By Christina Whiting
They spin. They roll. They leap and they shine. This weekend, 46 community members will take to the Mariner Theatre stage to mesmerize audiences with their dance moves. Some are dancing for the first time, while others are seasoned performers. These are Homer’s Jazzline dancers.
Ranging in age from seven to over 50, 13 males and 33 females will dance, making this the largest performance ensemble in Jazzline’s 14-year history.
Jocelyn Shiro continues as choreographer, artistic director and creative genius behind Jazzline.
“When I moved to Homer, no one was teaching jazz,” she said. “I started with just adults, and it has steadily grown into what it is today.”
Today, she offers dance classes for ages five and older. Rehearsals typically begin in the fall, once school resumes. During the winter, rehearsals are one to two times a week, depending on age.
Miranda Weiss has been dancing with Jocelyn for eight years. A mom and writer, Weiss appreciates Shiro’s process as a choreographer, and relates it to her own process as a writer.
“Jocelyn choreographs by turning on the music and moving,” Weiss said. “She just shows up and does it, seeing what comes out through her body. There is little pre-planning or hashing it out beforehand. This jives with my practice as a writer. I just have to sit in the chair and get to work and not worry about the final product; just to get a draft out, knowing I can fix it up later.”
Following Shiro’s organic choreography process, not everyone who takes her classes performs in Jazzline. For those who do, however, their reasons for wanting to dance are as individual as they are.
Charlie Menke is 14 years old, in the eighth grade, and stands at 6 foot, 2 inches. This is his seventh year dancing with Shiro. He started dancing because his mom and Shiro are friends, but he continues to dance because he finds it fun and because it helps him feel comfortable in his body.
“Dancing has helped me develop balance, coordination and confidence,” he said. “This helps me when I play hockey and it sure helped me when I was growing so fast.”
Six-year-old Rebecca Trowbridge grew up watching her brother Paul dance with Shiro, and wanted to dance with her since she was a baby.
“Jocelyn told her she had to wait until she turned 5,” Rebecca’s mom Beth said. “And on her fifth birthday, she called Shiro to tell her she was ready to dance.”
Trowbridge is among the youngest dancers performing in Jazzline. She is excited to perform in front of an audience and is especially excited about the costumes and music.
“We get to wear colorful, bright shirts and skirts,” she said. “The music is nice and fast, and we get to pretend we’re at a party.”
Some dancers will perform in only one dance, while others will entertain via multiple dances. Either way, most are inspired to pursue physical discipline and a commitment to their own health.
“Knowing I have to be able to fling myself around a stage and do push-ups with one leg extended high in the air while still looking graceful is enough to inspire healthy eating habits and a little more exercise in my life,” Maura Jones said.
Jones danced as a youth, but took a break when theater caught her eye. She returned to the dance world in 2009, and this will be her sixth year performing with Shiro.
Wil Roedel was born and raised in Homer. He swims, plays basketball and runs cross-country, but dancing is completely different from anything he’s ever done. Jazzline is his first foray into dance, and when he was approached to learn moves and lifts — as well as partner with Shiro — he was eager for the challenge.
“The most challenging part of dance for me is quickness,” he said. “I have to think all the time while I’m moving and it’s hard to think as fast as I need to move.”
Whatever their motivation for dancing, these community members agree they are only able to perform on stage with confidence because of Shiro’s energy, enthusiasm, love and encouragement.
“Jocelyn has the ability to take people of varying dance backgrounds and create a really solid show,” Wynn Levitt said. “She draws on our strengths, while also challenging us to push past what we think our individual limits are.”
Levitt has danced in all but one of the 14 Jazzline performances. At 57 years old, she’s learned to be honest with herself about where her body is as she grows older, and practices being kind and gentle with herself. In addition to dancing her best, she strives to feel the music and enjoy the entire process of preparing for Jazzline.
“I spend months perfecting the details, but once the curtains go up, I let go of any lingering negativity,” she said. “Accepting that I’ve done the work and that being on stage is the reward for all that work allows me to enjoy it and project that enjoyment out to the audience.”
Homer’s Jazzline dancers take to the Mariner Theatre stage on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., and Feb. 1 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for youth, $15 for adults, and matinee performances are $10. Free tickets to the Jan. 31 show are available to new $50 members of Bunnell Street Arts Center.
Tickets are on sale at Bunnell Street Arts Center and the Homer Bookstore. Proceeds benefit Bunnell Street Arts Center’s Artist in the Schools program.
“I hope people come out to Jazzline,” Trowbridge said. “They can see us be happy, dance and have fun — and then they might even want to dance too.”
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