By Jackie Weber
Week One At The USF Dance Department: A Survival Story
So it’s Monday and the day begins at 7:45 with breakfast, a little coffee with my gym partner Taylor, and a gym session to get us warmed up for what will be an intense ballet class. I’m prepared, guys. I’ve got my clothes packed, my lunch made, tennis balls ready, a nice oversized button down to add some style to the look, and crew socks on lock. Positivity. The day, the week for that matter is about positivity. The gym is filled with people who I’ll most likely never see again after this week, but kudos to you for your attempt at morning workout sessions! Taylor and I leave the gym sweating bullets, our shirts a different shade of whatever color they were, and head to the dance department. Windows down, sunglasses on ladies and gentlemen, that’s the way we roll on campus. We make it to the parking lot, which low and behold has turned itself into a free for all for anyone who has a vehicle on campus. Seriously, what the f***?! We’ve just spent 45 minutes on a treadmill and another thirty lifting god knows how many pounds. Walking from the Laurel garage is not something we’re prepared to tolerate.
So now we’re walking to the dance department from the Laurel garage, which might as well be a mile away in this Tampa heat. We get to the dance building, greet our friends and head into the locker room to begin the struggle of getting dressed for ballet. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of putting on pink ballet tights over sweaty legs, you suck and you’ve lived a privileged existence. It’s hard work. Think thin scuba suit that could tear at any moment and leave your skin bulging out for the world to see. Sounds beautiful right? Add a black leotard that hasn’t been worn since April and a pair of trash bag shorts that “definitely fit looser the last time I wore them” and you’ve got an outfit that screams “Help me. I’ve lost my mind.”
Ballet begins and Paula is so excited for us to be back and for us to work. She tells us that this year we are going to clean the feet, focus on our backs and port de bras, and work the technique. “You are all movers, so we ‘re going to build the strength, yeah?” If you’ve had Paula before, you know that basically means that we’re going to be worked to death. Bring it on, Senora. Barre begins and ten minutes in I’m already ready to pass out on the floor. We get to fendus and all I can do is laugh. “I don’t want to kill you, so we go simple today. Fendu 1,2,3,4 hold it out 5,6,7,8. Develope` 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.” Sorry, was that 16 counts just devant? Oh you want it en criox and then reversed? Oh ok cool. I’m thinking okay, maybe the music will be a little more upbeat, you know a little faster. Nope. No such luck exists in the world. Couldn’t be more opposite of that. We’ve got some melancholy full on adagio number blaring from the speakers. I swear that song will play at my funeral. Needless to say, the class makes it through barre. We’re all dragging slightly slower than when we walked in, but we’re alive.
Now we’ve got modern. Michael Foley starts his class with a nice “check in” in terms of what to expect this semester. Pretty much, we’re all expected to be open and emotional. I’m cool with that let’s dance yo. Class begins and man does it feel great to finally move across the floor. The class learns a combo that’s quirky and unusual and our class is just eating it up. Not much to say about modern except, I’m excited. I’m ready to dance.
So it’s Tuesday, the longest day of the week. Taylor and I head to the gym and wow, I should’ve put money on that wager because Damn. The gym population has dwindled. We get a nice workout in and cross our fingers that we’ll find a parking spot next to the department. Denied. Back to Laurel we go to rack up some more miles on the old pedometer. Ballet begins again, this time on pointe. I’m praying to sweet baby Jesus I don’t die. I survive. Hazah! We end a half hour early and go into an audition for Andrew Carroll’s duet. I’m not sure anyone else gets as much joy as I do listening to Andrew speak about his pieces. They’re like his children, he truly cares so much about them. There’s so much thought put into every detail. Right on Professor Carroll. This year’s duet is about a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night and finds her man, whom I’m assuming to be her lover, and they begin to dance. “This year, I just wanted to make something very pretty.” God I love that guy. We learn the choreography, which is lovely, and do it a few times. The audition ends and I’m feeling content with my work. We head out to get dressed for modern and the majors meeting that happens during lunch.
Everyone introduces themselves and properly meets the faculty. By the time the meeting is over, we’ve got like 20 minutes left of modern class. Us dancers sure do talk a lot. So our very kind professors cancel modern and wish us good luck in the auditions this evening.
Flash forward to audition time. We’re all gathered and ready to go, numbers attached to shirts, all 76 of us. We split in half. One group goes to Michael and the other to Bliss. The auditions go by super quick if you ask me. Only 45 minutes with each choreographer, and it zooms on by. I must say, everyone there danced their hearts out, and I couldn’t be more impressed with the dedication and commitment to movement that the department is displaying this year.
After Concert auditions, we go into Senior BFA Group piece auditions. It’s a full day, I know. I was lucky enough to teach a combo along with Jacqui, Laura, and Jessica. It was interesting being on the other side of an audition. Getting to see all of the dancers move in that perspective was truly incredible. I gotta hand it to the dancers- ya’ll can move #bless. Once that ended, all of the seniors gathered around and diplomatically casted their pieces. High five and thumbs up for such a flexible group. Casting was surprisingly easy and quick. By the time that ended, it was nearing ten o’clock, and my body was all “get your ass home now.” So that’s what I did, and after putting together and emailing cast lists, passed out in a matter of seconds.
On Wednesdays we have senior sem. And still didn’t get a parking spot. Life:3 Jackie:0.
Thursday. *Sigh*Thursday was rough. I’m not sure what it was but I was driving that struggle bus all day long. Gym kicked my big butt, and the walk from Laurel didn’t help either. That’s right, STILL NO FREAKING PARKING!!!! I swear I could of dented one of the cars in the front row with one of my pointe shoes, but I thought “hey, you might need those things today.” I should’ve dented the car. Ballet with Osmany in pointe shoes is never a good idea. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I did it, and I’m not saying I regret it, but my feet looked like ugly pink raisins. We move to modern which I was truly excited for. We had an incredible guest artist teaching us, Amy Chavasse. I seriously wish I was on my game more. The class was amazing. She incorporated Gaga into her warmup and taught us part of a text solo that she danced in SOLA, a performance at USF the first weekend of classes. My energy was down, my legs couldn’t hack it, my right became my left, my brain was just fried. Sad day, twas a sad day for the dancer inside me that really wanted to move. As soon as 3 o’clock hit, I was checked out. My face was ready to hit a pillow. And as soon as I got home, that’s exactly what it did. No joke you guys, sports bra off, and a nap in the sweaty clothes I had been wearing all day. The shower after the nap didn’t wake me up as much as I though it would which pretty much told me that the exhaustion was real.
Happy Friday and TGIF for real. Ok so we kick it at the gym. Sweat it out stay snatch. HALLELUJAH we find a parking spot. Good gracious it’s never felt so good to park in that back row. We get to wear colored leotards and black shorts on Fridays to class. Sort of a way to deter the mind from realizing that the body is actually past the point of soreness, and focus on the fact that your legs aren’t a weird shade of pink, they’re tan OMG. This class was still hard. I mean it’s ballet it’s always going to be difficult, but this wasn’t as rough as Thursday. We still left the room dragging, however. It’s not a Paula Nunez class if you don’t want to amputate your feet afterwards.
Modern was incredible. Another guest artist, Pam Pietro, gave a wonderful class all to Radiohead. That woman knows what to play to get you going. Her class made me want to eat up the space with every muscle I could move. She urged us to move bigger, and create space in our joints. What more could you want from a Friday class? Another bucket of sweat later and the week had finished. All that was left was the first USF Improv Jam.
So the Jam, right? It was amazing. And if you weren’t there then I feel sincerely bad for you. I must urge anyone who has any sort of interest in the arts, dance, improvisation, music, or just making connections with others to join in on the next one. Two thumbs up and sassy snaps for Jacqui Dugal, who introduced the idea to our department and provided us with an incredible live musician to “play” along with us. There really is no way to describe a completely unplanned but reciprocated feeling or emotion that is felt within yourself and another dancer. It’s magic I tell you. And there were so many moments like that that happened within that studio. Two and a half hours of nonstop movement and sometimes silliness. That’s how a weekend is supposed to begin. Thank you to everyone who let me roll all over them, who allowed me to act like the silly goose I truly am, and who reassured me of this extremely frustrating, liberating, taxing, and just plain awesome major. I’m so incredibly happy to be a part of such a talented group of artists.
So here’s to week 2, to week 3, to week 84, because lord knows these “weeks” don’t end after the semester is over. Here’s to the teachers that bring smiles to our faces and pain to our rotators. Here’s to the mornings that make you wish you never rolled out of bed, and the nights that make you so thankful that you have a memory foam mattress topper. Raise an arm en haut to the semester everyone, it’s going to be one for the books.