Dancing in the Round

There is something freeing when you dance. Not dancing at a club, but choreographed dancing. No matter the style, you lose yourself in the movement and music. Life can’t touch you when you dance because at that moment you are life itself.

For a couple years before I moved back up here, I had the chance to tap again with a dance company. Dancing was the last item on the list of things the doctors told me I would never be able to do again after hurting my back in the mission. I had danced from the time I was 3-13 and then again in college. To take to the floor again was exhilarating, fun, and even as big as I was, I was still good at it. Oh how I had missed that feeling. My only regret was that I didn’t do it a few years earlier. I often joke that Heavenly Father gave me the heart of a dancer and the body of a linebacker. Since I moved I don’t have the chance to dance with that troupe, yet each year I return for performance week and run the backstage crew. Once a dancer, always a dancer.

Since the Fine Arts building was under renovation our recitals were over in the Little Theater which was a theater “in the round.” This was a new experience for me. I had only danced in traditional theaters – crowd sat downstage and the performances were designed for that single point of view. Now the audience surrounded us on all four sides and the “stage” was much smaller and square. We also were at the same base vantage point as the first row, not on a raised stage. The choreography was designed with a lot of movement as to accommodate each crowd section (I remember one routine that included giving high-fives to people in the first row because they are literally right there in your face). It was a challenge and it was amazing to have that opportunity.

In class, one concept we learned is known as “dialectics” or the idea that there is more than one way to see something or to solve something. Opposites can (and do) coexist and can equally be true or false. It is not “this BUT that,” rather “this AND that.” The only thing guaranteed to be constant is that things can (and will) change. The beauty of it is that this change only gives us more information. If we can take a moment to look at something differently or listen to how someone else perceives it we may find a deeper understanding and acceptance of it. Life is not solely black and white at the ends of the spectrum, rather it mingles in the ever-changing multiple shades of gray.

So what does this have to do with my dance career? Simple. Take a seat in the traditional theater. You are welcome to any of them, I usually like about 4 rows back in the middle. Since it is the holidays, we will put a huge nutcracker on the stage. Tell me what you see. What do you think it is made out of? What do the colors look like under the lighting? How does the lighting affect the shadows? Take your time and just look. Observe as much as you can. Do you feel you have the most complete information you can get about this Nutcracker based on your one point of view? Awesome!

Ok, let’s go over to the theater in the round. Take a seat again anywhere. As well, three others are going to join you – there is now one person sitting in each section of the squared theater. Again, I place the Nutcracker on the stage floor. It is facing you as it was in the traditional theater. As before, observe all you can and tell me what you see.

Alright, now, I am going to ask the same questions to the others in the theater. Listen to what they saw. Is it different from what you saw? Did they see things you didn’t? Did they see the same things you did and described them differently? How does this affect your original thought about the Nutcracker? You may even be a little curious to see things like they did.

Cool, eh? The power of dialog to help you look at something in a different way that you may not have thought of before. Now, here is the tricky part – when you are working alone and don’t have that feedback from others, how do you get the dialectic?

Staying in the round, let’s start by putting the Nutcracker on a lazy Susan and spin it 45 degrees. With each turn, you get a different view of it. Here is the question – are you really getting a full, different view? No. Although the nutcracker is changing, the lighting is the same. The way the sound comes through the theater is still the same. Your vantage point is still the same.

So get up. Move to the other side of the theater.

As you walk over there, keep looking at the Nutcracker. How is it changing? How does the light shift and shadows adjust as your vantage point changes? Take your time, you don’t have to run across the floor, you have all the time in the world to observe this. When you get to the other side does it look different if you sit in the first row as to sitting in the top row? Go check it out from the other seating sections. Now tell me, what do you see? I bet it is much richer than your answer in the traditional theater. Awesome, awesome job. You did amazing. Someone out there might even say “YIPPEE!!”

Now, come sit by me. Close your eyes. Tell me an emotion you are feeling right now. If you are like me, that is a hard question to answer because you are so limited in your emotional vocabulary. Let’s take it to the theater in the round. Can you “step away” and leave yourself on the stage? Walk around and see what you can observe. How are you breathing – is it deep or shallow? What is your body language saying? What is physically happening – are you shaking or sweating? What are your facial expressions? Are your thoughts calm or racing? Remember, you are not locked into one view in this theater, look at all sides, all vantage points. Look at it closely and look at it from afar. Do you feel you have gathered all the information you need? It is ok to keep looking, take all the time you need. Come sit with me again when you are done.

Are you able to give this emotion a name now? If not, what do you think it is? What would you like to call it? Once you name it, you have given yourself the ability to recognize it from the start. You just took power over it. Once you have the power over it, you can manage it.

So tell me, dancer, what do you see?