Marina: “Big Top”

20 04 2008

(Boston – Philadelphia, April 2008)

From the very first show that I produced in San Francisco in 2001, Big Moves never set out to be for mature audiences, like, deliberately. But somehow, that’s what ended up coming out. In my first few years of Big Moves, I found my natural allies amongst the fat burlesque queens (the late Heather Macallister/Reva Lucian and her Original Fat-Bottom Revue) and the naked queer modern dancers of Dandelion Dancetheater, and so our shows just kinda… made room for that sensibility. We were all about the sleazy Broadway and bootylicious hip hop, and while the modern pieces that San Francisco produced were Classy and Cerebral, just about everything else I touched had smut marks all over it.

After all those years, Big Top, our spring 2008 production, was Big Moves’ first foray into deliberately family-friendly programming. Set in the 1920s, Big Top had loads of bright colors and bombast, plenty of broad-brush pantomime and clowning, and costumes that were positively demure (there were, for example, no fishnets represented at all). There was one fake cigarette, one fake flask o’ gin, and an opening number in which the country girl was menaced by three urban predators.

I knew our regular adult audiences would love it, in spite of it totally lacking in our normal levels of titillation. But I wasn’t sure whether we achieved my artistic goal–fun, all-ages, size-diverse show–until our first performance in Philadelphia, at the Rotunda. (I know, right? There’s a venue called the Rotunda. Big Moves _had_ to perform there!) Right there, in the front row, sat a row of children, from two different families. They laughed at the pratfalls, went “ooh” at the golden wings of the bellydancer, bounced in their seats to the hip hop numbers, and one of them let out a little shriek when our big cat dancers clawed at the damsel in distress.

Adults applauded and hollered and complimented us, but for the Big Top, a transfixed child was our best testimony of success. And if those moments last in their impressionable little memories as images of fat performers… juggling, airborne, twirling, laughing, kicking high, arching back, spinning, singing loud, making magic… then that’s some of the best work Big Moves can do.

Marina: “Crack That Whip”

21 02 2008

Well, here goes. I’ve been looking for a place where I can write about dance and costumes and performance and fat and size-acceptance activism, you know, get my ya-yas out somewhere else other than buried deep in bulky emails to the Big Moves mailing lists (not to deprecate bulky in any way, just emails are so 1994). A blog seemed the way to go.

I expect this blog to get better as I go along, look sharper and sound more coherent. But for today, I write about whips.

The phrase is “smart as a whip.” But as I learned yesterday, whips aren’t smart. They follow where your hand leads them, whether that’s out into a satisfying *crack* or wrapping around your shoulder the wrong way to leave a welt on your back (I speak of accidentally here; if you want it to hit your back, that’s a different blog and I’m not writing it). Whips are just dumb constructions of leather or cord, and they go fast enough that you really do have to know where you are sending them.

I was learning how to crack a whip for my role as the ringmaster/animal tamer in Big Moves’ upcoming spring show, Big Top . These are the things I do for my art: acquire seemingly random skills to make our shows go ka-POW. So through an acquaintance in the BDSM world I found a fellow who was willing to give me almost three hours of private lesson to learn that crack. It’s like snapping a towel, right? Do I really need three hours?

Turns out, yes. This was the first movement-learning experience I’d had for at least a year or two, and I’d forgotten how frustrating it was to not know how to move my body exactly the way I wanted it to. I stared at the teacher, and moved slowly through the correct movement, but frequently sped up unconsciously, trying to get the gratification of the whip-crack before I had the process down. I watched the wrist turn, and the elbow of the angle, and the position of the feet, and his relaxed shoulders, and tried to mimic it.





Like that.

Ultimately, I not only learned to crack the 5-foot whip reliably overhand, but also across the body and at the end of a whirling lead-up. But damn, it humbled me and reminded me of the beginning. The moves I know, the comfort I feel moving as a fat performer and choreographer, are only there now because I sweated and cursed and hurt myself and tripped and repeated the movements again and again when I was 28 and just starting to dance. There’s no particular virtue in hard work and pain, but for some things, for some people (myself included), that’s just what it takes. And I’m glad I get to keep learning this.

Today I have a sore shoulder (I wasn’t doing the move right for the first two hours, all right?). I’ll go into my studio and practice some more. Next week I learn magic tricks, the swooping of scarves as I juggle and conceal. And as I learn these new skills, I’ll be teaching my dancers other ones, about the slow boil of measured steps, about how to wear a flesh-toned body suit (proudly, of course!), about rapid weight transfers and “gimme that full lunge!” But my voice and my laugh and my hands guiding their hips will be tempered by remembering that prowess comes gradually, and power, the good kind, has to be learned.