by Tess Williams
I was lucky enough to be a choreographer for OnStage Dance Company’s season 5 show. I got to work work with one of my best friends in the company, Jessi Smith, and we were unbelievably fortunate that we worked so well together. When we were preparing choreography for the choreographer auditions last March, we spent hours together in different studios around Boston and, over time, developed the nicknames The Fish and the Troll (which we intend to copyright if we ever create our own dance company).
I couldn’t believe it when we managed to spend about ten hours in March working on the piece. I couldn’t believe it even more when our piece was accepted into the season five lineup. We got the exact number of dancers we wanted and they were the best group of dancers we could possibly have had! All of that got me thinking about how unbelievable it was that I found OnStage in the first place.
A chance encounter with a sign at the BU West T-stop changed my life.
It was January and it was freezing. I’m from the west coast, where our idea of cold is thirty degrees and raining. I wasn’t really equipped for the storms that hit New England that winter or the loneliness I felt during my first year in Boston. So as I stood, huddled and shivering, waiting for a long-overdue train, I was probably daydreaming about a warm dance studio. I tend to daydream in dance phrases, counts of eight.
As the train finally appeared over the Comm Ave hill, I noticed the sign stuck to the wall of the small shelter by the tracks: “Want to dance? Join us for auditions this month!” On it were OnStage Dance Company’s logo, the address of a dance studio in Brookline, and tear-away email address/website slips. I took one and, several days later, checked out the website. I thought, “I haven’t danced since undergrad. I’d never be accepted into a dance company.” Despite a barrage of thoughts like these, I turned up at Brookline Ballet later that month. Though positively convinced I was the worst dancer there, I made it through the contempo/ballet auditions and got in.
Well, five incredible seasons later, the rest is history.
Unlike many of the talented dancers I’ve had the good fortune to work with in OnStage, I didn’t grow up dancing in studios and performances. I wasn’t in pointe shoes in my teens and I wasn’t dancing on a team in college. I fell in love with the Nutcracker Ballet when I was three, got my first ballet slippers that Christmas, and did recreational dance classes for a while. Then I picked up gymnastics and left dance behind until my mid-teens when I started taking modern and ballet. In college, I did begin dancing more seriously in the university’s dance program but I only ever did it for the love of it. I got to be in one show created by the program’s choreography students, which was the first time I’d ever had a chance to perform. I loved it – the dance, the performing, everything.
Given my lifelong love of dance, which only seems to grow with time, I’ve often wondered why I didn’t pursue dance in college – I had the opportunity and, had I stayed additional year, I could have gotten my BFA.
More importantly, why do I remain convinced that I’m not a good dancer?
I think part of it is that I still myself as a “troll.” I’m not built for dance. I’m tall, big-boned, and anything but dainty. I don’t fit the bill. In spite of five rounds of auditions with OnStage, I’ve never did place higher than Level 1 in any area of dance. Outside OnStage, I’ve only made it into one other dance show. And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure out turning (I’ll stick with chaines, thank you).
Obviously, I’ve got a long way to go before I feel confident in my ability to dance but, thanks to OnStage, the company that gave me a chance to rehearse, perform, and train in dance without asking anything more of me than hard work and commitment, I think I’m finally seeing the light. I love dance so much that I’m going to keep doing it, whether I look the part or not, whether I ever dance with another company or not, whether anyone affirms my right to do it or my talent for it. And I’ll continue to create my own works of dance, whether or not I ever get a chance to show them to anyone else.
If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what it is.
Thanks, OnStage. I miss you!
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