by Rhee Gold
They don’t perform grand leaps, not one fouetté turn nor a single pirouette, and there’s no flash at all. Yet you watch them with your mouth open, while that head-to-toe body chill takes over your full being for a few moments as you settle into the greatness before your eyes.
You know the feeling—it’s the one we experience when we see phenomenal dancers or companies perform a masterpiece. Yet the dancers I’m writing about are not the ones who receive rave reviews from the dance critic in the New York Times. Actually, they probably wouldn’t come up on the radar of any critic or some people who think they know great dance. But to me—and I know I’m not alone—Company d, a Memphis-based group that bills itself on its website as “a performing arts troupe of young adults with Down Syndrome,” is capable of taking its audience to the same place any professional performance could.
So what is great dance and who created the meter by which we judge it? I wonder how high on that meter a group of dancers who move you with their spirit or joy would be. Might they land in the same place on the meter as the arabesque in relevé with perfect turnout and a fabulous line? Could the sense of accomplishment radiating from the dancers’ spirits make the meter rise at all? I don’t know.
If a 62-year-old man who always wanted to tap dance finally gets himself a pair of tap shoes, along with the guts to walk into a class, will he feel the same sense of accomplishment as the ballet company soloist who is finally performing the piece she only dreamed of a few years back? I wonder.
Is the student who comes to class once a week, who has a passion that you can feel when she enters the room, at the same place on the meter as the girl who is there every day, taking every class, and has no passion but believes she is awesome?
Would the 6-year-old cancer patient who is in dance therapy, moving her arms over her head, pretending to be a ballerina, land anywhere on the meter? I’m not sure.
OK, so why am I not sure? Because I always hear dance people say, “Oh, she’s fierce,” when they see a dancer execute some fabulous trick, while they pooh-pooh the 62-year-old guy in tap shoes.
I’m not sure because a lot of the dance we see today is judged for its technical feats and passion has nothing to do with it. It happens on our television sets every week; it happens on dance competition stages every week; and it happens in the classrooms where dancers are striving only to be better than someone else.
This I do know: Rhee Gold would pay twice the ticket price to see Company d perform as he would any great dance company.