A new twist: Dancers joining the Y@H Chorus for the group’s coming show
|Published: 11-10-2023 12:42 PM
They’ve shared stages with multiple musical performers and other singers, from the Chicago Children’s Choir to students in the celebrated SciTech Band of Springfield to incarcerated men at the Hampshire County House of Corrections.
Now the Young@Heart Chorus is getting ready to share the stage with someone different, in what they’re calling a “Dance Jam with Special Guests.”
For “Twist & Crawl,” at Northampton’s Academy of Music Nov. 19, the elderly singers are joining forces with a range of dancers — from hip-hop artists to Irish step dancers and tap dancers to a ‘60s go-go specialist — in an upbeat show that’s designed to get audience members moving their feet as well.
“We’re always looking at ways to do things a little differently,” said Bob Cilman, Young@Heart’s longtime director. “And we love working with different groups — we’ve just never done it with dancers before.”
All told, about 50 different dancers will be involved, including members of Hatchery, the teen dance company connected with Northampton’s School of Contemporary Dance & Thought (SCDT), an organization that’s staged a number of interdisciplinary performances itself.
“It’s going to be a really fun, kind of eclectic show, pretty different than what we’ve done before,” said Cilman. “The dancers have been telling us how much fun this has been for them, and it’s been a lot of fun for us.”
Harley Foxx, who handles a number of dance genres — burlesque, swing, go-go — echoes that thought. Foxx, who works with the Lindy League of Western Massachusetts, a Northampton group that teaches a variety of social swing dance, said she’d been aware of Y@H for years but hadn’t connected with them until now.
“It’s a great opportunity to do something different,” Foxx said at a recent Y@H rehearsal at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke.
Indeed. After the chorus members ran through a few songs at Race Street Live, Gateway’s large performance hall, Foxx joined them on stage as the Y@H band, seated on the dance floor in folding chairs, launched into “Shake a Tail Feather,” a bouncy R&B number from the early 1960s (Ray Charles recorded a version for the 1980s film “The Blues Brothers”).
With David Fersh handling the lead vocals — “Well I heard about the fellow you’ve been dancin’ with / All over the neighborhood / So why didn’t you ask me baby? / Didn’t you think I could?” — Foxx began gyrating, swinging her arms and bobbing her head, inviting the chorus members to follow her lead.
Then Fersh began calling out directions for different moves — “Do the twist! Do the fly! Do the swim! Do the duck! — on the last of which Foxx bobbed her head forward and back, a smile on her face, as the chorus members did their best to follow her changing styles.
Just as the song ended, Chris Haynes, who plays accordion in the band, shouted “This is worth the price of a ticket right here!”
Also taking the stage were Emily Reardon and Ororo “Ro” Duffy, young dancers from the Duffy Academy of Irish Dance in Hadley, who did a bit of stepdancing — performing intricate, emphatic footwork while keeping their upper bodies mostly rigid — to the lilting melody of “Star of the County Down,” an Irish ballad dating to the 1800s.
Rosemary Caine, a Y@H member originally from Ireland, joined the band on the song, playing her harp onstage as Reardon and Duffy, just a few feet away, made their highly synchronized steps, getting a nice hand from everyone when the song ended.
Drummer J.J. Connell, turning to the girls after they sat down on chairs on the dance floor, said “That was really cool.”
Alycia Duffy, the owner and director of Duffy Academy of Irish Dance, said she’d been invited by Caine, who she knows, to have some of her dancers take part in “Twist & Crawl,” an opportunity she jumped at.
“It’s so nice to have them invite us,” said Duffy, who noted that eight of her dancers will take part in the show. “It’s a very different kind of performance than we’re used to, and to be part of the chorus, which has been around for so long, that’s really special.”
Cilman said Y@H has used various connections, like Caine’s links to Alycia Duffy, and some word of mouth to find different dancers for the show. For instance, Mark Guglielmo, part of the chorus’ production team, knows the salsa dance teachers Roshay and Aracelis — a mother and son team — and so enlisted them.
In a few cases, a little serendipity helped, too.
Cilman noted that Y@H and Hatchery — the teen dancers with SCDT — both rehearse at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence. After one session some months back, he recalled, when the chorus was heading out and Hatchery members were headed in, “I was joking with Jen (Polins, Hatchery’s director), saying ‘You should choreograph something for us.’”
Now, Polins and her staff and dancers have choreographed four dances they’ll do with Y@H at the upcoming show.
Polins also suggested Cilman get in touch with a Springfield dance school for young people, Youthful Expressions, to see if they’d want to take part. Fast forward a bit, and about eight hip-hop students from the school will perform at “Twist & Crawl.”
“I’m thrilled at the way so many different groups have joined us,” said Cilman.
“Twist & Crawl” is named after a song by the English Beat from the early 1980s, a tune Y@H had intended to learn. The group eventually ran out of time and didn’t get to it, Cilman noted, “but (we) still liked it as the title for the show.”
Since there won’t be any musical guests at the concert, he added, the Y@H members will do some more singing than is typical. The first part of the show will have some accompanying dancers, but many of the songs will be standards from the chorus’ deep catalog, with no dancing.
For the second half of the show, however, there will be dancing on every number, Cilman said — most of it new material the chorus has learned to coordinate with the guest dancers.
At Gateway, the band and chorus worked through a number of its tunes, such as “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie and “Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone, but “we still have some work to do,” Cilman noted.
The Academy of Music show comes a year after Y@H celebrated its 40th anniversary with a show there, and after a film of that concert produced by Y@H, staff at Northampton High School, and Northampton Open Media won a Boston/New England Emmy Award this past spring.
“It’s been a pretty good year for us,” said Cilman. “Now we’re adding something new, which is always good.”
The Y@H “Twist & Crawl” show takes place at the Academy of Music, Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at aomtheatre.com.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.