Dancing for Britney
In the commercial world, few gigs compare to dancing for pop icon Britney Spears. And Spears’ latest project is a dancer’s dream: a long-term show at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Choreographed by Ashley Evans and Antony Ginandjar of The Squared Division, “Britney: Piece of Me” is a full-length revue of Spears’ greatest hits and new works. Dancer Sarah Mitchell has performed in “Piece of Me” since the show opened last year. After a three-month break, Mitchell—who’s also appeared in the film Burlesque and danced with artists including Katy Perry and 50 Cent—is back in Vegas. She documented her preparation for another stretch of Britney performances for DS.
First Day Back!
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Today I left my permanent home in L.A. to return to Las Vegas, where I rent an apartment with two other “Piece of Me” dancers, Liana Blackburn and Pam Chu. Liana and I both perform in a cabaret/burlesque show called “Harlow Gold” when we’re in L.A., and Pam is one of Liana’s best friends.
“Piece of Me” runs differently from other shows. We’re rarely in Vegas for more than 30 days at a time, and we usually get a few weeks off between runs. Most people tend to stay at Planet Hollywood. But the three of us like cooking for ourselves, which also helps us eat healthier, so we opted to rent a furnished apartment when we’re in town. And I have to say—it’s very cute!
The cast in rehearsal (courtesy Sarah Mitchell)
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
This afternoon we all got to the Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood at 2 pm for rehearsal. It was so great to see everyone in the cast—it feels like it’s been forever! When we were first learning the show last year, we rehearsed about 60 hours a week for two months straight. After a process like that, you practically become a family. This time around, rehearsals won’t be quite as intense—but the show opens on Friday and there’s a lot of work to do.
Rehearsal started with a long, much-needed warm-up, led by dance captain Chase Benz. Then, we went over every number in the show that uses props, including masks, fire rings, chairs—even life-sized hamster wheels. We had to remember our spikes on the floor and how everything flows together. The show’s choreography is very intense. It’s seven acts of hard-hitting jazz and hip hop, and there are barely any moments of downtime.
We also practiced a section of the show that was recently tweaked: 32 counts were added to both “Oops!…I Did it Again” and “…Baby One More Time.” Even small changes to the choreography end up being pretty insane. It can take a long time to perfect.
After a full day, I got home at 10 pm. Liana, Pam and I cooked dinner—wraps with sautéed veggies, chicken, hummus and avocado. I’m allergic to wheat, gluten and soy, so we always prepare meals that are gluten-, corn-, soy-, dairy- and sugar-free. (My roommates are also dairy-intolerant.) It may sound cringe-worthy, but we’ve found ways to make it delicious. My new favorite is cooking with coconut oil—it adds so much flavor!
Getting ready in the dressing room (courtesy Sarah Mitchell)
Thursday, August 14, 2014
We were all feeling last night’s late-night rehearsal this morning. Getting back into this schedule takes some adjusting. When we perform, showtime isn’t until 9 pm, and by the time we get home, finish eating dinner and get to sleep it’s about 2 am. This show is one of the most physically demanding jobs I’ve ever had, and the rehearsal process is like a marathon. It’s crucial to stay in shape while on break—I jump-rope, practice Pilates, take dance classes and keep up my performance stamina by dancing in “Harlow Gold.”
Britney joined us in rehearsal today, and she looks amazing! After a 30-minute warm-up onstage, we walked through the show and then did a full-out run. Before heading home, we visited the wardrobe department to try on our costumes in case any alterations were needed.
Friday, August 15, 2014
It’s show day! Our call time this evening was 7 pm. Liana, Pam and I carpooled and got to the theater about 90 minutes early to work out and warm up. We love using the Nike Training Club app. We upload a playlist, and it tells us which exercises to do, depending on the type of workout we select.
Then it was time for hair and makeup. Ever since I started competing as a young dancer, this part of preshow prep has been my favorite. The Axis Theater has beautiful dressing rooms, and we get our own hair and makeup stations. With 10 minutes to go, I packed my touch-up bag and headed to my quick-change station on stage left. Each night, right before curtain, Britney and the dancers come together for a prayer circle. No matter what you believe, it’s a moment for us all to grab hands and remember what brought us here in the first place.
Mitchell (second from left) in the quick-change area backstage with “Piece of Me” dancers, including Pam Chu (third from left) and Liana Blackburn (far right) (photo courtesy Sarah Mitchell)
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Before tonight’s show we were invited to Britney’s dressing room. Today was another dancer’s birthday—Nikky Paramo turned 21—and Britney got a cake for her. It was very sweet.
Performing tonight felt much better than yesterday. The first show always feels a little foreign to me. I don’t know why, but after a long break, my body wants to reverse all the moves, so I really have to concentrate. But tonight I felt more grounded, and I could
really enjoy dancing.
Luckily tomorrow is Sunday, our first day off. I’m planning on not doing anything—which I think is well deserved! After years of performing, I’ve realized just how far rest and relaxation can go. But first, we’re all headed out on the town to celebrate Nikky’s birthday. I can’t think of a more wonderful way to celebrate our first week back together.