David Howard

When I was living in NYC, David Howard’s ballet class saved my soul. In a city where most dance classes felt like an audition, taught by people who didn’t really understand how to warm up a body or just really loved deep plié in second position, with the body folded over- David Howard’s ballet class kept me grounded.  Well, David Howard’s, Alexandra Beller’s, and a few others.

These were the classes that reminded me of who I was, why I love dance, and that I didn’t have to buy into the hype that can come with trying to “make it” as a dancer.

I was not a rich dancer (oxymoron, I know) and had to be decisive with my time and my money- whose class I could take, why, and how it fit into my life. It was challenging. I was often torn between those with working choreographers who often cast their next show from their classes and so the mentality was that you had to be a regular, and those that fed me in movement and artistry where I wanted to be a regular.

Most of the time, I didn’t have enough money to be a regular but I had even less interest in the former. Yet, I felt pressured. I wanted a job but I hated thinking that I could out teach them, hated watching the dancers in class with a myriad of technical issues not even being acknowledged but being led on, and hated deep plié in second position with the body folded over.

I discovered, however, that David Howard was teaching a mid-day class at Broadway Dance Center. I had been introduced to him as an undergrad and knew this would be well worth my money and my time. It was a basic level class, maybe intermediate or something, that I at first felt ashamed to take given that I had come to believe I was an advanced dancer, needing an advanced class and needing to compete with other advanced dancers (not so much in ballet, for my modern/jazz body and movement ethic, but still the mentality persisted). Then I took the class.

It was filled with “advanced” dancers not necessarily in terms of their technical ability but their commitment, their age (in dance years), and the eloquence in their bodies. Many, I think, had been amateurs that had been dancing for years and acquired beauty in the process. Others were former professional dancers, looking for a place to maintain their craft for themselves. I was the youngest, at 23 or 24. I loved it.

I ended up rearranging my work schedule, splitting my shift in retail merchandising, so that I could take this class. It couldn’t happen all the time, but I kept up with his guest teaching schedule as best I could and would make the arrangements when he was in town. It complicated my life but it was worth it. Necessary, even.

I observed how David Howard spoke to these dancers. How he challenged their bodies but nurtured them, too. How spirits lifted, legs lifted, and it was all done safely in spirit as well as physicality. Soon, I didn’t feel like an outsider observing through motion but an insider, accepted by the group. I felt them take care of me. It was a community and it was powerful.

As a dance educator, I have been reflecting on how this experience has shaped much of my current philosophy and practice. I learned a lot in NYC, often by watching hours and hours of classes at BDC, Steps, and DanceSpace (now DNA) from doorways and through windows, when I couldn’t afford to take class. It was a profound education.

I may not be a ballerina but I am so proud of how David Howard has inspired and informed my work- building a community, taking care of people, and finding joy in movement.  I will always be thankful.

 

Mind the Gap(s)

Over the last few years I have realized that my role in dance is that of a mediator. This summer, however, I am realizing just how many realms in which this is true. In this, though, I am also more aware of my own biases and working on letting some of those go.

Here is a sample:

Academic – Studio Dance There seems to be a natural rift between those that have trained within the concert dance philosophy and those those training in the studio dance philosophy. Even as I type that I realize another- those that have trained and those currently training and perhaps that is part of the friction in academic and studio dance relationships. The process of evolution is different within those two worlds.

As I see it right now, dance academics have evolved away from their commercial or recreational dance roots and have forgotten how -or forgotten their interest- in connecting with the tan-tight, sequined, or booty shorted youth newly entering their space. Likewise, the evolution of the studio dancer seems to depend on the athleticism and current movement trends. It is an evolution of the body that sometimes excludes the mind and spirit other than adrenaline and satisfaction that comes with performance and all that comes with that- positive and negative.

I think some of the hesitation of getting theoretical with teen dancers has been an issue of wanting to engage through entertainment (keeping up with the Joneses) and not expecting them to be capable of thinking through big ideas.

It isn’t true.Even early elementary kids are capable if their educational guide is patient and most importantly, willing.

I think our best strategy would be to stop setting expectations and simply start from wherever we are- as people, dancers, citizens, thinkers, doers, beings.

Recently, I had the realization that most of what we view as being in poor taste is really just an inheritance of limited information. Take studio dance fashion, for instance, and the comparison to what is worn in an academic dance setting. Both are wearing “booty” shorts these days but because one might have some sequined detailing or tan tights underneath, the “evolved” feel the discomfort of the depth of conversations that have NOT been had with that student and the tendency is to joke. I am so guilty.

In reality, though, the wardrobe is just an extension of the intention of training and a reflection of the evolution to be expected. In my day, it was French-cut leotards. With a belt run under the leg holes in back and on the outside in front. Classy. But I was serious. I was committed. I evolved into a deep thinking dancer concerned about Dance as an art form, a way of being and knowing, a method to finding embodied learning and able to talk shop with the best of them.

Some of the other gaps:

Dance as Entertainment – Dance as an Intellectual Pursuit This one is particularly painful for me, I admit. I have been surprised at how often in recent years, I have had to defend why I teach dance the way I do. I have been met with great supporters but also a segment of families/students that don’t know why I “refuse” to use pop music, moves found in music videos, and so on.

Artists – Educators In some ways, this is the inspiration for my blog. This site started as a means to communicate with fellow “underdogs” and share my real world experiences as new graduates (or old) entered their own journeys. I was continually frustrated with artists not explaining their struggles experienced when they first started their professional paths.

Think about it- most biographies go from the family, upbringing, and early training of an artist- touch on their artistically formative years (beyond training)- and suddenly jump in to the history of their tours or projects. Little discussion is offered about the obstacles of becoming dance-makers and thinkers. We jump to when they were recognized as brilliant. Or so it seems to me. And the same seemed to happen when I was able to ask artists about this.

So, my mission became to chronicle one dancer’s journey- tangential and all- within and around the field of dance. Along the way, this has turned into a site that explores teaching experiences more than life experiences. Though, like everything else, those two things can’t be separated. I just choose to talk less about my children than my classroom- maintaining somewhat of a gap based on comfort level and respect for my home. 😉

There are more gaps than this but I will stop here for today.

Moral of the story: We are all just doing the best we can with what we have. My job is to meet people where they are and hope they have an interest in moving further along their path. If not, maybe we can have a good time moving.

Which gaps are you mindful of these days?