Thursday, January 24, 2013
Dance Africa: One Giant High School Flashback
If anyone was wondering where I was this evening, I was at an African Dance performance. My friend Helen has been a member of this dance group for some time now, and is always talking about how much she enjoys it, and so when a big performance finally came up, it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to watch her strut her stuff.
The show was scheduled to start at 8 PM, and like the good patron of the arts that I am, I showed up 15 minutes early. When I walked into the theater, my nose was quickly overwhelmed by the strong aroma. What is that smell? Perfume? Cigarettes? No, dancers! Everywhere I looked, I was seeing things that triggered horrible, horrible flashbacks to high school. The marley mat, the temporary risers, the people that I hated. The audience was a mix of students who didn't want to be there, old people who were overdressed for the occasion, and young children who wanted to be there even less than the children. I found a nice seat directly behind a rather attractive lady, and just my luck, she had her name tattooed on the back of her neck. Pleasure to meet you... Ernest (her hair was covering up parts, so may have had to fill in some of the letters on that name). I never did get her number, so I sure hope Facebook Graph Search is ready soon, so I can find "Girls at Oregon named Ernest" and send her a message. She, and several of her friends were apparently taking an introductory dance class, and where required to come to this performance. She didn't seem to mind that as much as she minded the announcement at the beginning for everyone to shut off their cell phone. Sitting through a boring dance show is one thing, but doing it without an iPhone? That's cruel and unusual punishment! I thought about breaking out my old man voice and saying, "why, when I was sitting through boring dance performances in high school, we didn't even have cell phones...", but then I remembered no one cares what I think.
I actually wasn't expecting such a large crowd, but by the time the show started (10 minutes behind schedule), every seat in the audience was filled, except for the one right next to me... why does that always seem to happen?
And then the performance began. First, let me make the disclaimer that Helen was great. She looked great, danced great, and none of the following criticisms apply to her. Also, let me remind you, when I offer this criticism, I am not simply speaking as the cantankerous Dan who hates everything, but as the Dan who went to a performing arts high school and actually has watched more dance performances than he'd care to admit, and has some vague ability to recognize talent when he sees it.
So when the show opened, my first order of business was to try to spot Helen. This proved to be harder than I expected, because every single person on stage was a young, white woman with brown hair, of approximately average height and average weight. Between the costumes, and all the movement, it was tough to pick out her lovely face. Thankfully, I quickly noticed she had a little bit of flesh-colored tape on her ankle, and from that point on, the ankle became the quickest way to spot Helen.
It was also hard to spot Helen, because everywhere I looked, there were other dancers who were making me angry. There was the one with the obnoxiously large smile. Now, I'm not expecting a complete Kristen Stewart-like lack of facial expression, but this was too much. She was The Human Comedy Mask. It was like watching bad vaudeville, where the performer follows a bad joke with an "Eh? Eh?" after no one in the audience was laughing. There were other distracting performers too... like the girl who didn't know how to dance... or the other girl who didn't know how to dance. Look, this performance wasn't completely devoid of talent, but more often than not, it felt like I was watching open mic night at the local African Dance Club. The way they moved... these people were not dancers... they were me after a 10-week dance class. They might look the part, but they don't move like dancers.
And you know something, African Dance, I have a few complaints about you in general. This wasn't unique to this show, but I absolutely despise it when, during an African Dance performance, someone has to come up on stage and tell me what the dance I just saw was about. "Oh, this dance was about family/the Earth/our home country..." Look, if you have to tell me what I just saw was supposed to mean, you have completely undermined the legitimacy of the medium. Raphael never had to sit down and explain to people that Plato and Aristotle were debating the role of knowledge in School of Athens. As much as Ayn Rand's writing lacked all subtlety whatsoever, even she never had to go so far as to explicitly tell people that Atlas Shrugged was about her ideologies of objectivism and rational self-interest. And Chuck Berry sure as hell never had to explain to people what My Daing-a-Ling was about. And do you know why? Because after listening to the song, everyone in the audience knew the song was about his god-damned penis! It is a shitty art form that needs such an explicit explanation.
Another complaint I have about African Dance (though this might really be a complaint about Africa, in general, more than just their dance) is their reliance exclusively on percussion instruments. There's nothing wrong with drums, per se, but they're pretty limited in their range. At one point during the show, the token actual African on the drums did a little bit where he showed off the range of tones he could produce on his drum. That's nice, but he's still limited to one tone at the frequency with which his arm can swing. Contrast that with the piano, an instrument that allows the player to produce up to 10 tones simultaneously with just the tap of a finger. Also, while not always the case, drums tend to sound like shit compared to a lot of other instruments. I understand that the continent is poor, and they might not have the money to spend on saxophones or pianos, but I think we can help. Instead of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation wasting billions of dollars trying to rid the continent of malaria, how about buying them them come cellos. Maybe a trumpet or two. I have a vision where every single child born free of AIDS learns to play the clarinet by the time he's 10. THAT is the kind of thing that would really make the world a better place.
Back to tonight's show. Anyway, I really didn't mind the show. Like I said, this wasn't my first rodeo, and I enjoyed parts of it. But seriously, who the hell came up with the concept of the intermission? The whole show was only about an hour and 20 minutes long. That doesn't need an intermission. As bad as some of the dancing is, I can handle it--that's what I signed up for, but the waiting was brutal... waiting 10 extra minutes for it to start was rough, and then 40 minutes later I had to take a 10 minute break to watch some guy's adorable little kids run up and down the risers... he sure was lucky they were so damn cute.
And one final observation... if you're going to show up 20 minutes later for a dance performance... please, obey these two simple etiquette rules. 1. Assume you missed the announcement for everyone to turn off their cell phones... because you did. They're not just going to remind the audience every 10 minutes, on the off chance that people didn't show up when the show started. 2. The fatter you are, the more important it is you show up on time. Seriously, obese woman, it ain't that easy for you to just slip right in to that seat in the middle of the crowd. If you need two seats, you really ought to be there early enough that two seats are still free.
In conclusion, wow, this really was like stepping in a time machine and going back 10 years. I kind of want to grow my hair long, put on 30 pounds, be an obnoxious brat, and wear nothing but Simpsons shirts every day. It's really incredible how much I've changed.
Posted by Dan Mahoney at 11:09 PM