Friday, April 29, 2011

Sweet mother of all things holy. Writers dancing?

So a few months ago, I was on board with The Southeast Review doing a talent show kind of fundraiser. Right, I said to myself. Enough with the writers mumbling brilliantly into microphones, enough with the words. Let's do something else, for once.

This was a bad idea mainly because I lack the obvious talents one might expect in a talent show. A worse idea, however, was my offer to dance -- with a back-up crew of grad-student dancers.

[NOTE: What you're seeing to the right here is the promotional poster of me and my colleagues in the poses of THE BREAKFAST CLUB, of course. The first line read: They'll only meet once, but it will change their lives forever."

If you're thinking, dear sweet mother of all that is holy this is a recipe for disaster -- oh, sweet disaster! -- you are right, my friend.]

Now, don't get me wrong I love to dance. When playing Field Hockey, I organized half-time shows (much to my coach's annoyance) and I twirl a mean field hockey stick. I taught ballroom for a few months because the teachers-in-training got free lessons.

But saying that I know how to perform on stage is like my father saying he's published -- he once won a safety motto at work and that motto was printed on thousands of #2 pencils. Thousands of them!

Basically, I can fake dance and that alone is rare in writerly types (minus Rita Dove's tango).

This is evidenced -- on a grand scale -- at the Associated Writing Programs annual conference -- the dance portion.

Yes, that's right. There is -- for some ungodly cruel sadistic reason -- an annual dance for writers.

For those of you have – blessedly -- missed the AWP dance, let me try to explain it. It’s like a ballroom full of writers have had their souls loosed from the bodies and in some sort of act of self-cannibalism the souls seem to be beating the bodies over their heads with their own limbs. There are sporadic leg spasms and convoluted shimmying. Who’s actually convulsing and who’s not is such fine line it’s like an EMTs greatest nightmare.

And yet it is a thing of such supreme beauty – a Flannery O’Conner grostequerie that catches your breath in your throat and, there, let’s in fan and pant and gasp ... and gag just a little.

And so, in that spirit, I always kinda wanted this dance to blow up, to go BIG, to reach for stars even if it meant failing – but failing boldly. AND THAT was what me and my dance crew so boldly attempted this past Tuesday night on stage.

This is what we writers know how to do – so well. And here is where dance is a metaphor for writing. Our best work – on the page and on the dance floor – pushes limits, takes great, brazen risks.

This is from my introduction read before the performance on Tuesday night.

"I don’t even like to call them back-up dancers because we are a dance crew. We have learned to anticipate each other’s every movement. We are locked in a kind of synchronicity –not actual synchronicity – don’t get me wrong – instead a kind of deep spiritual synchronicity . So if you’re not seeing what seem like ‘dance moves’ up here tonight – don’t be confused. (In fact, you can turn your head and close your eyes – we wont take offense.) We are ACTUALLY synchronized but on such a deep level that you might not even be aware of it.

"To perform for you tonight, we have overcome carpel tunnel, allergies, irritability, chafing costumes, snap-off pants.

"Now, a little background on this number we’re about to perform. We didn’t actually settle on THIS PARTICULAR musical number until this afternoon. But here’s the deal – when performing LA DANSE at a very high level, improvisation is best. We will be following in the tradition of the greatest jazz performers of all time. We did meet once and practice a different number … and so this will be a very textured performance, layered. (If you see vestiges of ALL THE SINGLE LADIES – that’s purposeful.)

"Let me say that I don’t think I’m overselling it here when I say that we have d


music – in general if not exactly this particular piece -- into our very core, our souls. We practiced together – before you all got here -- for long hard arduous minutes. Minutes upon minutes! So many minutes that I lost track!

"And there is poetry here. Let me read just a few lyrics.

"Obstacles are inefficient, follow your intuition, free your inner soul and break away from tradition.

Coz when we beat out, girl it's pullin without. You wouldn't believe how we wow sh*t out."

I introduced my dancers: Justin “Fuzzy Bear” Anderson, Adam “the Situation” Boles, Dario “Our Hebrew Beiber" Sulzman, and Wil “our white 6 foot 6 FSU Will Smith, our Fresh Prince, Big Willy’s style’s all in it” Oakes

But before we could drop it like it’s hot, there were ground rules.
A. There will be no clapping. Even if we start clapping on stage, don’t join us. W e will likely be clapping arythmically – on purpose, of course – and you’ll likely be clapping arhythmically because you are predominantly an audience of writers (see earlier speech on writers dancing). Our arrhythmia and your arrhythmia might th row off the delicate balance we’ve got going here on stage. So just don’t.

B. There will be no video footage of this performance. This is EPHEMERAL art. It will not and should not live on – in any media form. So if someone does start taking footage, I will jump off the stage like Patrick Swayzee at a summer lodge in th e Catskills and I will go Joaquin Phoenix (circa I AM HERE) on your ass.

On a side note, a documentary of BEHIND THE DANCE is now being


de and you’ll be able to see – in vivid detail – some of our preparation.

B. and a Half. The music will be loud. Don't complain. I saw THE KING'S SPEECH and I think loud music might help.

  1. La Danse should be given and received if you all aren’t in the mood and if you’re going to sit there all quiet and jaded, it will affect our performance and we will NOT – I repeat NOT – drop it like it’s hot. In other words, if we fail (and not in that big grand epic way), it’s your fault.
And then what did we do? We "wowed some sh*t out".

Oh, yes we did.

The reactions after?

Comments like:
"That blew my mind."
"That was ... miraculous."
"Well, that's sure going to haunt me."

In other words, art happened.

[More photos to follow.]