The first week of June, as has been the case for more than 20 years, was a familiar buzz of nerves, complaints and questionable adolescent decisions. The first Friday of June is Dance Concert day, and that week was all about making the transition from the classroom to the stage. What was once a foreign, faraway concept for my students was now hitting closer to home for everyone. This week, they would all be forever changed (for the better).
Normally, my approach to the week must be done mindfully, as it takes a great deal of energy to set everything in motion. There was even more on the line this particular week; this was our first live concert in three years. Since this year was like starting from scratch (the pandemic shut us down for two years) 99% of my performers had no idea what to expect. There was no rollover from last year or experienced veterans to help to newbies get through their nerves. I had to get significant buy-in from class meetings, then do a little clean-up with some veiled threats of potential failure. I don’t like operating under the premise that they are being coerced in any way, but honestly, these kids need a little shove to get out of their own way.
To make life a little more interesting (read: really, really difficult), the dreaded spiky virus decided to pay me a visit the week before concert week. I was required to quarantine for five days, even if I started to feel better before then (which I didn’t). I managed to get a sub who would let my kids rehearse, but of course, without me there, those practices didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped they would. All I could do was communicate with my classes through Remind messages, assure them I would be back next week to get them ready for concert time.
On Tuesday after Memorial Day, I had returned to work after spending an entire week at home. What a stressful thing; as it is, I don’t like taking one day off, much less a whole week. To boot, it was the critical week before my classes shifted to practicing onstage, so that precious time that we would have spent polishing their dances was sorely missed. Being our first live concert in three years, scant few of my students had any experience performing onstage, so losing those few days of rehearsal was scary. Alas, COVID yet again found a way to put a damper on all things creative. I had to be smart about how I would spend my energy to get through the week.
The good news is that since I’ve done this process for so many years, there’s really nothing that surprises me, or throws me too far off course. There is always a process, where I have planned, prepped, and created backup plans – just in case. I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that backup plans are essential nowadays.
I have a mental checklist of things that have to happen – concert flyer and program to create, lists, lighting cues, in-class staging rehearsals, and the requisite pep talks and sage advice about performing. Students are reminded that this concert is their final exam grade; it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. For the most part, there’s a little bit of “put the fear of Tirro” in their hearts so the ones on the proverbial fence are persuaded to commit fully to the process and performance.
The beginning of concert week, like the school plays, requires a deep breath on my part. There is an extraordinary amount of personal energy required to make this event happen. I’m pretty much a one-woman-show – the creative brain, artistic director, designer, executor of the blessed event. If I’m not committed full-force to it, I will certainly lose the kids. So, COVID recovery mode would have to wait. It wasn’t necessarily the smartest of actions, but it was the only option. I felt I owed it to the kids, and to myself, to make sure Friday night was something happy and memorable. We all deserved a win after the few years we have had. We all deserved to feel “normal,” for crying out loud.
So, I paced myself, expended just enough energy to get through the staging rehearsals, then took whatever breaks I could. I just needed to get through Friday night. As each day passed, I’d start the morning battling a tinge of anxiety. I knew how much work goes into a production week. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and it is on me to provide just the right mix of inspiration and spark to get them motivated. Basically, I needed to turn a motley crew of 150 teenagers into a dance company. I needed them to believe they were stars, just for a few minutes; enough for them to impress their friends and family, get a spate of applause, and an injection of confidence to carry them through the weekend. They had to believe that they had the ability to transform themselves into vessels of non-verbal storytelling, that they deserved the spotlight, and that they belonged there.
Friday afternoon was the final dress rehearsal before the concert that evening. It’s the last ditch attempt for the kids to fix mistakes and get a sense of the flow and organization. Fortunately, it ran fairly smoothly. The kids gave each other some good feedback and vibes and everyone felt pretty confident in their role for the concert. They left after the rehearsal and I sat for a moment in an empty auditorium. In a few hours, the room would be full of people; no social distancing, just an audience of families, friends and teachers cheering loudly. Now, it was up to the dancers to follow through.
The kids returned at their call time and signed in. They were wearing their costumes, hair and makeup done, all exhibiting that familiar pre-show nervous excitement. Some practiced their dances in a corner of the hallway, all had an anticipatory aura around them – something special was about to happen. I gathered them around, gave them a few reminders and words of encouragement and told them to get to their places. They would be re-igniting the dance concert tradition in our school; the post-COVID inaugural dance event that for more than two decades, my classes had looked forward to at the end of every year.
At showtime, I stepped in front of the audience to welcome them, give some gratitude, and show them the illuminated fire exits. As I stepped off the stage, the lights dimmed, the curtain opened, and we were on our way.
I am proud to say, they all rose to the occasion. Even the class that I could have sworn that most would not even show up represented themselves with pride. For each number, my students took their places in the blackout, poured their hearts into their dancing, bowed proudly, and ran off the stage in the next blackout. I kept thinking how crazy this was, since at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure if we would even be able to have a concert. And yet, as I watched each dance unfold, it was so familiar and normal, like we hadn’t missed a beat.
After the concert, kids were filled with smiles and grateful hugs. They surprised themselves, they impressed their families, and they felt the electric surge that performing under the hot lights in front of an exuberant audience always provides. After all of the uncertainty, they emerged, unscathed, and better for having completed the process.
The best part of the whole ordeal: they made me believe that they believed in themselves. My job is done.
One thought on “The Inaugural (Post-Covid) Dance Concert”
Glad things went well. I’ve been staying close to home and avoiding crowds because I leave for California Tuesday morning. My grandson graduates high school on Thursday. Haven’t been out there in 5 years. Will be back Sunday late afternoon.Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone