For anyone under the impression that Rendezvous week makes cancan dancers magically appear as if from thin air like so many green fairies to light up the stages of venues across the city – I’m here to tell you you’re mistaken.
Being a cancan dancer is hard work. Really hard work.
Four-hour-reheasals hard work that takes literally months of preparation leading up to Yukon’s annual February frivolity.
That’s a fact I’ve come to learn first-hand throughout the last year. I’m proud to be a member of this year’s Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Can Can line.
It’s my first year on the line – in fact it’s everyone’s first year on the line. We have a completely new set of dancers, a new choreographer, new routines and a new manager this year.
All this leads to some growing pains, but it also means we are learning everything together, which is tying us closely together as a group.
Bronwen Kettleson (Bang Bang Bronwen) has stepped forward to take on the huge commitment as the line’s choreographer. In a few short months she created three new pieces (and an encore) for our line of dancers to wow audiences throughout February.
The first of the trio pays homage to the 70th anniversary of the Alaska Highway by channeling the pin-up girls of the 1940s entertaining the troops during WWII.
We strut our stuff to Christina Aguilera’s Grammy-nominated single, “Candyman”.
While Aguilera is anything but a ’40s performer, she and Linda Perry wrote it as an echo of the Andrews Sisters’ hit, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, which was all the rage among US servicemen at the time the highway was being built.
We perform our version in military-style hats, body suits, garter belts, thigh-highs and not much else. At least, that’s what it looks like to the audience.
In truth we are wearing much more than it appears, including our “Barbie tights” (thick nude dance tights) that provide full coverage – and make every room feel about 20 degrees warmer than it really is.
After a quick costume change we reappear on stage to sing!
It came as a shock to many of us that we would be required to sing as part of our performer duties. I think the announcement was one of the first moments that I really felt my confidence challenged in preparation for Rendezvous.
I don’t think of myself as a singer. In fact, I cherish the belief that I can’t sing (and I wasn’t alone in those thoughts at the start of the season).
But there’s no room for intransigence on a cancan line.
So, with the support of Bronwen and my fellow dancers, not only do I sing and dance in our Yukonized version of the “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, I deliver one of six monologues, along with five of our very talented dancers (Bootlegging Becky, Megan the Minx, Ace of Spades Andrea, Sunny Dreams Sandrine, and Randy Rebecca).
After our turn as the six merry murderesses of the Whitehorse Correctional Facility, we dash backstage to throw on piles of ruffles and feathers.
We joke that we actually put on more clothing as we move through the three numbers to the show’s climax – to emerge for the cancan.
The cancan is an act of cardiovascular endurance that leaves us all panting during rehearsals, but we smile through it with hoots and hollers when we step out on stage.
Then, as we hold our finishing pose for the cameras, the music starts up again for the encore. That’s where we pull out a kick-line, following the golden rule of “the louder you yell, the higher they’ll kick!”
Somewhere in the mix we throw in an introduction of the line, using everyone’s Rendezvous name (mine is Ankles Up Amber) and a garter skit where one lucky fellow walks away with a garter from one of the dancers and a lot of lipstick kisses on his face.
All of this is overseen by Kate McConnell (Kabin Fever Kate), our incredibly dedicated and hardworking manager.
On February 4, after months of preparation, we unveiled our “Candyman” routine for the first time, with a sneak preview performance at the Mardi Bra event.
Six days later, it was time for the official kick-off of this seaon’s new look, in front of a packed house at the Westmark Whitehorse.
The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd made all the hard work worthwhile, even if the number of bodies present made the room feel as if it was 100 degrees or more.
My father’s only comment after giving me a post-performance hug was, “You’re very sweaty”.
All of us on the newly-minted Rendezvous Can Can team felt elated by the reception our work garnered at the season’s official kick-off, but there’s always more work to do.
Two days later, we were back in the studio cleaning up parts we wanted to improve upon. We knew the extra work would serve us well as we geared up for over 50 performances during the week of Rendezvous.
And – let me confess: once Rendezvous 2012 gores into the history books, this cancan newbie – for one – plans to sleep for the next week.
Amber Church is a Whitehorse painter, writer and activist – who also writes a regular sports column, From Archery to Zumba. You can reach her at [email protected].