Have you ever had to fill in for someone in a dance performance with three weeks notice? Doing anything at the last minute can be very stressful, in my opinion. I guess that's because I am Miss Anti-Procrastination. I heard the bad news on Tuesday, November 16th while sitting in the middle of class. My friend Kaitlyn had injured her ankle during rehearsal for our dance studio's production of 'A Holiday Enchantment', and she found out she wouln't be able to dance for three weeks; the show was in three weeks. For anyone who doesn't know, the show was being performed by Cecil Dance Theatre, which I was a part of for almost ten years before I graduated high school. I am now in college, but it just so happens that I am commuting from home this year and I would be available for rehearsals every Sunday. This made the decision since no other alumni were living in the area and the other company members had their own parts to deal with. I agreed to come in as a guest and I was glad to help out my friend who was on her way to recovery. Was I nervous? Yes. I had to learn extensive choreography for three dances in the course of three weeks with only one rehearsal per week. On the other hand, I was extremely excited to be back with my old family again and to get one more chance to perform on the Milburn Stone Theater stage.
That first Sunday was the biggest whirlwind rehearsal of my life. It started at 1 p.m. and I had an hour to learn the whole variation for the Dew Drop Fairy. I know, the Dew Drop Fairy is not on stage during the entire dance, but it was still a lot to learn! The steps were all running together in my mind and the different sections of the piece were like a blur. Positive note: it is a solo part so if I messed up, I could just improvise! I then went into the other studio to learn the next dance with Kaitlyn and the other three dancers who were in it. We had a mere half an hour to go over the steps, floor patterns, and spacings for the dance, which was a little more complicated since there were four of us. Here is a video of the finished product from our Friday, December 10th performance for Cecil County Public Schools! It's called "Music Box Dancers".
The last dance I learned was called, "Night of the Christmas Toys" and I played a princess Ariel doll. This dance was pretty much a scene in itself with three different sections and a lot of traveling around the stage with the soldier dolls. Thank you so much to everyone involved with this dance for having a great amount of patience with me during this process. The choreographer basically turned on the music and ran the dance, as I tried to follow along and watch what everyone else was doing. I was attempting to do the dance at the same time, even though I barely knew it, so it was pretty comical if I do say so myself. It took me about three full run throughs to actually get the gist of the whole piece, but after doing it so many times, now I could probably do it in my sleep. Here is a picture of the four princesses. Check out that bright, red mane!
I am so lucky to have an amazing group of people who were so welcoming and supportive during this crazy time. It is not very often that a graduate comes back to perform with CDT, especially under these unfortunate circumstances, but everyone made me feel at home again. We all laughed, joked, and had so much fun together just like the good ol' days. It was a blast and I wouldn't have traded it for anything. I really missed dancing with CDT after I went to college and I view this experience as a blessing in disguise. It was one more chance to dance and spend time with the people who have had a huge impact on my life. I never thought I would be back up on that stage ever again. It holds so many wonderful memories that I got to relive one last time.
Here are my tips and lessons learned for anyone who is facing long days of rehearsals, performances, or learning choreography quickly:
- Get at least eight hours of sleep before rehearsal or performance day. I try to get this much sleep, if not more, every single night. It doesn't matter if you are on the stage or only rehearsing for an hour. Your body needs adequate rest in order to perform at its highest potential. I lost track of time and stayed up late the night before my first rehearsal, which happened to last seven hours, and I definitely regretted it. It was difficult for me to focus on the task ahead and the added stress just made me want to sleep even more!
- Stay hydrated and fuel yourself with healthy foods. I learned this one the hard way. It had been a while since I had to dance all day long and my body wasn't used to it yet. We had a half an hour dinner break in the middle of rehearsals and the only thing near the studio was fast food. I mean, it's convenient, right? Not really. All it did for me was upset my stomach and make me feel like a slug. Having to dance after that was not a good feeling. Not only did I feel sick, but I didn't have as much energy as I could have and that affected my performance that day. Oh, and coffee is a bad idea too. Always choose water over any other beverage when you are being physically active. From that day on, I picked my meals and snacks wisely. Granola bars and fruit such as grapes, clementines, and bananas are examples of quick, easy snacks. Bananas help with muscle cramps too!
- Practice, practice, practice! When you are learning new choreography, the best thing you can do is simply practice it over and over again. When you are waiting for your turn to dance during rehearsal, practice off to the side or in another studio. No one should ever be sitting around during rehearsal because there is always something to do. You could either be warming up, stretching, or running through your dances. No matter what, just keep your body moving. Every night when I came home from school, I would go over each of the three dances in my room and it eventually became second nature. It also helps when you can get a copy of the music so you can listen for certain musical cues and become comfortable with the timing.