Dancing Through Mamma Mia

During Honey Honey, (left to right) Emily Lekas (‘21), Katie Fites (‘21), and Aynslee Hopkins (‘21) perform about Sophie’s possible dads.
During Honey Honey, (left to right) Emily Lekas (‘21), Katie Fites (‘21), and Aynslee Hopkins (‘21) perform about Sophie’s possible dads.

The Mamma Mia play has 26 dance numbers and 56 total dancers that will be performing most dance numbers. You’d

imagine it would be hard to learn all these pieces, but these dancers have been working for about three months. Despite the amount of dancers numbers, not every cast member dances in them.

I play Tanya Chesham-Leigh, one of Donna’s old friends, member of a girl group band, and recent divorcee. For my character, learning choreography has been anything but challenging. Having been a dancer for 10 years, I picked up the choreography easily as most cast members did. The sharp movements and liquidity between the character and motion are no stranger to me. I felt that my past experience in dance, prepared me for the fast-paced nature of the show.

The main challenge that I, along with the ensemble have is dancing while singing. Because most of the breath is contributed to the dancing aspect of the play, not much is left for singing. Breath is essential in being able to make a sound, let alone sing. I found myself straining my voice to get out any sound because of the lack of breath. This especially occurs in my song, “Does Your Mother Know?”

“Does Your Mother Know?” is the piece that is heaviest on choreography and also the only piece that includes the help of Dance Company. It is about a 4-minute song without any vocal or physical break for the two main characters Tanya and Pepper, who have a flirty dynamic throughout the piece. Through lifts, jumps, and intricate footwork, Tanya takes on the role of a seductress while singing about Pepper’s temptations. 

In this piece, there is an opportunity for interpreting the movement of the choreography and being able to choreograph parts of the song. I was instructed to choreograph about a one minute section of “Does Your Mother Know?” with Kenny Sogbesan (‘20) who plays Pepper. Within this section, I am being lifted and spun around in a split while singing for Pepper to… ‘take it easy’.

My funniest moment within the play was the section in dancing queen where I crawl on the floor in a pink dress and feather boa. The original inspiration for this piece of choreography was a scene in the 80s movie Flash Dance in which the main character crawls on the floor during the song “Eye of the Tiger”. During rehearsals I was instructed to pretend to fall into the crawling. I even ended up bruising my knees for this fake fall. Staring all the audience members in the eye, I would crawl towards them hearing the nervous laughter of teens and parents alike.

The bruises were worth it.

The choreography in Mamma Mia is easy but effective in large group numbers. For example, “Money Money Money”, the song about Donna’s tough financial state, is composed of small but sharp movements carried out by the ensemble while rallying in with Donna about her troubles.

The overall choreography is inspired by the 80s’ fast-paced movements, high arm movements, and passion. With the play, the main goal is to have fun and make the audience want to dance with the actors. At the end of each show, seeing the audience dancing with our finale performance was amazing. To see our performance bringing joy to students and family alike was the greatest gratification that any actor could have.