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Dobama Theatre’s production of ‘Dance Nation’ takes you for a wild ride into the extreme world of co

In the United States alone there are nearly 40,000 schools for dance. That works out on average to around 800 schools per state. Each academy caters to hundreds of preteen girls with the rare boy thrown in (usually the brother of one of the dancers who tagged along and got hooked on dancing). So we are talking about thousands of prepubescent youngsters all striving for the same goal...a dancing career. Competition is fierce.

The story begins with the Liverpool Dance Works Troupe from Liverpool, Ohio prancing their way through a competition number dressed as sailors in Ashley, Pennsylvania. It is the first of a series of contests that will take them through Philadelphia, PA, Akron, Ohio, Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey and hopefully the Grand Nationals Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay, Florida.

The troupe consists of Vanessa (Carolyn Demanelis), by far the best dancer, Amina (Corlesia Smith), a rising star, Zuzu (Delee Cooper), always an unmotivated second best, Connie (Avani Hamilton), talented but a bit full of herself, Luke (Wesley Allen), the sole male dancer, Maeve (Anne McEvoy), the oldest and least talented dancer, Sofia (Calista Zajak), worldly beyond her years and Ashlee (Mariama Whyte), the political one.

One small problem, dancer Vanessa (considered the phenomenon of the group) is prostrate on the empty PA stage with blood pouring from a compound fracture. Girls flit back and forth ignoring her completely until a voice from the God mic orders the injured girl off the stage. She calls out, “I think that something is wrong with my knee.” At that point the God mic calls for Minda, the stage manager to bring paper towels with an assuring, “Just sit tight honey, someone is calling an ambulance.”

With his top dancer in the hospital suffering a career ending injury, Dance Teacher Pat (Tom Woodward) needs to reshuffle the group and pick new leads for his acro-lyrical production number “World On Fire” featuring Gandhi and The Spirit of Gandhi. He choices Connie for the nearly stationary Gandhi part and Zuzu as the Spirit of Gandhi.

To fire up the troupe he regales them with stories of past victories in 92, 95, 97, 13, 14 & 15 and his star pupil from 19 years ago Sabrina Maratzi who was discovered by a casting agent from Telsey & Co. in New York City at the Nationals in West Bend, Wisconsin and only six years later found her self in the chorus of a Broadway musical. This motivates the group to fight even harder for their dreams.

When not on the stage and not talking about dancing the girls open up to each other on various adult type discussions such as masturbation, virginity, sex, menstruation, non-dancing careers, wolves, pica, parents, self doubt, friendship, self worth, circumcision, flying, the fear of growing up and fierceness.

This is a terrific cast of mixed age, ethnicity and gender that works extremely well together. When let loose they are indeed a force of nature to be reckoned with. Notables among the cast are Tom Woodward as Dance Teacher Pat who for anyone associated with dance schools will recognize his brilliance, hard working Carolyn Demanelis as Vanessa and the moms does triple duty with aplomb. Mariama Whyte as Ashlee who gets right into your face during her soliloquy, Corlesia Smith (substituting for the injured Sidney Edwards) as Amina for her superb dancing skills and the rest of the cast for their intensity.

First of all you need to realize that although it is a play about thirteen year old girls it is in essence an adult play acted by adult actors. In the program notes they are revealed as “ghost characters” with the actors’ older bodies haunting the thirteen year old characters. It is, in effect, what the dancers will grow up to be later in life.

If you are shocked by profanity, partial nudity and graphic depictions this may not be the play for you. On the other hand if your taste in theater tends toward the hyper-dramatic with some rather unsettling scenes thrown in for good measure this is probably right up your alley.

This show can be described as a bumpy ride at best. Between scenes of high intensity the pace shifts down to nearly a crawl then ramps back up for more intense high jinks. Fans of Roller Coasters will love it. In a is a fierce 100 minutes of non-stop theater.

“Dance Nation” runs through March 29, 2020 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. For tickets and information visit or call (216) 932-3396.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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