Metro Detroit offers plenty of opportunities to learn to dance. But according to Rochester dancer Jill Cassidy, there are comparatively few opportunities for dancers to actually strut their stuff.
“You train until you’re a high school senior, you graduate and, at least in this area, you’re done,” Cassidy says. “You can go to school for dance, or you can move on to L.A. or New York … but there really isn’t anything in Detroit for you to keep performing.”
So in 2010, Cassidy cofounded the Motor City Choreography Collective, a loose association of metro area dancers whose main function is performing two biannual showcases. MC3 will hold its 14th showcase Saturday at the Crofoot Ballroom.
“I was kind of sick of saying, ‘I wish we had that. I wish I could still perform. I wish I could still do this,’ ” Cassidy says. “So I created it.”
The resulting showcases feature a diverse blend of metro-area dancers and dance styles. Hip-hop and jazz dance predominate, but the 21 groups performing this weekend will also showcase tap, contemporary and Bollywood dance.
Each group is limited to a single musical number, but the 21 spotlight performances are only part of the night’s entertainment. Aerialists and contortionists will perform in a pre-show, and spontaneous dance battles regularly break out in the audience.
“People are going to get a show outside the show because most of the people who are attending are dancers as well,” says St. Clair Shores-based dancer Stephanie Penner, who will perform in two numbers this weekend. “Before the show even starts, there’s dancing, and after there’s even more dancing.”
Although the audience skews heavily toward dancers, MC3 co-founder Ryan Nunley says the showcase holds ample entertainment for the general public as well. Nunley isn’t a dancer himself; he met Cassidy while working as the technical director of a dance studio she taught at, and continues to do behind-the-scenes work for MC3 showcases.
Nunley notes that the popularity of such TV shows as “Dancing With the Stars” doesn’t necessarily translate to general public interest in attending real-life dance events.
“People think it’s a niche thing where they’re not going to enjoy it if they don’t know someone performing,” he says. “But it’s really fun and actually a lot more interesting than going to your average bar.”
Besides providing a performance outlet for local dancers, MC3 showcases also give them a valuable networking opportunity. Penner has pieced together a full-time dance career teaching at three metro area studios and touring the country as a backup dancer for local band Your Generation. She says she got most of those opportunities through connections with Cassidy and other local dancers.
“It is very hard to forge a career, but it’s all about knowing the right people and keeping up those relationships,” Penner says.
Although it can be tough to make a full-time occupation out of dancing in the Detroit area, Penner says local dancers prefer to lift each other up — literally and figuratively.
“Everybody is super supportive of one another,” she says. “In the dance community, there’s absolutely no judgment … as long as you dance to the best of your ability and dance with your heart.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Motor City Choreography Collective Showcase
7:30 p.m. Sat.
1 S. Saginaw, Pontiac
Tickets: $13 in advance, $16 day of show