On the spectrum between parlor game entertainment and nuanced improvised scene, Diamond Dance surely sits squarely in the former category. While my own aesthetic and instincts would tend to steer me away from such sports, it undeniably offers a palpable boost of energy in a short-form evening, especially if your company can tend towards a less physically impressive style of performance. This whimsical enterprise also provides a beautiful demonstration of the power and joy of Parallel Actions when they are assumed with absolute cheerfulness and attack.
This game benefits greatly from the addition of an audience volunteer, although you’ll want to be very upfront in the ask that they’ll be expected to dance for the duration of the scene. Four players (including the volunteer) form a diamond with the player at the downstage apex serving as the games’ first “lead.” The booth provides fittingly uptempo dance music to inspire the movement, with the lead player creating original dance moves that those behind them must mirror to the best of their ability. At a caller’s discretion the diamond rotates around in the specified clockwise or counterclockwise direction.(When we play this in Gorilla Theatre this would be the director, but it could also be the emcee or a member of another team.) This places a new player into the downstage apex and they, subsequently, become the new dance lead, providing joyful movements for their fellow players to mimic. The Diamond Dance continues through several leadership changes until it culminates on a suitably impressive finesse (or the players collapse to the stage in exhaustion!)
Player A, once the game has been announced, addresses the audience:
Player A: “Okay, for this next game we’re going to need an audience volunteer who likes to dance and doesn’t mind joining us up on the stage…”
After a willing and suitable volunteer has been selected (Player B), they join members of the team (C, D and E) in a rear position as the foursome stands in a diamond shape. Player A signals the booth to start the music and serves as the facilitator. They kneel down in front of the stage in full view of the improvisers.
As the music starts, Player C, who has taken the downstage position, begins to dance while their teammates and the volunteer replicate their moves as best they can. After about fifteen to twenty seconds Player A interjects…
Player A: (making a clear gesture to their left) “And switch…”
The onstage players rotate in a clockwise direction as the music changes from the booth and Player D now leads the dance…
This game is undeniably a charm offensive and thrives or withers based on the commitment and playfulness of the participants. While it is highly unlikely that anything resembling a story will emerge, the game should still have an arc by pacing the switches carefully and building to a finessed climax.
Traps and Tips
1.) For the caller. First and foremost, keep your players and volunteer safe. I’d advise against slating this game if you’re not confident that the team enjoys the physical challenge and that members are free from any injuries or limitations that might make it a less than pleasurable experience for them and, by extension, the paying audience. Pace the rotations to heighten the arc and according to player need – if someone is clearly struggling, don’t leave them in the hot seat too long, or if someone has a more limited dance vocabulary feature them more as the leader earlier in the piece. It’s generally a wise strategy to start with the audience member in the rear upstage position so that they’ll have a few rotations before they’re asked to lead the dance. This gives them some time to get comfortable with the general staging and conceit, and build up a little confidence as well. Furthermore, if you’re able to switch the soundtrack between each dancer (which adds a lot to the game) make sure you’re clearly communicating with the audio technician so they have clear cues. Aim to signal these changes where it makes sense in the music too – the end of verse, chorus or a hook. (While you could use live musicians the use of instantly familiar songs going full throttle adds a lot of performance value.)
2.) For the dancers. Commit, commit, and then commit a little more. Know your limits, but don’t undersell your mirroring. Perform the routines to the best of your ability and with a air of playfulness (and perhaps humility if you have limited skill.) If you are an able mover or dancer, by all means bring this expertise to the game, but also be mindful that you might be playing with folks less skilled than yourself, so it might not be the most kind gesture to make your first dance salvo as the leader the most complex routine in your repertoire. (If you’re playing with an audience member it is particularly important to pace your contributions as it’s poor form to bring them to the stage and then not set them up for success.) There is an undeniable skill in telescoping your choices so that others have a fair shot at replicating your moves along with the music. As the game begins, a little repetition and predictability can go a long way so that the team looks in sync, even if this quickly dissolves! On a simple level, just avoid giving up at all costs: if the audience senses you’re not having fun, then they’ll quickly question why they’re being asked to watch the dance in the first place.
3.) For the booth. Depending on your technical setup, this game might require a little extra preparation and the gathering of a good selection of suitable tracks that you can easily move between at the caller’s discretion. It can prove helpful to have a few solid standards in your pocket – something that is very much of the musical moment or instantly recognizable – so that you have an escape cord if the game needs a merciful out. As best as your technical juggling act affords, keep an eye on the dancers as you may be able to set them up for success: if someone is less adept, pitching them a slower or more kitsch number will likely raise their spirits. As noted above, you’ll also want to have a strong line of sight with the caller so that you can preempt the song changes as lags here can quickly drain the energy from the room.
4.) For the volunteer. I’ve seen and played this game without a volunteer and it just doesn’t land as well as there’s something about the audience seeing one of their own on the stage that just adds immediate sympathy and appeal. It’s really important to set the volunteer up for joy; ideally, in fact, I’d say that you really want to set them up as the star of the whole endeavor. If they’re bringing it to the game, culminating with the volunteer as the final leader will almost always bring the house down, especially if they are outmaneuvering the rest of the dance team. If they’re struggling a little or perhaps breaking under the pressure, get them into and then out of the hot seat kindly, typically rotating after they’ve landed something of note. Fellow dancers can also do a lot to make the volunteer look good by pitching to their strengths and adjusting their own choreography accordingly. Finally, make sure the volunteer is suitably acknowledged and applauded at the end of the game… and perhaps offered a bottled water!
As I continue to age I find myself enjoying watching this game more than participating in it, but its raw playfulness viscerally reminds me of the gift of playing as a team dedicated to lifting each other up. Loosened from this particular frame, the diamond mirroring device can also add a little pizazz into any spontaneous musical dance numbers that might frequent your other short- or long-form scenic work. In this iteration you don’t need to rotate and can just place a more fearless or adept player as the downstage lead, but it unquestionably does add to the fun and finesse to cycle through various teammates.
Connected Concept: Parallel Action