I was a fifteen-year-old girl, the week before my freshman year of high school, scared out of my mind, walking into Ensworth High School’s Dance Company’s Summer Boot Camp. I walked into the hot room full of intimidatingly tall and annoyingly flexible dancers with their game faces on. Immediately, I dropped my bag in the locker room and found a comfy back corner to stretch in. Slowly as more dancers started to find their way to the dance floor, a small cohort of scared freshman started to circle up in the back-right corner of the dance room. A cold gust of intensity rushes into the room followed by a nine-month pregnant petite blonde drill sergeant, Lindy. The stress in the air was tangible. After a long lecture about how the next seven hours were going to be physically challenging and mentally painful; our choreographer placed us in a circular formation all facing one dancer in the center. Lindy told us the entire piece had one moment that was repeated throughout, she called it a “shoulder roll.” Do not be fooled by the common name, this is not a basic shoulder roll. The shoulder roll was more like a quickly repeated shoulder shrug while bent over with your fingertips touching the ground. Lindy told us to “pulsate” your shoulders up and down in a seizing like motion with the crown of your head pointing down during the piano opening of Love Runs Out by One Republic. We all tried to emulate what the choreographer had shown us, but we could not understand or comprehend what she was asking us to do. After the second or third try, we all burst into laughter completely melting away the tension that had been in the room.
The silly shoulder roll is a physical representation of the bond our dance company has. My entire high school identity along with my friends was defined by our spots on the Ensworth Dance Company. The Ensworth Dance Company was a moderate “big deal” on campus. We were well known for our “hype” performances, but we were also known as one big happy dance family directed by our fearless leader Mama White. It’s rare for teenage dance companies to have such a supportive and team-spirited feel; we never struggled with competitive or “diva” personalities.
The emotion connected to this abstract shoulder roll is what makes it so important. This dance move doesn’t have some profound meaning, but actually it is the dance move that helped created the culture. For the next four years any time Love Runs Out came on any girl who was taught that “shoulder roll” dropped whatever was in her hands and start to shake her shoulders. We then taught the next generations of dance company members, so the joke could continue on. Even today when this song comes on the radio or in a restaurant I immediately pull out my phone, take a video of my head or arms shaking to the song, and send it to all my dance company friends. This shoulder roll differentiated a dance company member because even if someone not on the company knew the significance, they would never openly do such an embarrassing thing in public. You have to understand the story to be willing to suffer the whispers and stares you get.
While I know laughing about choreography given to us by a serious dancer may make us look like an unprofessional group of children; I think our light-heartedness and ability to laugh at ourselves shows how close we were as a group. At first the shoulder roll was a joke but quickly it became engrained in our daily movements. Whenever you were stressed or upset someone would put on Love Runs Out and we would all get together and shake out our issues. While I know this seems cult-y and strange, it really helped us work together to overcome struggles as a team. I won’t give the abstract shoulder roll all the credit, but I do think the way we bonded the week of my freshman Boot Camp is why we worked as a team for the next four years.
Sklar, Deidre. “Five Premises for a Culturally Sensitive Approach to Dance.” Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Ed. Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001. 30-32. Print.