“Would you like to be in the front of the room or hide in the back?”
“Oh, I’m just recording today. My co-workers were the ones who were supposed to dance, but they weren't able to be here.”
“But you HAVE to dance! I thought that was part of the deal!”
“I know, I know. But I promise you, you don’t want to see these limbs flailing everywhere. I’m a writer, not a dancer! There’s not enough time in the world to make this body do what everyone here is doing.”
Relieved by the limited opposition to my excuses, I take up my somewhat hidden position in the back corner of the well-lit dance studio along with the more timid of today’s dance class participants.
Sure, I’m one of only two men in the room, I’m not dressed for a dance class, and I’m holding a notebook and a flip cam in my hands. Clearly, I’m either a reporter or a really obvious creepster. I definitely feel like both.
I'm here at Ballet Austin's Butler Dance Education Center because this Saturday, July 30 is National Dance Day 2011. National Dance Day is an unofficial national holiday devised by Nigel Lythgoe, a dance advocate and producer and persnickety judge of FOX Television’s So You Think You Can Dance.
And since I've been a religious viewer of SYTYCD for the past three years and writing a weekly recap of the show for this site, my editor thought it would be hilarious to have me put my toe shoes where my mouth is.
I'd talked my immensely more talented co-workers into taking my place in the dance part of the National Dance Day, and then they left me high and dry in the Land of Amazing Dancing. For non-dancers like myself, this challenge feels comparable to lifiting a car or running a mile under 6 minutes. Sure, people do it sometimes, but...I mean, today?
Please trust me when I say, I respect dancers and the imporantance of dance for all it brings us. Why else would I write a weekly recap of a reality show about dance? It's an art form and a recognized physical activity! Last year, Congress even recognized the grassroots movement of National Dance Day as a nationwide effort to promote health and self-esteem through the art form of dance.
National Dance Day is also a way to raise money for various dance-themed nonprofit organizations such as Lythgoe’s Dizzy Feet Foundation and Ballet Austin’s very own scholarship program.
Lythgoe himself is busy dancing at a separate National Dance Day celebration at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California along with SYTYCD’s best gal host Cat Deeley.
“Classes like today’s are happening all over the country right now,” Ballet Austin’s Program Director Vicki Parsons tells me. “We’re always excited to celebrate movement of any kind, so this is our kind of holiday.”
To celebrate the second annual event, some of SYTYCD’s top choreographers lent their talents to three levels of dance classes. Ballroom expert Mary Murphy recorded a beginning level Samba routine. Pussycat Doll choreographer Robin Antin developed a Jazz/Funk routine for intermediate experience levels. And popular choreography team NappyTabs made a nearly impossible Hip-Hop routine for those looking for the greatest challenge.
I made it out to the intermediate class held in the largest dance studio at the Butler Dance Education Center. As the start time drew closer, 35 souls braver than me arrived ready to show off their skills.
Looking around the room, I was pleased to see a variety of ages if not an equality in the sexes. As the hour unfolds, the under-10 and over-40-year-old dancers are holding their own with the eager twentysomethings.
The class explodes to life with the arrival of its leader, the amazingly energetic Kathryn Waggoner. Having finished another hour-long class only minutes prior, Waggoner bounces into the studio, starts up the iPod to Midnight Red’s “One Club at at a Time” and begins teaching the intricate dance steps.
Each section of the dance is broken down into eight smaller steps, and the sections are repeated four times. At each juncture, the music starts back up and the sections are layered upon one another until—amazingly, and beyond my educated comprehension—everyone in the class executes the entire routine multiple times.
This same miracle happens one additional time in the day bringing the NappyTabs Hip-Hop routine to vibrant life. This round of dance wizardry presents an even crazier challenge to an even larger crowd. Altogether, Austin’s National Dance Day draws almost 200 celebrants, moving their bodies and focusing their minds.
Perhaps it’s my disbelief in my own body’s potential for memory, but I am mystified by what these 37 women and one man are accomplishing in this humid window-and-glass-lined dance studio on this national holiday.
For one(-and-two-and-three-and-four) seconds, I consider that maybe I too can dance. One day. Maybe next year...
If you missed out (or chickened out!) on SYTYCD’s National Dance Day, don’t despair. Ballet Austin has another free day of dance in the works called Come Dance! planned for Aug 28. This time, every class at Ballet Austin will be open to every interested dancer of every skill level. Check out the Ballet Austin website for details.