I accidentally joined a dance troupe

17:00, Sep 06 2013

In one of the final scenes in Noah Baumbach's quirky, quiet film Frances Ha, there is an interpretive dance scene. The titular character Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, is a struggling dancer, and charming 20-something living in New York. She has no filter when in social situations, no boyfriend and no money. She has choreographed this dance, and it has the usual jolting arm movements and fast walking that one comes to expect when seeing contemporary dance, and it is both beautiful and stressful to watch.

Ha later tells her friend who has come to watch the show "I like things that look like mistakes."

This seems to me to be a very handy approach to take on when you are obligated to attend your friend's experimental dance end of year concert, a slam poetry night, and/or a taping of Q&A. But also serves as a reminder that there's much to be found in the parts of life that seem like mistakes.

To the casual imbiber of interpretive dance the whole thing might seem like a lot of mess-ups strung along together with a vague but also enormous theme. Well, that sums up my experience of interpretive dance, anyway.  And I speak with real knowledge of the topic since I once accidentally joined an interpretive dance troupe.

Twelve years ago I toured Tasmania with a Tasmanian contemporary dance company. It was part of its high school program that recruited promising dancers and coached them to create an entire performance in the school holidays- a performance that was then taken 'on the road'. The whole thing was intense and fraught and exhilarating.

Somehow, I came to be sharing a stage in various regional centres with a motely group of dancers - there was a sliding scale in the talent on show- assorted lithe odd-balls and one token boy. Given that my signature dance move remains the fabled "Tasmanian Two-step" and that the ballet lessons my parents packed me off too resulted in me, a rather solid but unreasonably confident child, clomping about the room with about as much grace as a rhinoceros doing burpees, it was a little unexpected.


The theme of our show, for which we had about two weeks to create it, was the rather sweeping notion of "generations." In rehearsals we spent a lot of time standing in circles, each adding a move to a sequence that symbolised, well, generations. A lot of them seemed to be a cousin of the robot dance.

We all wore different variations of white for the performances which ended up with us looking like we'd lost our way to a Mormon baptism. The girls with the good bodies opted for as little as possible, the rest of us were in weird sort of night gown things that ensured that we definitely wouldn't have a boyfriend for several more years. Our friends and family invariably described our show as "interesting" and "something a bit different".

I was picked for the troupe, I think, because I was very enthusiastic during the audition. I had gone along mostly for a laugh, but also a little because there was a part of me that suspected I was actually a really good dancer. There was an awful lot of leaping involved. Because, despite my generally quiet disposition, I have a natural instinct to show off when in close proximity to a stage. The beauty of performing is having free-reign to not be yourself. Also, I adored the attention. 

Mostly though, I think I ended up in an interpretive dance troupe when I actually can't dance (my secret belief of a talent for it has yet to be realised) because when I was young I wasn't so afraid of making mistakes, and turning them into something.

To be fair though, I must admit to being pleased that my dance debut happened before Youtube did. No amount of positive self-talk could undo the mistake of that nightgown.

- Daily Life