It may be the 10th time the music has cranked up with the same snippet of the song. Every time, the teen dancers patter across the floor to the staccato beat, complete with pelvic thrusts, seductive hip cranks, and something they call mechanical dolls.
The moves are trademark Bob Fosse, the iconic dancer, theatrical choreographer (Pippin, Chicago), and film director (Sweet Charity, Cabaret), who died at sixty in 1987. And the 15 National Dance Institute New Mexico students — ages thirteen to eighteen — are doing their best to keep up with the official keeper of the Fosse flame, dancer and choreographer Ann Reinking.
This is Reinking’s fourth coaching stint with NDI in the past decade. She does it for free. “Dance saves lives,” she says simply. During a week in early January, she’s working on two programs (of the eight to appear in NDI’s Friday, March 1, Spring into Motion performance). Today, it’s “The Rich Man’s Frug,” the memorably kooky ’60s party scene from the award-winning musical, Sweet Charity.
“Just do your very best, and we’ll see where we’re at,” Reinking says in a raspy voice at the start of one rehearsal, her piercing blue eyes fixed on the group.
They start again and when the music stops, heaving breaths fill the abrupt silence. Reinking, who is part dictator, part cheerleader, stomps to the center of the stage.
“It’s like this,” she says, fixing the lead dancer’s posture and helping the others form a straight line. “You may think I’m being picky, but it doesn’t work if you don’t get this right.”
Throughout the 90-minute-plus rehearsal with the advanced dancers, Reinking expertly picks apart the routine, playing the same 30 seconds of “Frug” over and over until the dancers master every burlesque-style hip twist and “heavyweight” hand jab of the famed choreography. Even one microscopic mistake, and Reinking insists the group try again.
After each pause for instruction, Reinking and professional dancer Dylis Croman applaud the group before returning to their seats.
“You look really good,” says Reinking, her face lit with an affirmative smile. “This is what rehearsals are for. If you were perfect right out of the bat, I wouldn’t have anything to do.”
Reinking, who starred in the 1986 stage production of Sweet Charity, says Fosse’s vision has been the most influential in her life. She hopes it will have the same impact on New Mexico’s students.
“I enjoy passing [Fosse’s work] along to the next generation,” she says. “It’s good vocabulary for them. It’s a good discipline.”
Halfway through the practice, Reinking says the students have already drastically improved.
“It’s getting better, much better,” she tells the class. “All we’re doing is taking it to the next level.”
After a rehearsal, Bella Palermo, fifteen, says working with Reinking made her feel like she could actually become a professional dancer. “All of us want to succeed so badly.”
NDI’s mission is to help kids achieve their dreams, inside and outside of the dance studio, says NDI artistic director Liz Salgamek. “It’s about the artistic experience, but it’s also all the other skills gained from working at that level of commitment,” she says. “To try and try and try again is helpful in every facet of life.”
“I see them get really proud of themselves, and their self-esteem goes way up,” she says. “They elevatethemselves … They’re trying hard.” ◀
▼ National Dance Institute New Mexico presents Spring into Motion
▼ 7 p.m. Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2; 2 p.m. Sunday,March 3
▼ The Dance Barns, 1140 Alto St.
▼ $10-$15, ndi-nm.org