By Jennifer Von Ohlen
How would you describe your dance style?
It depends on the dance. In social dancing, my boyfriend Tim is usually my partner, and we tend to make it up. It turns out that I’m clumsy going one direction and he’s clumsy going another direction, so when we’re coming at each other, we use it to make up a new move.
For choreographed dancing, I always like to include humor and intensity. I want to make the audience laugh with us, and to have them on the edge of their seats with excitement, but also wondering, “Are they okay?” Having a snippet of a storyline is always good, too, because I get my theater in for the year.
Where do you get your ideas? What comes first, the song or the story?
All sorts of places. For the routine Tim and I did at Funtastic Dance Follies last year, we knew that we wanted to be pirates. It probably came from goofing around on YouTube and realizing that almost every video we watched had the theme of piracy. From there we started thinking about possible songs.
The thing about creating a storyline, though, is that we want it to be original. We really try not to reference any actual pre-made character in behavior or appearance. We don’t want the audience to have any expectations because we will not fulfill them. We want to be able to do whatever we want and not be criticized for it.
How long have you been dancing?
If you’re talking about actual dancing, I started Swing Club half way through my freshman year here. I was literally dragged there by some friends but had so much fun that I’ve been swing dancing ever since. My theatrical experience started back in eighth grade and went on for another five years.
How do you know that you are on the right track?
If after the fifteenth run-through, it’s still fun. We like to start months in advance, while a lot of dancers are literally learning it backstage at Follies. So for our routine to still be fun after so long must mean something!
What do you do to encourage your own creativity when you get stuck?
I don’t really get to that point. When I’m given the opportunity to create, I go into action and I go all out. If we have a non-choreographed spot in a song and are
“I don’t have many loud talents, so to be able to create something people enjoy that much really makes me feel good.”
not sure what to do with it, we usually re-practice the routine up until that point; then we goof or run around listening to the song.
If we have figured out the moves before and after an undeveloped section, we try to figure out how to get from A to B: My leg needs to somehow end up over here and my hands need to be turned this way. It’s like working on a puzzle and a piece is missing. You take some cardboard, cut it to fit the gap, paint it to how you think it would look. In other words, we completely make it up. Sometimes we realize that there is no possible way to connect some movements, so we add a theatrical element to those sections to catch our breath.
Do you enjoy group dances or solos?
There are ups and downs to both. In group you don’t have to come up with the moves, the song, or anything else. Everything is usually handled by one person and ready to go by the time the group gets together. At the same time, though there are a lot of people trying to do the same thing, there is a definite range of experience within the group, and the audience can tell.
Plus, with all those people trying to dance in limited space, stuff happens. Sometimes you can mess up and no one would notice, while in doing solos or duets, everyone is looking directly at you. There’s a lot at stake because you are responsible for the song, the moves, the costumes—literally everything. However, you get all the credit.
Last year at Follies I had two young girls ask me for my autograph. I don’t have many loud talents, so to be able to create something people enjoy that much really makes me feel good.
What do you think separates you from other dancers?
I don’t care if we add moves that aren’t moves, and I’m not so concerned with perfect technique. When you’re focused on combining funny with intensity, you can’t focus on fancy gestures or footwork.
It’s more about having fun for me. I like to get the audience involved, like last year when we encouraged the audience to “cheer or boo” for their favorite pirate, and they did. I also like to incorporate theater into the dance, and I like laughter.
What do you hope people will get from your dancing?
My hope is that when the routine is done, the audience will say, “That was fun.” I don’t just mean fun to watch; I want to suck them in. I like the audience to come along with me.
Jennifer Von Ohlen grew up in Cokato, Minnesota, and is currently pursuing a degree in creative and professional writing. If she is not reading, she can be found scribbling in one of her many notebooks.