Monday, March 28, 2011

Dance for PD

Last week, I attended a training hosted at the Chi Movement Arts Center, home of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers that was presented by Dance for PD - a subset of the Mark Morris Dance Company. The training was incredibly inspirational and reminded me why I do what I do. I dance for the love of movement. I dance because it does make me (and many other people happy). I dance because few things are as satisfying as full engagement of the mind, body, and spirit. I dance because it is a way to connect with other people. Dance is building community; about having a community; about living in a community.

I'm including some links to check out the work that David, John, and the Dance for PD group is doing:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I wonder if there is any professional field that is completely satisfied.

I am acutely aware that the dance profession is a difficult one to understand and participate in. As artists, we are often low on the totem pole of financial security. I often wonder if this is because of the nature of the work. Everyone has a body. Every body moves. So, if every body moves, why study it? For me, the answer is so simple - it's almost like assuming that because everyone has a heart and it beats, that the individual understands his/her heart and should not need to study it. If anything, the moving body needs to be studied and understood, more! Why not try to understand ourselves? We do this through medicine and psychology and religion and culture... why should we negate the importance of studying the hows and whys of movement?

Again, I am in the thick of this world, so the answer might seem obvious to me. However, I'm learning that I need to articulate this importance and understanding. More recently, I have experienced the tears and anxieties of students who do not understand why they're having difficulty grasping ballet technique or academic writing about dance (for example). I am coming to the conclusion that, because dance technique and study is about the body, it is accessible to everyone and "should" not be difficult. I ask my students, how long did it take you to learn how to ride a bike, do algebra, learn how to spell your last name? Their answers usually include a significant amount of time.

Learning dance is just another part of this learning process. I beg you, please be patient with yourself. Trust your body -s/he is very intelligent if you will let her/him be. Please do not negate the importance of your kinesthetic intelligence. Take time to practice the transfer of this intelligence from your body into your consciousness. It is a practice. It takes time. It takes diligent attention.

A friend of mine was working on a social justice project that involved movement. She said the mantra of the project was "The issues are in the tissues." Our bodies hold our stories; we need to take time and practice and attention to listen to them; to listen to ourselves.

I realize this is a terrifying project. It's very difficult. Please take the time and the risk.

And so I wonder... as dance artists, we always need more funding, more space, more understanding, more audiences. Are there any professions that are satisfied? Are there any professions that say, "we have enough space. We have enough money." In writing this post, I realize that I am asking my readers to look inward. I am trying to do the same - in looking inward and looking at the things my profession needs, I need to realize that other professions may also need these things. If we all need them, is there a way we could share them? In sharing, is there a way that we could better understand each other and what it is we do? How can I use dance and the development of kinesthetic understanding to better help someone deeply invested in economics or business? Could they help me? Where is our common ground? (our bodies...?)

I guess one could pose the question, how would ballet technique help someone who is not invested in the field? Studies have shown that dance, technique classes, are beneficial for people who have medical illnesses, like Parkinson's disease. Dance can be used for very specific purposes, like improving gait and balance, but it can also be used as a way to connect with community and the self - through its technical practice. Maybe a student of dance (when I refer to student of dance, I mean anyone who takes a dance class) doesn't need to aspire to be a professional. However, having the knowledge can only be beneficial.

Many colleges and universities require students to take "Core" courses. These courses are designed to expose them to a variety of fields of study and thought. Generally, they are courses in religion, math, science, language, and philosophy. I challenge the universities to invest in courses in the body and the self. What would happen if every student was required to take a dance class, or a yoga class, or a Pilates class? What would happen to our communities if every student was required to connect with his/her body?

It might be an interesting experiment... but it would require time and hard work. Space, money, participants...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Psychoanalysis of a plie... part 1

Personal disclaimer: I have always hated plies. I hated putting my heels down in jumps. I love a deep grande plie in second right in the beginning of class, but there's something about the slowing down of a plie that has always jarred me. As a more mature dancer, I am finding the beauty of developing a deeply personal relationship with the plie. This is extremely difficult, but I expect it will be eternally rewarding.

First things first. For those unfamiliar, a plie (spelled with an accent over the e but because of technical difficulties, I cannot post the accent) is pronounced "plea-eay." Simply put, a plie is a bending of the knees. A grande plie is a deep bending of the knees, usually accompanied by the lowering of the entire torso in conjunction with proper alignment. The ankles relax, the knees glide over the toes in space, the pelvis rests on the femur bones, the spine lengthens, the rib cage softens, the shoulders are over the pelvis, and the head floats on top of the spine. For many, it is easier to "stick out the bootie" when doing a plie. I tell my students that, when working in classical techniques, "it's not that kind of dance..." Shifting the pelvis behind the torso and the femur heads (the femur is the loooooong thigh bone) allows for more space in the hip joints and a deeper range of motion of the pelvis, but it provides a rather awkward position for the mover.

Today, in pointe class, Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo emphasized the importance of the plie. She said something that I translated as "The plie creates a connection between you and the floor. It grounds you in and with the earth. It allows your joints to open." No wonder we so often leave the floor (for example, in a jump) after a plie! My joints are open. My body is totally receptive to the energies of the earth to which I am connecting. I am grounded in the earth and my body is a transmitter of its energy. A conduit. Through this simple connection of opening and receiving, I am taking in all of the power of the earth and allowing it to explode, or softly pulse in and through my body. The amazing tragedies of Japan's recent earthquake are humbling examples of the power of the earth to which I am connecting! And yet... my body does not shake or implode. My body receives and transmits and I can control the dissemination of this powerful energy. wow....

Today in class, Dr. Laura also had us stay in plie for a count before springing out for a tendu or echappe. After four consecutive performances and continuous rehearsals over the past eight (or really, 36) weeks, my body is admittedly tired. In class or performance, I am ready to keep going - to keep pushing - to keep working! BUT! PLEASE don't ask me to be grounded for a moment or to stay visually (illusionary) still. In that moment, all of my fatigue sets in. My body grows heavy. It is (only) the circular energy of the plie - the circular energy of the earth drawing up, being released, falling and returning only to be drawn up again - that propels me to lengthen and explode into the next movement.

As I reflect on the plie, it is so completely organic. My mind sours back to a seventh grade science textbook that displayed the cycle of water: evaporating from a pond or lake into the atmosphere, clouding, raining or snowing, and returning to the pond or lake. I picture molecules vibrating in space. Time slows and one of the Discovery Channel's micro-lenses engulfs my mind. The wooden floor is solid no more, but a series of tightly compacted small red balls vibrating. My body is another set of tightly compacted small balls (but I think they are multicolored because the chakras are multicolored and for some reason, I picture my body being somewhat separate from the wooden floor, even though in reality they are probably made of the same materials vibrating at different speeds.... which may produce different colors. So I'll stick with my multicolored body theory...). The atmosphere between me, the other dancers, the floor, the piano, the mirrors, and the barres is a thick open space with some blue balls (air? water vapor?) vibrating at a lower frequency. When I plie, my joints open, allowing more space between my multicolored vibrating balls. I am connected with the floor, so the red balls of the wooden floor move into the now open spaces of my body. When I straighten, my entire body expands because of the contraction of the additional energy/ vibrating balls and releases into the larger atmosphere of the studio.

This idea of vibrating molecules is so deeply spiritually, physically, and emotionally grounding. In essence, the plie allows the earth and the ground to support and rejuvenate me. During the brief period of the plie, I simply (???) need to allow my joins and my body to open to be receptive to this energy!

If only I could heal the world through plies...

Having this imagery revealed to me makes the plie no less daunting. I am looking forward to investigating it further... to attempting to allow it (the plie and its ensuing energetic forces) to move me. to move through me.

Clearly, this requires more research. Until then, dear readers, I encourage you: don't stick out your booties and embrace the depth of the plie. I'll be joining you in this endeavor. Let's report back.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Questions... searching for answers

I am fortunate to work with a variety of populations. In the past few months, I have worked with very experienced professional dancers; very novice young adult dancers; very experienced young adult dancers; and adults who are very mature in their thinking and in their bodies. Each group teaches me so much about myself and about the dancing body. In reflection on seeing a lot of student-created work, I generated a list of questions. I realize that these questions are important at every stage of a dancer's/ artist's/ person's life - regardless of discipline or pathway. In time, I hope that I can answer each of these questions, realizing that the answers may change as I change.

What do you value?
How do you see yourself as an artist? A dancer?
What is your place in the lineage of dance? of dance making?
To what genre do you subscribe? Do you subscribe to a genre?
On what is your dance value system based? or, from what perspective do you understand dance? from a social dance perspective? entertainment? religious? cultural? exploratory? conceptual? dance as sport/ competition?
How do you explain this value system to others?
How do you justify this value system? How do you justify the work you are doing?
What performers do you admire?
What choreographers do you admire?
Why is your work important?
What is your aesthetic? (Although this could be similar to a dance value system, I believe it is different - at least for the purposes of these questions...)
Why have you chosen to work with the body?
How do you classify/ identify yourself? - artist? entertainer? teacher? How does your self-identified title influence your choreography?
What is your research? How do you accomplish this? How much time do you allow/ give yourself to research? Can you do more? Why?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Performance Tonight!

The past three months have been full of exciting performances. Tonight, I'm performing again, with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. I'll update the past three months, soon! But for now, here's the link:

See you there!