Vivian Dang

“Danceworks: Straight Fire” is not about dancing competitively and being on point every second. From what I gathered during the rehearsals, the more seriously you take yourself, the less you will excite the audience. Don’t go into the show expecting an hour of silent admiration for how the highly trained, self-aware dancers can contort their bodies in ways you never could. Even I, the most clumsy and kinesthetically-cursed person I know, found myself questioning whether  I should’ve joined Danceworks — after all, it really didn’t look that impossible.

If for you, art is as valuable as it is exclusive — Danceworks will feel like an unnecessary, immature form of entertainment. They are a no-audition, open-arms, come-as-you-are-and-we-will-teach-you-how-to-shake-it kind of group. Whether everyone shakes with equal skill is up for debate, yet the point is that it doesn’t end up being significant once the show actually begins.

The first thing to note is that the rehearsals are, for the lack of a better word, quite “chill.” For anyone who has ever worked on any production at Yale, the sheer number of transitions and the complexity of the light and sound cues can make even the best stage manager go mad during tech week. With Danceworks, it is quite simple: each separate performance has a student choreographer who is responsible for yelling “incendio” towards the booth (where the lights and the sound are controlled) when all the dancers are in position.

There is no effort being made to build a fourth wall, to take the audience on a voyage through the labyrinth of dance and fire, to make them forget where they are and where they are coming from. No. Everyone is very much aware that we are in the Off-Broadway theater behind Morse and Stiles, witnessing an effort of fellow students dancing to popular music in what seems like a fully-choreographed and semi-practiced fashion. (Side note: I must emphasize that I have only seen the first-ever dress rehearsal, and therefore have reason to believe that all the dances will be more polished for the actual performances.)

Why bother to go spend an hour watching people dance if not for the experience of being teleported to a new universe? I am not going to make an unexpected revelation here. Go because it is fun. Go because it is a stress-relieving hour that might even inspire you to break out your inner dancer at Toads with a new sense of confidence.

Go because central to a Danceworks performance is the audience. You are expected to yell out names of the dancers and embellish the performance with your “oohs” and the “aahs” as soon as the first song comes on. Don’t be shy to shout more elaborate statements like “Now, that’s a cover photo!” when you notice that the lighting is just right and the silhouettes are too artsy to avoid making the comment. Danceworks is to dance as spoken word is to poetry. It is as much (if not more) about the audience’s reaction as it is about whatever is on stage. It doesn’t follow a form, doesn’t need highly intellectual content, but it will be noticed and a definite bummer if the performer is not enjoying themselves. The success depends so much more on the attitude of the dancers than their actual moves.

The level of enjoyment you will get out of “Danceworks: Straight Fire” depends on the mindset you have as you enter. However, in case you would like some more guidance on how to treat the show here are a few games I would like to suggest based on my limited exposure:

Games you can play to heighten the experience:

Look for people you know either in a “Oh wow my roommate is in Danceworks! We should really talk more!” or a “The girl in my English class can do splits?!” kind of way.

Spot the choreographer! Each Danceworks piece has a specific choreographer, who as the name suggests, is responsible for the specific moves. They are usually central to the performance and will be the one to follow the beat the best.

Lock eyes with a specific dancer and make ’em dance for you! This is easier with certain types of dancers who are performers au naturel and will love that you are giving them what they want — with others it might be a bit uncomfortable to be intently stared at by a stranger in the audience, but it is surely a learning experience.

After my own hour of witnessing Danceworks, there were two things on my mind: “Was the girl in the bright blue leggings meant to wear them, or did she just forget her costume?” and “I shouldn’t have been so skeptical when I found out about ‘incendio’, that was actually cool.”