Monday, January 16, 2017

We cannot remain silent

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I spent a lot of time in the quiet space of Widener University last week - the week before school starts and the students and staff return. I silently drove through Chester, PA, the city in which Widener exists, observing the near-empty streets. Like much of what I experience these days, the area seems to exist in a world of contrasts.

Wednesday we'll perform Deshong's Chester: Left Behind, the latest research in the Left Behind series. The performance is sandwiched between today, MLK Jr. Day - a national day of service - and Friday's inauguration. The enormity of this week and this performance is not lost on me.

Katherine Kiefer Stark, Jennifer Yackel, and Laura Baehr have been on The Embodiment Project's journey with me for almost a year. We'll be joined by community members Marcy Morris, Victoria Archer-Owens, Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy, and Caroline O'Brien for this performance.

Throughout last week, we've been meeting and sharing stories of being and feeling left behind. What's special and different about this performance is that Chester really is a place that's been left behind... but it's reemerging.

I first walked into the Widener University Art Gallery housing Alfred O. Deshong's collection last year and was overwhelmed by the beauty and opulence of the artwork and the frames in which they lived. I felt as though I needed to step away from the art work - that it was too rich for my blood, in a sense. The quiet sense of awe, respect, and wealth overwhelmed me and I wondered about the connection between the Chester of the past and the Chester of the present.

Who was Alfred O. Deshong? How could an environment where this artwork was held in a residence be the same place that people were afraid to walk after dark? What happened?

In conversations with the community members both performing in this project and others that I encountered on my silent journeys, I learned that for about 100 years, Chester was a wealthy city; a giant ship-building and industrial community that boasted several cultural centers, including music and dance studios. The Deshong family was prominent in the community and active philanthropists.

I learned that, as happened in so many US communities, the manufacturing industries left quickly, leaving behind a workforce with nothing to create. I've also been told that there are political issues surrounding the low-income status of the community and racial tensions that can prevent conversation.

Enter Boundaries and Bridges, a collaboration between Widener University and The Artist Warehouse in Chester to rebuild one of the main streets through the arts. AWESOME! Boundaries and Bridges is sponsoring Deshong's Chester: Left Behind.

The project has allowed me to build a bridge between the University and the community in several ways:

Sharing stories
1) Each of the community dancers participating has a story to tell about their experience with the Deshong Museum, now closed and abandoned. The Museum held much of the artwork that is in the Art Gallery at Widener.
2) I'm hoping that the community will feel welcomed in the new gallery with the familiar artwork, on the University's campus.
3) I'm raising awareness of concert dance in the Widener community and the Chester community while simultaneously raising awareness of Chester's artistic rebuilding process to the Philly (dance) community.
4) By inviting stories of being "left behind" and "mattering" I create a connection between people who otherwise might not have been connected. What I'm learning is that many, if not all of us, hold a story of being "left behind" or feeling like we didn't matter. Through dance, and the Left Behind series, I'm hoping to reveal the humanity in sharing these stories, connecting through a common feeling, and bridging together to take action.

In my initial research of Left Behind, I discovered that the work was also exploring grief. According to psychological research, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through Deshong's Chester: Left Behind, I'm finding that there is a space after grief that involves action and rebuilding.

It is my dream that this week, we'll not only grieve what has been, and could be lost, but we'll also take action and rebuild to move forward - as individuals in our own personal journeys, as communities, and as a country.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Come see Deshong's Chester: Left Behind Wednesday, at 7:30pm in the Widener Art Gallery in the University Center. 

Program info:

Deshong's Chester: Left Behind
Choreography: Jessica Warchal-King
Performance: Victoria Archer-Owens, Laura Baehr, Caroline O'Brien, Katherine Kiefer Stark, Marcy Morris, Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy, Jessica Warchal-King, Jennifer Yackel
Music: Paul Fejko

Dancers from EVERY community find themselves at home, warming up on the floor!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In other news...

I've been sharing my performance practice and experiences with KYL/D on the company's blog.

"Kun-Yang invited the audience to share their thoughts, questions, and reflections after we performed... The comments from the audience reminded me that HOME/ S 9th St is not just about story-telling, but is also a call to action to listen to members of our communities, share common space, and work together to build a more beautiful world..." Read more of my reflection from Kaatsbaan International Dance Center

"Traveling to NYC's City Center shortly after the New Year begins feels like a homecoming.... It's overwhelming for a dancer and a participant, but so much fun!... I'm reminded that the dance community is so very intimate, but so very vast..." Read more of my reflections on the benefit of APAP and KYL/D. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cyber Sharing Week 4 - horseshoe crabs and things unnoticed

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in The Embodiment Project's first Cyber Sharing! It's been great to get your feedback and share so much of the work with you!

Week 4 took a look at the (in)visible veins project - inspired by horseshoe crabs and the things we choose to pay attention to - or not.

Here are two brief clips of variations the performance:

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Embodiment Project's Cyber Sharing Week 2

On The Embodiment Project's website we're sharing aspects of our journey with a weekly Cyber Sharing in celebration of this season of giving.

I'll be posting a snidbit of each week here. 

Cyber Sharing Week 1 kicked off with Giving Tuesday. 

Week two shared Embedded Layers, a piece from 2013. You can check out more of the process in the Archives and enjoy excerpts of the performance:

Articles about Conditioning

Below is a series I wrote for on Cross-Training and Conditioning for Dancers. Read about the different ways to prepare the body, try a few out, and let me know what your favs are in the comments below!  Need help finding a practitioner in your area? Let me know!

Gyrotonic Expansion System for Dance Cross-Training - with Evalina "Wally" Carbonell

Alexander Technique - with KC Chun-Manning

Pilates - with Jennifer "JMo" Morley

Yoga - with Erin Cella and Ashleigh Penrod

The Tracy Anderson Method - with Kelly Markos

Tabata Training - with Patti Bostick

Beach Body workouts - with Tara Fronczek

JMo demonstrating some fierce Pilates techniques at Drexel Pilates

Do some conditioing of your own at home with The Embodiment Project's Cyber Sharing Week 3.

Monday, December 12, 2016

#whydancematters - building bridges and community

What do you want the audience to know about this work? What have you learned from dance this semester? Why does dance matter to you? Why is sharing dance important?

Every semester, I ask my students to reflect and share their thoughts with the audience through written notes. I project these or add a page to the program. Here are a few of their meditations:

"Dance brings together all people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds. The commenting thread allows for free expression and breaks down superficial barriers to help us understand the person behind the movement."

"Dance relieves a lot of my stress and anxiety. It never fails to put me in a good mood. Dance allows me to clear my head, and focus on only my body. I don't know what I would be without it."

"Dance not only expresses emotion but it also brings many people together. It creates a community and it can be used as an outlet for emotions, hard work, and bonding with others. This class has worked hard to do all of the above. We all have become a small family and this can hopefully be seen in some of our dancing. It is our hope that the audience feels connected with us while we do our pieces."

"Modern dance has taught me to grow as an individual dancers as well as collaborate with others. It has allowed me to express myself in a performance way and has led to an outlet from school for me. I have gained so many new experiences dancing this semester and I am more than excited to be able to share the stage with some of the greatest dancers and people I got the opportunity to know. I hope you enjoy the performance we put on for you and the pieces we collaboratively created with our teacher and dancers!"

"I have learned over the past could of weeks that dance is more than just for performance. It also has a great deal to do with self-expression. I dance because it makes me feel whole and I connect with my body. It brings me happiness whenever I need it. Dance can be used to bring peace and a sense of community because it is an art form seen almost everywhere. People can connect with each other because movement and expression of the body can often say more than words." 

"Dance is important because it acts as a release of emotions and stress that build up in everyone's life. It also acts as a medium to send a message through if there is something you feel you need to speak out about and are passionate about. Dance bring people together and builds bonds no matter who you are or your race or gender. It can be a way to send a message to the community about changes you think are important and need to be brought to attention. Educating the public is the first step to making change."

These quotes were originally published in the Widener University Chamber Music and Dance Fall Concert program, Dec. 2, 2016. 

#whydancematters was started by as a virtual rally for the dance community. Why does dance matter to you? (Add to the conversation by leaving a comment below!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"NAME US PEACE" A Gift for You on #GivingTuesday

During this time of growing together, giving thanks, and celebrating our shared community, I want to share a gift with YOU.

Today's Giving Tuesday - following Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. It's a day dedicated to not just getting things to give as gifts, but celebrating the intangible gifts that artists and non-profits provide year-round.

I'm offering this gift to you.

During the past few months, I've been collaborating with Michael Lancaster and Ellen Rosenberg. I'm sharing Michael's poetry and Ellen's photographs, based on Breach: Left Behind, performed at Lafayette College in September and October. Their encouragement, creativity, and support has been a constant gift to me.

May you enjoy this and the many gifts that you experience year-round this holiday season.

Name Us Peace

Name Us Lost
Desperate souls, deathly
discrete, seek life,
seek yet company, like
dancers sole along
walls of despair.
Drifting, finding, joining
dancers together in
a simple singularity
of giddy relief, soon
rearranging in beauty. 

Name Us Love
Hands, arms, cores, backs, 
limbs secure each by each. 
Bodies meet in recognition,
recognition and hope, 
reuniting a savaged 
communion; dance,
silent music, lovely
faces name its goodness.
Form protecting love, and
a moment of exquisite peace. 

Name Us Dance

~Michael Lancaster, Oct 2016