Daily Bruin columnist Christi Carras’ limited dance background consists of bingeing episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance,” grapevining her way through high school show choir and stumbling through rehearsals at a daycare-like dance studio until the age of 8. As a personal experiment, she attended workshops and lessons for 10 campus dance groups fall quarter and documented her experience as a nondancer for Dance Break.
I suspected as soon as I saw the ICARUS Contemporary Dance Company warmup exercise involved sitting into the splits that jazz was going to be tough for me. As someone who can’t even touch her toes, I was right.
While the majority of the ICARUS audition number I learned in Bruin Plaza did in fact exceed my physical abilities, it was hard not to get swept up in the empowering atmosphere fostered by the catchy Britney Spears soundtrack.
I was under no impression that jazz dance would be easy. Coming into the workshop, I had a vague idea of the level of difficulty to expect from years of watching dancer after talented dancer get chewed up and spit out by the infamous jazz round of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
But watching others fail at jazz on TV and failing at jazz in real life are two vastly different experiences. Of all the workshops I attended, ICARUS’ was the only one during which I felt a dignity-protecting compulsion to explain to the limber, coordinated hopefuls around me that I was not, in fact, auditioning for the group.
The dance combination opened with a relatively manageable move that involved stepping forward diagonally with the right foot while dragging a pointed left foot in a circular motion toward the audience. I felt at home in the dramatic step, which wasn’t too different from the show choir choreography I learned in high school.
A few other steps – like standing on tiptoes while looking toward the sky and slowly pressing my arms out to the sides – also proved relatively simple and fun to perform. But the majority of the number featured fancy floor work and skyward kicks well beyond my reach.
As a result, I ended up minimally executing much of the combo. Dancers typically “mark,” or underperform, certain chunks of choreography on purpose in rehearsals as a way to save energy and avoid injury before a performance. I, on the other hand, had no choice but to mark the movements, as my body was simply incapable of replicating them.
For example, while the hopefuls around me rolled their necks and backs onto the pavement into an extended leg side somersault, I just sat on the ground until the next attainable pose – a sharp look over the shoulder. While this column is all about experimentation, I must shamefully admit I never once attempted the acrobatic move for fear of permanently damaging my spinal cord.
I did make several pitiful goes at jumps and kicks however, provided they didn’t appear life-threatening, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the instructor launch into sequences like the final “fouettes,” which are a series of connected spins that resemble a ballerina figurine twirling in a classic windup jewelry box – only much faster.
Despite pushing my legs to new lengths, I am sorry to report that I am still unable to touch my toes, and I think any hopes I had of becoming a seasoned jazz dancer are probably shot. But at the very least, I did come away with “Kill the Lights,” a new Spears song to add to my pump-up playlist.