Thursday, November 5, 2020

Creativity in the Time of Covid

Covid-19 has presented innumerable challenges (#obviousstatements). 

But, the pandemic also has invited creativity and ingenuity. And persistence. 

I'm Artist in Residence in Dance in Alvernia University's Fine and Performing Arts Department. One of my roles is to mentor dancers and develop opportunities for concert dance at Alvernia. (There are no college dance programs in Berks County). 

Dance happens everywhere and Alvernia University in Berks County, PA is no different. Dance happens here. No matter what. 

Art-making happens here. No matter what. 

In the Spring, Alvernia Theatre Director and now-Chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Department committed to making theatre happen during these strange times. No matter what. 

Zoom-ed. Distance-d. Mask-ed. Phoned in. Filmed. 

This week, Theatre is happening at Alvernia University. Dance is happening. 

I'm so proud of this conglomeration of artists (young and not-so-young) who have banded together and demanded that the "Arts are Alive at Alvernia!" In 2020. 

Now, more than ever, we need to be embodied. We need to connect emotionally and physically. We need folks who will stand up as unconventional leaders who model vulnerability through live performance.

This team is doing that. 

Part of the magic of live performance is its perfect imperfection and impermanence. An element of that can be achieved through digital performances, now. It's imperfect, but it is creative. The doing and witnessing creates an energetic connection between performers, crew, and audience that can somewhat exist through the digital sphere. It's not perfect, but it's innovative and what we have available to us. We'll figure out how to make the most of this moment. 

Check out what's happening at Alvernia this week and next through Alvernia Theatre's YouTube Channel. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Secrets for Dancing in Small Spaces - Tip 2

 I mentioned in Secrets for Dance in Small Spaces - Tip 1 that I've traveled a lot for dance. 

Traveling has inspired me to find multiple uses for things that I carry with me. I seek out props, tools and accessories that can have multiple uses. (Check out my Hacks for Dancers in For example and in addition, (in a pinch): 1. Lipstick can be used as blush. Slide the lipstick on your cheekbone and blend with your fingers. 2. Shampoo can be used as body wash. Create a lather. 3. Hand sanitizer can be used as a face wash (not makeup remover!). 4. Baby wipes have many uses. 5. As do hair ties (rubber bands), hair pins (paper clips), and hair spray (stop runs in tights on the spot! Or, keep those stray threads or ribbons from fraying more). 

Dance everywhere!
When it comes to dancing in small spaces, I love a simple yoga mat. Most yoga mats are about 6' long by 2' wide and less than .5'' in thickness, depending on how you think of the dimensions. I don't always carry a yoga mat with me, because that's extra bulk. I have digested those dimensions as a general guideline for my ability to engage in a full-body practice in any space. 

1. In Tip 1, I suggested focusing movement in one plane. A yoga mat provides a visual guideline for these planes. 

2. A yoga mat can be placed on uneven surfaces to provide consistency. Most mats are squishy and a little bit sticky. However, if a dancer is working on carpet, tile, bricks, or some other uneven surface, a yoga mat can provide ground-level consistency and a bit of shock absorption. But! - yoga mats can be sticky. Socks and specific shoes can help mitigate the risks of dancing on a sticky surface. I encourage you to test and try out what works for you. 

3. Jumping can be dangerous in ideal circumstances (which include but aren't limited to proper training, sprung floor and adequate shoes). Jumping in small spaces in dangerous. If a dancer has a great desire to jump, a yoga mat can be folded and laid down to provide a soft landing surface for small jump practice. This might include soutes from first and second position, soutes on one foot with the other in pase or coupe, and changemonts. I strongly discourage working on big leaps in a small space. More on that in Tip 3.  

I also discourage working on turns in a small space. (Again, stay tuned for Tip 3.)

4. Focus on alignment. The squishiness of a yoga mat can demand that a practitioner focus on alignment. The extra "give" might invite the body to compensate to achieve a particular form. I suggest slowing down (more in Tip 3) to recognize one's personal habits and weaknesses in order to achieve a safe and healthy form and alignment. In regular practice, the body will make these patterns habit and will "revert" to these adjustments when faced with new dance surfaces. This will allow dancing longer and dancing stronger. 

5. Make your practice a ritual. In her book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, Twyla Tharp suggests that a ritual begins with taking an initial step.  For some yogi's this begins with rolling out the mat. For some dancers, putting on tights. For you, perhaps rolling down from the top of the spine, reorganizing some furniture, or starting a specific playlist. Once that initial act is started, the rest will organically fall into place. 

Admittedly, this takes time. The practice of doing takes time. The recognition takes time. And sometimes the response takes time. I encourage you to commit to the initial start. I've laid out my mat many times and it has sat there for a few days before I could return. But, during that in-between time, I knew it was there and waiting for me. I (and those in my bubble) moved around it in my space during that waiting time, acknowledging its importance. 

 6. A place for any practice. Rolling out a mat means that you have started. It means you've committed to a something that goes beyond what already exists. It's a movement that says "I trust what will happen next in this space." Engage in a stretch and strengthening practice. Follow a YouTube video. Do Pilates. Perform a ballet barre. Dive into a segmented contemporary dance warm up. Click onto one of the many virtual platforms and connect through a virtual and physical space. Know your body and use the mat as an example of creative restrictions and possibilities. 

7. More than a mat. An instructor at Drexel Pilates suggested that if I didn't have a long foam roller, I could roll my yoga mat and lay my spine down on it for a restorative opening of my shoulders and chest. To achieve this, roll up your mat tightly. Lay it down and lie on it so your spine is supported by the long side and the rest of your body can drip over and around it (like hot fudge dripping over ice cream.) Wow! In the age of Covid, this was a powerful release. A folded or rolled mat can also be a bolster for a seated meditation, stretch, or too much computer time.

What are some of the creative ways you've used your mat?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

NDEO Persisted

 The National Dance Education Organization has persisted in developing a deeper sense of community during Covid-19 through regular webinars (that are recorded and can be watched later), digital communications, and virtual meet-ups where folks from various sectors can come together and share things that are working (and those that aren't) during these strange times. 

NDEO's first virtual conference is this weekend. 

JCWK Dance Lab artist Laura Baehr and I presented on the process of HOMEbody. 

I also shared some of the tools I use to practice performance, in the Zoom-studio and in-person studio. 

Thanks, NDEO for keeping us connected so that we can keep connecting, learning, and growing as dancers and people! 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Secrets for Dancing in Small Spaces - Tip 1

 Years of touring and traveling to perform, choreograph, teach and rehearse taught me to warm up in some strange places. Even when I give presentations, I want to feel like I am fully prepared to perform - because every presentation is a type of performance. So, I'll warm up. 

Hotel rooms, hallways, office spaces, porches, tiny dressing rooms, green rooms and backstage spaces have all been my "studio". 

Some of the lessons I've learned are particularly helpful during these strange times when dancing is limited to our isolated spaces. Folks who are able to get into a studio, while masked, still need to maintain distance in space. (Shout out to all of those studio spaces who have taken the time and effort to mark out DanceUSA's space recommendations and are super sanitizing!) 

Here are some of the things I've learned. 

Secrets for Dancing in Small Spaces - Tip 1:

Work in one plane. 

There are three anatomical planes of the body. Most dance practice moves through and engages all of these planes, but it's possible to just work in one plane. 

For example, undulations, flat backs/ tabletops, tendues/ degages, developes, fondus, grande battmonts can all be isolated in the sagittal plane (front and back). The body's facing can rotate to execute laterals, tendues/ degages, developes, fondus, grande battmonts in the coronal/ horizontal/ toaster plane (side to side). 

Strength and flexibility exercises derived from Yoga and Pilates often isolate into these planes. 

I challenge dancers to use the tools they have available to them to create warm up phrases that dance so that the body can fully warm up while engaging all of the methodologies that dance employs: joy, wellness of physical and mental bodies, strength, flexibility, movement flow, creativity, artistry, technical prowess, and whole body connectivity (among many others).  

What is a dance technique warm up that you can isolate into specific planes? Share a video of yourself moving in the comments! 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Published Reviews for The Other Side of the Window Screen

 Thank you to everyone who has already participated in The Other Side of the Window Screen. We've had an incredible audience response and the Fringe Arts Fringe 2020 still has a few more weeks! 

Here's what the reviewers are saying...

Camille Bacon-Smith wrote in Broad Street Review:

"Arms are often held up, angled or outstretched, as if the dancers are reaching for something just out of their grasp. Home, maybe - a concept we perpetually seek, but seldom find. When I thought of "home" in the piece, though, I envisioned not a place but the bodies we inhabit, the lived bodies of the dancers, and our own bodies as we unconsciously synchronize with the movement on the screen."

Read more here.

By Jane Fries for's The Dance Journal

"...evokative of sci-fi royality, they burst into digital life..."

"HOMEbody is a dance of shifting moods..."

"...liquid movements... precise yet curiously enigmatic..."

"quietly transporting"

Read more of Jane Fries's review by clicking here. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

HOMEbody - audience comments

Included below is some of the written feedback we received from the live presentations of HOMEbody. In person, the performance consisted of a spoken welcome, a guided body scan, my solo Shed, Jake Buczewski's mini-documentary, and the 34 minute HOMEbody. 

Audience comments from November 2019 in Reading, PA. Presented by Alvernia University. 

~reminded me of the beautiful lines of ballet, modern, very European. I loved the foundation of the work and the continuity of the movement. 

~ It evoked feelings of a story told within the dance. Deeply personal. Though I am interested in what evoked some of the movements, they belong personal. Part of the intrigue...


~ It was a wonderful exploration of what home feels like to me and how I identify with my feelings of "home" and comfort. 

~ Get the word out! Quickly! Performances like this should be sold out. 

~ Wonderful to see such high quality dance in Berks County. 

~Loved it! So happy you are here and doing this work. 

~ Amazing Talent!

~ First experience with interpretative dance. Left me feeling I could watch the performance over and over again - so much to unpack. Very beautiful. 

Audience comments from February 2020 in Philadelphia, PA. 

~Inner struggles. Interpersonal connection and turmoil. 

~ Impressive and moving! Keep up the great work! 

~ Contentment, beauty, comfort

~ Lovely performance. 

~ The two solos reminded me of babies learning about their bodies and exploring them. Maybe it's because I'm a new mom, but this reminds me that my body was my baby's first home. And now she and I are learning to be comfortable in our bodies and they both develop in new ways. I saw the solos before but it's very interesting to see them in the context of the whole. 

~ Music + Dance = Excellent! 

~ Trust. Vulnerability. Suffering. Healing. 

~ The complexities of relationships with those close to you. 

We'll continue to update with comments from Fringe 2020!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Behind the Movement - Adaptations

Thanks to everyone who's shared in Reading Theater Project's Adaptations! 

I've been thinking and reflecting and writing, but not posting publicly because I think there are folks whose voices need to be louder than mine. They need to be heard and lifted up. I've been reaching out and doing work quietly through Covid isolation, but I've missed the sense of connection and community that being around/ moving around other people provides. 

I'm grateful for the challenge from Reading Theater Project to participate in Adaptations. Click here to check out Artistic Director Vicki Haller Graff's introduction to the experiment. 

Chris Hesslop share his inspiration for elements of the music. In collaborating about one of four musical options, Vicki and I settled on HiLo. Here's what Chris had to say about HiLo:

The musical piece is called HiLo. In case you don't want to watch the short video above, Chris described that the adaptation of HiLo was taking two ends of the musical scale, putting them together and seeing what might develop. 

As I reflected on the music and my own feelings about the past few months, I began to appreciate the paradox of opposites. I tried to similarly play with as many opposites as I could fit into a short rehearsal/ filming time frame and length of the total work. Some of those opposites included:

A digital platform (video) to present a natural form (outdoor landscape, human body).

Clear technological edits and digital manipulation of the human body.

Business attire against a natural landscape.

A collared shirt-dress and bare feet. 

Framing and constricted audience views against an open space. 

Light and shadow.

Movement and stillness. 

Sound and silence.

What else do you see? 

Check out the full Experiment Event here: RTP's Adaptations