The Chance to Dance
First of a Series
In the classic musical, “A Chorus Line,” the character Cassie sings, “All I ever needed was the music and the mirror/And the chance to dance for you.”
No one really knows when dance entered human experience. There are paintings dating back more than 9,000 years that show figures in what we think of as dance. There isn’t a culture on the planet that doesn’t engage in some form of dance. Whether learned as part of ritual or as part of a discipline such as ballet or contemporary dance, the desire to move rhythmically and expressively is inherently human, and we idolize the grace and beauty of the human form in motion.
No wonder that ballerinas have shown up in play. Barbie’s roles have been danced by Maria Kuroski of the New York City Ballet and has been featured in movies of “Swan Lake,” “Barbie and the 12 Dancing Princesses” and “The Nutcracker,” delighting little girls and inspiring them to dance, as I learned when I went to the open casting call for the three U.S. companies of the musical “Billy Elliot” last weekend. More than 200 girls came from all over the U.S. and as far away as Australia for a chance to be one of the group of girls who appear in the show. When I asked some of the girls on the line what their first inspiration was for wanting to dance, many of them said “Barbie,” and cited one of her movies and the dolls. The words, “pretty,” “magical” and the phrase “made me want to dance, too;” peppered their excited conversations as they waited on a line that was more than a city block long.
Trying to be a serious dancer, however, is more than play. To qualify for the auditions, the girls had to be between the ages of 8 and 12, no more than 4’10” tall and able to perform ballet, jazz and tap. Some of the girls had been dancing since they were 2 years old, and the three girls on the front of the line got to the auditions at 6:30 in the morning.
Sleepy, but supportive, parents accompanied the girls as the girls talked with one another and shared their excitement. “This is what she wants to do,” was the refrain of many of the parents, and while most of the parents, and the girls, knew that getting cast was a very long shot, every one of them believed that the experience would be good for them. In fact, it was amazing to hear the maturity of the attitudes of many of the girls, some of whom already had professional experience, though they weren’t yet 10. They knew that they were trying and wanted to do the best they could, but they were very realistic about their chances of getting picked.
Still, while a professional dance career may not be in the offing for many girls (The odds are about as good as becoming a professional athlete.), the benefits of dancing and in particular the study of dance and ballet is wonderful. Girls in dance classes get many of the advantages of boys in team sports. There is the sense of camaraderie, shared learning and self-esteem that comes from mastering dance and the technique.
There is the understanding of process and the time it takes to become truly proficient at something. Many of the girls on the line last Saturday said that they danced between 15 and 20 hours every week. Then, there is the self-confidence that comes from performing that will help these girls in anything they do. I have to say, self-confidence was not lacking in the girls I met last Saturday.
Most of all, it was inspiring to be among a group of kids who were doing something that they loved, who accepted the demands and sacrifices that come with the territory, and were thrilled beyond belief to be standing on a cool sidewalk on a fall-like morning because at the very least they were going to dance on a real Broadway stage.
NEXT: We go inside and watch the auditions and talk to the amazing woman who’s job it is to pick the right little girls for the show from the thousands she sees each year.