Members of the American Spirit Dance Company are finishing preparations for their annual Spring Show, which promises fresh styles from new instructors.
The Spring Show is a Broadway-style revue featuring different styles of dance in a variety of numbers. It is scheduled for 8 p.m. March 9-11 in Kirkpatrick Auditorium in Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Center. There is also a 2 p.m. performance March 11 at the same location.
“In the long run, a show is absolutely necessary for anybody that wants to be a performer because a show will help people kick themselves up on their technique,” said Jo Rowan, chairman of Ann Lacy School of Dance and Entertainment and director of the company. “Class is necessary because, if you don’t learn discipline, you can never be an employed performer for the rest of your life.”
The company was founded in 1981 and produces two shows each year, Home for the Holidays and the Spring Show. Anyone can audition for the company at the beginning of the year, but dance performance majors are required to try out.
“The American Spirit Dance Company is a separate company from your dance classes,” said Payton McAtee, dance performance senior. “You are basically given a contract with guidelines and important dates you are required to attend, like performances. This is a great learning opportunity for anyone who is wanting to be a part of a show or company after graduation because, once you sign a contract, you are held to those standards and have to pay the consequences if you break those guidelines.”
Rowan has a system of “blippies,” which are essentially strikes on a dancer’s record. The first time they break a rule or guideline, they get a blippie, which requires the student to discuss the guideline that was broken with Rowan and agree on a way to avoid the situation in the future. The second blippie results in the student being removed from a dance, but still having to learn it on the side with a chance of being put back in. A third blippie could result in the student being permanently removed from the dance.
“If you get three blippies, it’s like New York, if you’ve done three unprofessional things, people can fire you,” Rowan said. “But it’s not life and death the way it would be if you’re actually out of school and in New York.”
The system is meant to prepare students and help them develop the discipline necessary to survive in the dance industry, Rowan said.
“If you really are technically disciplined, you take care of your tool,” she said. “If you’re mentally sharp, and if you’re spiritually generous—you can do this profession until God calls you to his bosom.”
The system is fair, McAtee said.
“I don’t believe this set system is too harsh because, in the real world, if you broke contract and missed a rehearsal or performance, they would often times replace you the first time it occurred,” she said.
Students who get sick or injured are not penalized for missing a rehearsal or performance, Rowan said. She said a system of understudies and swings, along with a double-casting of each part, ensure that a role always can be filled when someone is sick. A swing learns all or multiple parts to fill in if somebody is unable to perform.
“Nobody in this school goes on stage sick or injured because we’ve always got backup,” Rowan said. “Sometimes the problem is trying to convince a young person that their entire life is ahead of them. We’re more concerned with their career than a show.”
Tanner Pfleuger, dance performance senior, injured his back during the first weeks of rehearsals. He said the injury required him to withdraw from the show.
“Although this was pretty difficult, I knew I had to take care of my injury. I wanted to have a long and fulfilling career,” he said. “They were more than willing to accommodate my situation. They ultimately want me to take care of my body, and sacrificing just one show in my college career will prove to be so miniscule in the grander scheme of some things.”
For the first time during his time at OCU, Pfleuger will work on the costume crew as a dresser.
“I have had many amazing and memorable experiences dancing in the show for the past three years. I always enjoy this one because it offers such variety in styles and is loved by audience members,” Pfleuger said. “It has challenged me in my dance abilities, pushing me out of my comfort zone.”
Getting the show ready
Preparations for the show include eight-hour rehearsal weeks during which dances are rehearsed in two-hour classes four times a week. This weekend is important in the preparation process. Friday through Sunday, dances are blocked on stage and finalized in studios.
McAtee said she remembers having to work extra hard reviewing what she learned her freshman year to not forget anything she was taught.
“I learned very quickly that you had to be very professional and review your dances to help make the show look the best it could be,” she said.
The show is split up into two acts, each with about 13 dance numbers.
Rowan choreographs two of the numbers. The first is Classical Gas, which she said includes dance moves meaningful to her throughout her career. The second is God Be With You, a Gospel number.
“Gospel and spiritual both come from survival, suffering and hope-the beauty and joy of hope and salvation to rise above a situation that we’re in,” Rowan said.
This year, a dinosaur joined the dance show. Roary the tyrannosaurus rex is featured in the number Rock and Roar, a Vegas-style dance with long-legged athletic cavegirls, according to choreographers.
The Spring Show also requires an entire crew of backstage workers, including a group of students who run lights.
“For the lighting crew, I hand-select students to go through a 20-hour week training process,” Company Manager Carla Richards said. “If they’re certified, then they actually program and operate our lighting board, including 75 moving lights for every production that we do.”
Preparing versatile performers
Dance school officials focus on making sure each student is well-rounded, Rowan said, so they teach them to do costume design, lighting and stage management, along with a variety of dance styles.
“You can be in this profession until you die, but you can’t be in this profession if you’re a one-trick pony. You have to be able to stay employed,” she said. “It’s not a short-lived career, but it’s a short-lived job. Your job gives you the next job, and your reputation is gold.”
This Spring Show in particular is one to see, McAtee said.
“It is a must-see this spring because of the new styles, like swing and contemporary ballet for example, that the ASDC hasn’t experimented with before,” she said. “Since we gained a lot of new faculty members this year, they have really brought a new, fresh look to the choreography in the show that I’m sure will be entertaining for all ages.”
All seats are $21. For tickets, contact the ticket office at 405-208-5227 or buy them online at okcu.edu/ticketoffice.
“I think people get frightened of a university dance event like what we have because they’ve been bored in other situations,” Rowan said. “But our school produces people who aren’t just flitting around the stage. These are people who want to get work and paid, so they have to be interesting enough where people want to see us.”