Finally, she could express the dance in her nature

True Tales From Everyday Living

April 22, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

My dance career began inauspiciously, nearly ending in third grade when I missed the cut for The Nutcracker. Prancing around for the role of a mouse, my mind wandered out of the audition studio that day. Those little-girl ballerina dreams escaped me. Had I ever even asked to take ballet? No, my Francophile mother must have forced the rigid dance, not to mention the French language, on me.

Nor did I enjoy my second brief encounter with ballet some three years later. To improve my ice-skating moves, a friend suggested I join her class.

The constant image of my pre-pubescent self in a leotard and tights in the mirrors before the bar taunted me. My lazy posture never satisfied the teacher. She demanded that we pretend to be holding a quarter between the taut cheeks of our behinds. Gross.

After standing self-consciously on the sidelines at middle and high school dances, and after a lone jazz class here or there where my tightened shoulders just wouldn't chick-a-boom-boom, I finally, gradually, found my groove in college, where an unfussy circle of friends helped me cast off my fears.

I developed my own trance-like style, living up to my nickname, "Lala," dancing freely with a supportive network of male friends and more plentiful dates, both absent during my high school years. We danced in darkened dorm rooms and at parties, and at the gay club we trekked to with my recently out friend.

I danced more boldly when I studied abroad in China in the fall of my junior year. To my delight, clubs there had bouncing floors, and the occasional pole. Sadly, I was more dancer than fighter when I studied wushu and tai chi chuan, both ancient Chinese martial arts.

Tai chi gave way to yoga upon my return. Yoga led me to the lyrical language of modern dance, a transfixing form that frightened my mother when she was a child but soon seemed most natural to me. With a spirit of abandon, I joined a modern dance group and performed in our college's spring concert my senior year. I even carried a fellow dancer across the stage in our piece set to the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime."

Moving to New York City, I occasionally wandered into clubs with house music DJs and Punjabi bhangra beats. I lived across the street from Manhattan's home of contemporary dance. At the Joyce Theater, I soaked up the likes of hip-hop-infused Rennie Harris Puremovement and Peter Boal, dancing a solo first performed by Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Now in Baltimore, I found myself alongside 20 fellow dancers before a full house at the Baltimore Museum of Art last month. I hadn't taken the stage since college. But a listing I had read in City Paper called out to me. "Open to any interested movers ages 16 & up. All levels, no performance experience necessary." In connection with its spring recital, The Collective troupe in Hampden was sponsoring a community dance piece.

"What if you have to dance naked or something?" my sister, Carolyn, wrote half-jokingly in an online chat.

Not that my sisters would put that past me. Carolyn, who dances in theatrical chorus lines, thinks modern dance is weird but kind of cool, too.

Our community project only practiced together six Sunday afternoons, at the Experimental Movement Concepts studio on Falls Road. Finally, here was an activity that accommodated my busy reporter schedule, my endless hours consumed in the car each week. Even my boyfriend, who thinks I flit around like a monkey swinging in the trees, urged me to enlist. Best of all, it was free!

To the piano music of George Winston, our dance created a human waterfall.

The dancers, both seasoned and inexperienced, came from backgrounds as diverse as the various shades of blue we wore.

Some were high school students. Some were teachers. We had a young man who break dances on the Lakefront in Columbia, and a research psychiatrist who, in his spare time, composes music in collaboration with choreographers.

I nailed every shoulder roll in our two performances, but my pirouettes wobbled. My outstretched legs were never high or straight enough. In our combination moves, I was often a step behind.

But it didn't matter. Individual errors hopefully blurred in the collective montage of the piece. Every spin and kick happened so quickly. There was no time to dwell. It was on to the next beat. That adrenaline rush that propels you on stage cannot be matched.

My mother, the tap-dance and ballet enthusiast, sat entranced during both acts of the concert. She had finally shed her childhood aversion to the contemplative, less-jovial form of dance.

"Your dance was so creative and beautiful," she wrote in an e-mail. "I didn't realize how much I'd love modern dance."

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