On Sept. 26 dance professor Roman Jasinski was among those crowded around the streets of Philadelphia to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. Jasinski wasn’t just preparing to see him, but to dance in front of him and over one million other people.
Jasinski and the Osage Ballet were invited to perform at the World Meeting of the Families, a Catholic gathering that happens around the world every three years. The Osage Native Americans have a close relationship with the pope and were picked to represent North America, and also dance the prayer scene from “Wahzhazhe,” which was choreographed by ORU alumna Jenna Smith.
The dancers only had seven weeks to prepare for the ballet. They came from all over, and it was crowded and busy during the few rehearsals they had. The music they danced to was difficult to keep count to because of the tribal singing. The dancers kept track through the vocalization of the singers, and the singers had to practice singing at the same tempo every time. “Wahzhazhe,” which literally translates to “Osage,” was about the history of the Osage people and the importance of prayer to “the life giver.”
As the pope came close, people started screaming. Smith got the Osage Ballet cast onto the stage and they waved to Pope Francis as he passed by. He wasn’t able to stop and watch as planned because he was running late.
“Imagine this. You’ve seen the Wizard of Oz many times before, right?” Jasinski said. “Do you remember what it’s like to see the good witch floating in on a bubble? That’s what it was like to see the pope drive down the street in his popemobile. He drove right in front of our stage, but the whole popemobile seemed to glow. It was ethereal.”
People were packed shoulder to shoulder in Logan Square, yet they bowed down on their knees in prayer. Smith and Jasinski agreed it was life-changing, and they felt the presence of God in the moment.
“We began shortly after and once people heard the first beat of the drum, people started running toward the stage to watch ‘Wahzhazhe,’” said Smith.
Smith was honored to have Jasinski, whose repertoire is extensive and impressive, dance the part of a tribal dancer. Although Jasinski had not danced on stage in over 30 years, the massive audience did not faze him.
“It was exciting. I had a tremendous time. I had the old feeling of being a professional dancer again,” said Jasinski. “I was nervous, but the nervous energy was used in a positive manner.”