How to Face Anxiety Through Choreography

Last weekend, Artistic Synergy of Baltimore (ASoB) wrapped up its children’s production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” (YAGMCB), where I proudly served as choreographer. But first, I have a little secret I wanted to disclose before I get into the experience:

I’m not really a trained dancer.

Shocking, but true. I never took dance classes growing up, outside of performing a few Filipino folk dances in my youth. I eventually competed as a ballroom dancer, but this was much later in life, and it’s now become more a social hobby than a serious way to learn dance technique.

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Regardless of training (or lack thereof), I’ve always been quick to pick up movement, and have a pretty good sense of rhythm. And more importantly for musical theater dancing (in my opinion), I’ve always had a strong vision of how the movement should translate on stage to tell a story.

Which brings me back to Charlie Brown.

In college, I was in the ensemble for a production of YAGMCB, and it was an absolute blast. I was only a sophomore then, but it was the first time I felt like a member of the TCNJ Musical Theatre community, and it was such a good feeling. I made a lot of friends doing that show and had a great time playing a child in our intimate black box theater.

Fast forward 10+ years, and I took advantage of an opportunity to choreograph Charlie Brown at ASoB. Although I was super excited to try something new in the DMV theater scene, I was also really nervous about this (seemingly large) undertaking for several reasons:

  • As previously mentioned, I’m not officially trained in dance, so how could I possibly be an authority on dance for this show?
  • I’ve never worked with kids on a theater production, will I be able to connect with them?
  • I’ve never worked with this particular community theater group, what if I don’t fit in?

Questioning aside, because I was so familiar with YAGMCB and loved my time spent doing the production in undergrad, I was willing to push my anxiety aside and give it a go. So, I said yes. I said yes in an attempt to create a similar positive experience for these young actors.

And boy am I glad that I did.

I couldn’t have been more happy with the process “working on the other side of the table” with ASoB. At our first read through, I was immediately welcomed by the production team and felt comfortable and accepted. These kids were serious performers (much more serious than I was at their age!) and they were committed to the show from day one. They also were willing to give me feedback as I tried to figure out the best way to showcase their dance abilities through my choreography. In other words, their professionalism and enthusiasm were simply unmatched.

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Yet there were still moments I felt overwhelmed and/or intimidated. Even though these kids were 20 years my junior, a lot of them had WAY more dance experience than I did, which made me question my own credibility. For the large full cast numbers, I had to corral 20 young actors onto the stage and explore ways to make sure they looked good and were seen—a challenging feat that made me rework things constantly. Lastly, some rehearsals tested my patience regarding giving notes…and having to repeat them because kids don’t always remember everything the first time around. And that’s ok.

But the good times still far outweigh my own feelings of self-doubt, nervousness, and frustration. I experienced beautiful moments where I almost cried watching these kids perform; they truly transformed before my eyes, and it was so incredibly cool to watch. These young performers took the show, shaped it, and made it their own. They infused their own personalities and experiences into the production, and that in and of itself was so special.

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And let’s not forget the sense of community with this group—it was so palpable. Everyone wanted to help. From the costumes, to the props, to the promotion, to the snacks at intermission, there was always a steady flow of parents, volunteers, and theater group members willing to take time out of their busy schedules to put on this show. It was awesome.

So yeah, I may not be completely dance trained. But choreographing this children’s production of Charlie Brown trained me in other skills I find to be invaluable, such as collaboration, teamwork, consistency, passion, perseverance, and communication. These kids helped build my own confidence to believe in myself…by demonstrating how they believed in themselves to put on a fantastic show.

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And at the end of the day, I think that’s what journeying through life—and finding happiness—is all about. ❤️

A Love Letter to Nine the Musical

Those of you who follow me on social media (and who have chatted with me in person!) know that I just finished up a 5-week run of the musical Nine at The Colonial Players in Annapolis.

 

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All I can say is that the experience was everything I could have possibly dreamed of…and probably even more.

This production was particularly special to me because this was the first time I returned to the stage and had been in a musical in *almost nine* years. Due to major life events such as going to graduate school, landing my first tenure-track job, moving states, and getting married, I haven’t been able to make the time commitment work with my busy schedule.

But after I had moved back to Maryland from Virginia, and after I had started my new job back at my lovely alma mater in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, I decided to get back in the auditioning game. And although I was a bit out of practice and had to remind myself what it meant to find a fitting audition song and learn a complicated dance routine in about 5 minutes (and then perform it 1 minute later! GAH!), I was able to audition for Nine on a complete whim…AND was good enough to get in. Even though I didn’t know the show at all I was excited to just get back on the stage. I was totally ready.

My experience with The Colonial Players and with this cast was IMO nothing less than extraordinary. Folks have commented that 13 women working together (especially in a theater environment) could have been risky, and things could have diva-ed and ramped up real quick, but to be perfectly honest my relationships with these women emerged to be quite the opposite. I left the show on April 30th bawling, being sad that it was over but ecstatic that I now have an amazing new group of friends that I can count on any time. I grew especially close with my dressing roommates; the fun times we had, whether it was belting out Kelly Clarkson, telling jokes, or sharing ridiculous Snapchats, are special memories that I will never forget. ❤️

Other than the close interpersonal relationships I’ve built in this process, it was so fun getting back into the practice of rehearsals. The music of Nine is beautiful, but also fairly challenging, and my transformation from a Soprano I in my high school and college days to an Alto I was more fun that I could have ever anticipated. Learning this music was a great way to re-train my ear and sing some killer harmonies that sounded gorgeous when we all blended and sang together. I loved how we kicked things off from the very start with the Overture full of “la las,” as well as the end of “Guido’s Song” when our overlapping voices crescendoed into chill-worthy awesomeness:

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However, my *most favorite song* was “The Bells of St. Sebastian.” Not only were the harmonies simply breathtaking, but the chorus of Kyrie Eleisons would oftentimes bring me close to tears as I would think about my late father, who not only loved to sing kyries at church but whose middle name is Sebastian (it was my late grandmother’s maiden name). Whenever I sang the song and looked up into the blue lights I would sing my little nun heart out. I know I would’ve made my daddy proud.

On a less sad note, there was also the gloriousness of the many roles (and quick costume changes!) associated with being an ensemble member in this show. From one of Guido’s lovers (who dreams of coffee tables…if you don’t get it don’t ask), to an angry German reporter, to a classy Folies Bergeres dancer, to a reverent nun, to a sassy Nore (read: “nun-whore”) with unforgettable pirate laughs and a tambourine, to a super-hype film actress with outrageous facial expressions…I had SO much fun transforming into these different characters that helped drive the story of this show.

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As my director Ron Giddings put it, we were meant to be the individuals cast in this show. It might seem corny, but I whole heartedly agree. I had been auditioning for several months at a number of different community theaters, not landing anything, when my dear friend Debbie sent me the audition call and I decided to audition last minute. Looking back at the experience now, I am so freaking glad that I did.

Being in Nine not only reminded me how much I missed performing and how wonderful and transformative this process can be, but Guido Contini’s story in particular taught me how to truly value the people who love and care about you, to be humble and grateful for your talents, and to not take any of it for granted.

And so, to my director and musical director, the production team, my cast mates, my husband, my family, my friends, and my colleagues, who helped make this comeback to theater the best experience imaginable…

…Grazie, ti amo. 💋