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?

Renewal: Controlling the Minutiae

Each summer seems to have a theme, beyond that of our television viewing. (See For the Love of the TARDIS)

“Dr. Who Summer” continues in all gloriousness. I sobbed over David Tennant but am warming up to Matt Smith.

Past years have included “the summer of awakenings”, “the summer of reflection”. This year? The summer of renewal.

  • I am back “in” my body.
  • My body is back in contact with my mind and my spirit.
  • Some old relationships feel rekindled.
  • I am back into the guest teaching and project planning that was common for me pre-kids or at least pre- 2 kids.

I am clearer on who I am, what my strengths are, where I would like to see myself in the next 5 years and I am starting to take the steps to get there.

The last 5 years have been full of learning and loving; taking in new teaching situations, content, environment, professional expectations, and methods for delivering information. I have learned and processed a lot.

It is now time for me to push myself in sharing what I have come to know. It is time I follow through in the academic writing, and publishing, that I have put off in exchange for curriculum writing, program development, freelance writing, and choreographing you know, 20 plus dances a year for a K-8 program.

In reality, though, there have been other obstacles. I think of it is as the minutiae- these small, accumulating tasks or inconveniences that add up to block the path or tire you out with detours.

Reading Shawn Lent’s  “Am I A Dancer Who Gave Up: A Follow Up” helped me identify some of the areas of conflict I have been experiencing between the dance world and the non-dance world (I resist the urge to type “real” world there).

The Chatter
Like Shawn, I get frustrated with the dance conversation. I, too, love dance people but I have really strong feelings about needing a vision in or through dance. So many dance people I have interacted with seem to have lost theirs, if ever they had one, and I find myself having difficulty connecting with them let alone collaborating. Or maybe it isn’t the dance thing, it is the personality thing- the people that do want more from their art and those that don’t. Or worse, those that think they do and have no idea the work they produce (in their teaching or their choreography or their community relationships) really isn’t accomplishing much.

Or maybe there is more that I am not seeing and the problem lies with me. At any rate, withdrawing from some portions of the conversation doesn’t really help any one. I better get back in there.

The Current
Several years ago, again when I was teaching at a small liberal arts college in a rural town in Michigan, a guest artist asked me how I stay current. I have been thinking about this for years.

At the time, I said that I learn new things and immerse myself in new situations. My example was knitting. (He must have thought I was NUTS. Okay, maybe I am).

But I felt it was important to have the urge to make, tangible things in addition to ephemeral, to remember what it is like to learn a series of steps and put them in specific patterns, to analyze small scale movement as well as large, to return to a place of wrong and right methods with direct outcomes, and to just recall what it is like to learn new things- the frustration, the excitement, the pride). The process of learning and making has, I think, been invaluable in keeping up with the world, even in the world of dance.

Thanks to the internet and friends doing great things in all facets of dance, I feel that I have been able to stay up to date if not “current” in spite of not having the budget to travel, attend national conferences, and living in a place where I have to wait to see world-class companies on their next tour instead of their next season. Time has even prevented me from taking part in more local dialogue (Much of the dance events in my state seem to be scheduled for the same weekends!) Well, time and a little chatter.

But I do know what he meant. As a choreographer, and an artist- how do I thrive. I think the usual stance on this is to see what work is being made and then how does one recreate it with a personal stamp. I get that. I even value that. But it isn’t exactly for me. Not to say I don’t need some fresh ideas and could benefit from new visual experiences- I do, I could!. But the process has led the creative work for me- the relationships, the perspectives to a topic by all in the room, the democracy of art making with people beyond physical pictures. That has led to my work feeling current. I continue to think about this, though, and hope I always will.

All of my work- curriculum writing, program development, freelance writing, and choreographing you know, 20 plus dances a year for a K-8 program- will continue, naturally, but I admit my priorities are shifting a little. I am opening myself to new things, new methods, new attitudes, and new realities.

I am hoping to perform, to publish, to respond, and to revise.

Somehow I hope that if I write it here, I might actually follow through. Help me keep on track, won’t you?

The Summer of Awakenings

Recently, I was chatting with a friend about all that has gone on this summer. It has been an emotional roller coaster for many reasons including the birth of our second child in April, my emphasis on dance writing, the worrying about an unstable job in a challenging school district, the development of new dance projects, and plenty of reflection regarding identity, history and projection into the future.

I had dubbed it the “Summer of Growth.”  My friend dubbed it the “Summer of Awakenings”. I like hers better.

Writing has played a major role in my semblance of sanity. I have always kept journals. I love journals. I have stacks and stacks of notebooks containing ideas, plans, feelings, memories, dances and now topics for blog posts and articles. My students identify me by my scarves and my journals. Maybe my shoes, too. And sometimes my hair. But I digress.

This summer, however, writing has taken on a whole new meaning for me. A new potential. It has added a new aspect to my identity- one that volleys between confidence and doubt like a teenager (good reminder, given my day job of teaching 8-12th graders!!!). And has brought me even more respect for my real-deal, actual (like books, plays, screenplays, freelance articles) writer husband.  Overall, writing has provided a new sense of fulfillment as well as new and returning groups of friends.

Writing about dance and dance education, both professionally and personally over the past nine months or so, has led me to tackle some biases, confront some half-truths in my practices versus my philosophies, generate some really good ideas (if I do say so myself), and most importantly has connected me with people affiliated with dance, like-minded and otherwise, and in all walks of dance experiences. It has been a very profound season.

At Home

Most of my large scale writing: blog posts, articles, academic writings, and notes for upcoming projects happens at home. This is also where I do the majority of my reading. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to combine both and refer to it as my large scale responding. Anyway, this (and last) summer has brought plenty of thought-provoking topics that I would love to write about formally when time allows. Several have been about writing in dance and/or education.

  • Jennifer Edwards wrote a lovely piece for Huffington Post centered on dance journalism and audience (readership) engagement through blog commentary.  I relate to writing in all facets of my dance life and the important intrapersonal connections it has forged for me (as well as my students). Let us also not forget the reading that accompanies and often prompts the writing. The dialogues that happen internally as well as inter-personally are cyclical and key in the development of an artist’s (or student’s) point of view, ownership of voice, and relevance of expression. This is true whether their selected language is physical or written.
  • Last summer, Wendy Perron, editor of Dance Magazine, blogged about young choreographers blogging about their creative process. I personally love the rebuttal written by Zachary Whittenburg (trailorpilot), although I generally enjoy the work of both writers.
  • I have also been intrigued by the subject of blog writing in academics. I am encouraged to include blog writing in my dance courses at the high school level as I feel it responsible arts education to compliment and supplement core instruction without sacrificing our elective content. I did this at the college level and its why I describe my teaching philosophy as being from ‘a liberal arts perspective’.

I have appreciated the comments that I have received in response to blog posts here as well as my Dance Advantage articles. I value the conversations that have developed as a result of my professional writings with both familiar voices as well as new ones.  I am excited to re-configure a tool I had used in my college teaching for my high school teaching.

On the Road

Then there is my small scale writing. As in 140 characters small. Twitter! I was shocked that blogging about a treasured dance experience, performing a work by Lar Lubovitch, did something that my dancing was never able to do, and that was to bring personal contact with Mr. Lubovitch himself!  I posted the blog, tweeted the Lubovitch company and within the hour, had a personal response! Talk about the power of social media and the potential of small scale writing. The kind of writing I tend to do away from home, on my smartphone, something I never would have considered years ago. My, how things change.

In the Studio

Then there is the writing within the creative process and even the performance venue (program notes). I am currently working on a dance for ArtPrize in Grand Rapids in collaboration with Dance in the Annex. I am working with a wonderful but varied group of dancers which all happen to be an hour away from me. Technology is a big factor in the process/ progress of this work, which also happens to be the title. We each have vastly different relationships to dance and its purpose within our lives.

We also have commonalities in how we’ve feel we’ve been perceived in dance. We shared these narratives in rehearsal last week. I’ve drawn on them in the creation of movement and will do so more extensively as I coach the piece long-distance through the aid of technology. No, we won’t have video chat rehearsals, but we will use video and notes. We will use reading and writing to nurture performances, clarify intent, and provoke further investigation.  I have mixed feelings about it but I am grateful for the time, energy, and willingness of these dancers to go through this process/progress with me. And I am aware of the reality. We are all sacrificing to make this happen. I am aware of the time carved, the money lost, and the children distracted in order to make this piece happen. I am thankful. And it is likely that I’ll blog about it.

Our commonality in dance is this, and I dare say it isn’t exclusive to this particular group. At some point, we’ve all felt like outsiders. We have all, in some way, been told or made to feel we don’t measure up and we’ve remembered the words.

In my journals, I’ve written about it a million times in a million different ways even if I didn’t realize from where a particular emotion or issue was coming. I think it is a problem in dance training and the more I teach, the more wounded I find…people that once loved dance but for one reason or another left and have struggled to return. Many can’t bring themselves to watch dance. This is a problem. And one worth discussing. Stay tuned.

We each have stories and our narratives are worth sharing. I firmly believe it. I also believe there is a time and a place. And the stage is not necessarily the appropriate venue. But I think the process of writing (and dancing/choreographing) is important in the coping with these narratives and the development of new ones.

Writing brings clarity, awareness, and action. Just like moving through space and time with or without other bodies. Ideas connect, relationships are forced, negotiation and reconciliation occur. It is why I expect my students do it. Shouldn’t I expect the same of myself?

Yet, I feel about writing much as I do about choreography; everyone should do it but it doesn’t mean it should be made public. Nor does its mere creation mean it is artful. As my 3 year old son said so eloquently when asking for a snack, “Cookies are not dessert. Cookies are just cookies.” Sometimes the same rings true in art. Including dance and writing. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t yummy.

Right? Write. Thanks. More soon.