Last week, I sat in the cramped hallway outside a Theatre Puget Sound rehearsal studio, amid swirling pink skirts and pre-rehearsal chatter. Director Robin Nunnally handed out handmade, bedazzled feather fans. Meanwhile the dancers of Sister Kate Dance Company’s Ziegfeld Follies winter boot camp primped. In their first full dress rehearsal, they practiced wielding their fans, something they’d only pantomimed before, and danced without the mirror as a guide. On Sunday, the dancers will open Emmett Montgomery’s monthly Weird and Awesome Cabaret at Annex Theatre.
Robin Nunnally, who co-founded the company in 2006, spends her days as Cafe Nordo's marketing coordinator and her nights with Sister Kate. The core team, a troupe of 25, practices weekly and puts on an annual full-length cabaret. But not every aspiring chorus girl can commit that much time. So Nunnally added boot camps back in 2016. The camps give women across Seattle, many of whom don’t have stage experience, a chance to learn a jazz dance routine with Nunnally over the course of four weeks.
Like many of the dancers in the camp, Nunnally liked the idea of being in the spotlight. She grew up watching movies like Victor Victoria on repeat and listening to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. She is determined to revitalize the chorus girl and jazz dance with its dynamic tableaus and synchronized kick lines, a tradition that dates back at least to the cancan dancers of Moulin Rouge.
In high school, I did my fair share of dancing in old shows like Chicago and Singin’ in the Rain. But I often wondered why we bothered to preserve these old styles. As a female performer, the thought of doing coy, chorus girl-style dances, traditionally performed for the male gaze, felt somewhat objectifying. But as I sat in on last week’s rehearsal, I began to feel differently. Sister Kate Dance Company has reclaimed the chorus girl tradition and they’re using it to bring women together, literally. Everyone involved in Sister Kate—the emcees, stage managers, and ticket takers—identifies as female.
In the Puget Sound Theatre, as the ladies of Ziegfeld Follies turned from the mirror to the bleachers, they stumbled, but ultimately, they flourished, swooping their fans across their bodies, hidden behind a fluttering ball of pink feathers. The final chords of the Andrews Sisters’ “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” faded out. Laughing, the women gathered around Nunnally and core team member Jana Hutchinson, watching their performance on an iPad. They smiled, proud of what they accomplished together. Instead of presenting their art for an audience, they performed for themselves.
Emmett Montgomery’s Weird and Awesome Cabaret
Feb 3, Annex Theatre, choose your price
Sister Kate’s Guide to Seattle
May 3–11, Jewelbox Theatre, price TBA