Chris: The Whole Experience
By Christopher Duarte
Charismatic. Energetic. Strong. Captivating. Slick. Masculine. Ease. Next Level. These were the first words that came to mind the first time I watched a TMI piece. It was during Choreographer’s Ball when they performed a routine to Sexyback. I had been familiar with the program through word-of-mouth but had never seen a piece up until that point.
The finished product that I had witnessed was something I was inspired by. There was a level of professionalism radiating off everyone on that stage that I hadn't even fathomed up until that point. My preconceived notions, from my years of being a competitive dancer, of what a great performer was put into question. It made me interested and inspired into joining The Male Initiative.
When I started, I never really knew what to expect. Up until I joined, all I really had to base on was a couple of performances at choreographer’s ball and taking classes with Shavar. I learned very quickly that this wasn’t going to be a cake-walk. It wasn’t about learning a couple of pieces of a choreography and then performing them on stage. It was about more than just memorizing a bunch of steps, putting a smile on your face, and passing it off as a good performance. If anything that was what was needed to be a basic performer, and basic just isn’t in the vocabulary of TMI. To be an exceptional dancer it took strength, groove, dynamics, aura, characterization, vulnerability, etc.
I also quickly learned what professionalism truly meant. You had to always be on your craft. You couldn’t allow the choreography to slip from your brain or else you would quickly be trailing the pack. You had to start performing from the go. If you didn’t, the person beside you would be slaying you down and taking your spot before you even knew it existed. You always had to arrive early because early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable. Also, late meant burpees and lots of them. Time was not to be wasted. Being as quick and efficient as possible in picking up choreography and executing it to the choreographer's satisfaction - where the true essence of the piece was coming from, and giving the routine life.
As I progressed through the season, I learned how to really stand out from the pack by being the best representation of yourself but also blending in with the collective energy; how to brand yourself visually and artistically; and, what do wear. Hard to believe superhero t-shirts aren’t always acceptable attire. Probably more important than style and execution of choreography, I also got a true understanding of who I am as an individual. Through various pieces and exercises, you begin to realize the different facets of who you are and how to channel them into authentic performances.
In TMI, your fellow dancers became your peers, and ultimately, your brothers. They are who you relied on when it came to cleaning and remembering choreography. They are your motivation when you feel yourself slipping. They are your inspiration to redefine your movement and style. They are your shoulder to lean on when things get tough. They may be your competition for spots in pieces, but it’s through that competition that we grow into stronger artists. I can truly say that the bonds I've made with the men and women that I have shared the stage with through TMI the strongest and closest in my 25 years of living.
The whole experience has pushed me beyond what I even thought was imaginable. I may not be the dancer I want to be yet, but through everything I have learned, I have the tools to make it attainable.