Sometimes I have an idea that I know in my heart is going to absolutely brilliant or fail utterly. Too often I let my fear get the better of me and bury those ideas under the more mundane things I have to do until they reappear to torment me late at night when sleep won’t come. A few months ago I had such an idea. I tried to ignore it but it pestered me endlessly. I decided to take it to my most trusted artistic advisors. Surely, they would tell me that I was out of my mind and I could move on to the next saner project. No quite... They all LOVED it and insisted this was absolutely the right next move for me.
The idea was this - Take about a dozen or so of my very favorite songs and stories and combine it with some of the things I’ve been doing with dance. Have I mentioned that I am not a natural dancer? I’ve worked hard on it, I have seriously invested in doing it, but could I do it well enough to combine it seamlessly with what I already do? Most importantly, would it be “Me”? As it turns out the answer was absolutely yes. In fact, in some ways, it is the most Me I have ever felt on-stage.
I started with three tunes I had long fantasized about adding dance to. The first was Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love. Several years ago Rick Jensen (who was musical director for this show) put together a stunning Russian Play of an arrangement of this for me, and It became the title of the show and the starting point for choosing all the other songs. Next came Gretchen Peters’ The Matador , a gorgeous metaphor for life with an artist. I always have at least one Gretchen Peters song in every set. She’s a consummate musical story teller. With The Matador I had a vision of telling this story with a mix of Paso Doble and Argentine Tango. Finally, there was Stephen Sondheim’s Can That Boy Foxtrot. It was a bit of a joke because my distaste for the Foxtrot is a well known fact in the dance studio. But also, it’s just a great song, sexy sassy and funny and who doesn’t want to be that?
With more than a little trepidation I presented the idea to Costi, my Romanian Ballroom Champion dance teacher. Surely, here was the person who was going to agree with me that I was absolutely insane to try this. Instead he took my rehearsal tracks with only the slightest raised eyebrow and came back with three gorgeously choreographed pieces that managed to combine the elements of my personality and the things I do best as a dancer. When he first showed me what he had come up with for Dance Me to the End of Love I actually jumped up and down and clapped my hands it was so exciting. And if you know me at all you know I am not a jumper up and downer.
The other songs in the set came together surprisingly easily. I just picked the things I loved to sing the very most. Songs by friends like Michele Brourman, Amanda McBroom, Rick and Lina Koutrakos shared a set with tunes by more distant icons like June Carter Cash, Cole Porter, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen. There wasn’t a song in the bunch that I hadn’t fallen in love with. Every time I sang I felt like I was rediscovering old friends. I’m always amazed how over time a song will continue to grow and change and take on deeper meaning.
In the week leading up to the show I alternated between excited anticipation and dread that I was going to make an ass of myself. I expected that I would spend the entire set tense because the idea of dancing in a show was so scary to me. The great surprise was once I actually walked out onto the stage I never felt more relaxed during a performance. Things flowed even better than they had in my mind, and the dance numbers seemed like they had always been there, even when I missed a step or two (hey, it woudn’t be me if I hadn’t).
It helped that I was blessed with brilliant collaborators in Rick, Costi, and my creative sounding board Sally Mayes. I was also fortunate in having a warm and enthusiastic audience whom I could feel with me every step of the way. I had done my homework now I got to forget about it and have fun. And I did! I also realized that studying dance has affected more than those moments when I am actually dancing. It’s changed everything from the way I stand at the microphone to the way I walk across the stage. It’s helped me become at home in a body that I’ve often viewed as an enemy.
My one thought when all was said and done was “when can I do this again”? And I will. Keep watching this space!