Early on a Monday morning I find myself up with the sun, animals fed, coffee made. I tiptoe to the closet, slide on my favorite dance pants, black leotard and t-shirt. My hair seems to assemble itself into a bun while I not so gently sweep a bit of makeup and glitter across my eyelids. I’ve done this so many times, the routine has a life of its’ own and seems to complete itself.
It’s May and the weather is unpredictable. This morning there are thick, sloppy flakes falling from the sky while the smallest sliver of sun attempts to shine. Double checking the schedule, I plug the destination into Siri and off I go. It’s barely 7:00am and I’m headed to a performance. Pulling into the parking lot, I quickly walk into the morning venue, a by product of constantly being almost late. My arrival requires a visit to the main office, followed by a quick rundown as to the location of the adult bathroom and water fountain. The building is quiet. The familiar smell of old books, pencil erasers and a faint whiff of cafeteria spaghetti roams the halls. I’m in an elementary school. It’s the first of 36 that Wonderbound will visit over the next three weeks. Each school will be similar. I’ll either be directed to the gymnasium or the stage where 500 inquisitive souls will witness an abbreviated Wonderbound spectacular. It’s that time of year. The company has officially immersed itself into Community Education programming.
Meeting my colleagues in the hallway, the corners of my mouth turn slightly up as if to say, “good morning friends, we’re here.” Meanwhile, the barres are quickly assembled, though in less than an hour they’ll be taken apart. There are no dressing rooms, or backstage of any kind. It’s not glamorous, but it doesn't matter. We’re not here to be glamorous. After a 30 minute warm up, we check out the stage, engage in a morning chat and eventually pull on our costumes. Nothing is fussy about this experience. Even the costumes are no nonsense. Black dresses and sneakers. It takes about 30 seconds to dress.
By 8:50am the audience begins to trickle in. Sequined unicorn jumpers, aspirational sayings plastered on tiny t-shirts, light up sneakers, sparkly dresses and the occasional super hero tee. (I not so secretly own most of the items).
Eventually the last of the bleary eyed students and their teachers file into rows and by 9am the performance has begun. The lights never go down, and we’re not “in the wings.” Our top of show post is front and center on the stage. Eager voices are prompted to welcome the day and participate in the learning of audience etiquette, all while anticipating the something that’s about to happen.
Cue the music, cue the magic. A hush sweeps over the crowd and just like that, my body slips into its own trance as it begins to execute the work. One step, and then the next, a lift here, a leg up there. Catching the wave of my coworkers, we all settle in, but it’s the darting glances from the crowd that start to distract me. When the lights are up you see every face and hear every whisper. As the smiles begin to widen, I notice our dancing does the same and we’ve suddenly struck up a conversation. All those sleepy heads have fully awoken. Some raise up on their heels, others peak and bob around their classmates surrounding them, and while several unconsciously sway back and forth. Exclamations of the newly learned “bravo” and “bravi tutti” echo to the rooftop and with each step expertly executed, the room has somehow opened up. Reveling in the ooh’s and ah’s, it’s their expression that charms me the most.
A sea of the widest, most inquisitive eyes becomes synonymous to looking up in the night sky and gazing upon a cluster of stars. Within moments you can feel the infinity that exists between both. The possibilities forming amongst the galaxy of youth and the opportunity to bring a piece of our world into theirs becomes my own tunnel vision. These young bodies hold curious souls and huge hearts that crave a connection that only dance can bring. We don’t know anything about these children other than most of them are not readily exposed to dance or art. Who knows what there stories are and maybe it’s not important. What feels true in the moments of connection is that the work we are doing matters. It’s the most authentic expression of giving and receiving I have had a direct experience with. And it works both ways.
Our programs are not relegated to featuring only the company dancers. Each child in the crowd has an opportunity to collaborate and use their creative minds to make dances of their own. Tiny hands fly into the air when asked who wants to take the stage. You can feel the nervous excitement at the possibility of being chosen. It looks like an episode of The Price Is Right hosted by our very own Bob Barker. The next “contestant” runs forward. Disbelief followed by glee wrapped up in nerves produces a small volcano of energy that is fitfully inspiring. The next five minutes of their lives seem to be the rawest, scariest, most exhilarating moments these children have been through. And together we create. Trains, planes and automobiles. Riding bicycles, swimming with the octopus, slo-mo, fast-mo. You name it, the kids want to “dance it.” Meanwhile the crowd is learning steps of their very own. Within minutes we are in full on collaboration. One group dances, then the crowd, then another group, and so on. Hundreds of bodies making moves to music in wild bursts of enigmatic energy.
And we do it all over again. This time a tango and a big band swing. The children squeal and giggle. They like it when we shake and wiggle. The lifts this time a little bigger, a little faster, a little more daring. And by now you get the sense the students are connoisseurs. Little minds are not so little. The 10 prior minutes of sleuthing have made them experts and by now they're onto you and whatever doubts or skepticism some of them may have had quickly vanish. They’re in. You’re in.
Once more we create and collaborate. More tiny hands fly into the air, more dancing, more collaboration.
The performance draws to a close with a teacher dance and finally a quick Q and A. The questions are mostly the same. “How old were you when you began?” “What do you love about dance?” “How many years have you been dancing?” “What does it take to make the dances?” Answering the questions becomes an exercise in itself. A real life chance to ponder how the heck we got here in the first place. The nostalgia wave crashes once again, this time over my open heart and washes my history to shore. I feel a lump in my throat and a softness in my belly.
In a few minutes we’ll travel to the next location but something has changed. We’re all somehow different. The teachers are a bit lighter, the kids are brighter and mini dance parties start to pop up through the hallways. Their voices gently drift away as they move back into their classrooms and once again we are met with silence. The early morning feels far away, the snow has disappeared and the possibility that this world was filled with a little more hope and a lot more beauty nods knowingly amongst us all.