Britney Spears has been one of the most endearing and debated artists in the history of pop music. 2021 was a banner year for discourse on the pop princess: the Free Britney movement gained massive momentum as her father’s long-standing conservatorship over her affairs was finally dissolved. There were three documentaries about Spears in 2021 alone.

Here in Charleston, the star is the subject for the first big dance production of 2022 as Dance Lab presents Be Free: A Celebration of the Sounds and Freedom of Britney Spears. The one-night-only show takes the stage at Charleston Music Hall on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m., and promises to be a jam-packed tribute to one of pop culture’s most enduring icons.

Jenny Broe Quinn has been planning Dance Lab’s Britney Spears tribute since before the pandemic.

“Every dancer wants to dance Britney Spears,” says Jenny Broe Quinn, owner of Dance Lab. “It is our favorite. Every time we play a song in the studio it’s like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Britney Spears!’ You just feel sexy, you feel cool, you love it. It brings back memories of childhood and teenagehood. Every dancer feels like a queen or king dancing to her voice.”

Originally, Dance Lab had a show prepared before the pandemic for a combo Britney Spears-Justin Timberlake show. The show was postponed due to the shutdown three weeks from curtain, but continued to linger in the studio’s plans. It was inevitable that it would come back.

About half the show returns from that pre-pandemic showcase, with the rest being new song choices. Half the cast returns as well, as dancers have changed or moved since early 2020. Dancers had four weeks of intense rehearsals to put together the show, a fast turnaround for Dance Lab, where shows are usually given two months of prep. 

There are 65 dancers in the show, ages 18-60, all members of The Bad Girls Club + The Guys, the studio’s adult dance company. Some just started dancing months ago, others have been dancing for decades — Dance Lab prides itself on the diversity of its dancers.

Be Free also represents a return to full staging for Dance Lab. During the almost two years out of the venue, Dance Lab has created its own intimate performance space at its studio. But its dancers are ready to return to the big stage.

“These dancers are so hungry to perform,” said Quinn. The dancers, like much of the performing arts community in Charleston, return to the stage amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases and varying health and safety protocols. “We’re trying to stay really safe. So the Music Hall felt like the best fit for us because they’re doing such a good job of handling it all.”

Sara Coy, who has been with Dance Lab since 2018 and is a member of the Bad Girls Club, is super excited about the show and the pieces she’s dancing in. Coy is featured in five pieces of Be Free, including “Boys,” a number that takes Coy back to her musical theater days.  

“As a performer, Britney is very unique and has that rare compelling quality that makes her very accessible to the audience,” said Coy. “You can be a fan of almost any other genre, and there will be a song or aspect to Britney that will appeal, often on a visceral level.” 

Fans of Britney Spears are in for a night of great dancing set to some of the artist’s best songs. There’s an exciting opening number with some potentially awesome surprises that cycles through some of the pop star’s iconic songs. Audiences can expect to see hits including, “Baby…One More Time,” “Toxic” and “Circus.” A contemporary piece called “Breathe On Me” brings a beautiful sensuality while slowing down the proceedings. What’s On Tap, a tap dancing crew, will perform a number. Another act features Matrix-themed costumes, breaking up the thematic elements of the production.

Dance Lab is also encouraging audiences to get involved in the Britney love affair. They are holding a costume contest, inviting audience members to come dressed in their best Spears-themed outfits. The winner of the costume contest will receive a voucher for unlimited Dance Lab classes for six months, a value of $1,200.

“We all look up to Britney Spears as an artist,” said Quinn about the importance of a show like this. “She has shaped so many dancers through song, dance, her videos, costuming: there’s so much to be given to her. So we want to celebrate her in a major way.”

Quinn is confident that there’s something for fans and casual attendees alike. “Even if you don’t like Britney Spears or people don’t enjoy her music, I think watching what we create, pieces of artwork to her songs, will give people a new appreciation to enjoy the visuals.”

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