A Dangerous Specialty for the Stage
by Amura/Linda Bassani
posted April 12, 2012
I learned to dance on tall stemmed glassware in a class taught by Veda Sereem in Maryland around 1979. At the end of the class, one of her students, Mary Lou from Delaware, performed for us on her glasses, balancing a goblet on her head at the end of her routine. When she stepped off of them, she descended to the floor in a backbend while balancing a glass on her forehead. She was incredible! In Veda’s class, we used three heavy wine/beer goblets. We were told to purchase a set of four–in case one should break. I still have my original three, and they are the only glassware I have ever used since that class, but I still keep a fourth as my backup.
When I was in Maryland, I was a member of the Oasis Dancers, and through the 1980s, we performed at various fairs in the Washington, D.C. area. Each dancer had a specialty and mine was glass-dancing.
The highlight of my performance was sliding the glass out from under my heel with my hand and going into a backbend.
Latifa would then hand me a copper dish, containing a lit candle, that I placed on my tummy to roll and flutter. (See photo at bottom of article.) Then I would slide the glass back up and out of the way so that I could arise, using just the two remaining glasses. Next I would place the dish on my head and shimmy on the two remaining glasses. I have since replaced the candle with a sword. (See home photo.)
To start my performance, I display the glasses, holding them upside down between my fingers (one in my left hand and two in my right). I place the two in front of each other apart enough to place the ball of my right foot on the front glass and the heal of my right foot on the rear glass. I place the third glass to the left and place the ball of my left foot on it. I move around on my left foot and pivot in place on my right foot. Once I am balanced, I usually make a left hip-lift, lifting my left foot in the air so I am balanced on the two glasses under my right foot as in the Maryland Renaissance Fair photo. After dancing and turning in a complete circle, I squat down, reach behind me, and push the rear glass back as I go into a backbend. To return out of the backbend, I slide the glass up beside my right foot while pulling myself back up to the squatting position. I finish by coming back up to standing on just the two glasses.
I cannot stress enough the importance of the proper glasses, dance surface, and correct costuming for performing the glass-dance. This is a case where size really does matter! A thick, sturdy glass is essential to hold your weight. Keep in mind that glasses are designed for drinking, not for dancing, or supporting a great amount of pressure. Stemmed wine/beer goblets seem to work the best. (Bev Mo! currently carries them.)
A slick, hard solid surface is necessary for mobility. My first dance platform was a plexiglas chair-mat on a wooden pallet. When I turned, the glasses sunk into the space between the wooden slats causing the glasses to fall over from beneath my feet. (I landed on my rear in the “Frog" pose; it was a vision!) A friend built a wooden dance board for me that I sprayed with furniture polish and wiped dry before each performance. This kept the board as slick and smooth as possible so the glasses would move without sticking.
Long, flowing skirts will get in the way when reaching down to remove a glass and slide it behind you. If you slide over your costume, you will wipe out! Pants are the best way to go. I wear harem-pants and a hip scarf or harem-pants with a panel skirt that I can tuck up into the belt.
Your Physical Condition:
Having strong ankles, good posture and a fine sense of balance are also important considerations before attempting to learn this dance. (Your weight may also upset your balance.)
After performing every Saturday and Sunday three times a day for six weeks in the Maryland Renaissance Fair, my feet were in a great deal of pain. I went to a podiatrist who happened to be the doctor for the National Ballet Company. He informed me that I had pulled the muscles in both my feet from balancing on the balls of my feet. He said the balls of our feet are not designed to hold our weight; that is why ballerinas dance on pointe.
Glass-dancing is thrilling and definitely a crowd-pleaser. Be creative, be careful, plan ahead, and enjoy your specialty!
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