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In the Upper (Living) Room

December 13th, 2009 · No Comments


I don’t really know exactly how this all started, I just know what we’re in the middle of it now and there’s no going back.

I do remember had been looking for a dance class for C&D for a while.  The search became urgent after we caught a free performance by Houston Ballet II, the pre-professional division of the Houston Ballet’s academy.  C&D cried when it was over, and Matt and I were blinking back tears, too–one of their pieces had left us awestruck.  But I couldn’t find a class we would all be comfortable with.

Then one day late this summer an e-mail caught my eye.  A friend had arranged for a daytime dance class at a studio in the Village, but she needed participants. I pushed my chair back from the monitor while I reviewed a mental checklist:

  • Close to the house?  Check.  It’s only a mile or two from here.
  • Mornings, when I function best and traffic is lightest?  Check.
  • Movement and rhythm-based?  Check.
  • No princess glitter and Club Libby Lu lip gloss?  Check!
  • Serious dance school committed to the art of dance?  Big, big CHECK!

We were so in.

In the Upper Room. Photo: Amitava Sarkar 3926739.47

In late September we made it to a performance by the Houston Ballet.  We had seats just four rows from the front.  We watched three pieces separated by two intermissions.  The first piece (“Falling Angels”) featured percussionists at the end of the stage; the second featured a piece choreographed by the Ballet’s Stanton Welch; and the third was Twyla Tharp’s exuberant “In the Upper Room.”  And then it was over.  David was tired and happy to go home and think about what he’d seen, but Carmen?  Carmen cried.  She cried all the way out of the theater.  She cried crossing the street and down the stairs into the parking garage.  She cried in the car as we drove through downtown and home.  Then, slumping at her chair at the table, she cried some more.  "Why?" she asked. "Why is it over?"

Around the same time, I started noticing something.  Instead of talking around and keeping rhythm on the furniture when he heard music he liked, David started dancing to it.  Carmen, too.  They fussed about costumes and tutus and practiced dance moves that I couldn’t remember the names of.   And then the semester was over, and it was time for C&D to participate in December’s Mixed Bag.

Our teacher thinks that at least once a semester her students need to perform for their families, the other students of the studio, and those students’ families.   The audience has a chance to see what the students have been working on (I don’t really participate in or observe C&D’s dance class like I participate in their violin lesson), and the students have a chance to perform in front of a supportive group.  

Sometimes the students demonstrate exercise and techniques they’ve been working on in class, and sometimes they perform a piece they are preparing for a more formal audience.   Sometimes they do both.  The school hosts a diversity of classes, from beginner ballet to hip-hop and tap.   Maybe all this variety is what inspired the head and founder of the dance school to call these monthly performances “Mixed Bags.” 

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And so C&D danced in the Mixed Bag.  Then C&D came home with the usual despair that something so pleasant could be over so quickly.  This time, however, C&D figured they could do something about it.  While I finished dinner and let my hair finish drying, they worked quickly to get furniture moved and an audience ready. 

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And then, requesting the music (some of which we had to download on the fly; Amazon, I love you), they danced and danced until bedtime.  Much of what they did is here in this post.  It’s here so that in ten years C&D can see what their first dance moves looked like.  It’s here so that the grandmas (their most devoted audience) can see what they’re up to.  And these videos are here so you know WHAT I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH ALL DAY LONG.

Ready?  Here goes:

They asked that I find and play a piece by Dave Brubeck first.  Their dancing was inspired by some of the choreography set to this music at the at the City Dance concert earlier in the month, and then the Mixed Bag earlier in the day.  David’s slow-mo movement at :26 was right on, but Carmen’s hopping on one foot was definitely a Carmen-ism.

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Then I guess they were done with the jazz portion of the show, and moved on to ballet.  They took some masking tape (we go through lots of that stuff around here) and made their own pointe shoes, complete with the little ribbony bits that wrap up and around the ankle.

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While they were doing that I was back at Amazon, downloading another song. 

Now C&D have been to two Mixed Bag performances, and one City Dance performance earlier in the month.  At all three of these performances, they’ve watched the ballet piece below.  (The first time C&D saw it the Ensemble students were still fine-tuning their work.)  They loved everything about it:  the violin, the movement, the red and black.

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So of course, being so inspired and of the moment, they needed to  give it a go.   I don’t know about you, but as I review the video I am astounded at how closely they were able to mimic so many of the movements they had seen earlier in the day.  I mean, Matt and I are so uncoordinated that the only sports we could do with any success were things like running, hiking, and riding our bikes.  (I’m also amazed at how well they’re able to stand on the tippy-tip-tips of their toes.  I can’t watch them without thinking “sports injury.”)

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Maybe they were in an imitating mood; next they wanted the music from “In The Upper Room,” the Twyla Tharp-choreographed piece that we saw at the Houston Ballet.  Check out the 80’s-style party moves—they’re totally channeling Twyla Tharp.

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I started running out of music that they might want to dance to.  After a costume change I tried a little Sugar Plum Fairy.  They’ve never seen the Nutcracker but have heard some of the music.    I almost chocked on my tea when I saw Carmen’s hip movements—I’m not sure that’s what Tchaikovsky had in mind.

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After a while they started running out of dance moves but didn’t want to stop.   

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Igor Stravinsky is another Russian who wrote music for ballets, and he seemed like a pretty cool guy as tortured Russian musicians go; I bet he would have gotten a kick at Carmen’s energy (wasn’t she exhausted?) and improvisations to a section of The Rite of Spring.

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I was pretty much out of music on my laptop, but they didn’t mind.  Whatever it was, they’d find a way to move to it.

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It was getting late.  David kept more and more migrating to the couch to take a breather.  If Carmen was tired she wouldn’t admit it, but she knew it was time for a last hurrah.

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Then they went to bed, and slept deeply.  The next morning they were up early.  Can you guess what they wanted to do?

Tags: Arts · Dynamic Duo

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