I've been a part of the Puzzle League for a span of almost 3 years. In that time, I developed an understanding of a unique type of movement that was completely foreign to my body's natural way of moving. I sharpened my mental capabilities by being expected to learn and master difficult, intricate choreography in a short amount of time. Also, I learned A LOT about being fierce. Winning several competitions along the way including Prelude Midwest and World of Dance Chicago was a nice bonus French fry that you find at the bottom of the bag when you're still hungry and you think there's no more food left.
Yet, the most valuable lesson I learned from the Puzzle League happened YEARS after I was no longer competing with the team - or any team, for that matter. Read about it below.
Most agree that creating something new is a 50/50 blend of exciting and scary. The process of building a team gives the directors complete control over the company's future. There is the chance to cultivate a long lasting legacy through your hard work and sacrifice. And having the freedom to create without any expectations gives you complete freedom to move in any direction you desire.
But intricately tied in with that freedom comes responsibility.
I remember seeing the first set created when the Puzzle League was formed in Chicago, IL sometime around 2010. The six of the original dancers wore red tops and khakis, basically matching the exact corporate dress code of a Target employee. This was their first large scale public appearance under their new name, and all of Chicago was curious to see what these dancers would come up with.
And while that company started from just 6 strong dancers, today in 2016 the Puzzle Dynasty consists of 150+ dancers, all dotted across the globe. Many of them still dance, some of them are directors or instructors at various studios, and others have found different priorities in their lives - but at some point, all of them have been a visible face of the Puzzle League to the public.
Their most recent win at World of Dance Orlando 2016 featured a unique and particularly risky soundtrack with an important and timely message:
And here I was, one day after hearing the news that they had won "Best Theme" and first place, watching this video on my computer screen a thousand plus miles away in Chicago - and this set inspired me more than ever. Even more than when I was performing alongside these remarkable visionaries.
Sure, this set inspired me to improve at every aspect of urban choreography. Cleanliness, texture of motion, performance quality: all executed admirably at a high level. But the real inspiration goes far deeper than just that.
Performances are an opportunity to send a message.
Any time we perform for an audience, we are speaking directly to everyone watching. We are loudly sending them some sort of message: GO VOTE. Love is love. Sometimes that message is just "Hey, we're just here to have fun on stage, and we hope you do too." At performances like World of Dance, you are broadcasting that message to hundreds of live viewers, and potentially hundreds of thousands via the internet. What other venue gives you that kind of opportunity?
Not every piece of dance needs to be some grand eye opener about an ongoing injustice in the world, or a masterful retelling of a heart-wrenching story. Most often we make sets with the pure intent of entertainment. And no, this choreography probably won't cause someone to reconsider their political beliefs, or bring them to the edge of tears. But has the potential to completely turn around someone's entire day for the better.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Directors: whenever you start creating a set for a performance, please be aware that you are doing so much more than executing a series of movement commands. You are speaking to and influencing your audience. That younger brother of a fellow crew mate seated in the front row might become inspired to pursue dance and become the next Fred Astaire or Mia Michaels or Tight Eyez. Never pass up a chance to improve the future.
Personally, as a director, I am guilty of not taking advantage of the opportunities in front of me. The Puzzle League's message to me was so much more than the intended "go vote." It reminded me of the the impact that dance can make on someone.
Next time you perform anything, please remember that you are GOING to be changing lives. Get out there. Make it happen.