MY DEBUT AS A PROFESSIONAL DANCER
By Jo Balogh
A year ago I was a SL artist and long-time curator and owner of art galleries. Oh yes, I loved to dance and every Friday night I went with Roni Saunders, my dearest SL friend, to the Empire Room to see the Elysium Cabaret. At the end of the show, along with other members of the audience, we kicked up our heels and danced on the stage to their choreographed crowd dance. We usually stayed for the after-party dance and I gradually became friends with co-owner and dancer, BabypeaVonPhoenix Bikergrrl.
Baby invited Roni and I to join a series of dance classes she was planning on the topic of “How to put together a dance performance” called The Dawn of Dance. It sounded like fun so we signed up. The classes concluded with a “graduation recital” as part of the Dance Galaxy festival on November 15th, 2014. Although I’m neither a great builder nor choreographer, I was determined to appear in the recital and I did, flamenco dancing to Gipsy by Jesse Cook. That was to be my one dance performance creation, just to prove to myself I could do it.
At that point I retired from performing on the dance stage. Or so I thought. But it was not to be. Babypea asked Roni to join the Elysium Cabaret and on January 9th she made her debut as a choreographer with the group. Not exactly as a soloist, mind you. She created a dance for three, with Winnie (Winniefred Resident) and me joining her onstage. So began my career as a backup dancer.
I quite happily danced with Roni often or with Winnie when she asked. Others invited me to be in their dances and I became quite an accomplished “ball warmer” for other choreographers. Roni generously involved me in her dance creations and we often brainstormed problems together, although to be honest she didn’t really need much help from me.
One day Roni was talking about African Soukous dancing, which she was thinking about sometime in the future and gave me a link to a YouTube video. Of course it’s fatal once you go there, as you hop from one video to another. I hopped right along to Chico Cesar singing Mama Africa and there I stopped. I played it again and again. It really caught my attention.
Soukous is derived from the French word secousse which means shake, among other things. Shaking their booties is just what African women do to a style of music that is derived from Cuban Rumba. Now I just happened to own a set of 6 Booty dances from Glamour Animations. Mmmm. Could I put together a performance to this music using those dances? Could I build a set again after so long? Well, there was only one way to know for sure.
Out came the Empire Room template box onto my build platform and I began slowly gathering together Africana. Brown savanna grass, African acacia trees, a couple of elephants, some giraffes, a big campfire and a gorgeous sunset sky texture for the walls brought it all together. Simple but effective, or so I hoped. I found the perfect outfit at Artizana, a store with wonderful African ethnic creations. I loaded the dances into my Barre Hud and in between fiddling with the set I danced my way through the Booty dances over and over, moving the order around, adding repeats to make the dances work with the music.
I didn’t own the Spot on system so there would be no movers, but I knew right away it would require three dancers to make it interesting. I used three crouching mocap amimations for the opening poses and put them into big green prim cubes so they were easy to see in the tall savanna grass on the set. A transition pose moved us fairly smoothly from the end of the dance back into the crouch for the finale pose. All the animations were in my hud with the note card written and loaded. It was time to get some feedback.
I had told Roni what I was working on but didn’t show her until I was basically finished. She is such a good builder and has such a good eye that I was very nervous. Despite me pinching her idea, she loved the set, just tweaking a few things to frame the dancers better, and we ran through the dance with my alt Jaz to make up the trio. I sent her and Jaz the outfit, put the set into a rez faux box and off we went to the Empire Room to fit it in place and do a run through.
I had told Baby I was working on something and it was time to see what she thought, time to see if it was good enough to perform at the Elysium Cabaret. She came right over, along with Gunner, her SL/RL partner who is the Elysium DJ and a fine choreographer himself. Always encouraging and supportive Baby was delighted with it all and told me to contact Paul Woodrunner who coordinates the group’s timetable so he could put it on the schedule.
Phew, now I could relax for a few weeks, but no. Paul had an opening for the coming Friday night. May 15th. Would I take it? Frankly everything was a good as it was going to be and it was better to do it quickly. So I agreed with one stipulation. I insisted on being the first dancer on the program.
There’s something which I call the Recital Rule. Any good teacher arranges a student recital starting with the newest, weakest performers and progressing through to the strongest and most experienced ones. I definitely needed to be first up!
During the next few days I arranged for Winnie to be the third dancer with Roni and me, sending her the costume and instructions to wear ethnic type jewellery, which she hopefully had in her inventory. I sent Gunner the mp3 file of the music and notes to Paul and to Wiz Nirvana who is the Elysium manager. Then I began to practice setting up and taking down the set quickly and efficiently. I practiced over and over. I rezzed and derezzed and rerezzed that boxed set at the Empire Room till it was second nature to me. The rez box went in and out of my inventory so many times it must have felt giddy. I ran through the dance, opening and closing the curtain till I had it down pat. Unfortunately, the lovely curtain at the Empire Room has a drop down menu and it can’t be added to the notecard in the dance hud. Now I was ready.
Rehearsal was a disaster for me. I rezzed the set and we were in place when suddenly DJ, Gunner announced that the music file I’d sent him was empty. What? I bought the music from iTunes and turned it into an mp3 file there and I knew it worked since I’d been using for weeks in VOX. I quickly sent it to Gunner again but I was asked to step aside by Wiz for the next dancer to rehearse her dance. I de-rezzed the set and she rezzed hers. But the DJ was busy trying to sort my music out while others wanted to go ahead with the next one. Conflicting instructions came from both directions, with us both rezzing and de-rezzing our sets several times. Tempers were stretched a little thin but finally Gunner announced he had my music and I ran through my dance and rehearsal proceeded as normal. Now that was truly nerve wracking!
Finally, it was performance night. For some unknown reason I was extremely calm, almost detached, although there were a lot of things to be concerned about. Winnie always had problems sitting on her pose box for some reason, needing three or four tries to get in place. I had a list of instructions on a notecard to follow, in case my much-practiced procedure failed me. Restore the rez box to last location. Rez the set. Stand on the pose box. Don’t forget to cache the dances. Don’t forget to invite the other dancers to your hud. Don’t forget to cache. Cache again! One more time!
Being first on the program, I could put the set on the stage early with no pressure, thank goodness. With the three of us in place and ready to go, I cached the dances over and over as we waited. Finally, ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by the Blackeyed Peas, Elysium’s signature overture, came through my speakers. We were underway. I cached one last time and set the hud on pause. Gunner was in IM with me, as he was with each dancer, warning me every 30 seconds till he would start the music. Then he introduced me and announced my debut as a dancer with the Elysium Cabaret and this was it.
My music started and I opened the curtains to reveal us crouching down, as African women do. I sat counting down the first few bars of the introduction as we waited and as soon as Chico belted out Mama Africa I hit start on the hud and up we popped and began to dance. As the song ended I hit the transition pose and we went into the crouch again as I closed the curtain. We stood and went backstage, I de-rezzed the set, took the rez box and the stage was clear for the next dancer. I had done everything like an automaton, but it had been perfect! Even SL had cooperated: no lag, no delay with the music, no frozen hud. Perfect!
But no sigh of relief. That’s when I began to shake and shake. My heart was racing and I couldn’t even type as congratulations poured in. I sagged in my chair at the computer, totally exhausted. It was several hours later before I stopped shaking but I had done it! I’d made my debut as a professional dancer with the Elysium Cabaret dancers.
A week later Paul asked me when I would have another dance ready. I laughed. Next November? Maybe? I seem to be on a six-month schedule with my dance ideas. Don’t hold your breath anyone!