SOUND recently received a grant from Voice Festival UK to host two performance masterclasses – one on vocal improvisation and one on movement. Monica, one of our Sop 1s and self-confessed choreophobe, shares her ‘moving experience’.
“Please remember to bring loose-fitting clothes for choreography session tonight!” reads Liz’s breezy upbeat whatsapp. Choreo….ah…It’s safe to say vigorous movement hasn’t been my thing for a few years, not for lack of desire but that modern day affliction – the sedentary desk job. And anyway, we’re an a cappella group, right, not Beyonce’s back up dancers? Then my friend’s words distantly chime after one memorable gig – “Was there a particular reason that everyone was tapping their right shoulder and you were tapping your left”. Uh – no, that was me stupendously thwacking myself loud and proud and wholly wrong like a politician promising that pot of gold for us all just at the end of that rainbow… Off to choreo I go!
I’m actually not a complete stranger to the gym, but choreography gives rise to body shudders of a different kind. It’s all those yesteryear cheerleadery gestures, almost mime moves and toe shuffles. Don’t they understand it takes concentration just to breathe AND sing?! Luckily the course leader, Sabina Netherclift, Director of Filament Theatre was a friend of the SOUND family and effortlessly put us all at ease straightaway.
Yes, the moves felt alien, OTT even, why am I leading my body round the room with my hands, then my toes or finding a partner to have a ‘knee conversation’ with (the lovely alto, Jordan who I’m just getting to know and usually make totally normal conversation with). And then it makes perfect sense – we’re rocking out to Stevie Wonder with knees in charge and Jordan and I exchange looks and smiles and yes, bond, in a way that could take five months ordinarily. Because, heaven knows life gets too serious and it’s just a relief and a release not to be a grown-up for a change.
Mid-session and the group dynamic evolves as Sabina guides us to form mini groups gradually morphing into a big group all following one leader’s movements and vocal sounds, as if we’re shoals of fish swimming in the sea. The background music has stopped now except for the percussive beats, whistles, guttural tones and feather-light song we all provide using our own voices, with very little formal direction. It’s amazing to observe how we move and vocalise as one in time and space without being told how, and fun to explore where we naturally harmonise, where dissonant tones spark off each other and how each new leader brings a facet of their own personality or mood for that moment. Oh no – can I keep up with Michael ‘twinkle-toes’ baritone?! Does it matter? No – because the realisation, as that great sage, G Estefan, says, is that the Rhythm is Going to Get You – and it doesn’t matter how you move, you just have to Roll with It (and yes, that’s how quickly we change tempo!)
Then one of our talented basses, Rob, enters late and in that understated British eye-widening, eyebrow-raising way, I’m brought back to earth and understand yes, kids, we have entered Narnia and you can delight in that Turkish belly dance if you have no shame. And to his great credit, like all of the group, Rob gets stuck in. Because in SOUND we trust – no one is here to judge, and that freedom to explore and make a twit of yourself is a precious part of the learning curve.
Let’s face facts – I’m not rivalling Diversity for a dance spot anytime soon (although there were some pretty fine moves on display) and some might argue, what’s the use in a session where you don’t learn a fixed routine? But that’s the point – the next time I clap hands or we stamp as part of a song, my body and muscle memory will remember to relax, have fun, listen and ‘inhabit the groove, man’ (!) No tired, out-dated moves in sight. And if I get it wrong, all those lovely SOUND Sweetcheeks have already seen my sweet cheeks twerk with careless abandon – the only way is up!