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Dance Diary: And Now for Something Completely...

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...different...odd...soul shakingly frightening...all of the above?

Somehow, I thought three years of ballroom dance had prepared me to go out and conquer myriad other forms of dance with great ease. Not so much really, as I discovered when ventured into Hip-Hop, Bollywood and Heels classes. It’s kind of like being an opera singer your entire life and then deciding you want to front a Death Metal band.

Who knew that my refusal to learn the Running Man in the nineties would be a glaring hole in my dance education in the year 2018? I spent the 90’s (and the decades before and after that) doing musical theatre, and singing pop songs. All the dance training I have had in my life has centered on pointed toes, pretty hands and elegant movement. Hip-Hop physicality is another universe from what I know.

As for Bollywood, it’s not as easy as the movies make it look. What you don’t realize watching them is how fast it is. Some of the movements are very close to Hip-Hop while others are more in line with forms I’m more familiar with. I think this may be my favorite of the new things I’ve tried lately. Not because I’m good at it, oh no, it will take eons and hours of practice before I’m remotely competent. It’s the narrative element that appeals to the storyteller in me.

Heels class has been an interesting experience in its own way. I’m used to dancing in heels so you wouldn’t think this would be a huge change. Yet most heels classes concentrate on more pop forms of dance so I’m playing catch up quite a bit. The last few weeks we’ve been working on a more lyrical (slower, more elegant, cleaner more fluid lines) and I’ve been loving it.

While my ballroom experience hasn’t helped as much stylistically or choreographically in these classes it has helped me in a lot of other ways. The biggest one being that it’s given me the guts to go into a class as a rank beginner and not run out screaming. I definitely have more patience with myself and have adjusted my expectations. Right now, If I am coming away from the class having digested 30-40 percent of the steps I’m happy with that.

I’ve also learned not to be afraid to ask the instructor to put a combination on video for me. Most of the classes I’ve been in work on the same combination for four weeks, adding a little bit each week. If I get a video of the combination that gives me a clear practice blueprint. I may not come back into class having learned it perfectly but there will be a level of comfort with the choreography that helps to pick up just a little more each time.

Most of all what the last few years have brought is dogged persistence. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated and even a little depressed sometimes. The key is to remind myself that these feelings are not reality. Most of the time it’s my ego telling me I shouldn’t do things that make me look goofy in public. But as a friend said to me today “If we just did things that we are good at then we would never grow.”

So I’m growing.

Who Am I, Anyway?

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Photo by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studios  


I had a moment of absolute clarity during a rehearsal for Women’s Work last week. I was singing away and I heard the words in my head as clearly as if someone were standing next to me whispering in my ear, “THIS is who you are”. I am good at many things but nowhere am I as much myself, my absolute truest and best self, as when I’m standing in front of a microphone singing and telling my stories.  

I have neglected that particular self during the past few years. I had to. There were things I needed to learn to become better at doing what I do. I spent three years working on my writing, learning to dance, and returning to stage acting. I use these skills in ways I never imagined when I get up to perform, but still I had to leave this other self aside for a while to concentrate on mastering them. It temporarily disconnected me not only from myself but from those amazing people who are part of my tribe. At the same time it brought new tribe members into my world.

I am reconnecting with that girl in front of the microphone, and those mentors who first put me on this path. I have new things to bring to the table, and old things that have only improved with age. It means change, of course, something I actively fear every waking moment. But it also means returning to the thing that I love more than anything else. 

I am not going to abandon all those wonderful new things I’ve learned. If I don’t continue to work at them those skills will certainly atrophy. I will, however, work harder at putting this wonderful gift that is my very heart at the center of them all. The best compliment I got after the show was from a friend who hugged me tightly and said, “You’re a storyteller!” I am and I intend to use every tool available within me to tell my stories. New possibilities are appearing and I can’t wait to see where they take me!

 

 

Back to School

Graphic by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studio

Graphic by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studio

I am a fall girl. I’m not so much on the whole profusion of pumpkin products, but beyond that there’s something about fall that perks me right up (well, perk is a relative term for one who is so far down on the perkiness scale but...). It could be a throwback to the days of fresh notebooks and new pens and pencils that always came with a new school year. I still have an obsession with notebooks. I have a whole basket full of pretty blank books waiting to be defiled with my illegible scrawl. But I digress (as usual)...

This fall I actually get to participate in the whole back to school hoopla as I’m teaching a brand new workshop for Pioneer’s Stagecraft education program. Solo is a class built especially to inspire, encourage and educate performers about creating their own shows. One of my favorite Lin-Manuel Miranda quotes is, Don’t wait on anyone to make your favorite thing- make your own favorite thing. If there is one thing that can make me wax evangelical it is the art of solo performance. The freedom is immense and the creative rewards are incredible. In mastering the art of solo performance you learn how to bring your own unique strengths as a performer to the stage while discovering all new skills. Every performer should have this tool in their kit!

This class is meant as a one day intensive, “get your feet wet” kind of thing. I’m covering a lot of ground including song performance, choosing material, working with a musical director, arrangements, structuring your show, visual image, and booking and promoting your show. We’ll wind up the day with an informal performance for an invited audience of friends and family (your friends and family that you get to invite, that is).  

I am lucky to have as my willing accomplice for the day Bruce De La Cruz as musical director. Bruce works all over the place as a musical director, accompanist and an arranger. He’s also a Staff musical director at Paper Mill Playhouse. 

If youre a performer I hope you’ll consider joining us. You can sign up HERE . If you sign up by the end of the day on September 16th you can get $25 off the price of the workshop by using the code early. If you are the friend of a performer please feel free to pass this info along to them. We are limiting the class size so that there is lots of personal instruction time and attention. If you’ve got questions feel free to drop me a line.

 

What’s In A Song

 


 

Photo by Cindy Banescu  

Photo by Cindy Banescu 

I am a song geek. I love songs, I love discovering them, singing them, tearing them apart and devouring the subtext and meaning. I get all goofy when I talk about songs I love. My hands flail and my voice reaches a speed and pitch that can best be described as Minnie Mouse on helium.

What excites me about a song? Some of it is certainly chemistry, that beyond explanation something that reaches out and pulls me in, that little voice that tells me “this is your song”.  But the other part of the equation is logical. If I were to dismantle and analyse all the songs I adore I would find elements they all have in common.

 Good Bones - Michele Brourman talks a lot about Seduction by Production, which is a song that so captures your attention with its instrumentation and enthusiasm that it takes a listen or two to figure out there’s really no there there. A great song will stand on its own without the embelishments. It holds up whether it’s sung accapella or with a full orchestra. An ornate frame won’t make a mediocre painting better it merely distracts you for a while. 

Heart - It’s not enough to make me think if it doesn’t also make me feel

Balance - I’m looking for the perfect marriage of lyric and melody.

Transporting - I want a song to be transporting. I want to be taken to a place outside myself, somewhere that gives me a new perspective and elevates me. If I can see the world from a different vantage point that’s when I know I’m on to something.

Illuminating - It is a gift  to unearth a tune that shows me something new about myself. 

Transforming - A song can open a window of understanding into something that is entirely outside my experience. A song that can change your view of the world (or any tiny corner of it) is a song that has power.

Tells a great story (arc) - Some songs tell linear stories, some don’t. It doesn’t matter how the story is told only that there is one, that you come to the end of it in a different place from where you started. It has to be a great ride. 

Attention to craft - I have seen Miss Carol Hall take a singer to task over a tiny lyric mistake like changing an and, an or, or a but. Not because she was being difficult but because every word matters. She labors over finding just the right words to express her point. This is craft and must be respected.  

Makes me want to sing - I have experienced no greater joy in life than wrapping my vocal cords, brain and heart around a wonderful song. There ain’t nothing like it in the world!

Whew! Trying to distill all this into a few bullet points was a challenge. If I let myself I could keep going on this for days, but I would love to know what you think. What makes you fall in love with a song?

 

 

Essentially Me

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I went to Facebook last week and posed what I thought was a simple question - who are your top three essential female songwriters? Turns out it wasn’t quite so simple. At last count I had over one hundred comments and even now several days later people continue are still opining. There were names going back to the very beginning of musical time, names from musical theatre, jazz, pop, country, rock and even punk. It also sparked a vigorous debate or two. Most of the names were familiar to me, but one or two sent me scuttling off to learn more. It was exhilarating!

One name seemed to be the common denominator on the list- Joni Mitchell. She was mentioned far more than any other writer. There’s no mystery there. Her voice as a writer is distinct- no one sounds like her- in her use of language, her vocabulary she is sui generis. Her emotional reach is astounding, every word transmits itself straight from her soul to the listener’s heart. 

 A few years ago my friend Laurel, suggested Ms Mitchell’s Night Ride Home to me. It is the type of song I’m not known for doing, an unabashashedly joyful moment in romantic time. I loved it. Michele Brourman and I put it with Anne Caldwell and Jerome Kern’s Once in a Blue Moon. Going in to the studio to record it with Michele and Stephan Oberhoff was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had. It is a piece I will happily sing every chance I get.

Dance Diary Sturm Und Samba

The first time I took a West Coast Swing class I went home and cried. The next day I went into the studio and my instructor said, “we’re going to do a West Coast Swing solo...” I worked really hard and did it, now it’s my favorite dance. This will not happen with Samba. If a praying mantis and a bunny had a baby that danced that’s my samba. It’s never made me cry, but more than a few Brazillilans have when they see me do it. Yesterday an instructor said to me, “I see something in your samba I have never seen before,” he did not explain what this meant. I love the music, I love watching other people dance it, I love the costumes, it is just not my dance. By now I have done enough samba to know my loathing will never turn to love. And yet...

I still do it. Yes, it’s part of my program I’m forced to do it no matter my feelings on the matter. But also, not liking something is no reason not to do it. Well, it is but in this case there are reasons to do it anyway. Samba has a very distinct rhythm and timing, and anything that gives a musician a different way of using those things is a very good thing. Samba is also one of the more energetic dances so I’m burning lots of calories thus justifying the occasional baked goods binge. 

Mostly though, I’m stubborn. I don’t like to be bad at anything, even something I hate. This might be my best/worst thing. Best because I think that getting through life requires tenacity and a refusal to accept circumstances which are not to my liking. Worst because it causes me to hold on to some things longer than I should. 

I’ll be holding on to samba a little longer. I suspect it still has some things to teach me. 

 

 

Music for a Snowy Day

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So, remember last week when I said that Spawn has introduced me to a whole world of new music? Well, today one of these tunes has been stuck in my head, and I figured that was a pretty clear sign that I needed to share it with you. I am absolutely in love with Frank Turner’s ballad (of course, it would be a ballad) Balthazar Impressario. It’s a gorgeous story song about the last night of an English music hall.

There are two things I adore about it (well, more but I’m trying to keep this short and sassy).

One: The line “Always take the stage like it’s the last night of your life” .  Of all the ear worms from this song this is the one that I hear over and over again. It is performing advice to live by.

Two: It reminds me of my friend George Hall. George is an expert on English Music Hall, and one of the most delightful people I have ever spent time with. He knows Just about everything there is to know about theatre having worked with pretty near every luminary to trod the English boards. He’s in his nineties now and still teaching young performers in the UK. He once said to me he could not imagine retiring. I miss his twinkling eyes and exceedingly dry sense of humor. It may be time for me to plan a trip to London...

So without further ado...here’s your tune for the day. You’re welcome. 

Singing for a Cause...

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In rehearsal for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Salvador Navarro & Dan Vissers . Photo by Penguin Moon Studios

The art of making art is a difficult one. It requires talent, vision, willing collaborators and funding. You can have the first three elements but without the last one, the almighty dollar, you won’t get very far. At times like this we all can use a little help from our friends.

Last year Pioneer Productions Company gave me the opportunnity to play Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I had a blast exploring the contours of this iconic character and made some talented new friends in the process. Now it’s time for me to give back a little of what they gave to me. On January 20th I will be reuniting with some of my pals from Cuckoo’s nest along with some other terrific performers for an evening benefiting Pioneer. 

Your ticket will get you an evening of great singing, yummy food, and the knowledge that you’re helping to bring new art to life. Click HERE to get your tix for the event. I’ll see you there!

 (If you’d like a sneak peak of what you’ll see on the 20th check out the promo below...)