Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Breathing is more than respiration

Recently, I got a notice from Facebook: "Tom tagged you in a post".

I get excited and a little nervous when Facebook tells me I got tagged. (What did I do now...?)

The post:
"'Tom, you're not breathing.' - Jessica Warchal-King

I woke up today remembering this quote. Although most of the time I was in ballet class with this constant reminder, it is very important to do this outside of class. My focus on my position and my awareness to space allows me to forget the essential part of my being, my need for breath. My place in my current world and at the barre. 

So just remember, like ballet, you WILL move into the next phase, the next motion of movement. You just need to breathe through it. Find your center and lift.'"

Serendipitously, Tom posted this on a day when I needed to remember to breathe. 

I responded, reflecting both to him and myself: 
"Dearest Tom, our breath is a part of our internal support system. It connects us with our physicality, calms the mind, and also creats a connection between our internal world and our external environment. Sometimes we stop breathing as a way of protecting ourselves from fully experiencing the present moment, in all of its moment-ness. Ultimately, this just creates more internal tension. Breathe. Breathe deeply and intentionally and flow through the movement and the dance of life. (And thank you for this reminder. I also often forget to breathe.)"

The critic says, "But you're always breathing. If you stop, then you'll die."

Yes. Of course. But the way we breathe is effected/ affected by our emotional and physical state. And then the ability of the body to get oxygen further effects/ affects our emotional and physcial state. 

For example, Kun-Yang often tells me to breathe. As a young dancer trained in classical ballet and Western cultural techniques (social and movement based), I was taught to catch my breath in my chest, suck in my stomach, and to minimlaize my chest movement. Simultaneously, I was to open my sternum and project to the last rows of the theatre. Often in dancers, as it did in me, this dicotomoty of imagery creates spinal alignment complications which then creates challenges to efficiently and effecitvely executing dance movements. 

In some forms of Chinese classical dance, students have entire classes on how to incorporate their breath into movement. Kun-Yang understandings this training. I do not. 

And so I have embarked on my own journey of breath training and awareness and how the way I emotionally and physcially respond to situations is directly related to my breathing. 

Any research on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems demonstrates this. As does the fight or flight mechanism. 

I've noticed that my breath is my protection. I still my breathing as if to still my body - like an animal waiting in the tall grass for the impending danger to pass. 

The way I perceive "danger" comes in many forms and is often that - the way I am thinking of the situation. For example, when I am taking a class and the teacher does not warm up the class in a way which I feel safe and prepared to move onto more difficult combinations. I fear injury and therefore view the class as dangerous. I modify the movement, but also modify my breath because I'm frustrated because of my investment of time, physical, and financial, energy. I can fight or fly. Or, I can take a step back and learn from the experience. I participate in a different way or stand to the side and utilize some of what the instructor is saying and ignore the parts that don't work for me. As a professional, I do have a ton of physical experience both positive and negative that has prepared me to self-teach. Dancers have a responsibility to our bodies and sometimes that means critically thinking about the tasks in question and (politely, respectfully) disagreeing with the instructor. We've been trained to think on our feet and be cautious, yet fearless with our instrument. Most dance teachers are not trying to harm their students, but because dance is very physical, sometimes we get hurt. Part of our training process is understanding the needs of our body and paying attention to them - when to push and when to be patient. 

Danger is also very real outside of the dance studio. In US society today, as an educator, I need to be aware that at least 1 in 4 female students will experience sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or another form of domestic violence. The body has been violated and is therefore in constant fear of repeated danger. I have more to say on this, but this is not the post. However, it would be irresponsible of me not to recognize the physical, emotional and psychological danger that young females face. As an educator, I need to realize that young women may have a complicated relationship with their bodies that may effect the ability for them to connect through their breath and physicality. (And I realize this also occurs with young males, but my primary population is young females).  

"Danger" could be emotional. "Leave your baggage at the door" as always been a mantra of mine. And I often don't bring my personal stories into professional situations. But I've come to realize that said baggage could remain in the ways that I function in my body. And if I'm dealing with something emotional that is inhibiting my breath, it's inhibiting my breath in all situations. I can't separate my administration body from my social media body from the body that enters the studio to dance. They are all one body and the breath from one will carry to the other. If I'm true to my calling as an artist and holistic practitioner, I need to recognize that all of these bodies are interrelated and that I don't need to compartmentalize all of my experiences. Life is messy. Bodies are messy. Breathing can be really messy, but a constant and a point of grounding.   

When do you breathe or not breathe? 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

KYL/D's 26th InHale Performance Series is Friday!

It's time for another installment of KYL/D's InHale Performance Series!

Check out the artists & get your tickets:

See you at CHI MAC on Friday!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Viewing violence through the lens of a dancer - a few thoughts from my busy mind

9/11 occurred early in my first year as an undergraudate student. Shortly after that, I had multiple experiences with interpersonal violence, both personal and as a mentor for other students. My adult life has existed only during war.

Likewise, the lives of many young adults now, have only existed in war. My college-age students don't remember 9/11 as I do and the friends who enlisted as a result. But they remember their parents being afraid. 

Although we've lived in a war for the past 14 years, many of us have been removed from the violence. It's that thing that happens on the news we don't watch anymore. Until it comes to our doorstep. 

And unfortunately, I'm not referencing the abundance of veterans who have come home with PTSD. That's another post. 

I'm referencing the text message on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon from the University with a warning from the FBI that threats of violence have been made to colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area, only days after a tragic mass shooting in Oregon. 

Further research uncovers that "these types of threats are made everyday" according to the FBI. This particular threat was poignant because of its proximity to the Oregon tragedy.

I receive messages from students who are rightly scared and uncomfortable coming to class. I can't blame them and in fact, I am proud that they felt so empowered so communicate this fear. They have a clear connection with their emotional and physical bodies that they were able to say "This situation is not okay and I'm going to remove myself from it." Amazing! 

But at the same time, I was angry. Did violence trump education? Did violence trump the right to creative thought? I don't understand it when it happens in other countries, but I also realize that I don't understand their cultural systems. But here? In the US? We have a right to free thought and critical analysis. We have a right to choose our belief systems and who we love. 

This country is different! (Or is it?)

I know many veterans who say something along the lines of, "I don't agree with (insert issue here), but they have that freedom. I fought for the Constitution. I fought for that freedom. I killed for that freedom. My friends died for that freedom. If you don't like it, leave the US."

But I digress...

I sent my students an article by Susan Foster on viewing protest from a dance scholar's perspective. I asked them to critically evaluate several points in her article. But I needed to think about this, myself. What does it mean to look from a dance scholar's point of view? Or just from a dancer's point of view?

(very simply...)
Laban's elements of dance include Time, Space, Energy/Effort, and Body. The Body is the medium through with the other three are executed. Time can refer to clock time (8 minutes) or to relative time (slow/fast) or to how movement is used in time (repeated, retrograded). Space is both location on stage (downstage, upstage, stage right, etc) and relation to other dancers (positive and negative space, proximity). Energy and Effort are the more complicated of terms and refer to the how of the action. A flick of the arm is different than the swipe of the arm, and a direct leg shift is different than an indirect leg movement. 

So, inadvertently, do dancers apply Laban's elements to the way we view the world? Yes. 

I reflected to my dancers that I was a more physical person because I was comfortable in my body because of my dance training. I will often provide and ask for physical contact when I meet someone - either a hug or a tight handshake. I want people to know that I acknowledge them when I see them. My hugs are world famous - no joke! Likewise, I can non-verbally communicate when I need a hug or when I sense someone else is uncomfortable. My young dancers expressed that they had a unique connection with other people but didn't necessarily relate it to their own relationship with their body. After talking through elements of Foster's article and relating it back to dance, my students began to see the connection. 

The physical protests that Foster described could be analyzed through various mediums! They could be looked at from economic perspectives (did the protest have an effect on the economy of a region and how so? why?); from a class perspective (what was the class of the protesters vs. that of the people creating the "problem"); from a racial perspective; from a gender perspective; from a religious perspective... so why do we need to look at it from a dance perspective?

I believe that we need to acknowledge not only the dance perspective, but the fact that concepts of dance can be and are applied to non-dance situations. It takes careful planning and execution to organize bodies in time and space (choreography). It takes training to prepare bodies for the ideas of the work (technique). It requires skill and practice to deal with unexpected complications (improvisation). 

In looking at social and political events from the lens of a dancer, we are more able to analyze their significance. And, we could move forward with a critical mind on how to create positive social change in terms of everyday movement.

I believe that the dance practitioner has a deeper relationship with herself and her body. Through this knowledge, she has the ability to connect with other individuals, developing empathy and understanding. By having the ability to walk (leap, chasse, prance) in another's footsteps, literally and figurative, dance is a medium for positive, non-violent, social change.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Creating Choreography; Cultivating Community

The DeSales University XTE (student-run honors Dance club) produces a monthly "Dancer Digest", specifically for the University's Dance Majors. I was unaware, and so was my colleague and DeSales Dance Faculty, Angela Sigley Grossman, that the students who participated in (in)visible veins: Rivers Merge planned and wrote an article about the experience.

In their words, I'm including the article below:

Rivers Merge: (in)visible veins
By Samantha Burns and Sarah Duffany

"During the weekend of September 25th and 26th, the Lehigh Valley was able to experience a performance of Jessica Warchal-King's piece titled (in)visible veins. This performance took place next to the river at Scott Park, which is located near Lafayette College, in Easton, PA. This piece used the music from Bach's Cello Suite No. 6, under the musical direction of David Cullen. There were over twenty dancers from the DeSales University Dance Department who performed in this piece, along with Warchal-King and Angela Sigley Grossman. The rehearsals for (in)visible veins ran for two hour sessions over three consecutive weeks at the Brission Dance Studio and concluded with a tech rehearsal in the actual performance space. This piece was divided up into six different sections and ran approximately for twenty-six minutes. Warchal-King's main focus was to create something to facilitate community building, while recognizing the importance of things both seen and unseen.

The site specific piece allowed not only the audience to feel one with nature, but also pushed the performance to open up their eyes and appreciate both the visible and invisible parts of their world. Gina Palumbo, a senior dance major, was touched by the tranquil scene, and was constantly reminded her of the message behind Warchal-King's artistic vision. "With the presence (of the) river, the traffic, the train, our audience members, and all of God's grandeur, remaining present during the performance was absolutely vital if I wanted to properly provide [Jessica's] art to the audience." Palumbo was also very grateful for the connection to the community found in the environment in which she performed: "If I can take what I learned in this piece out into the world, I can make a small, yet important, change in the world around me."

Similarly, Lisa Marie Levy, a sophomore dancer, immediately immersed herself in the natural world around her. "While I was performing, I was noticing nature and seeing the beauty in nature," Levy stated, "I gained a better understanding of beauty in everyday life." Levy also found solace in Warchal-King's intentions of creating a community: "We, as a community, need to recognize what we have and focus on the good rather than the bad."

(in)visible veins was created to help build community while recognizing the importance of things both seen and unseen. The movement in this piece focused on external and internal rotation, a constant awareness of being connected with the other dancers, and a sense of living in each moment as if the river was continuously flowing within the performers. The location for this work also set the theme of connectedness and community since this work was performed near the river which connects the Delaware and Lehigh rivers before moving onward toward Philadelphia."

This piece was re-posted with the permission of the editor, the authors, and DeSales Faculty. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Did you see these moments from "(in)visible veins: Rivers Merge"?

There is so much power in what we choose to see and what we choose not to see.

Google "Gaze Theory" and you'll not only quickly receive over 25,700,000 results in less than a second, but you'll also be prompted to specify your search. Options include:
gaze theory in literature
gaze theory in film
gaze theory media studies
feminine gaze theory
male gaze
and a list of scholars who have studied the phenomenon on what we choose to see and how we choose to see it, in really extensive research.
(What I was surprised to see is that "gaze theory and race" was not a top option or "gaze theory and social class" or "gaze theory and the economy"... just a thought for anyone reading who is craving a Ph.D. topic.)

Anyway, Google away, but in a new tab. I'll wait. Or, just click here and see for yourself: Google gaze theory search

My inspiration from horseshoe crabs came first from a personal place of digging into the deep (seemingly belly or core) contraction when a horseshoe crab was over turned or picked up incorrectly (from the tail).
That's a contraction any modern dancer would love.. except it's not really contracting because it doesn't have abdominal muscles as we do. I view the world through the lens of dance!

A year of research led me on many journeys but also into a personal place of admitting to feeling unseen. Gaze theory and its power was first introduced to me in my undergraduate Women's Studies classes and has obviously stayed with me.

The theory resonates with me and this work. For hundreds of years, communities along the Atlantic coast viewed horseshoe crabs as pests because they're ugly. Of course, assumed thinking follows that everything ugly is obviously bad. But nothing can be further from the truth! These little pre-historic creatures have been one of the most beneficial to the development of science and medicine. They remind me that looks are deceiving and that first impressions aren't always correct. How much of "Life" do we miss because we choose to not see something or someone? Or choose to see something and immediately dismiss it/ him/ her?

Ultimately, this piece was one-part concert dance experiment, one-part community building experiment, one-part mindfulness and awareness experiment, one-part gaze theory experiment, and one part socio-ecological experiment. (I use the word "experiment" because no performance is ever really "done". It lives on in the memories and experiences of the participants and is changed by what they bring to, and leave in, the process.)

Below are some of the moments captured and seen through the lens of Chuck Zovoko. Thanks, Chuck!

Kelly introducing the performance, pic 1

pic 2

pic 3

pic 4

pic 5

pic 6

pic 7

pic 8

pic 9

Here's a game!

In the comments below, provide a caption for what you see. I've generically labeled the images "pic 1-9". What do you see? For example, post "Pic 1: beautiful lady with a mission." and so on... Label them all or just a few! I look forward to seeing what you see!

P.S. What you can't see in these pictures are the serendipitous events concurrent with the performance: cars passing by, the music from the bar across the street, the horn of the train and the rhythmic clacking of the wheels on the tracks, the people on their bikes, the river, the children laughing on the swing-set nearby... What would you choose to see?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Previewing "Rivers Merge" a few days late

The Rivers Merge Dance Festival presented by Lafayette College to celebrate the Lehigh Valley Dance Consortium received a lot of preview press that I didn't get to share because I was busy organizing costumes and working out last minute details of (in)visible veins: Rivers Merge.

Here are two articles:
From WFMZ detailing the performance and some highlights of the work (they mentioned my work with Dr. Weaver of Widener's bio department and horseshoe crabs!)
Previewing (in)visible veins and the Rivers Merge Festival: In Allentown's Morning Call

I really enjoyed talking with the author of the Morning Call article, Margie! Thanks for taking the time with me.

However, the article does contain a  mis-quote that I'd like to correct:
Migrant birds fly from South America to the Artic and stop over at the Delware Bay to feast on horseshoe crab eggs in order to fuel the second half of their journey. I was quoted as saying migrant birds flew from South Africa, in which case, they would probably have to make a few more stops than just in the Delaware Bay. It's a long trip to fly half-way around the world (and boy are my arms tired!)

Margie asked me how I would talk about the work to a non-dancer. "'I think a lot of people worry that they won't get dance,' she (me) says, 'The point of dance isn't to get it. The point of dance is to experience it like you would experience a really good piece of chocolate.'"

In our conversation, Margie agreed that there were some elements of art that couldn't be explained, but were just FELT. In her words, "on a visceral level." Yes! I often hesitate to use the word visceral because it does refer to abstract feeling states; albeit states that are very physical and real. Dance is often abstract enough without having to describe the experience of it in abstract terms. But I was so grateful that Margie was able to relate to other works of art (more specifically works of great literature) and apply that understanding of a deeply experiential feeling state to dance. The same explanation can go for an awesome sculpture, painting, poem, or music.

What are some of your favorite works of art? Could you describe why?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

World Ballet Day - today!

There's nothing quite like celebrating ballet with the rest of the dance world, if in name, only. How did you celebrate?

Online, international ballet companies broadcasted previous performances all day. The dance community social-media-sphere was full of pictures and quotes and favorite ballet memories. I was in class and rehearsal today, which is a great way to celebrate any occasion, especially World Ballet Day.

What else is exciting? On World Ballet Day, put this in your calendar: