It's Turkey Lurkey Time! Donna McKechnie Shares the Story Behind the Dance

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28 Nov 2013

"And in 24 hours, Michael and Bob Avian went back to his hotel room, and on a skinny mirror on the back of a closet door proceeded to start the number, like the girly girls we became. And it became a dance number. That's what he saw."

McKechnie said she has "Turkey Lurkey Time" to thank for remaining in the cast of Promises, Promises.

"Lucky for me that we had worked together on (the TV variety show) 'Hullaballoo' so [Bennett] knew I was a dancer so he said, 'You can stay in the show," she added. "I had this little scene and he said, 'Okay, we'll connect the dots that way.' And so it became Baayork [Lee] and Margo [Sappington] and me.

"I was very grateful because I could have been out of the show, and that was an important show for me, too. And then as soon dancers were on the desk instead of these secretaries, then it stopped the show every night after that."

She further clarified the significance of acting to dance, praising Bennett and Bob Fosse for encouraging actors to "take the ball and run with it," a technique she now utilizes while teaching. 

"I have my own style — it's all acting based. But there are actual steps. And what's fun now, all these years later, I just taught it to Jessica Lee Goldwyn for 21st Century Dance Machine... We're doing all these great chorographers, like Balanchine, Robbins, Gower Champion... theatre dance. You're getting the language of these great choreographers, and their great knowledge of structure, their vocabulary. And a lot of the dancers today don't have access to it, and it only makes you a better dancer."

Performing "Turkey Lurkey Time" requires the actors to loosen up a bit, McKechnie said, in order to portray the festive, boozy atmosphere of the office party.

"I had to focus everybody because they're so good and they were doing everything religiously and with great discipline. It was very good, but it was very stiff," she remembered. "I said, 'You know what? It's a party and you're a little drunk, so do it at like half-mast, not so full force... You have these very strong dancers who will do it full-out from the top, without connecting emotionally, and they have to find their own personalization. Part of training is to be like an acting coach too, you know, how much do you use your body? When you are a little tipsy, it's going to change everything. You're looser, your personality comes out in a different way. These three women are very different, and they each pick somebody out and are flirting with them, have a whole story about them. They have relationships in the office. All of that is incorporated in that performance. That's all Michael Bennett."

I shared with her my awe at her athleticism in "Turkey Lurkey Time," which she described as like running a mile, adding, "When we were watching the kids at 21st Century Dance Machine, I said to Baayork, 'Isn't it great? Isn't it great to watch it and not do it?'"

One of the memorable parts of "Turkey Lurkey Time," which everyone who's seen it talks about, is McKechnie's famous double head-pop in the number. When I asked her whether she or Bennett came up with it, she said it was probably her, adding, "I have the oldest whiplash in the business. I just move like that."

And she added, "Thank God for YouTube. Every Thanksgiving, I'm bombarded with 'Turkey Lurkey Time.'"

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