It's the sort of idea that could occur to you only while inching home in rush hour traffic: "There was this big green space [on the side of the road], and I thought .... 'What would happen if ten dancers were out there right now?' " explains choreographer Leslie Scates, creator of Drive By Dancing, an innovative way to entertain frustrated commuters.
But it wasn't an easy road to travel. Scates had to wind her way through a Kafkaesque maze of city bureaucracy to get permission for her freeway-friendly show. "The city of Houston wasn't interested," she says. "The police force was like, 'No way. Call the state of Texas to get on their highways.' " Finally Scates convinced Stella Pereira, an employee of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and the people at the Art Car Museum to climb on board. Thus, Drive By Dancing was born.
For two years Scates and fellow Isadora's Dish dance company members Susan Blair and Amy Ell curtailed road rage by leaping and pirouetting along the city's grassy shoulders. Since then the unique venture has attracted dancers from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Weave Dance Company and Houston Ballet Academy. With that talent pool, the performance is guaranteed to be more pleasing to the eye than those vasectomy-reversal billboards.
Dressed in white shorts, shirts, sun visors and tennis shoes, the dancers typically form big circles and long lines and play with brightly colored "wacky noodles" (those six-foot-long foam pool toys). "Basically it's like a sculpture," says Scates. "The audience moves by, and so the dance has to move at a slower pace. Sometimes a shape will be made and held so that it looks just like a sculpture made out of people instead of metal.....It has to be simple. I encourage the dancers to make big moves."
In case you're wondering, there has never been a car accident associated with Drive By Dancing. More important, there haven't been any incidents of enraged motorists pulling guns during a performance. Only the occasional catcalls and horn honking.
If you're heading west on Allen Parkway, Drive By Dancing can be seen at Dandelion Fountain, across from the KHOU-TV building, on Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13, from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Less adventurous drivers can see the dancers at the Art Car Museum, 140 Heights Boulevard, on Saturday at 1 p.m.
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