Before joining the dance company that I’m in now, I had only danced with a university group and an outdoor musical production. So I always saw myself only as a performer. I didn’t teach. I didn’t determine the choreography. You just tell me where you want me to go, and I will do it magnificently. But now I’m having the opportunity to create my own choreography and to teach my fellow dancers how I want to perform a certain piece of music. It’s daunting but fun. And I’m finding it to be a lesson in the way I live my life.
I first heard about the dance company through word of mouth. When I moved to San Antonio in 1999, I looked them up. I had gone to a music festival and the dance company had a water booth. I asked the volunteers about the dance company; it turned out that they weren’t the dancers, they were volunteers at the festival. They didn’t have too much information about the dance company… except for the director’s phone number.
I didn’t call for a few months, but after touching base with the director, I asked to audition for the dance company. I was invited to come to a rehearsal and follow along. I was both nervous and excited. I forgot which dance the company members were reviewing, but I followed along. It was a demanding task, but I love a good personal challenge. After the review, I went up to the director and asked about the audition. She told me that I was following along really well and that I had good technique.
I’d made it. I was in a professional dance company!
INTO THE FIRE
So I learned the steps. Then I learned the choreography. But what was this? We are changing the choreography? What follows is a common exchange between me and the choreographer that would happen every week.
Me: Ok, yesterday I started on stage left and did the footwork through to stage right.
She: Yes, but today we have to change it. You’ll be starting on stage right.
Me: But why change it?
She: Because that’s the way we have to do it now.
Me: I still don’t understand why it has to change.
She: Luis, we have one less couple in the show, so we need to re-set the choreography to make it look even.
And I would mumble under my breath while working hard to re-learn the dance with new choreography. This made things very difficult for me. I would stress out about the changes then go home upset that they ALWAYS CHANGE EVERYTHING.
After a night full of rest and a day to recuperate, I’d be back to my happy self again–only to be frustrated and tense up again at rehearsal because more changes were in store for my part in the choreography.
“Can’t you just change everyone else except me,” I would secretly whine to myself.
It took me about one year–give or take a month or so–to realize that this change was causing a lot of my frustration. All I had to do was understand that this is how things worked in the dance company. I realized it; I don’t know what happened to trigger it, but my eyes were opened.
“Just go with the flow, Luis,” I told myself. If things have to change, they have to change. You know the steps. Just change direction and go another way.
Dancing with the company was A LOT easier after then.
Now that I’m setting and recreating choreography to folklorico music, I find myself doing exactly that. I’m testing and trying out a certain movement with the dance members. But if it just doesn’t work, we have scratch it and do it another way. Change direction and go another way.
Sometimes it becomes a collaborative effort because the other dancers want to make sure the choreography comes out well. But the spirit of change remains.
We plan choreography for a set number of couples. And if by some miracle we have more than we planned, then we have to be ready to make a quick change to accommodate the extra bodies in the dance. What happens a lot though is that we perform with less couples than originally planned because not all dancers are always available. So again, we adapt; change direction and go another way.
My good friend and choreographer said recently, “Luis, you are seriously developing as a choreographer!”
I was taken aback by the sentiment; it was completely unexpected. It was a proud moment for me to hear that from someone who’s been setting dances probably all her life.
You think I can apply that lesson in life? If there is change, just go with the flow. If it’s not working out, just change direction and find another way.
Image source: choreography sketches from the estate of Luis Garcia, Jr.