FAIR Week #1

Tomorrow I will begin my second of three weeks teaching for Summer FAIR.  I teach four 50-minute classes each day; 1st through 4th grade.  This is my first summer teaching for FAIR, and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Let’s just say I can’t quite teach movement and dance like I’d want… It’s a lot of disciplining and playing games that roughly have something to do with movement.  But I think it’s getting better.

For the most part, I’ve been teaching without using music because the children don’t understand the traditional structure of a dance class, and it makes the class less hectic if there is less sound in the room.  However, I observed that some kids missed the music and I remembered that for some people, music is a helpful instigator for movement improvisation.  What is the age old connection between rhythmic sound and rhythmic movement?  Is non-rhythmic movement still dancing?  I’m curious about aspects of timing, rhythm and pause within the arts.  (I’m very curious about slow.)  Does rhythm subtly indicate intentionality?  Or does it remove some element of intentionality if a dancer follows the rhythms of music exactly?  Or is the music a framework to work inside and rebel against when necessary for good composition?  Those are just some things I’m thinking about.

Exercises that have worked over the past week at engaging the kids include “freeze dance” (which is exactly what it sounds like – a version of magic statues), partner tag, counting games, and “relay.”  Relay has become my word for “across the floor,” as it would be called in a more traditional class.  By calling it a relay I have gotten the kids to go across the floor with a particular step, return, and pass of the turn to their classmates, who are sometimes waiting in line when they get back.  I also created a movement scavenger hunt, with written clues, designed to get the kids to generate their own movement.  It was mostly successful, but still generated a lot more gestures and “acting out” than I would have liked.  I have found that one of my biggest challenges has been to get the kids to appreciate the movement just for what it is, without attaching meaning and names to the movement.  The 4th graders in particular are fond of telling me what their movements are before they show them.  I have to keep saying that we create movement by doing rather than talking, and that I don’t want the movements to have names, per se.

I am interested in getting to a way of moving that is beyond acting and miming so that as a class we can develop greater movement specificity and movement possibility.  Specificity includes attention to rhythm, inner and outer space, relations with other people in space, shape and size and momentum of movement and so on.  I want the kids to delve into movement as more than a simple background for a caption, a sound, or a name.

Two sites that have been helpful for generating and modifying games have been:


Revitalize Choreography By Playing Games With Your Dancers

My plan for the upcoming week is to use the Jacob’s Pillow dance archive to plan each day’s lesson around a video from dance history.  Each video is short, not longer than 2 minutes.  Hopefully we will have a short discussion about the video, then learn some movement or dance vocabulary/ skills based on the specific performance.  For the second half of the class I will lead movement games, and then at the very end of the period we will review whom we studied.  Hopefully, with the promise of games at the end of class, we can get through some real material.  On the list for the kids are: Garth Fagan, Wendy Whelan, Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak, Compangie Käfig, Kyle Abraham, 3e Étage, Brian Brooks Moving Company, and Monica Bill Barnes.  There are so many great videos in the Jacob’s Pillow archive that it was really hard to choose, and hopefully we’ll have some time to talk more generally about dance history as well.  I would love to talk about William Forsythe and Misty Copeland and so on and so on with these kids as well.

That’s all for now! Here’s to hoping I can get the kids actually invested in movement.

I’d rather do this for a living than pull weeds

I had my first three rehearsals for a dance project I am involved in in my hometown this past week and I am very sore!  But also happy, because I know that I will learn a lot.

The project is an internship type position for five dancers who will be learning and creating movement for Jenny Davies, dance professor at Washington and Lee University (Lexington, VA) to use in the fall with her company, Progeny Dance, and in any other projects.  I’m excited mostly because this is real dancing in my hometown, where I want to be anyway, and also because I get to learn from the other dancers in the project – for us to learn from each other.  Not unlike the group of dancers I entered when I got to Connecticut College, I believe that the dancers in this project all dance distinctly from one another.  We come from different movement backgrounds, different studios, different techniques… and that is wonderful.

Emma (another dancer in the project) and I are learning a duet that was originally set on a man and a woman; we are two women.  The first correction we heard after working on learning the duet from the video for about a half an hour was a correction on how to share weight and give weight during the lifts in this duet.  And it struck me at the time that if you had asked me what our first correction would be, I probably would have said, how we are giving weight during the lifts.  In dance, most of the time you have to give more weight for something to be easier.

I think that when dancing with anyone for the first time (as Emma and I were) giving weight is one of the hardest things to do quickly, which is natural.  If you are giving all your weight, you are going to fall faster and farther if your partner accidentally lets go of you.  You don’t know or trust this person yet with your body; it’s totally natural that you would hold some of your weight back.  And yet that is the thing most likely to make your dancing clunky and difficult.

And so I’m thinking of auditions, and how we are sometimes asked to learn short partnering sequences or lifts in an audition and the whole room scans around, looking for a “good” partner – someone that you somewhat know, or someone that you’ve seen do contact before.  But maybe what I’ll try, the next time I find myself in that position in an audition or in a new rehearsal environment, is to give it all, even knowing that I’m probably going to fall.  It’s hard to explain in words exactly what is needed to make a lift work, but by just giving and taking more from the start I imagine that bodies will start learning and talking without so much need for words.

One more thought on weight.. This past semester in the intermediate experimental class (improvisation class), we had a guest teacher, Bryan Strimpel.  His class made me think about pressure within the point of contact between two bodies.  When does touch become push? There are so many variabilities in pressure from fingers barely touching to hands pushing strongly against each other, and I’m curious about how we think about “sharing weight” in relation to touch, push, and pressure.  If I hold my fingers a centimeter away from each other I can feel the energy running between them (my brainwaves imagining them touching, or something like that) and I can feel it intensify as I slowly bring my fingertips together and push to the point of too much – of pain.  I am interested in the specificity within these gradations, and what it can mean for choreography, play, and learning.

It’s been a while since I’ve been dancing full out, and these rehearsals have left me sore!  However, walking out of the studio into the Virginia summer heat and humidity… I was reminded that yes, I would much rather get paid to do dance, any dance, than pull weeds.   

“Benefits from complexity”// talking about bad art on the subway

A week ago I performed at a Movement Research work in progress showing with my friend Mindy.  Mindy had signed up ages ago, knowing that when the time came she would want to show work.  I traveled up from Virginia to stay with her and we made a little something the day before the showing.  We talked about the piece in a bookstore near Prince St, and on the subway; we rehearsed in the park, during a few stolen minutes of time at her old dance studio, and on the roof.

The showing had a talkback afterwards, led by Alex Escalante, which I thought was the most productive part of the evening.  Talking about work with your audience is important.  Not necessarily answering all their questions, or heeding everything they have to day, but engaging each other in a dialogue.

Taking notes during the talkback I asked myself, ‘Why do I think a one to one relationship between elements in a piece is less interesting than a juxtaposed or abstract relationship between elements?’  I’ve realized by viewing dance over the years and hearing audience members speak, that a lot of the time a one to one relationship between at least two elements helps an audience member feel that they “get the piece” and therefore enjoy it more.  But for me, I’m often more bored with that relationship.  What I mean when I say a ‘one to one’ relationship is, for example, when the piece is centered around the concept of “struggle” and the movements are a physical struggle and the music portrays the story of a struggle or is rhythmically harsh or otherwise evokes struggle, and the facial expressions are pained … and so on.  I suppose I am less interested when there is less complexity to weed through as a viewer, and this is one reason that I prefer work that is more abstract and juxtaposed.  A few months ago I gave my friend Meg feedback on a piece she was working on, and the most pressing thing I could think of to say about her piece was the phrase, “benefits from complexity.”  It seemed to me that her piece had a lot going on, but for the piece that it was, it benefitted from its complexity.  And being a piece about the natural world around us, I saw that as fitting.  The natural world certainly benefits from complexity.  That’s what keeps life healthy and diverse.  And so I suppose that when I watch dance I am looking for work that benefits from its own complexity, however that may present itself.  Which perhaps is just another way of saying I like developed work.  But perhaps it is a more specific way of asking for this.  And I still love that phrase:  benefits from complexity.

On the subway ride home from the showing, Mindy and Peter and I had an interesting conversation about “bad art.”  What causes me to label something “bad” art? Surely bad art is a stepping stone to good art, and therefore valid and important? Or at least it is important to distinguish bad from good, so that we can have categories at all? But what if there is no bad category? What if there is only personal and societal aesthetics, and that what is “bad” is simply an aesthetic that those with power dislike?  I’m not sure how I feel about labeling something bad art, although I do think I am very internally judgmental when I watch dance.

But what about when I can tell I don’t necessarily dislike the aesthetic, but that I feel a revulsion to what is happening onstage?  By this I mean a magnetic pull to go away from what is happening onstage, a very visceral sensation that often causes me to close my eyes while watching dance. Is this magnetic revulsion a borrowed sense of embarrassment for the performers that I think are enacting “bad” work?  I don’t think so.  I think it is more than that.  I think that I feel this revulsion and desire to go in the opposite direction when the work is inauthentic or undeveloped… however I find it difficult to use ‘authentic’ or ‘inauthentic’ as adjectives about anything other than something I was a part of creating.  And so what am I feeling when I feel the need to look away from art, and how is that different from an accepted set of aesthetics, which are (often? always?) societally influenced (e.g. ballet is beautiful because it is upright and away from ‘earth,’ which signifies dirty…more on this in a different post, maybe)?

When Mindy, Peter and I were discussing this our discussion centered around a piece we had just seen that many audience members really loved, were impressed by, and thought was very connected and authentic.  Mindy thought it was boring, and Peter and I both expressed the desire to look away, and to not partake.

I am finding that for once in my life I might be more eloquent speaking rather than writing.  Who would have thought writing about dance conceptually would be so hard?  And that I would prefer to do this kind of thinking with a friend, out loud?

Mindy and I performing at Eden's Expressway
Mindy Toro and I performing at Eden’s Expressway
Mindy and I performing at Eden's Expressway
Mindy and I performing at Eden’s Expressway

Starting a blog

After working today to get this website up to date, and reading my friend and fellow dancer, Stephanie Reeve’s blog, I decided that maybe it would help me work through my thoughts about dance to document my experiences and ideas as they happen, in a real blog, instead of just after the fact. I’ve never kept a blog before, only journals and sketchbooks and diaries, so this will be interesting.

I will be experiencing three different projects this summer that I will try to document here: working as an intern for Jenny Davies’ Progeny Dance at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA; teaching movement and dance at Fine Arts in Rockbridge in Lexington, VA; and attending the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation at Velocity Dance Center in Seattle, WA.  I might go back and talk about performing last week at Movement Research’s open showings at Eden’s Expressway with Mindy Toro too!

And I’m curious to see if this helps me organize my thoughts and write strategically.