All That Jazz

Walking into a rehearsal of the Mainly Jazz dance company is like stepping into a seventh grade slumber party. As the throbbing beats thrust upon the walls of the cavernous dance studio, Ice Cube begs the five girls to “get your ass up in her.” One of the dancers expresses skepticism over pretending to slap said body part of another girl. The director offers her reassurance that “there’s not going to be any contact.” High-pitched peals of laughter soon drown out the music. These girls are having a ball, and yes, you’re invited.

The seventeen women and men of Mainly Jazz, the only dance company at Harvard to showcase jazz dance, are presenting their premiere performance of the year this Friday and Saturday, November 15 to 16. The theme of the show, entitled “Mainly Movies I,” is loosely based on songs from cinema. The eight featured pieces range from the Men in Black theme to “Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge. More abstract interpretations of this idea include AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” (as featured in the end credits to the timeless masterpiece A Knight’s Tale) and “The Fox and the Hound,” featuring not the music from the Disney film, but Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and Elvis’s “Hound Dog.”

The show’s concept may not always hold water, but the sheer vivacity of these dancers will quickly take the audience’s mind off such trivial matters. In rehearsals, the energy of this group overflows into giggle-fests every few minutes. Much of the fault belongs to the directors, who offer such advice as “Your arms should be shimmying, but your legs are doing hip-hop” and “Try to get a look like, ‘Oh, I’m cute’ and not like ‘Oh, I’m constipated.’” But co-director Melissa E. Miller ’04 has a perfectly reasonable explanation for the levity: “we tend to have more fun when we’re corny, and we perform better when we have more fun.”

The group’s enthusiasm arises in no small part from the close-knit spirit of the company. “There’s a lot of solidarity within the group,” explains producer Mariecel C. Pilapil ’05. Miller agrees, saying “We tend to be a very social group and try to have events outside the studio whenever we can.” Such events include a pre-tech party the weekend before the show and a group trip to the Leverett ’80s Dance. “I love Mainly Jazz,” says Cathy E. Firestein ’06, “because we have so much fun and I don’t have to think about all the work I have to do.”

Though the dancers are buzzing over their upcoming show, they all recognize that it’s simply a warm-up for the sequel, “Mainly Movies II.” “This is sort of an hors d’oeuvres before we gorge ourselves,” explains Miller. The entrée, which will be served on February 14 to 15 in Lowell Lecture Hall, will feature approximately twelve songs, and may include guests such as the Fallen Angels a cappella group and fellow Harvard dance company TAPS. They will follow up on May 2 with the company’s final performance of the year, entitled “Mainly 80’s.”

Meanwhile, back at the rehearsal, the girls are still a bit confused about the specifics of their move. After a few failed practice moves, they all look to Limbach for advice. “Okay, it’s like walk, walk, smack, smack.” She accompanies the statement with the appropriate sashay across the room and sweeping arm movement. Within moments, the girls are manically giggling once again. Limbach finishes the move and says, “It’s just like that.” And just like that, the Mainly Jazz Dance Company has kept the art of jazz dance, and, well, ass-smacking, alive and endlessly entertaining.

Production by Mariecel Pilapil; direction by Nell Hanlon, Melissa E. Miller, and Diana L. Limbach. Presented by Mainly Jazz Dance Company, Alayna M. Miller, executive member at large.

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