On December 7th, 2009, Saya Hillman sent out the following email: “As you may know, I try to do things that scare and challenge me. I’ve come up with my next stupid, er, amazing, idea, and guess what? It involves you! Here’s the gist: A group of fun people, many of whom don’t know each other, with no dance skills, will work with a choreographer over a few months to learn dance routines to popular songs, culminating in a performance for friends in a theater.” Voila, Dance Experiment was born. Our Town spoke with Hillman about facing one’s fears.
Our Town So you came up with this great idea. How did you execute it?
Saya Hillman I hired a choreographer [and pretended I knew what I was talking about during the interview]. I rented out a dance studio [and pretended I knew the answers to questions about mirrors, dimensions, and floor types]. I scoured the city for a performance venue [and pretended I knew the meanings of words such as "proscenium" and "thrust"]. Seventeen non-dancers rehearsed for four hours a week, for three months. And in April 2010, we performed in front of three hundred and fifty people. But that wasn’t the end. Inquiry after inquiry about Dance Experiment Two came pouring in. What I thought would be a one-time adventure turned into what I imagine to be life-long friendships [and some love-ships], and another branch of Mac ‘n Cheese Productions.
OT What sort of people do you find Dance Experiment attracts?
SH People going through a transition (divorce, new job, new city, friends moving away/getting married/having kids) People who feel stagnant, have the same routine, the same friends, the same day in and day out. People willing to be open to the unknown and to challenge. One of my favorite aspects of FE though is that it's attractive to people of all ages, races, jobs, locations, marital status, economic status -- universally loved!
OT How do you go about finding an instructor?
SH I have to turn down instructor-hopefuls -- as far as teaching gigs go, this is a great position! The instructors are given complete autonomy to choose songs, routines, games, styles, and thus can really let their creativity shine. It's pretty awesome to see your creations come to life on a stage like the Park West, in front of 700+. They also have an opportunity to make not only the income that I pay them, but supplemental income from their students, as students hire them for private rehearsals and/or continued classes post-Fear Experiment. Not to mention their students support them via attending the instructors' shows and recommending that their companies hire them! Working with the participants is also a favorite aspect for instructors, as they're people who don't want to do their art-form for a living, they're just doing it to have fun, to play, to laugh, to stretch themselves. There's no fighting for stage time or trying to impress the teacher. It's pure love and fun.
OT Why require participants to sign up alone?
SH When you do something with people you know, you often don't leave their sides nor are you pushed to challenge yourself. It also levels the playing field -- you don't need to be nervous about not knowing anyone, because no one knows anyone! This element gives people courage to sign up.
OT Why is it important to face your fears?
SH I always say embrace your suckage. Turn negatives into positives. It's quite the source of empowerment when you're able to overcome a fear, especially when you make the conscious choice to do so. If you spend your life being scared and standing on the sidelines, you'll never truly live. I would much rather try and fail, then stay still and never progress.
OT How did Marconi Elementary Community Academy get involved and what’s their role?
SH I've taught digital media to kids in under-resourced areas across the city for seven years. The current Fear Experiment kids are in an afters chool program where I used to teach; I taught video, photography, computer skills, and entrepreneurship at Marconi for four years. The program is run by Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), which brings teaching artists into schools. I have a Do Good component to each show, where I bring together communities who normally wouldn't intersect. Last show, it was adults dealing with homelessness and unemployment via Inspiration Corporation; this show, the Marconi students, who live in a high-poverty community on the West Side, are back for the last time, as this is the final year of the grant that allows them to participate. We also just found out that Marconi is one of the schools slated to be closed next year.
OT What can audiences expect from the event?
SH Every show, we hear, "I had no idea what to expect, but I loved it!" Usually, audience members only know about the art-form of the person they're coming to support; e.g. if someone is in the dance portion, their friends and family think they're coming to see a dance performance. So they're usually surprised when there's a whole 'nother art-form being performed, not to mention the Do Good component. Expect an evening of inspiration, nerves, laughter, heart-warming stories and visuals, and most importantly, an evening of everyday joes and janes being rockstars in the most human, lovingly way. Not by being the most skilled, the most graceful, the most funny, but by throwing themselves 110% head on into fear and hugging the life out of it.
Fear Experiment Four will be at the Park West on Friday, April 5th, 2013. Tickets are $25 and are on sale now.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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