By Amber Keeley, School Director
Performing is something I’ve done all of my life. My parents get a kick out of telling stories about when I was a little girl and performed all the time. According to them, they used to get me to do the dishes by applauding for me while I loaded the dishwasher. Like many of our students, I couldn't help but dance all the time. I used to dance up and down the aisles at the grocery store (I still do, much to my husband’s chagrin!). One of my mom’s favorite stories comes from my pre-school years. We had company over for dinner, and I came out of my bedroom wearing nothing but a pair of patent-leather tap shoes. I got up on the coffee table and gave everyone a pre-dinner performance. That's an embarrassing one! My personal favorite was performing in the fresh air. Whenever my dad and I needed to cross a street, he would hold out his hand for me. We would run and he would partner me in big leaps across the street as I flew high off the pavement and smiled brightly for the oncoming traffic. Over the next 30 (or so) years, I have been blessed with many opportunities to perform from classical ballet to ballroom to dance theater even to being a magician's assistant. I love to perform, and I just can't resist it!
These days, I am lucky enough to perform alongside my children in Out on a Limb productions. I have the unique opportunity to tap into many different areas of who I am. I am a mother to two little girls in the show. I am a teacher to most of the performers. I am a company dancer for Kim Martinez, Out on a Limb’s President and Artistic Director. I am also a friend to and cheerleader for my fellow cast mates.
Out on a Limb recently staged a dance version of the hit musical Annie. Performing in Annie as Lily St. Regis was a delight! I always love being backstage. I soak in the stage lights like they are rays of the sunshine. The anticipation is palpable. The energy of the hours and days and weeks and months of preparation coming to fruition surges through all of us. I have to admit, riding atop a piano on stage was one of my favorite things I have ever had a choreographer ask me to do! That Lily St. Regis is really something, huh!?!
The hours in front of show time are more difficult for me. I find it’s stressful to prepare my two kids, myself, and tend to my students. We get our makeup and hair done (running constantly between two dressing rooms because I am in one and the girls are in another), and then we check out and don our beautiful costumes. We usually have to fix-up our hair, make-up, and costumes several times before the curtain actually rises.
Once everyone that I'm responsible for is ready, for a few stolen moments, I turn my focus from being mom to being dancer. I warm-up and stretch and prepare my body for the challenges ahead. I can always tell right away if my body is going to comply that day or not! Some days it still comes easily and others my body only moves begrudgingly. I use my hands to warm up my foot and leg muscles. I do plies and tendus. I stretch and jump and turn. I test the stage. One would think that the stage would feel the same from day to day, but sometimes, even between a matinee and evening performance, the stage can actually feel different. It can feel stickier or more slippery depending on what props have moved across it that day, what dance shoes have been worn on it, and how much humidity is in the air. Once I feel I know the terrain, I shift my focus backstage, making sure all of my props and costume parts are set.
Then, I am back to assuring that my own kids are prepared (mom), parents have questions answered (director), my students are pumped up and ready to go (teacher), and then (and only then) I settle in with my friends in the company and anxiously await the call to “places!”, shouted lovingly by Heidi Schultz, Out on a Limb's devoted and spectacular Stage Manager. Truthfully, for me, preparing for a show is a lot of stress followed by a lot of hurry up and wait. Admittedly, waiting is something I do not do well. “Places” is a word I love and adore!
I’ll always be grateful for the joy of watching my children, students and our company dancers from the wings. I love them all so intensely and to see their passion and commitment and triumphs on stage moves me to no end. The reaction of our audiences is priceless. If I know the audience is enjoying it, I can dance and play on stage for days! To see my daughters and my students feel that same excitement and affirmation is rewarding beyond words. I can never thank Kim Martinez enough for believing in me and allowing me to be a mother, a leader, a teacher, and a performer in her company all at same time. And, speaking of places, Out on a Limb is truly a special place where we can all wear many hats, be many things, and find happiness in many, many ways!