I sometimes have some difficulty deciding whether I prefer being in an audience or on the stage. There is a certain kind of pleasant, exciting but almost lazy charm to just sitting back and watching others entertain. On the other hand, being on stage and in front of an audience also has its upsides. I count myself lucky to have been on both sides of the performing “relationship” (audience/entertainer) in these last few years. Cultural Lion Dancing with Bergen Chinese Dragon & Lion Dance Troupe for countless performances everywhere from restaurants and parades to Continental Arena and the IZOD center; hip-hop choreography with Verse|One Dance Troupe at Rutgers for cultural shows to cotillions; even informally during previous Chinese School years, acting out “The New Year Dinner of the Gods” with my old and very amusing classmates in front of the Chinese School during Chinese New Year (good times hahaha.) Ohh, that old Chinese School class. As one of us said a while back–a sentence that struck me as quite fitting–“We’re all performers” (or something to that effect.) Surely, we are, since even back then most of us were learning Lion Dancing or Chinese cultural dancing, and in college we gravitated towards certain dancing niches…I’m still amused whenever people are surprised to hear that I dance.
Seeing two variations of the famous Beijing acrobatic shows in the past week makes me think about the interesting features of audience members who are performers themselves. As I watched the male and female acrobats performing feats of amazing dexterity, coordination, and general bodily strength, I caught myself really appreciating the show more because I can understand parts of how difficult it is to do some of what they do–one-armed handstands, all sorts of flips, climbing up poles with just upper body strength–I guess the thought I had has something to do with how knowing a bit about a skill gives one a healthy appreciation when seeing people at the top of their craft.
Having performed on stage, one appreciates all the more when one sees good showmanship, in the form of constant smiles (or at least appropriate expressions) or some kind of stage presence. This past Wednesday, I saw the Imperial Circus of China perform at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and this past Saturday I watched the Peking Acrobats perform at Bergen PAC in NJ. I had a few distinct impressions of both: while I was very impressed with the acts and overall skill level of the performers in CT, perhaps my one issue with their show (also noted by the friend who had invited me) was that the music stopped in-between acts, which seems like an easily remedied fault. In the grand scheme of things, a small gap between acts of such a caliber is perhaps negligible, but I think that because the acts are so interesting, the show itself would have been almost flawless if all the separate acts were woven together into a flowing narrative. Silence between acts, in my opinion, breaks the semblance of cohesion and interrupts what had otherwise been a captivating show. So when I watched the Peking Acrobats in NJ, I couldn’t help but to pay close attention between acts, and my thought is that whoever was in charge of organizing their acts understood what I was talking about above about uninterrupted narratives–the song from one act blended quite well into the next.
Comparing the two different but similar acts, I was happy to see that each featured stunts and acts that I had never seen before–the Imperial Circus had an act with hat juggling, for example, and the Peking Acrobats had two (very acrobatic) children as part of their acts. Watching acrobatic shows always makes me wonder what kind of training the acrobats undertake in order to become so fit, flexible, and nimble.
All things considered, I think I usually prefer to be on the stage, because of the very process it takes to get there. I love practicing and training to improve, and the bonding that comes with spending so much time with a team of committed (ideally, anyway) individuals, and the sense of unity and cohesion once we’re approaching a goal, and the almost palpable excitement–crossed with a degree of nervousness–on the seconds before we step on-stage. And once the music begins (proverbially or literally), time flies away and as performers, we’re in the zone, and seemingly seconds later we’re done and out. Hours and hours of work for our seconds of fame, hahaha. That isn’t a complaint by any means–anyone who’s had to practice should be able to appreciate true mastery all the more.
At the same time, being a performer, leaner and teacher, I like how my focus is drawn to different aspects of the show when I watch performances now. I pay close attention to how the performers move, I note when people are out of sync/formation, when they lose their stage presence–I note these things, and sympathize, because having been ‘there’ in a way, we know that it could happen to us, and that’s why it’s all the more important that we practice, train, remain diligent and focused when necessary.
From the unofficial teaching standpoint, I love seeing my students improve, whether it’s in lion dancing or hip-hop dancing. This past visit to Rutgers, I was able to sit in on a V|1 practice while they were doing critiquing of 2 pieces that they’re auditioning for…today, I think, and seeing that most of them had improved in some ways, I was so proud hahaha, even though their improvement wasn’t necessarily due to any influence of mine; it was a mother/father-bear-like pride born of seeing improvement from those who love what they do, and that’s always gratifying to me.
Oh, dance. We’ve had this funny relationship, you and I. I knew I was always interested, but didn’t know how to start; you were cool with that, you taught me the importance of what it means to throw yourself into what you’re doing, and now here I am marveling at how you’ve helped me grow.
Work, play…dance? 😀