Starbucks has its holiday cups. For some dancers, rehearsals for holiday shows have started — tunes about mistletoe and snow (what is that again?) can be heard in studios all over the city.
Another holiday tradition took place on Nov. 27 at the Rock Center for Dance: Melena Rounis, with help from Katy Tate, organized the second Step Up and Dance event, a fundraiser that takes donations for Three Square food bank in Las Vegas. In the space of four hours, 88 dancers signed up and $1,440 was donated, which is the equivalent of more than 4,000 meals. All of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Three Square.
The workshop brought together eight different performers, many with credits from shows on the Strip and elsewhere, to teach a post-Thanksgiving dance-fest that raised money for families in need. The four-hour block of time was divided into eight half-hour-long sessions. Agnes Roux, Katy Tate, Saleemah Knight, Fred Odgaard, Brent Borbon, Leah Moyer, Sheila Joy and Rounis herself each taught a class in styles including zumba, hip hop, jazz, ballroom, burlesque, contemporary, lyrical and jazz funk.
Participants donated $10 at the door and were welcome to take as much or as little class as they wanted and all ages were welcome.
“It’s so much positivity in one day that it’s crazy,” Rounis said.
Rounis commented on the benefits that the workshop has for those who participate. “You’re getting so much back,” she said, “and not just the feel-good aspect but the health aspect, too.”
The workshop also gave students an opportunity to stand alongside accomplished dancers. “[The students are] in class with professional dancers that are in shows on the Strip that they might have seen,” Rounis said. “It’s really inspiring for them.”
Rounis said that the idea sprang from a similar event she held at Drive Dance Centre, a studio she and Geneen Georgiev opened in Vancouver in 2007. “Once the recession happened,” Rounis said, “I thought, ‘What can I do to help those that have really been affected by this?”
This was the second Step Up ad Dance event and Rounis said that the diversity of the faculty has been expanded. Last year’s teachers all hailed from “The Beatles LOVE,” the show in which Rounis is currently cast. “We hoped to attract a more eclectic crowd [this year],” Rounis said, referring both to the faculty and the participants.
Jasmine Villamor, who participated in Step Up and Dance, said the diversity of the faculty was a big draw. “It was a full day of every kind of dance possible and it was perfect timing after Thanksgiving,” she said with a laugh. “It showed what Vegas dance has to offer.” Villamor also commented on what it was like to take class from, and next to, such experienced performers. “It was inspriational,” she said. “It puts you in the mindset that [that level of achievement] is possible.”
For many of the guest teachers, professionalism and training for future careers took center stage.
“You need to be able to pick up choreography and attach an emotion to it right away,” said Saleemah Knight, pictured left, who taught jazz funk and currently dances with Disney’s “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay. “When you tell the story, it makes sense,” Knight said. “If you’re just doing the steps, you’re going to look stupid.”
Leah Moyer, who taught a contemporary class and is a member of Cirque’s “Viva ELVIS” cast, shared a similar message. “Just be you,” she said, emphasizing that this was the driving force behind her choreography. “Be there, be present,” she said. “Just don’t do steps and don’t fake it.”
Emotional cortexes weren’t the only part of the dancers that received a workout. Fred Odgaard, powerfully built and energetic, led dancers in a warm-up that he said he and other fellow dancers call “cardio Barbie” (see photo, right). The exercise was a series of jumping jacks and the like designed to elevate the heartrate and get dancers’ blood pumping.
Roux’s spicy zumba kicked off the workshop, providing a Latin-themed warm-up for the rest of the day. Tate’s unique lyrical followed, complete with pleasantly literal choreography and percussive syncopations.
Borbon and Joy held down the high-heeled contingent with ballroom and burlesque, respectively. Borbon’s light-footed and light-hearted banter displayed partnering at its best and Joy dimmed the lights to illustrate a sexier side of Vegas dance.
The day culminated in Rounis’ hip hop/party dance choreography, complete with RoboCop moves and James Brown slides.
The crowd of dancers, many of whom had stayed through the entire workshop, gradually dispersed. Rounis, her small frame eclipsed by an oversized bag stuffed with dance gear, dashed off to The Mirage and the two “LOVE” shows that awaited.
Interested in seeing footage of some of the choreography? Check out my post here for a link.