yeesh. I was disappointed.
- Cyndi barely dances either, she just kinda flops around, being spunky. You should see my students doing her bouncy-headed “fun walk”, though. Priceless.
- Nobody wears bright-red head-to-toe leather like Michael Jackson. And that guy can dance. (I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating. I appreciate his talent more the older I get.)
- The Spice Girls are just… bad. (You probably knew this already.) I admit that I enjoy several of their songs, but I’ve never really seen their videos, so I didn’t understand how much they truly suck(ed). Their singing is iffy, but their dancing is positively loser-esque. Especially Baby Spice – that girl has ZERO game. Spice Girls = walking personae with British accents.
- The Backstreet Boys are cheesy – but forgivably so, compared to the S.G.s. Their hip-hoppy little moves were at least synchronized, and funky in a naïve sort of way – since hip-hop at the time was, as we say in our family, “just born out of its egg”. The public would never stand for these groups nowadays, not in the era of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, and movies like High School Musical and Hairspray. These days, we know what talent looks and sounds like.
Speaking of talent, here are some other things I learned, while working with our cast and crew during our approximately two months of rehearsing and three performances:
- Our littlest dancer memorizes choreography like a machine. Plus, she has infinite style – she’ll be on TV someday (if she hasn’t been already).
- Our Grade 6 class clown can do a mean Elvis impression – it frankly dropped the collective jaw of the audience.
- Though Grade 4 girls may flinch at holding hands (for dancing purposes) with Grade 6 boys… they can get over it.
- It is awesome being out of classroom context with students, so that instead of squelching their class-disrupting senses of humour, you can actually laugh.
- When the chips are down, a group of ten mini-dancers can learn three whole minutes of choreography in an hour (which is a LOT).
- When kids improvise, sometimes it makes no sense… and sometimes, it’s brilliant.
- If you nag them enough times, they will eventually remember: strong arms, right side first, hop on 8… you feel like a skipping CD, but it pays off.
- Kids will floor you with the things they are able to take in stride during a performance. The lights can go out entirely for a few seconds and they can keep dancing without missing a beat; they can accidentally change a line, and then magically, seamlessly save the scene with improv. (Mr. A and I just watched, amazed: were they ever this good during rehearsal?)
- It’s really gratifying to see your own choreography performed with such pizazz. (I couldn’t help a tiny thought: Look how cool I made them! Although some were well-acquainted with cool already.)
- That being said, sometimes the best choreography is not really choreography at all. The part that most brought tears to my eyes as I watched was actually a very skeletal idea until the kids brought it to life in the finale: I told them to pretend they were great friends who hadn’t seen each other in ages, and go around shaking hands and high-fiving and hugging… and wouldn’t you know, we ended up with complex secret handshakes and girls literally launching themselves into each other’s arms.
- There is no describing the energy that pre-teens bring to their dance moves, once they’re done practicing and get to perform for their families and peers. They bound and jump with grins so big and shiny they practically beat out the floodlights. You just have to grin back.
- If you get the right group of wonderful kids, they can start out completely self-conscious and barely able to move around in front of each other… and after a couple months of hard work, they’re a synchronized, harmonious unit that radiates energy and joy. What more could you ask for?
It was, as Mr. A called it, “lightning in a bottle”. After the very first run, performing for the primary classes, the kids were already stars of the student body – some even got asked for their autographs. By the time of the final evening show, they were pros. The parents were thrilled, the kids were ecstatic. And Mr. A and I were so, so proud.
Such great little people.