I’ve been in a reminiscent mood lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my favorite moments in life…the ones that really stick with you forever. As I’ve been thinking about that, I realized that, while they may stick with me forever, I’ve never really put them down on “paper.” There’s no record of my favorite moments. I don’t really keep a private journal, since there are very few things that I think or feel that I don’t put on my blog. That, and I just can’t seem to keep up my journal. So, I decided that I wanted to start committing some of my favorite moments in my life down in a more (semi) permanent format.
These favorite moments aren’t ranked in order of favorite-ness, just in the order I happen to choose to write them.
Matt’s Favorite Moment #1 – Choreographic Styles
I auditioned for the Music Dance Theater program three times at BYU before I got in. I always got pretty good scores on my voice, and really good scores of my acting, but my dance scores were atrocious. Really, truly atrocious. I just wasn’t a very good dancer. It’s not that I didn’t have dance inside of me, it’s just that I had never danced before. I had never taken a class. I had never done a musical that required more than a basic box step.
When I finally got into the MDT program, I was woefully behind in dance. I picked up tap dancing (not LAP dancing, Jeff) very quickly, and became extremely proficient at Tap in pretty short order. But the other forms of dance, especially jazz, modern, and ballet, came very slowly to me, if at all. I just couldn’t get my body to do what I wanted it to do. And I really couldn’t get it to do what my Advanced Jazz teacher wanted it to do. I loved watching dance, and I was extremely jealous of all those really great dancers that surrounded me on a daily basis, but my body just wouldn’t cooperate.
On top of that, so much of my dance training was focused on technique, that I never got to experience letting go of technique and just enjoying dance for dance’s sake. I, to this day, have a notoriously poor memory for dance steps, and I would regularly freak myself right the hell out trying to remember my choreography. In instances like that, it’s hard to just let yourself go.
My junior year of college, I had to take Choreographic Styles, which was taught by one of my top three favorite teachers of all time, Dave Tinney. I’ve known a lot of really amazing people in my lifetime, but Dave Tinny is my hero. He is so disgustingly talented. (I could go on, but my artistic crush on Dave Tinney will have to be the topic of another blog post.)
Choreographic styles was a unique class. It wasn’t about technique, per se. It was about experiencing the varied dance styles of famous choreographers and then taking those experiences and ideas, blending them into your own choreographic works.
The first main project we had to do was to take a famous choreographer, dissect one of their well-known dances, and teach it to the rest of the class. Kim Nelson and I were assigned Michael Peters, who is best known for choreographing many of Michael Jackson’s more popular works (Thriller, Beat It, etc.) Pretty much every couple in previous sections of the class assigned Mr. Peters taught Thriller. What many people didn’t realize is that Michael Peters also choreographed one of the best “bad” movies of all time: Sister Act II. So, Kim and I decided that we wanted to teach the “Joyful, Joyful” routine from the end of the movie. It was a blast. It’s not hard choreography, but for the first time in my life, I actually knew all the steps and I had to show them to someone else, instead of me looking around like I’m lost and asking other people for help. It was a lot of fun.
The second half of the class, Dave grouped us into pairs and gave us a topic or theme. We were then supposed to choreograph our own routine to that theme in whatever style we chose. I was paired with the incomparable Nicole Riding. Nicole is one of the best singers I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to, and grew into an absolutely jaw-dropping actress during her time in school. But I don’t think she’d be mad at me for saying that she wasn’t known for being the best dancer in the program. Nobody would have mistaken our partnership as the dynastic dance duo of the class. For the theme of our dance, Dave selected Macbeth.
Nicole and I worked our butts off on this project. We eventually settled on the Train song Hopeless off the Drops of Jupiter album, and we opted to use the “Out Damn Spot” speech from Macbeth as the inspiration for the dance. A guilty woman’s descent into madness. And then, something just clicked. For the first time since I had started dancing and taking classes, I got to make up the movement. Nicole and I spent a long time working out the choreography in class and in the living room of my apartment, and we really liked what we came up with.
On the day we were to present, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was excited. I wanted to share our creation with the class. We taught the movement to the class, and then, as was the custom in the class, the “teachers” for the day sat up front with Dave and helped to grade all of the students in the class on their performance and execution.
It was, to be a little melodramatic, a thrilling experience. (Look. I got my degree in musical theater. What did you expect? Restraint?) Nicole and I sat there watching our classmates perform our dance. I can’t speak for Nicole, but when I saw someone really hit it, it’s like our little group of steps took on a new life. I learned for the first time how dance could transcend the steps and become something more than itself. It was thrilling.
After the class was over, we had several people come up to us and say what a great job we had done, including Dave. Getting praise at all in that program was pretty rare for me (I was rarely brilliant), and due to my insecurities, I drank it up like a man wandering in the desert for days on end without any water. I wasn’t the best singer, my acting was always constrained, and my dance? Well, we’ve covered that. But to get praise from someone I respected as much as I respect Dave Tinney meant a lot to me. And it was the only dance class other than Tap in which I ever earned an A.
Nearly 10 years have elapsed since the time Nicole and I choreographed Macbeth to a song from Train, but I think about that experience often. And every time the song Hopeless pops up on my phone, I’m transported back to Room 15 in the KMB, sitting on the floor against the west wall of the studio, my back against the mirror, and watching my classmates, the people with whom I had spent my entire college career, bringing something I had created to life.
When viewed through the lenses of hindsight, I have come to see how influential this experience would be in the way I choose to live my life. I learned during that class, perhaps more than at any other time in my college career, what it means to create. That class is part of the reason why I still try to write songs, start a novel every couple of years that only lasts about 10 pages, do photography, cook, learn computer programming languages. I no longer create to become famous or rich. I don't create to earn approval or accolades, like I once did. Instead, I create because I keep trying to find that place where one of my creations takes on a life of its own. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it makes a lasting impression.
So, thanks Nicole, for being one of the best project partners I ever had. And thanks, Dave, for being such an amazing teacher and a wonderful, yet completely reluctant, role model. Choreographic styles is still one of my favorite memories of my college career, and my adult life.