First off, here's a video for you all:
We did pretty well! Six of the ten dancers in my troupe started in November, the rest have been with us since March 2013. Now, I (or anyone) can look at what we did with a critical eye and say that we've got lots to work on... but I'm extremely proud of this group, some of whom had never danced in front of an audience before. Sam (the blond girl in red) lost a shoe halfway through and kept going, Jerome (dude in white) realised he was late on something and practically teleported to the right spot, and everyone kept their game faces on throughout.
What we've done as a troupe is kind of amazing. THREE choreographies in just over a year, presentations here in Montreal as well as a trip to New York City and the above competition in Sherbrooke. We had a local event with invited instructors and live music, and there are plans to take a group trip to San Francisco if we can get the cash together. Some of the dancers on the troupe want to start looking for performance gigs for pay as well. I'd absolutely love to get us to a level where we perform more regularly.
There have been some challenges. We recruit mainly from a university, so people have other commitments and the turnover is comparatively high. We've got no pool of experienced dancers to draw from, so the gap between newbies and veterans on the troupe is pretty incredible at the start of each season. It makes teaching a real challenge - we need to keep everyone engaged but not overwhelmed.
On the other hand, we're making waves. After the performance at CSC, people came up and shook my hand, saying they were really impressed that we'd brought a Shag team to competition. I posted the video on a Shag community group and got some interest from dance historians, commenting on the innovation and the level of difficulty of the choreography. All in all, I think I might have been better off having us do something simpler for a competition piece, but I wanted to set the bar high and get people to achieve as much as they were humanly capable of doing.
The initial reason for creating a Shag troupe was to make the dance more visible to the public - mission accomplished. It's important that people see local dancers doing it, even better that some amateurs are showing such accomplishment less than a year in. Now, the real challenge is to build a social scene.
Here in Montreal, it's not hard to find a bunch of people who want to dance. The trouble is, there are a LOT of different groups of organizers competing for nights of the week, space in a given studio, and dancers' attention. I had been offering a drop-in class and practice session on Saturday afternoons, which was when the studio was free (it was that or Saturday nights, and my feeling was that we definitely didn't have enough of a crowd to make a dance that would compete with all the options people have for how to spend their Saturday night!). I think I'm a bit spoiled with Montreal's scene - less than 20 people hardly feels like a successful dance, even though it would be great to have 20 people dancing Shag socially in one room!
We're launching progressive 6-week Shag classes at Cat's Corner this coming week, hopefully giving our newbies space to practice will make all the difference in retention. Wish us luck!