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Lost in Translation

Maren Wade’s Confessions of a Showgirl: Lost in Translation (Photo Credit: Patrick Rivera)

They say dance is the universal language. I’m pretty sure “they” are referring to a different universe. Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely a language, but there are several dialects. As a showgirl, I have had the privilege of working with many choreographers. The finished product somehow always manages to come together. But at times, the rehearsal process can be a puzzle where some pieces get lost in translation.

I have broken choreographers down into three distinct types. The first is the one who rules by fear. This dictatorship style can be counterproductive. I mean, how can anyone concentrate with all that yelling? When I have someone right up in my face screaming for me to kick higher, it makes me want to kick him in the shin, or someplace even higher. I don’t know where that comes from.

The second is the one who rules by kindness. Mr. Nice makes you feel comfortable and gives you tons of praise. He tells you how amazing you are with a big smile on his face. Then, just as you think you can do no wrong, he’ll have that same great big smile as he fires you. Those types are the trickiest, because you never know where you stand. Suddenly, you’re wishing you were back with the Dictator. At least when he was yelling at you, you knew he really meant it.

The third type, you don’t understand at all. This could be for different reasons. Maybe he’s a bad communicator or has a particularly heavy accent or in this case, both. Communication is important (especially when someone is telling you what to do). So you can imagine how difficult it is to do what someone wants, when he’s telling you the opposite with a thick, incomprehensible accent. For instance, as you might know, in the theater, terms like “left,” “right,” “upstage,” “downstage,” are from the performers’ perspective. Which makes sense when you think about it. They’re the ones doing whatever it is.

This can be a little confusing to people facing the stage and giving directions, because it’s the opposite of what they’re thinking. It should be second nature to a choreographer, but for this particular choreographer it was anything but natural. Anytime he would tell us to move to stage right, he really meant “stage left” or vice versa. Once we figured this out, we thought we could anticipate what he meant by doing the opposite of what he was saying. But then he started to anticipate his mistake and suddenly, he meant what he was saying. This was way worse, because at least before, we were moving in the wrong direction together. Now, all the dancers, singers and stagehands were crashing into each other trying to interpret his vision. It was frustrating, to say the least.

In our field, there are people that come from all over the world to work and create Vegas shows. It’s so important to be patient and accepting of all ways of life. Plus, there is so much you can learn from a person that comes from a different culture. I imagine it was so challenging for him to learn the language and try to communicate to us what he wanted. During a rehearsal break, I tried talking with him in hopes of getting to know him. I figured if I had a better idea of where he came from, I might understand the bigger picture. So I asked him, “You have such a unique accent. Exactly where are you from?”

He said, “Joisey.” Hmm. Never heard of it. He went on, “You know, the Gahden State?”

Suddenly, it dawned on me. He must be from one of those countries where they drive on the other side of the road. No wonder he was so confused over the left and right! But who am I to judge? At least he speaks my native tongue better than I speak his language.


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