June 29, 2003
My mouth is dry, my palms are sweating - and the music hasn't even started yet. 30 seconds tick slowly by...one minute...two....what happened? Then, as the sound of garbled music comes through the speakers, we all laugh and breathe, finally. The ice has been broken - something went wrong, and now we can relax.
These are the thoughts that were going through my head before the inaugural performance of the Clavekazi student group, lead by Shaka Brown, co-director of the Clavekazi Dance Company of Washington D.C. Shaka started this class in March 2003, and coached the students through three performances, culminating in a final show at Zanzibar in July during the summer dance show.
In the Beginning
Shaka brought together a group of 16 students to learn a choreography. The initial goal of the student group was to provide an opportunity to those that were interested in learning an entire choreography, but not necessarily interested in performing. The student group catered to those dancers who wanted to elevate their skills and possibly perform.
The first choreography was a test - for both Shaka and his students. Shaka had never taught a full choreography to a group that hadn't worked together previously. None of his students had ever learned choreography or performed before. The class became more challenging when, initially, the revolving door of students swept many a male out the door before the routine was completed. By the end of the scheduled three month class, the remaining students resembled an episode of "Survivor", as it seemed the rest had been voted off the dance floor. But eventually the performance group began to take shape. Ultimately, six students stepped up to perform at least once during the summer of 2003.
The students' first two performances were held at the DC Dance Collective and Chevy Chase Ballroom, respectively. The DC DC performance gave the students their first taste of a mishap: the music did not start, and when it finally did, the sound was garbled. Luckily, Shaka had planned for such an occurrence, and another CD was found. The students took this minor setback in stride, and once the music started, the performance went off without a hitch.
Both Shaka and the students were kept on their toes for each of the three performances, dealing with changing partners, formations and clothes (for the ladies). The final performance, held at Zanzibar on July 23rd, left some folks wondering, "Shaka said he had a student group - what happened to the rest of them?" Nonetheless, the students' final performance in front of their peers was very well received. Shaka felt that his students handled mistakes well and is proud of their success.
In the end, Shaka was very pleased with his students' performances. In fact, he is confident that some of his students may go on to perform in dance companies in the future. However, his only regret is that there aren't more hours in the day to practice, a fact of which his students are no doubt relieved.
The Students Sound Off
Shaka's students found the class to be a rewarding experience as well. Some saw the class as an opportunity to learn more difficult turn patterns and footwork, as well as to assess their ability to perform onstage. The student group gave them a chance to be challenged, but not overwhelmed.
One student from the class felt that the student group provided a safe and supportive environment to learn; this allowed her to step outside of her comfort zone and test the waters to see if she had the attitude, patience and skills to perform. She was able to discover her strong and weak points and found the class to be an excellent way to learn new skills. She noted, "Initially, it was harder than I expected. As a female and a follower, I never had to remember turn patterns. At first it was frustrating, but as time went on it became easier. I found the class to be challenging, but it was very rewarding and built my confidence."
Another encourages other students to consider this type of class if they have the opportunity. He found the class to be harder than he expected with the added tasks of spinning and performance styling, but still highly recommends it. "Be willing to work hard and do not let the frustration of a difficult routine stop you", he says. "You'll be a much-improved dancer when it is all over."
Shaka plans to coach more student groups in the future, and offers the following advice to any instructor thinking of starting their own student group:
"Remember that the goals of the students are not necessarily going to be to perform, rather to improve, and work from that perspective."