CEDAR RAPIDS — “I don’t think kids can do that.”
That’s the wrong thing to say to Lynne Waggoner-Patton, but also the right thing.
From that challenge sprang The Silhouettes, coming to the Paramount Theatre in Waggoner-Patton’s hometown Tuesday night, Nov. 20.
A Denver company wanted her to create a show using photographs, shadows, imagery and dance for the opening ceremony of the March 2009 SportAccord. The organizers needed something that would make Denver stick in the minds of 1,500 audience members from the Olympic Committee and international sports federations and event presenters.
They didn’t think her shadow-dance idea would work, but at her urging, were willing to let her try.
The event was, indeed, memorable, as the young dancers formed their bodies into the shape of iconic Colorado images and monuments.
The Silhouettes stepped out of the shadows and onto the world stage, capturing second place last year on the popular television competition, “America’s Got Talent.”
It’s been a whirlwind ride for the young Denver-area dancers and their founder, a 1983 Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School graduate.
“I’ve learned more in the last two years than I’ve learned in a really long time,” Waggoner-Patton, 47, of Erie, Colo., says during a recent trip home to pave the way for the Cedar Rapids show.
She established her dance studio in the Denver area 21 years ago as Lynne’s School of Dance, but as it grew, she thought it needed a name reflecting its larger scope and location. So in 2000 she changed it to A Rocky Mountain School of Dance & Performing Arts.
“America’s Got Talent” fame opened her eyes to opportunities — and harsh realities.
“I’ve learned things I didn’t even know that I needed to learn: music editing, video editing, coming up with choreography in a van while there’s no time to do it; working with different corporate clients; learning to train new dancers to be Silhouettes,” she says.
“But more than that, just learning about what’s important. We were on the cusp of signing with a huge, huge, huge agency and managers and agents. We were going to be big. Our publicist was Brad Pitt’s publicist — and it just felt wrong. It felt like it was exploiting kids to make millions. I was promised Broadway, everything, and it just didn’t feel right.
“I tried to explain to them, ‘I’m from Cedar Rapids. We have humble roots. We have humble means.’ I don’t need fame. I don’t need fortune, I don’t need anything. But I do need to feel good in my heart when I’m teaching these kids. So I kinda put the brakes on,” she says.
“Those (offers) are still sitting out there, waiting, but I wanted to have more control over what the kids were signing up for and what they weren’t. I wanted them to able to be with their families and still be children, still have birthdays, still be able to go on family vacations — not sign their life away for a year and never know what they’re gonna get. So I changed where it was headed and moved it back. … I’m putting this show on in Cedar Rapids myself. It’s safer that way, I think.”
Bringing the show home was her dream when the troupe rocketed to fame last year.
It’s not an easy or inexpensive process to bring 50 dancers ages 5 to 24, 13 parent-chaperones, a two-person professional production crew, their equipment and a giant screen from Denver to Cedar Rapids. Waggoner-Patton and her family have been pounding the pavement to find corporate sponsorships and donations to defray the $50,000 needed for everything from transportation, food and lodging to facility fees and equipment rental.
But it’s something she wanted to do. She says local audiences will see “a magical experience” in a show the troupe developed last January, reflecting the values Waggoner-Patton strives to instill in her dancers.
“It’s a story about love, hope, compassion, joy. About believing in yourself, about inspiration, courage, strength,” she says. “It’s a journey of two characters — Annie and Johnny. They start out as young children and grow up. I don’t want to say anything more than that and give it all away.”
It’s a family-friendly show with music ranging from epic to endearing, with touches of Hollywood and Broadway. Twenty percent of the show’s proceeds will go to Tanager Place in Cedar Rapids, which offers outpatient and residential treatment for children with emotional, mental and psychological challenges.
From the audience point of view, it’s all about meticulous choreography as the young dancers move into positions to spell words and build intricate shapes, turning pint-size people into giant-sized figures as they move closer to the light.
Backstage, it’s another picture, she says with a laugh.
“It’s the best game of Twister you’ve ever seen, set to music,” she says. “Everybody’s running and jumping over everybody else, twisting their bodies and morphing. It’s really crazy. The dancers learned a whole new part of their brain they didn’t even know they had, which has enhanced all of their other dancing.”
Local dancers are learning what it takes to be a Silhouette, too. Before the Denver troupe takes the stage, the spotlight will turn on 29 young dancers from five Cedar Rapids-area studios — Cherie’s Dance Studio, Dance Nation, The Dancer’s Edge, Donna’s Dance Place and Studio Dance — performing while 60 members of the Discovery Chorus sing “Me and My Shadow.”
Amy Hanisch of Walford, Waggoner-Patton’s longtime friend and collaborator from their Kirkwood Community College days, directs the Orchestra Iowa School’s youth chorus for area singers in grades four to six. She’s equally excited that her daughters Emily, 10, and Alaina, 9, will be dancing onstage for “Aunt Lynne.”
Hanisch was amazed by the way the number came together with just three hours of rehearsal over a recent two-day workshop.
They displayed what Waggoner-Patton calls that “Cedar Rapids spirit of politeness, humbleness, kindness and willingness to learn” that she’s always drilling into her Denver students. It’s a spirit she can’t wait for the Colorado kids to experience firsthand.
“I keep telling them they’re going to feel so much love from the audience — they’re going to feel that Iowa, Cedar Rapids spirit, and they’re really excited about that,” Waggoner-Patton says. “It’s me sharing part of my home with them.”