The High School Years:
My high school years were a particularly special brand of awkward and awesome. I went to l’École secondaire de Plantagenet, the high school that looks like a large A&W off “la 17”. I was never part of the “cool” crowd at school, but that didn’t stop me from being very involved in clubs (yearbook, “la patrouille”, student council… to name a few.) By this point, I was taking step dancing lessons once or twice a week, and by the age of 16 I was also teaching intro to dance once a week to the cutest 4 year olds. If I wasn’t taking/teaching lessons, I was rehearsing with Glen Productions, a Cornwall community theatre company that did two “cabaret” style shows and one musical a year.
The majority of my social life as a teenager was linked to dance and theatre. I remember hearing my high school friends complain about how I was never free to hang out. I wasn’t really interested in hanging out when it involved getting drunk or bicycling around the same small town streets over and over again. Many of the people I met through the MacCulloch Dancers and the shows with the Glen are still my very good friends to this day. And that’s not to say that I’m not in touch with my high school friends, or that I didn’t care about them. It’s just that, at that age, dance = freedom. As long as my homework was done, getting good grades, and generally behaving, my parents let me do things other kids my age dreamed of. Missing the occasional morning of school because I was up late for a dress rehearsal. Drinking the odd coffee mixed with hot chocolate during choreography rehearsals. Having your sweet 16 birthday party at the local pub… the same pub that would present me with my “usual” pint of coke when they saw me come in late at night post-rehearsal without my having to ask. This same freedom took me to perform at Disney World when I was 16 and to Spain. (This link is a PDF of the late Mrs. Rae MacCulloch’s retelling of our trip. You can find a pic of me looking like a geeky-teenager, and a pic of me dancing in a line on a gorgeous stage, on page 4.) Going to Disney at 16, without my parents (gasp!) was such a blast, but Spain was amazingly memorable. My mom couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come, though I was glad she came. I still remember her coming back to the hotel and finding me sitting at the bar drinking a screwdriver (because “vodka y naranja” was one of the few drinks I could say in spanish). She didn’t bat an eyelash, knowing that I would be perfectly fine to perform the next day, which I was.
Dancing also gave me the opportunity to break out of my shy exterior and really connect with people. It was never weird for me to two-step with my Dad in front of a large crowd during a ceilidh or jive with my grandma at a community centre. It felt special, actually, because there was a whole other world I was a part of that wouldn’t feel comfortable with being this open. That seemed sad to me, because some of the best moments of my life involve being in the arms of someone I love… dancing.
Near the end of high school, I performed in Sweet Charity and Crazy For You. For your viewing pleasure, here are two of my favorite numbers from those shows. (Yes… I wore one of those pink tutus. And I can’t tap nearly as well as the ladies in the video, but don’t underestimate my ability to sell it!)
I found out not too long after doing Crazy for You that my Dad used to sit in the audience and cry when he would watch me. I guess I made him proud.
As fun as Crazy for You was, it was also a turning point for me. I had applied to universities for entry into various arts-related departments (mostly English), but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got the guts to ask the musical’s director (and professional that my community theatre troupe had hired, who shall remain nameless) if he thought I could make it as a dancer. He said he thought I had talent, but that I’d have to lose at least 15 pounds if I wanted to truly be successful. One one hand, I couldn’t disagree with him. I was (and still am… duh) only 5’2″ and was around 125 pounds at the time. I didn’t have height on my side, so I’d have to certainly be a proper “petite” to really make it. On the other hand, my fragile teenage ego wanted to punch him in the junk. How dare he burst my freaking bubble like that?
So I never went to dance school. I never became a dancer. But…
The University Years:
In my first term of university, I went from being an English major, to be being an English Major with a Theatre Minor to being a Theatre Major with an English Minor. My parents were not impressed. I owe much of this change to the amazing Claire Faubert. She was my first year intro to theatre teacher that, after seeing me direct a small scene from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, offered me the opportunity to do the choreography for the final number of her Comédie des deux rives show La Nuit Juste Avant Les Forets. Just a few months before, someone said they wouldn’t give me a chance because of 15 pounds, and this person put the final moments of her show in my hands on sheer faith. I never forgot that gesture… and never, ever will.
I eventually graduated from U of O with my Honours in Theatre, Concentration and English and went on to be one of first two graduates from the MFA in Directing for the theatre program. Though my focus has changed to directing, movement is intrinsically linked to everything I do directorially. I’ve been taught by Daniel Mroz and Peter Ryan. I’ve watched as much theatre and dance as I can. Two major influences are Fosse (if you haven’t been able to tell already!) and Pina Bausch.
The dance obsession that came latest in life for me was through my half-sister… but I’m tempted to leave that sweet story for its own blog post.
So that’s it. Dance is freedom. Dance is love. Dance is touching, feeling and making connections. Dance is saying everything you can’t say with words. These days, the most I dance is with my toddlers in the kitchen. But every once and a while I put on a movie, like the one below, and start mapping out the choreo… thinking “One day I will perform this.”