Dance Body Electric

Remember those old Mickey Rooney flicks where all the “kids” would be sittin' around just shootin' the breeze? Suddenly Mickey would jump up and declare: “Hey, kids, I got a great idea. Let's put on a show!” In a matter of seconds, a piano rolls in. Judy Garland strikes a perfect soprano, and a bluebird perches on her wrist. The rest of the gang pairs off and performs a series of dance combinations so well rehearsed they make synchronized swimmers look chaotic. When choreographer David Dorfman comes to town and says, “Hey, kids. Let's put on a show!” the results are not likely to be twenty-minute tap solos on bottle caps, but something infinitely more exciting. In a roomful of kids age seven to eighteen from at-risk environments -- single-parent, low-income homes, and high-crime neighborhoods -- Dorfman slowly and deliberately draws an imaginary line with the toe of his shoe. He asks the children to do the same and then step across it, saying “I am,” followed by the gesture, statement, or movement of their choice. Then each child must step back over the line and say, “I am not” and repeat the moves. A seven-year-old girl, who has been quiet and standoffish, steps over her imaginary line and emphatically says, “I'm not.” Then she begins to stumble and stagger as she pulls an imaginary bottle to her lips. On Friday and Saturday approximately fifteen children in this audition will show us (and themselves) who they are and who they are not as part of Dorfman's Arts in Action: The No Roles Barred Project, the finale of the Florida Dance Festival.

Using dance as a vehicle for transformation, No Roles Barred embraces communities all over the nation. (Dorfman will work with kids from Overtown and Liberty City.) Its precursor, Familiar Movements (The Family Project), gave family members the chance to perform together, form new bonds, and shed light on issues not easily addressed. The changes that Dorfman witnessed inspired him to develop this project. “I began to notice that in doing something differently, the participants found incredible new connections in their lives,” he explains.

Dancers have ranged from business executives to teenage mothers. Cooperation is key. Dorfman notes: “You can't make changes if you don't get involved,” The Miami children (none of whom has ever taken dance lessons) are required to rehearse three hours a day and will collaborate with Dorfman on all aspects of the performance -- theme, music, movement, and choreography.

A willingness to take risks is Dorfman's criterion for selecting candidates. As he points out: “Sometimes it's easier to work with people who aren't trained dancers. They are not so attached to their training. They will try anything, and the results of that alone can be incredible.” Also impressive is the performance of Dorfman's own six-member company, David Dorfman Dance, known for athletic movements and an idiosyncratic combination of humor and drama.

The No Roles Barred Project doesn't intend to demonstrate that there's a professional dancer in all of us, but rather that in each of us there is a dance -- something that needs to be said. In the process of learning and expressing that something through movement, the dancers are altered. The audience is sure to be transformed as well.