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September 12th, 2012 HEATHER WISNER | Books
 

Portland Fall Arts Guide 2012: Dancing In the Dark

With apologies to Julia Stiles, Oregon Ballet dancers go clubbin’.

lede_3845(dance_fallarts)A BALLERINA WALKS INTO A BAR...: Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Olga Krochik (top) gets crunk at Jones. - IMAGE: Morgan Green-Hopkins
No one is dancing when I arrive at Jones. I’m here to meet Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers Olga Krochik and Lucas Threefoot and their friends, ostensibly for a night on the town. But it’s early on a Saturday night, and the Old Town club is still hosting a speed-dating event.

By the end of the night, we will be sweaty, and we will have answered a few questions: What happens when professional dancers dance off the clock? Are they able to switch off their ballet brains for a night and let loose? If so, are they still obviously better than the people dancing around them? Will anyone notice or care? And if you do something fun for a living, is it still fun?

Jones—an ’80s- and ’90s-themed bar geared to youngsters who don’t remember Posh Spice before she was Mrs. Beckham—could have been a fern bar 30 years ago. The brick walls and disco ball above the DJ booth are a stark contrast to Krochik and Threefoot’s usual home, the balconied Keller Auditorium, which holds nearly 3,000 people. There isn’t a tuxedoed conductor or tutu-wearing toddler to be found, though there are a lot of towering heels and tiny skirts.

Krochik, 27, wears a striped tank top and skinny jeans. Her boyfriend, Chris Martuza, 34, enjoys dancing with her, but they haven’t been to this club, preferring Holocene, Rotture or Lola’s Room. 

Shortly after Threefoot settles into a vinyl booth next to Krochik and Martuza, we’re joined by two more OBT dancers, Julia Rowe, 22, and Javier Ubell, 23. Talk turns to social dancing.

“It’s hard,” says Krochik, who started ballet in New York as a grade-schooler. “You make plans at the beginning of the week to go dancing, but by the time Friday comes around, you’re so tired.” In some ways, being a ballet dancer is like a regular job, she says. You come in, work and go home at the end of the day. 

“Someone in an office, maybe they do a report and then they do another report,” Ubell says. “With us, it’s do one rehearsal, have a break, and have another rehearsal for 45 minutes. It’s very schedule-based.”

But when they do go out dancing, these pros don’t worry about what non-dancers think. When you dance in front of thousands of people for a living, Ubell points out, you get over self-consciousness pretty quickly, and since many dancers go pro at a young age—he came to OBT at 17—you know you already have what it takes to outperform some pretty serious competition.

If the dancers do feel self-conscious, it’s more often from learning new dance styles after they’ve mastered another. For fun, Krochik has tried hip-hop, which she finds challenging: Technique-wise, it’s the polar opposite of ballet, with turned-in feet and grounded movement.

“I saw some ballet guy doing hip-hop on So You Think You Can Dance and he looked kind of awkward, and I thought, ‘I wonder if that’s how I looked?’” says Krochik, laughing. Ultimately, Ubell says, the ballet world is like any other: It has both conservative types and free spirits. About this time, Krochik swings one leg over the back of the booth and vaults herself over the back to get some napkins. It’s the kind of artless maneuver that would give the average person muscle spasms.

At 10 pm, our conversation is abruptly drowned out as the DJ cranks up the music. We relocate to the dance floor, where nobody else seems to notice they are bumping up against people who can do 32 consecutive fouette turns in pointe shoes—that is, until Threefoot dips Krochik deeply toward the floor. There is some nudging among onlookers, one of whom reaches for her cellphone camera.

As the Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey” squawks from the speakers, a competition seemingly develops between Threefoot and Ubell over who can get the lowest. A bachelorette party wearing neon togs and hair bows watches admiringly from the sidelines.

“I gotta go dance with Olga—she’s my partner!” Threefoot declares before hopping onto a raised platform, where Krochik and Mantuza are already pressed close. In a move you’re unlikely to see at a Portland club, Threefoot hoists Krochik into an overhead lift and turns her in a circle. Two guys from a nearby group look up. “Aww, yeah!” they exclaim, pumping their fists approvingly.

They don’t know what’s up, exactly, but it’s all good.  

 
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