by Emma Gerber
In my life, I’ve only experienced a few moments that feel like they come straight from the movies. As if you could film it and edit some dramatic music over top, and it would seem like it came right out of Hollywood. In the past few months, my life seems to have been a blur of these moments. And mostly, they come from my rehearsals for the dance concert. This has been a time of finding my family, challenging myself, and a whole lot of dancing.
The auditions for the dance concert seem like such a long time ago, despite the fact that they were only a few months ago. Nerves high, even though they shouldn’t have been, I slipped into the dance studio and prepared to dance. This wasn’t my first time dancing at all – I had some previous experience and I had been taking dance at HB, but this was the first time this year that I felt like I was really pushing myself in dance. We started with hip hop, which was definitely not my area of expertise. In fact, I’d never done anything like that in my life before. I’ve always been the kind of person who just jumps around at school dances and doesn’t try any of the moves. But here I was, learning a hip hop dance routine. As expected, it was incredibly hard. Hip hop is really fast and I was not at all used to the movements. At one point, Howard, the choreographer, turned around and suddenly asked what my name was. I was shocked, and at first I thought he wasn’t talking to me. Not that there was anyone behind me or in my general area at all, but why would he ask me, the awkward girl in the corner who was radiating nervousness? After a solid few seconds I managed to squeak out “Emma?”. At that moment when I just wanted for him to go back to teaching and for me to melt into the floor, he asked a follow up question. “Do you mean ‘Emma?’ or ‘Emma!’?” That question really surprised me. Pulling from my courage, I replied “Emma!”. He nodded and turned away. The rest of the auditions went much smoother. Once I got over the initial shock of the speed of the movement, I wasn’t as lost. I still was completely tripping over myself and off tempo, but at least I was better than before. I wanted to assure everyone that I could dance, just not in this genre, but I figured it wasn’t really pertinent to this topic. They wanted to see If I could dance hip hop, not ballet. After hip hop we moved on to contemporary, and though I was far from perfect I felt a lot better about it. I really wasn’t that upset about my obvious struggle. I figured I just wouldn’t get cast in the hip hop piece and I could do something else – and I was absolutely fine with that.
When the piece assignments came out, I found out I was very wrong. Scrolling down the list, I found myself in the cast for Leonela Serrano’s piece, which I was super excited for. I also found my name under the hip hop piece. I was shocked. Why in the world would they cast me after that audition? It didn’t make sense. Regardless, I was super excited. There’s this sort of inherent coolness around hip hop that’s hard to define, but really easy to see. I wanted to experience that, to do something new. Before I knew it, it was time for the first rehearsal.
The first day of school after winter break, I dragged myself into the dance studio. I had friends there, which made the experience only slightly less terrifying. We started with standing in a circle, learning about each other. I felt like a nerd when I said the music I most recently had been listening to was from “Waitress” the musical. I felt like even more of a nerd when I had to explain to Howard what Hogwarts houses were. Then again, it was probably an accurate description of my personality. Then, he gave us ten seconds to get into a line in alphabetical order. When he started counting down, most of tried to scramble into place. But once person stood with their hand raised. “First or last name?” Howard smiled and said he’s glad someone asked. This was the first of Howard’s many teachable moments. In hip hop, it’s very important to pay attention to details. We did not have a lot of time to put the piece together, and we had to work hard. After a few more of these drills, we started dancing. The audition was hard, but this was harder. Howard kept asking if I was okay, reminding me to breathe. It was nice of him, but I felt as if it was a mark on my failure. I was obviously the worst at this, and his check ins seemed like they were just a mark of pity. At the end of the rehearsal, Howard asked if I was okay. He asked why I was nervous, and I burst into tears. I don’t really think anyone is a fan of crying in public, but that moment was excruciating. I explained how I wasn’t as good as everyone else, and I was failing. Howard just smiled and said “You know why I appreciate your tears? Tears are passion. You are obviously very passionate and want to work hard. You just have to trust the process and try your hardest.” That was probably one of the most important lessons I learned from the dance concert. Trust the process, work hard, and everything will be okay.
Later, I went to Leonela’s rehearsal. It’s a much smaller group, and a style I’m more familiar with, so I wasn’t as nervous. Nonetheless, It was still unexpected when Leonela turned on the music and just told us to improvise. It was uncomfortable at first, but soon we were improvising for several minutes at a time without a problem. This was when I learned to trust myself. If you mess up it’s okay, but just keep going and no one has to know.
By the next time we had rehearsal, I had gone home and practiced for hours. I was getting frustrated, but I managed to push through. Howard was impressed by my work, and my technique got exponentially bigger. At Leonela’s rehearsal, we started seriously stretching. I’m not exactly the least flexible, by I’m definitely not the most flexible by a long shot. That was probably the hardest stretch I’d done in a while. Despite the challenge, there was no doubt I was getting better in Leonela’s rehearsal too. Still, there was a challenge ahead that I had to push through.
The next rehearsals were kind of a blur. There are some notable memories that stick out from the training montage, however. The first memory was after another breakdown, sitting in the auditorium, Ms. Burnett asked if I knew why I was in the hip hop piece. “You are in it for a reason,” she said. “I cast pieces because not only does the piece need you, but you need the piece.” In that moment, that was the most wonderful thing to hear. There is something instantly gratifying to knowing that you are needed and wanted right where you are. And looking back, she was right. I did need to be in that piece. It has transformed who I am in a way nothing else could have, and I will always be thankful for it.
Another time, when we were in rehearsal, Howard handed me a pen, and asked me to go write my name on the board. After that the pen was passed from person to person. We all wrote our names in a line, one over the next, until we were all done. Then Howard asked us to calculate the number of times each year we write our name. After about five minutes of calculations and speculations, he stopped us. “The point is, you write your name very often. All the time. But none of us take the time to really perfect it. That is your name! You should feel pride in that. Instead, writing our names has just been ‘something that we do’. This dance shouldn’t just be ‘something that you do’. This is art. You need to give it your all when you are out there, don’t just do it.” I’d never thought about it that way. There was another moment when I learned something – which has happened mush more than I ever imagined it would.
After that, it was just working hard. I went to rehearsals eight hours a week, on top of solo voice and all my homework. We drilled the pieces over and over, ran around to get our stamina up, and got feedback. This was the training montage – in movies it may only last a few moments, but in real life it’s months of hard work. Still, I was driven by my passion and my desire to do as well as I could.
It feels like I can only look back now and reflect on where I started and where I gotten. I have gotten so much better at hip hop and contemporary dance. Sure, I’m still not as good as some of the others, but that’s okay. It took me a few rehearsals to look around and realize other people made mistakes too. In fact, they made mistakes all the time. And it was totally fine! Sometimes I think we are so wrapped up in our own mistakes that we don’t look around and find that we’re not the only ones. One of the most valuable parts of this experience was the new friends I have made. While I first looked at the other dancers as experts, frowning down on my failures, I now recognize them for what they are – friends. They are there for me when I need it, and I really look forward to spending time with them. They’ve also helped pull up my confidence, which has been one of the biggest transformations of this process. And Leonela and Anika from the piece Leonela is choreographing have become like my family. They both have such kind and encouraging words as we go through our process, and I’m so grateful I get to perform with them at the dance concert. All this hard work really has paid off.
If you have made it this far in the article and would like to see the fruition of our hard work, come to the dance concert. Not only are our pieces powerful, beautiful, and thoughtful, but they are filled with wonderful people who deserve all the recognition in the world. I hope to see you there.