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Birthday Blog! How to turn your party into a variety show

It’s my birthday! I turned 30 on Sunday, and subjectively, my party was a smash hit. I’d been meditating on how to make this party extra special for months ahead of time, but resisted the urge to pinter

est cute 30th birthday party themes and instead tried to dive deep into myself on an inquiry of what kind of party I  would really like best. The idea started out because I saw a video on the internet of three male friends dancing together who did not appear to have any dance background and they had so much swag. I thought, “I would love to see my friends do this.” 

Fast forward a couple of weeks: Four of us were having a cookout, sitting on my back porch, playing music and someone started dancing. I started hyping them up which made them dance even better and then I started doing a combination of hype and choreography suggestions or movement themes while the  two of them danced together. I was blown away by the amount of personality that came through their dancing and we did this for hours! This formalized the idea for me: I would make it my birthday request for them to come up with a choreographed dance together for my birthday. 

The 3-4 friends I shared this idea with at first were very resistant, but I continually reminded them of my birthday request over the coming weeks, that the only present I wanted was a little premeditated dance. By the time it came time to send the invitation I realized that this was really something that i wanted from everyone, so I asked explicitly on the invitation: “To make my 30th birthday extra special, what I would like more than anything is for you, or maybe you and some friends, to come up with a little premeditated dance to perform for me at my party (boys too!!!). It doesn’t have to be much! Maybe 20 seconds of silly choreography to your favorite song that you came up with right before you came! Group pieces with simple synchronized movements would slap! I’ll follow up closer to 6/1 about music to make a playlist, so start thinking about it now :)” I sent this out 3 weeks in advance, and then on the Tuesday before the party I sent this, “Birthday reminder! Party is coming up this Saturday :) no pressure, but if you were thinking about making me the happiest girl by doing a little dance for me at my party (even like 10-20 seconds is amazing) let me know if/when you choose a song so I can start putting a playlist together :) there will also be an opportunity to come up with something on the fly the day of for folks who were maybe undecided but then felt the vibes carry them there :) “ I wanted to emphasize that this was, in fact, something I was taking seriously (without letting them know that i had no idea if anyone would actually follow through outside of my boyfriend and one other act.) No one responded with a single song. 

Then there was the day-of preparation. If you didn’t know, I’m an aerialist and I own a free-standing aerial rig that I set up in my backyard during the nice times of year. I wanted to make sure that was set up for people to play on (I put a lyra about two feet above the ground so it was more like a swing - less intimidating for people to play on). I had to make sure there were lights pointed towards the apparatus, which would also serve as center stage for the performance. My boyfriend is a musician, so I had him set up his sound system so we could play music loudly and also have a mic set up to announce performers. I also had no idea how many people would come, so I was really making some bold assumptions.

I knew for sure I had my boyfriend doing a piece with my dear friend Becky, I had my other close friend Vince doing a piece, and my friend who was visiting from out of town who also literally has  BFA in modern dance wanted to do the opening and closing acts. Responses from everyone else had been either silence, hesitance, or straight nos. But i was committed to maintaining an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude. I felt confident that if I could create conditions where people felt seen, celebrated, and supported with a clear enough structure, people would step out of their boxes.

I was right! The party started at 8, and I was thinking we would do the show around 1030. I gave people the 10 minute warning and then went around to each person individually to ask if they were going to do a dance. I think this last minute face to face pressure from the birthday girl herself really helped to push people over the edge. Most of them had not considered that they might be doing this ahead of time, so i told them that it was fine that they didn’t have a song yet, i would go around and do one more round to collect songs from the people who had agreed to dance so they had about 10 more minutes to come up with a song and the beginnings of a dance idea. I had the order written down on a note on my phone with songs next to each act and we had 11! And during those 11 performances, 5 more people came out of the wood works and jumped on stage spontaneously to join their friends in an act or sign up for their own, so by the end we had 13 numbers! I loved every second of all of them. I was screaming, hyping everyone up, jumping up and down, even getting on stage to join people at various points as they called for it, and the rest of the crowd followed my lead and celebrated every move, intentional or unintentional, professional or amateur. It was so special to see everyone’s personality come through their movement in this vulnerable and spontaneous way. A few people even got on the lyra to play around! And I had one circus friend who really knew her way around the apparatus do a piece as well :) so we had maybe 3 trained dancers and the rest were just brave! But conversations afterwards revealed that everyone had so much fun performing, and even people who didn’t perform also loved watching everyone’s bravery and spontaneity. I received a few heartfelt comments about how special the event was, either to participate in or witness. There was something truly magical about the way the conditions we created allowed people to come out of their shell and try something new in front of a group of strangers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. 

So if you’re planning your next birthday party, or really any kind of party at all, I would offer you this exploration: How can you make your next party exactly the way you want it to be? How do you like to spend your time at parties? I realized for myself, I don’t really care too much for drinking or talking to people or even playing games. I love to dance and be playful with my friends in an embodied way. I surrounded myself with my favorite people, my favorite foods, I made my own cake because I love baking elaborate cakes, I got candles that said “30,” because I wanted to mark the occasion, I juiced elaborate elixers because I love juicing and mixed drinks, and I spent most of the night playing with flow toys that people brought, or on my aerial rig, or dancing with people. I did also chat and mingle but if I ever felt bored of that, I left and went to the rig and brought people in to play around with me. 

This year, I gave myself everything I wanted for my birthday and I loved it. In past years and as a kid, I had hoped that everyone would just intuit the exact right type of party to throw me, and I wouldn't have to tell them anything. They would just know what to do because they knew me so well. I think some people probably are able to intuit that hard, but it’s not a gift that a lot of people have, so it’s really best to just ask for the type of party you want to have and work with your people to make your dreams come true. Next year, I’m thinking I might continue the vision and get even more specific about what I’m looking for! I’m loving group pieces, I’m loving intentional formations, maybe I’ll even help people with choreography if they want and offer my backyard up for slots to practice! Now that they’ve seen it can be done, it’s safe to step out of your shell here. Now that we have the proof of concept, maybe they’ll feel comfortable putting that little bit of extra effort in. 

All in all, I think for some people this party could even be considered a healing experience. It’s very scary and vulnerable to get up on a stage in front of strangers and do something you have no background in, but ultimately dance is a form of self expression, and everyone with a body is a dancer. I’m finding that there is truly something medicinal about getting up on a stage and being celebrated for your vulnerability and authenticity, and that’s the type of culture I want to grow. 

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