POST: 'Dance Nation' - Dancing through puberty

What it's about.

A dance team of 13 year old girls (and one boy) prepare for the biggest competition of their lives while working through the stickiness and confusion of puberty. 

My experience.

I love Playwrights Horizons. So much. I’m literally willing to brave Times Square at any hour for this theatre. As I was walking in this time, I realized that I was going to end up in their smaller, upstairs theatre which (pro-tip) usually houses the most interesting and intimate shows. 

When I was walking in, I noticed that a lot of people strolling in alongside me looked like the typical NYC theatre-going audience - older, pretty white. This is going to come back and be important later because as it turned out, this piece of theatre was anything but typical. 

Before the show started, I read the playwright’s note in the program, which was a GREAT fucking idea. You know the show is about to be good when the program note is a masterpiece:


The first thing I noticed when the show began was something I’d gotten a heads up about in the note. The 13 year old girls in the play were played by women of all ages (there was even an actress in her 60s), shapes, and ethnicities. To, me this casting choice was a challenge to the audience: what will you expect of these young women if they don’t look the way you expect them to look? If they don’t act the way you expect them to?

In fact, these questions kind of carried out across the whole play, beyond just the obvious non-traditional casting. When the girls discussed sexuality and their changing bodies frankly, I could see the audience around me figuring out whether to laugh or not. When the girls stripped naked in the locker room, devoid of self-awareness, I could see the audience wondering whether they should feel self-awareness for them, or even sexualize them. And when, at the end, one of the characters looks at her vagina for the first time and leads the entire cast in a chant of “I wish my soul was as beautiful as my pussy,” I could see the audience wondering whether to feel empowered or uncomfortable. 

Me though? I was LIVING the entire time. And not just during the epic, choreographed dance numbers that brought back war memories of middle school dance class. As someone that experienced being a teenage girl fairly recently, I was able to avoid being shocked by anything in the play that was bloody, graphically sexual or dark. Instead, it felt familiar to me, and it also felt like nothing I’d ever seen on an stage before. These teen girls were all united by their desire to do great things. They took their art seriously. They were allowed to want things that weren’t romantic, and they were allowed to say outlandish things because they wanted to. The playwright took their bizarre teenage experiences and feelings seriously, and I felt SO seen as young person. I’m not sure if it was intended to be a tear-jerker, but I did cry. 

I left that theatre knowing that the play hadn’t reached everybody in the audience around me. I heard whispers of confusion and grunts of discomfort. But I immediately went to the front desk and asked when the script would be available to buy, and I’ll definitely be going back to the theatre to buy it as soon as possible. I think that for women and girls everywhere, this play is going to become super important in the years to come as more and more people (hopefully) experience it. 

See it:

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