When it comes to dancing, he remembers it well
By Jim Doti, president of Chapman University and Brandman University regent
As I look back on my college days, I regret not taking a dance class. Focused as I was on business, economics and math, enrolling in a dance class was the farthest thing from my mind.
I fully realize that I don’t have the talent to be a professional dancer. That’s a given. But I now know that a dance class would have made me a better economist and university administrator.
That realization came late in my life – but not so late for dance to do me some good. It all happened as a result of Chapman’s “American Celebration” – an annual scholarship fundraiser that showcases the incredible talent of our music and dance students. For the last 10 years or so, American Celebration has included a dance for my partner, Julia Argyros, and me.
Great dancers like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor make dancing look effortless. Not surprisingly, it’s harder than it looks. Dancing a choreographed routine involves memorizing and counting steps. It also involves knowing where and how to place those steps so that the dance tells a story.
Julia and I decided that last November’s American Celebration would be our last dance on stage. We thought it would be a fitting finale to sing and dance “I Remember It Well,” from Lerner and Loewe’s “Gigi.” This is a song sung by former lovers (Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the movie) trying to rekindle memories of a distant fling. For Julia and me, the lyrics were changed to depict two people trying to rekindle memories of distant dances.
Here are a few lines that Julia and I sang:
Me: That tango tune.
Julia: You split your pants.
Me: We cast a spell.
Julia: You blew the dance.
Me: Ah, yes! I remember it well.
Me: You wore a gown of red.
Julia: I was all in blue.
Me: Am I getting old?
Julia: Oh, no, not you.
How fun it was, each dance was new.
You always did what I told you to.
Me: Ah, yes! I remember it well.
For the singing part, we were expertly coached by Professor Patty Gee. Following the song, Julia and I danced a waltz, choreographed by Professor Alicia Guy, who teaches in Chapman’s nationally recognized dance program. Her choreography beautifully told the story in dance that we expressed in song.
In our first steps together, Julia and I appeared distant but showed interest in each other. The dance heated up, with dramatic flourishes suggesting excitement, then slowed and became more tender. The narrative arc followed two people discovering each other, being excited by each other, then touchingly departing from one another – all movingly expressed in Guy’s evocative choreography.
Getting back to my regret about not learning dance earlier in my life, what does all this have to do with how dance helps me do my day job?
I am often called upon to recite names and numbers in my various speeches without using notes. I wasn’t always adept at this. Helping me now are the memorization techniques that I developed to better remember dance steps. In addition, the subtle expressions that create a mood in dance can be used to evoke an attitude or idea in a speech. Most important, understanding the choreographic techniques used to tell a story in dance helped me realize how vital it is for a speech to follow an expressive narrative arc.
An economic forecast presentation that holds a listener’s interest, for example, isn’t a recitation of facts and figures. At least, it shouldn’t be. Rather, it’s a story about how changes in the economy lead from one thing to another. It’s a story with a beginning, middle and end, just like a well-choreographed dance. One art form informs another.
Dance is also a highly collaborative art. Julia is a more naturally gifted dancer than I. In addition, Julia does her homework and always comes to rehearsal fully prepared. As a result, I’ve had to push myself to keep up with her. This kind of collaboration helps inculcate good work habits. More importantly, it’s a compelling reminder that most things get done working together as a team.
That teamwork extends to our gifted Chapman student dancers, who not only teach us but dance with us as well. For Julia and me, this is the best part about being in the show. We marvel at the students’ incredible ability to learn their dance numbers so quickly and perform them with such grace, beauty and artistry. The ways they work together, support each other, share their creative energy and tell their stories through dance fills me with pride. For many of these young people will leave Chapman and ensure that future generations learn and grow by being exposed to one of our civilization’s oldest art forms.
This piece first appeared on ocregister.com as Jim Doti: How dance lessons help us with work and life
About the author
Jim Doti is the president of Chapman University and a member of Brandman University’s Board of Regents.
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