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By John Heginbotham
A native of Anchorage, Alaska, John Heginbotham graduated from the Juilliard School in 1993 and joined the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1998. He has also danced with Susan Marshall, Pilobolus (as a guest artist), John Jasperse, and Ben Munisteri. Having taught many master classes on tour with MMDG, he now teaches for the Brooklyn Parkinson Group at the Mark Morris Dance Center. Heginbotham has choreographed his own works for the New York and Toronto International Fringe Festivals, DanceNOW [NYC], Baryshnikov Arts Center, and Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out series.
I fell in love with dancing because of a movie.
That movie was Singin’ in the Rain, not The Red Shoes. It is my understanding that a number of accomplished dancers bourréed their way into the profession because of The Red Shoes. Unfortunately, I did not encounter that beautiful, strange work of art until it was too late for me to become a ballerina. In the film, artistic director Boris Lermontov asks dancer-on-the-verge Victoria Page, “Why do you want to dance?” She replies, incredulously, “Why do you want to live?” I almost wish this column were titled “Why I Watch The Red Shoes and Singin’ in the Rain Over and Over Again.”
My mom, Jeanie Heginbotham, enrolled me at a local dance school in Anchorage called The Dance Den. I was 6 or 7, and that is where I first remember myself dancing. The school was run by the husky-voiced, platinum blonde, darkly suntanned (in Alaska?) Miss Nona (to this day, I don’t know her last name). The Den offered everything from ballet to traditional Polynesian to disco. Miss Nona not only gave me my first opportunity to dance onstage, but also to lip-synch there; I was Alvin, of Alvin and the Chipmunks, in our cowboy tap routine. I imagine each dancer who contributes to this column wishes to convey some wisdom to the dancing reader. My advice is to lip-synch occasionally in addition to studying your dance technique. First do it alone in your room to your favorite song, then later in front of a friend, family member, or teacher, and then if you like it, in front of a paying audience.
At 19, I almost stopped dancing—at least in its concentrated form. I spent a year at the Juilliard School, and discovered that serious concert dance was not the kind of performing I wanted to do. I remembered the joy of Singin’ in the Rain and concluded that Broadway musicals offered a better example of the combined power that theater, music, and dance could achieve. Cats. Meow.
And then I saw L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, an evening-length concert work choreographed by Mark Morris. I was not expecting to have my life reordered that evening, but it was. This was an experience so engrossing that I scarcely realized I was watching a dance! I did not think about myself, or the fact that I was in a theater. I left the opera house overwhelmed—trembling, in fact—and I understood that I had to find a way to participate in what I’d witnessed. It was a simple and profound realization, and it affected the course of my life.
I am occasionally reminded that no one made me become a dancer; that was and is my choice. Why do I dance? The most telling reason presents itself when I am not dancing. When the Mark Morris Dance Group is on a hiatus, or when I consider the eventuality of not performing professionally, I understand why I do this. There is no better use of my time than joining forces with my talented friends and colleagues in the service of creating something beautiful, something that is good. This mostly occurs onstage or in a rehearsal studio, but it has also recently happened out of doors. Stranded on tour. Up and down a hillside. During a hurricane. We truly were dancin’…and singin’…in the rain.
Photo by Jordan Matter.