Saturday, February 21, 2009

Everything I learned about performing I learned at....

Phil's and Club Abstract.
If you know Kitchener-Waterloo, don't laugh. You know when you're there for four years of school you have no choice. At some point you will find yourself spending too much time at these bars.

I've been reading "The Body Eclectic" a group of essays about changing training models for contemporary dance and it has led me to thinking about where I got my most significant training. Sadly, not at the University of Waterloo Dance Dept. I learned many great things there, but how to dance, how to perform? Not so much. Not at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. I was not there in a meaningful way long enough, and frankly did not have teachers who believed in me -- for various reasons, not all of which are they to blame for -- and the 8:30am Graham classes were treacherous for my body. I am built like my father more than my mother and lack the seemingly requisite maternal, uber-feminine pelvis. Some great training came after I left STDT and studied fairly intensively with Robert "Ballet Bob" McCollum -- whether he believed in me or not at the start, he gave me such good information and was the first person to encourage me to find my own technique inside the ballet form, or whatever form I was working in.

But where, how did I learn to perform?
In my basement between the ages of 10 and 18, being anti-social, but imagining singing and dancing and communicating with other people whose conjured faces lived in the walls of the fake wood panelling.

And then in 1995-1996 at Phil's and Club Abstract in Kitchener-Waterloo.
At least 3 times a week over the course of 18 months I went to one or the other of these two clubs -- alternative rock/80s retro type music -- at about 9:30-10pm, hit the dancefloor for at least 3 hours straight, then walked out the door and went home to sleep.

I did not make friends with the people who worked or frequented these bars, and basically made a spectacle of myself. I drank only occasionally and talked to almost no one. But emotionally and physically I plugged myself into each song that played, learned to keep dancing to music I didn't like, to keep dancing near people I didn't like, to keep dancing no matter what. I learned that people would watch this -- whether they thought I was a total freak, a loser, a marvel, or an artist -- to the point where bouncers would remove anyone who tried to hit on me or disturb me while I was dancing. I recall one night that someone was rather violently dragged up the stairs at Phil's. Perhaps he'd been bothering others as well, I'd never know because I rarely noticed anything except the sensation of the music, the vibrations and the emotions it sent through my skin and bones.

This time is utterly romanticized in my memory. But I think it was the most intensive training I got in performing. A drunken group of university boys is not an ideal audience and yet I received no bad reviews. Occasionally someone would buy me a drink.

Dancing so much at the end of the heyday of grunge music, finding ways to channel myself through Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, the Violent Femmes, and Radiohead were all exceedingly worthwhile ways to spend my time and the $5 cover charge.

I won't dance for vodka-cranberry anymore, but I do often close all the blinds in the house, turn off the lights and cut a rug for an hour or two. Reminds me of why I'm still here, trying to do this.