Footloose (And Fancy Free)

The word seems to have a nautical beginning as the following shows.

Footloose is, “Another case of human conduct being likened to the animations of a sail. In most sailing vessels the lower edge of the mainsail, known as the foot, was lashed to a boom to keep it stretched and properly shaped. However, there were some exceptions, notably the London River barges. These did not have a boom and the sail was allowed to hang loose along the foot. Loose-footed sails, as they came to be called, had a mind of their own and were more difficult to control. It is from this that the meaning footloose and fancy free is believed to have come.” From “Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions” by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (Sheridan House, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1995. First published in Great Britain, 1983).

A second source has the same origin, “A sail on which the restraining ropes at the base (foot) have been slackened off” and says the phrase “footloose and fancy free” means “Unattached romantically; ‘young, free and single’.” “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).

Free to do as one pleases; having no attachments is another dictionary definition.

And there you have it; the beginnings of the musical put on by the Londonderry High School Drama club last week. The original “Footloose” starred Kevin Bacon who is a tough “Ren” to follow but Brandon Feliciano took the role and ran with it. Everyone from the main characters to the bit players, stage crew etc., and orchestra were essential to the success of the show. It was a great performance from start to finish; well-choreographed down to split-second timing.

Image courtesy of The Cardwell Family

The Derry Opera House in the Adam’s Memorial building came to life during Saturday afternoon’s performance (February 16). Every member knew exactly where they needed to be at any given time during the 2 1/2 hour show. There were many jubilant moments where legs and arms were flying in every direction. The dancing, the voices and the music was first class as every square inch of the building came alive with a current of theatrical spark.

The theme of the musical speaks volumes about choices and consequences. It makes one think of society, the status quo and the ‘power of one’ to elicit positive change.

But the topic I wanted to key in on and write about is more than the obvious performance of each individual. It is the collective group as a whole. Theater arts provide more than the culmination of hours of rehearsal through to the end product which is  day of performance. It begins with the script. A director is put in charge of the overall production which is then broken down into all the different groups within the musical. Everyone has a role which ultimately brings the entire performance into alignment.

For without the proper lighting happening right on cue, scenery put into place for the next act or a the accompanying music ensemble playing at just the right moment, the end result would have been a disaster. Long before the final production comes the many hours of working on the set designs, figuring the sound, programs, publicity and concessions. The dancers work on their choreography, the actors rehearse their lines complete with song and dance and the orchestra members play until they know the music in their sleep. The stage crew must choreograph their moves as well as each set change requires perfect timing. When the curtain opens for the first performance everyone hopes to ‘break a leg’. The following is an added FYI.

‘Break a leg’ is an archaic term with multiple meanings. Some (not all) of the possible variations are listed below.

  • Put on a performance good enough that you will have to bend your knee in a bow or curtsey to acknowledge the applause.
  • Impress the audience so much that you will need to bend down to pick up the coins they throw onto the stage.
  • Pass out onto the stage to receive a curtain call (the side curtains on a stage are known as legs).
  • Go on stage and have your ‘big break’.
  • Evoke the powers of the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt, who had one leg.
  • A reference to John Wilkes Booth, who broke his leg when jumping on stage, attempting to flee after shooting President Lincoln.

The benefits of the arts are priceless. For with it comes success in school, work and life. To further your understanding of the bigger picture prepare to be enlightened in reading “Critical Evidence: How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement” written by Sandra S. Ruppert  The information is sponsored by NASAA, which is the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. NASAA’s mission is to promote and advance a meaningful role for the arts in the lives of individuals, families and communities throughout the United States.

Debbie Curtin writes stories about people, places, events and other topics of interest that engage the reader. As a member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Debbie keeps ‘in the game’ with other like minded people. She has been an artist and creative person all her life and uses the unlimited sources of inspiration that abound everywhere in her writing as another art form.


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