I recently came into possession of a video featuring the first time I ever danced on stage. I was in my sophomore year at Hampton University, and a friend had asked if I could perform at a student coffeehouse. He was presenting a spoken-word piece called Movement Poem and wanted me to perform a dance in silence to complement it. He knew I had recently joined the university dance troupe, the Terpsichoreans. I had never had a dance lesson in my life, but had joined the troupe to improve my tennis game, i.e., to work on spatial awareness, agility, and flexibility.
With great uncertainty, I took "the Nestea plunge".
In order to prepare, I watched a dance class and worked with a company member who choreographed the piece. I also watched archive footage of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and was particularly inspired by the ballet Revelations, Ailey’s signature piece. What resulted was a five-minute segment in the style of Lester Horton but with the contemporary spin particular to the choreographer (and eventually my mentor) Milton Myers: strong, masculine, lyrical, and above all spiritual.
When I first saw the video this month after so many years, I actually cringed. The professional dancer/dance teacher inside of me tore apart everything. I was actually embarrassed at my lack of technique and flexibility. I also noticed that I had a tendency to get up off the floor using my hands instead of my abdominals.
Then I took another look, and realized how momentous an occasion it was for me. It was that performance that led to me making dance a career. The university’s drama teacher was in attendance, and approached me after the performance to tell me that I had potential as a dancer, and encouraged me to explore it.
Watching the video was also a reminder to my older, more cautious, more complacent self that great surprises and rewards can come from having the courage to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new.
We’re preparing to go out on audition tour in February. There is usually at least one person who may be taking their first dance class ever – or singing for the first time, or delivering their first monologue -- at our auditions. I know I’m going to be able to better relate to those prospective students as a result of revisiting my first time on stage. And I’ll be even more proud of them and the chance they are taking. We all have to start somewhere.
And no, you can’t see the video.