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A "Chorus" boy for a day


by David Ninh 20 Jul 2009

If you’ve been following the blog lately, then you’ve probably guessed that I am obsessed with A Chorus Line. The hit mega musical just left the Music Hall yesterday after two weeks in town. I saw it. Chatted with the lead in the tour, Robyn Hurder and also interviewed Baayork Lee, one of the original cast members […]

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If you’ve been following the blog lately, then you’ve probably guessed that I am obsessed with A Chorus Line. The hit mega musical just left the Music Hall yesterday after two weeks in town. I saw it. Chatted with the lead in the tour, Robyn Hurder and also interviewed Baayork Lee, one of the original cast members and the revival choreographer. So what else is there left to do? Maybe, gulp, learn the moves and write about it?

On Saturday morning, I laced up my weathered jazz shoes, boxed up my insecurities and headed to the Majestic Theater to participate in the master dance class workshop coordinated by Dallas Summer Musicals to learn the choreography from the show. Never mind that the flyer specified “intermediate and experienced dancers only.” I took beginning and intermediate jazz and ballet classes in college … eight years ago. I figured I would be OK once the teachers – two cast members from the show – broke down the routine step-by-step and my body would start to remember and produce all the kick-ball-changes and pirouettes that I had mastered years ago. I also caught wind that the speedy, 30-second sequence being taught would be the famous Michael Bennett-choreographed opening dance number of the show, so I studied this particular YouTube clip, obsessively watching it over and over, and confidently thought, “Hey if Mario Lopez can do it, surely I can.”

There’s only one word to describe the experience: Intense. It was painful. So painful that my thighs are still burning after two days. As I entered the dance studio, I quickly scanned the room and noticed  I was only one of two males, every dancer looked under 18, and lots of parents were sitting on the sidelines to watch. Nerve-wracking. While the girls – most obviously trained dancers – were stretching, doing splits and all gabbing to each other about dance schedules and summer New York trips, I sat to the side, awkwardly stretched my legs and prayed. My friend Alejandra, a hip hop instructor at Gold’s Gym, came along for the ride and whispered, “Don’t worry, it’s all about intimidation. And that’s what all these girls are doing. You’ll be fine.”

Instructor Vinnie Carranza with Kendall Killian and Rachel Rohrich

Once the instructors launched into teaching the combination, chock full of fast-moving pivots, turns, kicks, leaps and a starbursting jump they kept describing as “the funky chicken,” I focused, let my inhibitions go and tried to follow as closely as I could. I tried not to let it phase me that two 8-year-old girls (above) in front of me looked like they knew what they were doing.

“I’m not getting this! It’s getting hard to follow,” one young dancer beside me bellowed. “I’ve been dancing forever, and this is the hardest routine I’ve ever had to learn,” another whispered.

All the dancers, approximately 30 or so, repeated the combination over and over and over again. We broke up into teams and performed it in groups. Even hiding in the back didn’t work for shy ones because the instructor made us switch lines so that those in the back had to dance front and center at some point. Some completely mastered it, while others, like me, flailed about, hanging on until the sweaty, painful end. At one point, someone loudly pointed out, “Give each other room and stagger yourselves, because you’re starting to whip and kick each other!”

When it came time to end, the exhausted group prepared to perform the number one final time and got a pep talk from one of the instructors, who said, “Why do we do this? Like the show teaches, we do it for love. So put it all out there, like this dance is your last hope. You have nothing left. You have nothing to give but yourself. Just dance with every fiber of your being.” As the drumming beats of the opening number started, I took a deep breath and launched into the combination, never minding that I couldn’t do a double pirouette, which was needed, or that I kept stepping out on the wrong foot during the final counts of the number.  I didn’t quit once during the two-hour intensive and it made me feel like a real dancer, a Chorus boy even, if only just for a couple of hours.

But I’ll gladly stick to writing …

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  • Sarah

    I’m impressed that you had the nerve to give it a try! And what a great memory…

  • Oh, how I wish we’d sent Ivey to catch this on tape!
    Congrats on making it through the class David! And thanks for sharing the experience with us.