Anatomy of a Dance

September 27, 2016

Anatomy, a noun, meaning a study of the structure or internal working of something. In dance this means the origin, process and ultimately performance. For the song Endless Night this meant a lot of self discovery and working together to come up with something that hopefully the audience felt as deeply as we, the dancers, did.


When Sarah first gave me the song list she was planning for Music and the Mirror I immediately said, “Endless Night is mine. I don't care about any of the other songs but that one is mine.” I think I  took her slightly aback with that response but when I explained my reasoning she agreed and it became the first song we decided on the dancers; it became the choreographers' duet.


My senior year of high school, in 2007, I went to New York City for the second time in my life. Our Symphonic Band was performing in a competition and in our free time we were allowed to choose a Broadway show to go see; I chose the Lion King. When Endless Night was sung I became a blubbering mess. All I could think about at the time was my friend and mentor who had passed about two months earlier. Running through my mind were all the things that I never was able to say, the guilt I felt and all the promises she made me that she would never get to keep. From that moment on the song would illicit feelings of grief that I couldn't quite make sense of until this year.           


Grief has five stages according to the Kübler-Ross model; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These five stages became the basis for the choreography to Endless Night. Sarah and I started by coming up with distinct movements for each emotion.


Denial was the gut-punch that comes at the first moment of losing someone. It's the feeling of wanting to throw up but there's nothing left in you. So for us that translated into a contraction of the solar plexus which is commonly referred to as the feeling center.


The first word that came to mind to us for anger was 'sharp'. We translated this into a jabbing motion with our elbow. Pushing away the world and trying to hurt it at the same time.


With bargaining comes a roller coaster of hope and disappointment. This movement was the rising of our hands, palms up, and then the pushing downward to the ground with our palms down. It's the knowledge that nothing you do will change what has happened but you just need to try anyways.


Depression is an oxymoron in that you want to be alone but desperately want to be held at the same time. It's confusion and loneliness and for us that became moving our hands to grasp our head with a downward gaze.


Finally, acceptance. This became my favorite motion out of all five because we came up with something that truly defines what acceptance means to me. It began with our ring finger of our left hand touching our heart and moving outward, slowly floating down. The ring finger is of importance because a vein runs directly from your heart to that finger. With acceptance we are finally saying goodbye and loving the person we lost at the same time. Gone but never forgotten.


Once we had our movement vocabulary down we needed to decide on a structure for the dance. We never wanted to set clear “characters” because we wanted the audience to be able to identify with both dancers at different points. We told our own stories of love and loss until we finally ended with one thing together; hope. Each movement was based on the five original movements but we warped them in some way such as  inverting them or changing the body part that initiated them. It's a very simple way of creating a dance with circular themes.  It allowed us to focus on the acting of the song just as much as the movement.       


It may surprise you that in rehearsals for this piece there was a ton of laughter between Sarah and myself. The moment that stands out to me the most was the day we were rehearsing in Sarah's bonus room and she became the bionic woman and smacked the fan with her hand. We didn't realize it at the time but when we stopped we noticed that her hand had broken the glass light hanging from the fan and our entire rehearsal space was now a bit hazardous. Luckily her hand was okay and I am giggling to myself remembering it now.


But no matter how much laughter occurred in our rehearsals it immediately dissipated the instant the music started. There was just something so magical about this song that I cannot capture in words. It allowed all the things we never said to be spoken and each performance changed depending on the day and sometimes who was in the audience or on our minds. One day we danced for an audience member who recently lost her mother. One day I danced for my mentor. And then I danced with the memory of the cancer that stole my best friend's father on the same day that she should have been celebrating a long marriage to his wife.


The performance I danced for her father was also the performance that will forever be burned in my mind for one reason; my costume fell apart onstage. Our costumes were just plain black leotards and a purple skirt made out of a slippery material. When the song started that day I was already crying from memories and then I started panicking because I felt my skirt start to slide down. I knew if it slid much lower I'd be putting myself at risk for injury so I made a split second decision to take it off in the middle of the song. I have never felt more vulnerable and terrified on a stage than that moment. It was as if I was not only showing the imperfections I felt inside but all the ones I am faced with in the mirror each day. I somehow was able to pull it together for the end of the dance but then went into the hallway and let the flood gates open. It was catharsis, embarrassment and pain all rolled into the tears falling too rapidly from my eyes. A moment of life and art coming together in an imperfectly perfect way.


Endless Night was never perfect but it fulfilled everything I wanted and more which made the hours poured into it worth every minute. I will forever be grateful to Sarah for giving me the opportunity to reach out with a story that is so deeply personal to me and to my gorgeous cast and crew for giving me the strength to step onto that stage every night.



Photo credit Alyssa Petrone

Check out  more from Elizabeth  Anderson and her  photography work at  Liza Marie Photography .


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