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Student Press Review
Keeping the line straight and true
Dance captain JoAnn M. Hunter ensures that the dancers in Millie keep their toes in check
Editor's note: Originally published: January 16, 2004
JoAnn M. Hunter, a dance captain for Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie, contributes to the excitement of Broadway musicals through the art of dancing. She has a long history of dancing, starting at the age of eleven, after being inspired by her mother.
Hunter's dancing skills helped garner a scholarship to study dancing in New York City, which she received between her junior and senior years in high school. At age 17, she moved to New York City.
"My first step in New York City and I was hooked," Hunter said, describing her first personal experience with the city.
All the theaters and the diverse opportunities to dance amazed her. Hunter remembers seeing a Broadway show, then realizing what she wanted to do with her life.
As a result of her decision, she started auditioning for dance parts to gain as much experience as possible. After a year and a half, she got her first professional job as a dancer in a national touring company of West Side Story in 1985. From then on, she's worked as a dancer and has now become a dance captain on Broadway.
Hunter's responsibility as a dance captain is to keep the integrity of the dance numbers in every performance, exactly as the show's choreographer (Rob Ashford) originally saw it in his mind.
Hunter ensures that the performers execute the choreography exactly as Ashford designed. The dance captain knows every character's part in a show and memorizes every dance routine performed in a show.
In Millie, there are over 45 people in the show, whose parts and movements Hunter must know. To make sure that everything will go smoothly in a show, there are a number of rehearsals. She also steps out of the show once every week to watch the performance and to get a better perspective of the overall show.
Many times during a show, Hunter watches the presentation from the wings to make sure that everything is proceeding as planned and that everybody is in the right place doing what they are supposed to do.
"Broadway is a professional company, so people take it upon themselves to know what they are doing," she said.
If there is a problem during a show or a performer gets injured, one of the remaining performers must become a "swing," or a temporary replacement who performs the absent person's part exactly as they do in the show. Hunter immediately rearranges the show and fills the space of the missing person with an understudy.
Every once in a while, Hunter runs into a dancer or an actor who is not exactly dancing or moving on stage as they should-this can create a problem for the dance captain and can have serious results in a show.
When it comes to problems involving cast members, Hunter finds that she must be very diplomatic in how she handles the situation. She finds a way to deal with the problem in a manner that makes everyone happy and comfortable without creating any additional problems.
"This job takes a lot of patience, because you deal with so many personalities," she said.
When new dancers are hired, they are told that they need to "learn the show" in three days, which requires much discipline. Hunter rehearses the new cast members for four hours during each of those three days.
On the fourth day (usually a weekday), the new dancers are put into the show to get comfortable in their role. They then have the weekend to watch the show and make sure everything settles in them. The following day, the new members go on stage permanently.
In Thoroughly Modern Millie, the choreographer tried to capture the energy of modern time and translate it into the style of the 1920's.
Millie can be a very "aerobic" musical, especially for the women, who dance in high heels. It is very aggressive and fast moving, with pounding rhythms, as the dancers execute their moves quickly in time with the rhythm and beats.
The dancers in a musical are very important-dancing is part of the storytelling. "That's what makes musicals so great now," said Hunter.
That proves that dancers are more than just dancers, they are actors and actresses too, because they have to tell the story through their bodies.
"It is very important that we continue this art form" said Hunter.
Csilla Szekely is a student at Flushing High School in Flushing, N.Y. Szekely is one of 12 New York City high school students selected to participate in the Fall 2003 semester of CSPA's Stringers Program, co-sponsored with Camp Broadway.
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