On cue, 180 arms go up. One hundred and eighty of us pivot, dip, straighten and march forward.
We're following in the steps of Sylvain Émard, a Montreal choreographer who has spent almost a decade training amateur dancers to perform in large groups in cities around the world.
Now, he's facing his biggest challenge yet — getting 375 people, including teens from three local high schools, to perform a 30-minute show at Montreal's Place des Festivals on Sept. 15, 16 and 17.
The plan is for us to fill the entire space in rows, dancing a series of pieces from four to six minutes each in styles ranging from funky, to, well, rather sexy.
To say we are of varying ability is putting it mildly, and somehow, Sylvain has to get us all dancing his vision and in unison with only a few months of rehearsals under our belts.
The story of how we got here, rehearsing in groups of 180 in a church basement painted in mismatching shades of green begins in another church basement in East End Montreal. It's where a young Sylvain took country and western line dance lessons, and where he first learned to love dance.
A career as a respected contemporary dancer and choreographer followed, but it wasn't until 2009 when he went back to his roots and created his first Continental with 65 Montrealers that he began to reach a wider audience.
I saw that first show, it was on a side street off St-Denis Street during the Festival TransAmériques. It was a miserably cold and rainy night, and yet an infectious joy shone through.
A year later, he came back and performed in a bigger outdoor space, this time with more than 100 dancers. It rained again, but again, no one seemed to mind.
When the email came the following year asking for help and putting the call out to 200 dancers, I decided it was time to join in. It was a time in my life when joy was in short supply, when loved ones were dying, and I was in desperate need of distraction.
I found it, and much more. There's companionship, there's losing yourself in movement, and the simple act of trying to do your individual best within a group of others trying to do the same thing.
It has been six years since Sylvain staged a free, large-scale Continental in Montreal. And the stakes are high for this one — it is the aptly-named Super Méga Continental and it is part of Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations.
Next month we will be dancing four free shows with catchy music, lights, fountains, and audiences that could number in the thousands. Between now and then, there will be a steep learning curve with lots of rehearsals, impromptu practices, and stage fright.
This is the first of Anna Asimakopulos's chronicles of the path to opening night on Friday, Sept. 15. She will be sharing her story and those of fellow dancers.
The performances of Super Méga Continental will be Sept. 15, 16, and 17 at Place des Festivals.