On Stage: Putting Her Own Footprint on Dance

My toes were tapping before it even began. Dance music bubbled through the intimate brick box of the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre. Dancin’ in the Streets. Guy Lombardo (I think). Some kind of rap — I’m not sure because everyone was talking. Dance to the Music. Michael Jackson, of course.

The sound track seemed to become increasingly fractured in spots. Sometimes it was just fractured phrases.

So what was this dance writer doing at Why I’m Scared of Dance? I had just been to Billy Elliot (The Musical), who lo-o-oved to dance, the night before at the Benedum Center. And the next day I was going to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Uncommon, a very dancey mix of three ballets.

Jen Childs, the performer in this one-woman show, was about to skewer it all.

Part of the show stemmed from early childhood (don’t most of our adult anxieties?). It came right down to jealousy — of those energetic dancing cousins who stole the spotlight from Jen’s heartfelt flute solo. Of the leggy Juliet Prowse in those pantyhose commercials (we’re going wa-a-ay back).

Some of the humor was obvious. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the studio. And yeah, those over-zealous costumes, packed with super sparkles and/or shaky fringe.

As Jen put it, “Those who can, dance. Those who can’t, mock.”

The Philadelphia comedian could be ingratiating. “I could smoke like a dancer,” she said hopefully. Or insightful, as in “humans are the only animals with rhythm.”

Maybe she did a strange leap backwards from college to high school and was politically incorrect in the sketch involving her black boyfriend. But this was a middle-aged woman still trying to find the dance and “beat it into submission,” even if that meant ropes, belts and bungee chords.

Actually, Jen wasn’t as bad as she made out to be. Maybe she wasn’t a by-the-book Swan Queen, but this performer could move (and get through a ton of steps!). She finally did it “My Way,” a heartfelt little number that a lot of us probably have done in the privacy of our own living rooms.

By the end, I could see Billy in her, a little older and wiser, but caught in the same reverie.

Why I’m Scared of Dance runs at the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre (City Theater complex on the South Side) Thurs. through Sun. at 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. Tickets: $35-40; citytheatercompany.org or 412-431-2489.

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