Isabelle Palmer was so excited as she got off the bus and headed into the Moten Elementary school in Washington D.C. Last year, Isabelle’s idol, Jackie Sanchez, had asked Isabelle and a bunch of other students at the Anna Hart School of the Arts to help her with a project of dancing at nursing homes to help cheer up the elderly. It had been such a success that the school decided to continue it as an outreach program called Dance from the Hart. Isabelle had signed up right away. Jackie said she couldn’t be involved in every performance the program did, but she’d do as much as she could to help out. Isabelle and her classmates had worked really hard for their first performance at the elementary school. Jackie had agreed to come to the last three rehearsals before the performance and today was the dress rehearsal.
Isabelle sat on the floor and dug in her dance bag for her ballet shoes. She watched Jackie working with some of the younger dancers on their form.
“You’re reaching too much, Jamie,” Jackie coached gently, “It’s just a gentle stretch, not a strain.”
Jackie’s voice was almost being drowned out by the live orchestra warming up.
I forgot! We get to dance to live music, Isabelle thought, this is going to be so amazing!
Just then, her two best friends, Marisol Luna and Cecile Rey ran up to her.
“Do you have an extra pair of tights?” Cecile asked, “Mine just ripped all the way down and I can’t wear them!”
“Oh, no! I’m so sorry! I don’t have any. What are you going to do?” Isabelle asked.
“I guess she’ll have to go tight-less. We don’t have time to ask anybody else. Our class is about to start,” Marisol said.
Isabelle’s class gathered around Jackie for some instruction before they started.
“This stage is obviously smaller than the room we’re used to, but I don’t think we have to change anything. We’ll just have to dance close together. Boys, when you lift the girls, be sure you are on your marks. The girls kick their legs out, and if you aren’t on your marks they will probably hit somebody.”
“When Marisol comes out to do her solo, Jamie and Tanya, I need you to get all the way up against the wall. You won’t really be able to do your steps but at least you can do the arm motions. Marisol and Stephan need as much room as they can get.”
“As you can see, we are dancing to a live orchestra. This means the music will be different from our recording. Be sure to not only count your steps correctly but listen to the music and adjust to it if you need to. All right, let’s take it from the top.”
The girls came out first, dancing to the waltz from the Tchaikovsky String Serenade.
Oh my gosh, this is fast, Isabelle thought. The orchestra was playing much faster than the dancers were used to at practice. Isabelle had practiced her twirls and spins so much over the past year, but sometimes they just came back to haunt her. She could feel her body tightening up as she felt she needed to rush through her steps to keep up with the music. When the next spin came up, she didn’t come out of it soon enough and Marisol ended up crashing into her.
“I’m so sorry!” Isabelle gasped, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. We’re in such tight units and the music is going so fast. We have to be perfect! The performance is tomorrow!” Marisol ended in a slight panic.
Jackie stepped up to the orchestra, “Could you please play this a little slower? The dancers have a whole lot of steps and if we could slow the tempo down I think that would help a lot.”
She turned to the dancers, “Isabelle, bring your arms in when you spin, you’ll spin faster that way and hopefully you’ll be able to step out in time. Even if you miss one thing, just jump straight on to the next, don’t try to play catch-up. I’d rather have you skip a step and come in for the next one on time. Let’s do it again!”
This time it was much better. The girls got through the first part fine. During the recapitulation, when the main theme of the music came back again, the boys joined the girls.
The girls performed almost the same moves as before but this time, with the addition of being lifted off the ground.
During one high part in the music, Stephan went to lift Marisol up in the air while Marisol did the splits, but just as she kicked her legs out, Stephan let go with one arm and Marisol came crashing to the floor.
“Stephan!” Jackie jumped up angrily, “You NEVER drop a girl! Ever! You would be fired on the spot if you did that on the professional level.”
“She was going to kick me in the face,” Stephan contested, “I thought I could -”
“Then you GET kicked in the face! Or you move your head. But you do not let go! She could have gotten a concussion or worse! Let’s do it one more time from the recap.”
Marisol gave Stephan a shaky smile, “I won’t kick you in the face as long as you don’t drop me.”
“Deal, and I’m sorry,” Stephan whispered.
They were able to finish the dance without any more mishaps but the girls left the stage feeling too insecure to speak to one another as they changed and packed up.
Isabelle’s high hopes from before had plummeted to the floor. I guess this will be another night of practicing spins, she thought as she flung her bag across her back and headed out the door.
She ate dinner really fast and ran to her room to practice spins for an hour. Then she went through her whole routine three times at different speeds. It was hard to do because the actual music on her iPod had one speed. She ran through it the other two times without music and just counted the steps. Finally it was time for bed.
The next day when they arrived back at the school, hardly anyone spoke to each other. They were all so nervous. Jackie came in to give a quick pep talk.
“I know yesterday didn’t go as well as we’d hoped, but this is something all dancers have to learn. Professional dancers dance to live music all the time, and even when we’re dancing with the same orchestra, the tempo can be different from day to day. Being able to adapt to different situations like a small stage, bright lights, and different music is the difference between a good dancer and a great dancer. I know you are all capable of adapting. If you go out there and desire a great performance realizing that something might get in the way but you’ll be able to adjust, you will have a spectacular performance.”
Adjust, Isabelle thought as she took her place on the stage, I just need to be able to adjust. The music started and the three girls performed the first part of their dance very well.
There were a few moments when their steps weren’t quite matching the music exactly, but they were able to catch up later and the audience of kids couldn’t tell there were mistakes.
Marisol’s solo with Stephan went off without a hitch and no one got kicked in the face!
I play in the Camarata Chicago Orchestra and I had the great honor to collaborate with the Joffrey Ballet Academy a few weeks ago which inspired this post. We were on the same stage and it was totally amazing to be surrounded by incredible ballerinas while we provided the live music. And yes, the ballerinas did complain to our conductor that the tempo was too fast for two of the pieces! We slowed it down a bit and the concerts were some of the best we’ve ever played. We inspired each other.
I was going to post this earlier but the permapanty scandal left me feeling unmotivated. Can you imagine a doll wearing the permapanties, plus tights, plus a leotard? There’s bound to be a bump at her waist. The only way to cover that would be to put a tutu on. And if you leave off the tights, the pink panties will show when she moves her legs.
I am sorely disappointed with everything AG has been doing and many people plan to boycott AG entirely. I’ve decided to just boycott all permapanty dolls. Any doll I buy that has permanent underwear will be instantaneously returned to AG. I truly hope AG will wake up and see how they’re treating customers. And I hope they wake up before it’s too late, and there is no more American Girl at all.