If you want to get out of your head, fully into your body, and get a gentle stretch and nice aerobic workout as well, then Hallie Brevetti’s new “Broadway through the Ages” beginner dance series at the West Tisbury library is the way to go. Experienced dancers and those with no background at all will thoroughly enjoy this one-hour drop-in class that encompasses so much more than movement. There is some Broadway dance history baked in as well.
We began the last class with a great orientation by trading the names of our favorite Broadway musicals. As it turned out, we ran the gamut from what is considered the first musical, “Oklahoma!” to “A Chorus Line” to the contemporary hit “Hamilton.” We then shifted to a classic warmup with simple movements and nice stretches to get our hamstrings, torso, hips, legs, arms, and, gloriously, our necks loose and flexible.
Then it was time to dance! It turns out, Brevetti had selected “Oklahoma!” as the first in the series since it was so historic, as it integrated all three major performance elements of the “book” (speaking part), music and lyrics and choreography. We learned about the choreographer Agnes de Mille who became famous for her revolutionary style, breaking the mold of dance being isolated from the story and instead translating the text and subtext into movement that helped move the plot along. An extra bonus was watching a video of De Mille explaining how she came up with the choreography for the piece we were going to learn — “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends.”
Brevetti taught us the choreography in the classic cumulative manner, teaching eight counts of movement at a time. Once you learn and become comfortable with the first eight counts, she teaches the second eight. Then you practice them together, building muscle memory. That process continues until you’ve learned the entire combination.
Learning choreography is a fascinating process because it employs your mind and body simultaneously. You watch and follow the teacher, then as you repeat and add onto the movement sequence, your body starts to do the movement automatically, while your brain sort of jumps ahead to the next set of steps you are about to do. It’s wholly absorbing, and as you become comfortable with the dance sequence, you start to “own it” and feel like you are really inhabiting your body in a unique way. There’s a great sense of accomplishment. Besides all that, it’s just darn fun.
Brevetti comes from a lineage of dance. Her mother was a dancer in New York City and Boston in the 1970s and 1980s. As soon as she was old enough, Brevetti was enrolled in creative movement classes and then ballet. She progressed to modern and jazz classes until discovering theater and musical theater, which she fell in love with.
Brevetti got into teaching when the pandemic hit. She explains, “I had been involved in my high school alma mater after college, student-teaching theater and choreographing the musical, and teaching at arts camps here and there. But it was really when everything shut down, and I couldn’t do my art anymore, that I turned to teaching. Teaching was a way back into the craft for me, and the shutdown gave me time to ruminate about what really interested me. Turns out, what interests me is making musical theater accessible to folks who love it, folks who aren’t familiar, and folks who may not think the art form is for them.”
Brevetti adds, “I want to refocus when we talk about musical theater history. One of my goals with ‘Broadway through the Ages’ is to feature choreographers from historically marginalized groups, as well as stories that broke the mold, which are really the ones we tend to remember and love anyway.” This fits in with her desire for students to come away with a slightly different perspective on the choreographer and musical theater in general.
She also hopes we experience a sense of letting go of expectations in an effort to connect more deeply to ourselves and who we are. Brevetti shares, “The great thing about musical theater dance is that you get to be someone else for a few moments, which may actually help you learn something new about yourself. It feels better to come back to yourself when you’ve been stretched in some way.”
Hallie Brevetti is teaching “Broadway through the Ages” at the West Tisbury library Fridays from 10:30 to 11:30 am through Sept. 9 (except August 19 and 26). No signup required. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.