by Brenna Banister
"I Got You" Choreographed by Amy Peca
There are so many reasons I love to dance. I love to push myself physically, I love to perform, I love to jump, leap and turn, but most of all, I love to express myself through movement. Dance has always been a way for me to let out emotions. When I’m angry, there’s nothing better than throwing on a pair of tap shoes and trying to do the loudest pickup of your life. When I’m sad, nothing feels better than an angsty lyrical dance. When Amy Peca performed a section of her lyrical/hip-hop piece about cancer, I knew it was a piece I wanted to be in. When she said she was looking for one dancer to play the part of a person with cancer, I knew it was a role I wanted to take.
So many of the dancers who were in this dance experienced cancer up close and personal- grandparents, parents, and friends of theirs have battled the disease. I did not have that kind of connection. The closest I’ve come to cancer is when I was thirteen years old and my dog had her back leg amputated because of cancer (and she lived for five years after that). Still, I went home and called my best friend after the choreography showcase and told her I wanted the role. I thought I could do it regardless of the fact that cancer had not really affected my life. At the first rehearsal, when a group of dancers I had known for about 45 minutes voted me into that role, I knew I had to bring it.
There are very, very few times in my life that I have bonded with a group of girls so quickly. However, when you’re dancing about such an intense topic with a group of girls, and you really have to rely on each other, the bond seems to come very naturally. Within the first rehearsal we had shared stories of how cancer had affected our lives and we were able to share these feelings through an art form we all love. We all experienced so many emotions in rehearsal; there were some tears, and plenty of laughter (turns out trying to undress another dancer gracefully provides lots of entertainment). I felt an intense connection with these ladies very quickly.
I was not really worried about performing until dress rehearsal. Now, I always get nervous (as you’ll know if you read my last post), but I have never felt nerves like these before. As I walked on stage in darkness, a part of me really wanted to just run off stage. I had no nerves about the choreography; Amy had finished this dance within the first four weeks of rehearsal, and I knew it incredibly well. However, I knew there was an intense pressure on me to represent something that is so life altering for so many people. Something I had never actually experienced. I felt sick to my stomach, especially knowing that if I was unable to take the dancers watching into
my world as a cancer patient, it would be possible that my technique and flaws would be judged. This dance was more meaningful and held higher expectations than any piece I had ever been in. I had never felt such intense pressure to get something right. As I lay on the floor in my beginning pose, I channeled everything I could to bring that emotion to life. I thought about times I felt lost and needed to rely on friends. I thought about my dog and how hard it was for me to hear that she had cancer, even though the vet told us that she would almost definitely be fine after the amputation. I thought about my favorite book as a teenager which told the story of a dancer who was diagnosed with cancer. I tried to bring it all to the surface as I lay on the ground, waiting to be picked up and passed off so that I could really begin dancing.
When the piece kicked in, everything fell into place. I was able to lose myself in the dance and really imagine myself as best as I could as a cancer patient. Having a group of ladies I had bonded so closely with around me made me really feel like although I was struggling, I had a good group of friends to support me. The dance came to life, and (as always happens onstage), I forgot about the audience’s opinion. I certainly continued to feel their presence, which enhanced my performance, but the worries of them judging me were completely gone. I brought to the surface the feeling of helplessness and struggling, and then the feeling of relief after my headwrap and robe came off. Then, at the end of the piece, something amazing happened: all of the dancers hit our final pose, and a silence washed over the audience of fellow dancers for a few seconds before they began to applaud. In that silence I could feel the emotions of the audience, and I knew that my fellow dancers and I had done what we had needed to. We had brought the piece to life; we had connected with the audience on a deeper level; we had made the other dancers watching feel something and think about something; we had expressed ourselves through movement and had allowed that expression to resonate.
I had to perform the piece twice more in front of an audience and to elicit that same type of reaction two more times from two more groups of people, but I was not quite as nervous. I no longer felt the need to run offstage and hide. I no longer felt incapable of meeting the expectations of the piece and expressing something I had never really felt. After that rehearsal and the comments I received from my fellow OnStage members, I knew it was possible. I went on to perform the piece twice more, and although (as many OnStage dancers know), one performance was much better than the other, I could tell the audience had been moved by Amy’s choreography and the way the dancers brought it to life. We were told by many audience members that they had cried, and many of us (myself included) were practically in tears as we danced onstage.
When Amy asked us at our first rehearsal why we were interested in being in her piece, I told everyone that I had wanted a challenge. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and try something new. I am so happy I did. I met a group of girls that I am so happy to know, I connected with an audience in a way I never have before, and I learned so much about myself and how I can use dance to express myself. I don’t think I will ever forget all the emotions I experienced with this dance and what it was like to perform it. I feel like finally, when people ask me why I love to dance, I can just show them this piece and it will all make sense.
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