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Jen Childs in ‘Why I’m Scared of Dance’BY: Dan Rottenberg 10.14.2010
In this original and often charming one-woman autobiographical tour, the multi-talented comedienne Jen Childs reflects on her life as an aspiring dancer who’s a tad too short and clunky for the Kirov or A Chorus Line.
Why I’m Scared of Dance. Written and performed by Jen Childs; Harriet Power directed. Presented by 1812 productions through October 31, 2010 art Plays & Players, 1724 Delancey Pl. (215) 592-9560 or www.1812productions.org.
Oh, for the life of a would-be dancerDAN ROTTENBERG
Suppose you fantasize yourself a great performer, painter or athlete but you lack the God-given essentials? Hard work and passion will take you just so far. What then?
In this original and often charming one-woman autobiographical tour, the multi-talented comedienne Jen Childs reflects on her life as an aspiring dancer who’s a tad too short and clunky for the Kirov or A Chorus Line. “Those who can’t do, mock,” she explains before spending 70 minutes mocking the clichés and conventions of jazz dance, tap, ballet (“the Guantánamo Bay of the dance world”), hip-hop and “what they mysteriously refer to as ‘movement’.”
With mock anguish she recalls her frustrations as a child flutist hopelessly outshined by her jazz-dancing cousins; her fantasy of “shocking my senior prom with my wild talent”; and her futile attempts as a white Midwestern girl to impress black urban males.
“You can cure cancer,” she observes, “but if you look awkward on a dance floor, you’re instantly a big fat dork.”
Lessons from P.D.Q. Bach
The kicker, of course, is that Childs is much more talented than she lets on here. Like P.D.Q. Bach or Spike Jones or the hilariously inept pianist Jonathan Edwards (in real life the esteemed late conductor Paul Whiteman), you have to be mighty good— and really know your subject— in order to seem bad enough to amuse an audience.
Childs is the co-founder and artistic director of the all-comedy 1812 Productions troupe, and while she may never be the second coming of Anna Pavlova, she’s blessed with many virtues that dancers notoriously lack, like the ability to relate to an audience, a refusal to take herself too seriously, the good sense to keep each number short, and a perceptive eye capable of observing that being a dancer above all involves the ability to “cultivate an air of removed cluelessness.”
She’s also good enough as a dancer to choreograph some of her own comic material and make use of accomplished serious Philadelphia choreographers, like Nichole Canuso, Amanda Miller, Karen Getz and Melanie Cotton.
Your appreciation of her spoofs, of course, will depend on the extent of your knowledge of the dance canon, but everyone will respond to something here. My favorites included Childs’s parodies of “Hey, Big Spender,” from Sweet Charity, the wedding bottle dance in Fiddler On the Roof, the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story, James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Gene Kelly in Singin’ In the Rain.
The end, or the beginning?
Childs, now herself the mother of an aspiring six-year-old dancer, ends the evening by inviting us to chuckle indulgently at her efforts to take up ballet at age 42, as if her lifelong fantasy is finally spent. But life has a way of surprising us.
At the age of 46, my own father sold his knitted wear company to become a folk-dance teacher. He had no plan other than a vague notion that dance was a good vehicle for bringing diverse peoples together.
In short order Dad launched an international dance company that toured the globe for 35 years, doing 300 performances a year at its peak. Along the way he created a variety of special cultural events at International House in New York and ran them for more than 40 years. In his 70s he added ballroom dance to his teaching repertoire. And in his 80s he did several gigs as one of the “gentleman hosts” provided by the luxury liner Queen Elizabeth II to dance with the widows aboard its cruises.
Among other things, this life in dance helped keep my father young: He finally retired two years ago, at the age of 92.
Hang on to those dancing shoes, Jen. You may find that the fun is just beginning.
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