The final chapter of Ammena

I remember being shocked and saddened after our dance instructor, Lise-Anne Talhami, announced that An Explosion of World Dance & Music 2017 would be the last annual show put on by the Ammena Dance Company and that the studio would close shortly after. I remember crying too, as did many of my fellow dancers who attended the same showcase night in late-March 2016.  The showcase night consists of snacks, drinks, and Lise-Anne performing short snippets of dances she  choreographs for the interest of the dancers who wanted to be in the 2017 show.

I chose a burlesque piece, as per usual. But I decided to do a second piece as well that was simply titled “Finale” and encompassed a number of dance styles that were performed throughout the years the show has run and showcased the diversity that Ammena has embraced and displayed with pride. Committing to two dances meant I had practice two nights a week, which was a pain for a homebody such as myself and a source of disappointment for my daughter who just wanted Mommy to stay home. But duty, and the stage, called.

Photo by Cameron Aldous

Before I was so lovingly dragged brought into the Ammena dance community by my friends Tanya and Lindsay (they know I love ’em), the last time I had performed in front of an audience was in the fall of 2000 when I participated in two one-act plays for a one-act festival in high school. How a shy, introverted person such as myself enjoys being up on stage I may never know. I had mad-crazy stage jitters for my first Ammena show in 2014, mostly because I had never danced in front of an audience before and I was wearing dance heels to boot. But it became one of those things where if you do it enough you don’t think about all the sets of eyes watching you or messing up the choreography here and there, and the costumes, heavy stage make-up, and even dancing in heels becomes fun.

Then there’s the people you meet and the friends you make: the ray of sunshine who exudes positivity and gives the best hugs, the powerhouse that doesn’t care about what others think of her and jokes about the different versions of her RBF, and the goofball who has a certain way with words and can easily cheer you up just by being her bubbly self. I had never been exposed to so many different personalities as I have with the few years I have been an Ammena dancer.

During the months leading up to the 2017 show, I had grown to dislike hearing the word “last” because it was always said in regards to the show: the last hair and make-up tutorial night, the Iast dress rehearsal, the last post-show get together, etc. I know its obvious my dislike was because of the sadness that came along with the word and the finality of it all, but it was almost like experiencing a slow, painful death. How can we make the word “last” more enjoyable, at least for my sake?

Emotions ran rampant at the Yates during rehearsals the week before the show. We were all happy to be together, we loved seeing the small improvements in our dances, but then someone would point out how we’d be doing something for the last time (there’s that damn word again) and everyone would start tearing up but would try to keep it together for the sake of their stage make-up. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with those who became emotional, but I don’t remember crying at all that entire week. I teared up here and there, but I think by that point I was too focused on avoiding  having to redo my make-up (pain in the ass!) to allow myself to break down. Part of me is mad at myself for not full-out crying the whole time we were at the Yates, but I think back to that time in the studio when Lise-Anne made the announcement and I realize that I had already mourned the death of the show. I was more interested in making it the best show Ammena had ever put on, and my brain wouldn’t allow sadness to distract me from my purpose.

And I think it’s safe to say that it was our best show ever.

Dearest Lise-Anne. Thank you for creating the Ammena Dance Company and, in turn, the Ammena dance family. You have brought together an extraordinary community of kind, loving, and empowering women who I don’t think I would have ever crossed paths with otherwise. I needed Ammena, I just didn’t know it at the start. I have great stories to share with my daughter when she’s older and great friends to share my life with for years to come. You did so much more than teach us how to dance, and if you didn’t know that before, you do now.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Photo by Cameron Aldous

Moving to a different beat [Part 3]

(Read Part 2)

On the Wednesday night before the show, all the props and costumes were transported to the Yates Memorial Centre, where the final preparations for the show would take place. It was also the night of our lighting rehearsal. Every group was given 15 minutes on stage to run through their dance so that decisions could be made on the position, colour, and timing of lighting. It wasn’t the most interesting night of show prep, but it was important all the same.

Thursday night was more exciting, albeit hectic. It was our full dress rehearsal, so we had to be in costume and have our hair and make-up done as if it were the night of the show. We had to keep to the show’s schedule, so after a number ended, you had to stay clear of the hallways that lead from the stage to the dressing rooms or else you would get knocked over by dancers who had to quickly change into their next costume. Dancers can choose to be in up to four numbers in the show, so depending on where your dance is scheduled in the program, you either have a lot of time between dances, or you are already in the process of shedding your costume as soon as you’re off stage. The dressing rooms are also quite crowded with all of the dancers’ costumes, make-up, hair accessories, street clothes, coats, and bags scattered about. It’s very chaotic, but still a lot of fun.

Your nerves kick into high gear come the day of the show. In order to combat my nerves, I tried to get a good sleep (which was a bit of a challenge with a 5-month-old), ate as healthy as I could (the snack tables the dancers set up in the change rooms can be too enticing to resist), and practiced the dance steps in my head whenever I had a moment to myself. There were also last minute rehearsals we had to attend early in the afternoon so we could go through some last-minute changes. Then you have to do your make-up, get into costume, still your heart from leaping out of your chest, and dance.

Lucky for me, there were two evening performances this year, one on Friday, and one on Saturday. So if you screwed something up on Friday night, you could try to redeem yourself on Saturday night. Though this was not the case for me since I had the great misfortune of dropping my fan prop at different points in the song on both nights. I asked friends who watched both performances about it, and they said they didn’t see it happen. Phew! It really helps when you have dancers that are more graceful than you are to distract the audience at those times. ;)

One thing that’s great about An Explosion of World Dance & Music is that everyone is welcome to dance. You don’t have to be stick-figure thin with years of dance experience. Ammena welcomes all ages, shapes, and skill levels. Lise-Anne is very accommodating, and encourages everyone with an interest in dance to join the company and learn. This is what attracted me Ammena in the first place.

Everyone who has a dream to be on stage and dance has a place at Ammena Dance Company.

Moving to a different beat [Part 2]

(Read Part 1)

Shortly after signing up to be in the number, we had to be measured for our costumes. I made sure to tell the girl who was measuring me that I wasn’t usually that round in the belly, so guesses were made as to the size of costume I would need after giving birth. I also had to guess my shoe size since your feet stretch a little while pregnant, so that was an interesting experience. At least I was able to reserve a costume in the colour that I wanted.

Fast forward to September 2013 when practices began. The flamenco shoes for our costumes had arrived, so we were expected to practice in them from day one. This was so we could get use to dancing in them, as well as break them in since they stretch after a bit of use. Thankfully, the shoes I ordered came in the perfect size! So, there I was, 38-weeks pregnant, in high-heeled flamenco dance shoes, slowly waddling my way through the first 30 seconds of choreography. It was like any other dance class that I had taken at Ammena, except with the expectation to be able to perform the dance on stage without help from our instructor, Lise-Anne.

No pressure, of course.

I decided to sit out and watch our third practice because it fell on the same day as my due date, and I didn’t want to jinx anything and have my contractions start at the dance studio. Thankfully, we were allowed to record our instructor at the end of each class as she ran through the steps we had learned so far, and we could use the video to practice later at home. I recorded my video, said good night to the other girls, drove home, went to bed, then at midnight my contractions started, and I gave birth to my daughter early the next evening. Obviously I skipped class the following week, but I was back at it the week after, surprising my fellow dancers. Lise-Anne was even surprised to see me, but by that point I felt well enough to continue learning the choreography, so we carried on.

By early February, we were really getting it down, which was good since the show was less than a month away. We had a mock dress rehearsal one night, so we had a chance to see what everyone else was working on. I thought every number looked fantastic, even when the dancers remarked that someone forgot to do this or that. You can’t tell because, as an outsider, you don’t know what the choreography is suppose to look like, so you just assume everything was meant to happen. We could also see what the costumes looked like for each number, which was even more exciting. I was definitely more hyped up for the show than I was before when I was just going to practices.

A couple weeks later, we had our hair and make-up night. This was a great thing for me since I’m pretty inept at both. In order to be seen under the bright stage lights, your foundation has to be dark, while the rest of your make-up needs to be heavy (read: plastered on) and bright. Near the end of the make-up tutorial, you look like a drag queen up close, but if you step away, your make-up looks very well done. I walked away that night with a vague idea of how I should look, but I took a photo of myself with my phone just in case.

(Read Part 3)