Thursday, July 26, 2012

NGPP at Dance Place

The Nora Gibson Performance Project will be at Dance Place in Washington DC this weekend.

Here's the link for tickets:

Here's the link for the NGPP website:

And here are pictures of me and Eiren having fun at rehearsal:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Creative alternatives

I received the following e-mail from Kristine M. She gave me permission to post our discussion. Kristine intern-ed at CHI MAC with the Dance for PD program in the Spring and was so inspired that she embarked on her own journey of the training. That training took her to New York City and the Mark Morris Dance Group's "Dance for PD" training program. Kristine is now a fully-trained "Dance for PD" (Parkinson's Disease) instructor. 

Many of my non-technique classes, and especially the Dance for PD classes are designed to start in a circle. The circle is a non-threatening way to engage all participants and allow all participants to feel equal. (There are many theories about circles, but those are two quick theories. I encourage you to find your own and share them!)

My Dance for PD class begins with a gentle version of a yogic sun-salutation and imagery of painting rainbows. Some of my dancers roll their eyes at me, but then get really creative when I ask them to pick colors for their rainbows... I often need to check with the Crayola website to see what some of these colors are!)

Kristine is working with an elementary and pre-elementary population this summer. 

"I thought you might enjoy this.

This morning, my kids were very rowdy. I decided to forgo my lesson plans (Fish from the movies!) and try something else.

We took our shoes off, put the chairs in a circle (do you see where this is going?!?!?!), and I put on some Beatles. I taught them a sun salutation. We dipped our hands in paint (and picked colors). We did some feet isolations and 'splashed' water around. We played the name game. We went on a journey around the world (something one of the other workshop participants came up with). We finished with One Tribe (and had a discussion about what the song means).


All day I was thinking that I wanted to share it. Can I add that in the beginning they were not into it. About halfway through the feet isolations one of my boys said "We're dancing?!?!" To which my response was "Of course!"

You can tell from the video that they were into it by the end. (My favorite part of the video is the boy in the green shirt doing the disco in the first "freestyle" as it came to be in our class. He would not participate in the circle at first.)"

Kristine sent me a video of the group dancing, which I am not posting to protect the children. But know that I wish I could share it because it's absolutely beautiful! Thanks, Kristine!

Here's to changing the world through dance...

Building community through dance...

An e-mail from a former student/ intern/ friend prompted this reflection. I've been hesitant to write about it, but the next post demands some background. So, here goes...

What does it mean to appreciate dance? The moving body? The human form?

Who is considered a "dancer"? Who is allowed to dance? Why?

I've taught many variations of courses approaching the recognition of dance as an art form... muddling through what that means and what the term "art" means.

Oftentimes, it comes out that everyone can dance and everyone does dance.

Why the fear of dance? Why the stigma? What are these barriers and how do we combat them? (Because I often find that people are afraid of dance... when really it's an understanding of their bodies that is the fear).

As an exercise in one of these such classes, I challenged my students to create a dance for their community. What defines their community? (the mission, vision, and values of the institution). What do these elements mean? How do they translate into physical form (ie, through lectures, articles, buildings, press materials)? What would these elements look like in a dance?

What music would effectively reflect the community? What would have to happen, in time, space, and energy to allow for anyone/ everyone to feel the connection between the movement, the music, and the said values of the institution?

Serious work and research ensued.

We settled on the Black Eyed Peas "One Tribe" as our music. I asked these dancers to listen carefully to the lyrics and analyze them. What did they mean? How did they reflect the mission, vision, values? Who were the Black Eyes Peas and how did their mission align with that of the institution?

Insert papers and discussion and moments of "I never thought of it that way." (One of my favorite comments from students, regardless of age or situation).

Then came the "hard" part. How to translate this to movement. What did that look like?

Well... we reflected again on the mission, vision, and values. There are simple movements to a beat that most people can do. They can be modified to accommodate people who need mobility assistance or need to remain seated. The dance repeated so that everyone participating could have an opportunity to feel successful in "getting it right." The dance had a moment for the movers to insert their own sense of self through improvisation - whatever that means to them. The dance changes direction in space so that everyone has a chance to be "up front" (a place of importance) and that the audience members have an opportunity to be addressed and engaged regardless of their placement to the dancers. For example, this dance is perfect for a theater in the round or a "random" public place like a cafeteria or mall. Everyone watching has an opportunity to participate and be acknowledged. (And in my mind, those who are acknowledged are more likely to be engaged and will participate).

These students and I taught the dance to as many other students of dance as we could. Some of the students used the dance as a diversity program for their own purposes. Some of the students taught the dance to their other classes. We were invited by the heath and wellness program to teach the dance as a form of stress- relief. We taught the dance to adults who might not have wanted to dance. We taught the dance to children. We taught the dance to anyone who would give us a few minutes.

We danced where ever there was an opportunity.

And not everyone understood us. Or accepted us. In fact, we were often judged. But I understand that people judge things with which they are unfamiliar and things that are a little scary. It's a defense mechanism. (More importantly, my young students began to develop this understanding as well. They could see that the judgement was a form of fear and they could combat that with patience and education!) And the fear is valid.  We live in our bodies and our bodies retain information that our conscious minds forget. These memories are often physicality enacted.

HOWEVER! Some of those same people who were hesitant did eventually engage with the dance and remarked on how much fun they had. How much of a community they felt a part of. How they'd come back to dance again (and they did!). Some people will still judge... but I believe it's just a matter of patience on my (our) part. Everyone dances and everyone sometimes needs to be reminded of the joy that occurs in the moving body.

Again, this dance has been adapted for many different populations of differing abilities. I challenged an occupational therapy group of students to find ways to adapt the dance for people who might need some adjustments. They were successful and even surprised themselves that they could use their creative energies to transform something seemingly unfamiliar into something accessible and applicable.

The beauty of the dance is in the coming together. The community. The joy of dancing.

I love this song!

(Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to this song but the institution for which the dance was created did have one of those umbrella rights, which I don't know very much about, but I did make sure that everything was legal before embarking on this project. And I also believe that understanding popular media and pop culture are important parts of education, but I'm not quite "cool" enough to be an expert.... I leave that to the people much "cooler" than I).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dance for Dreams... Hope Dances... and "Notes"

Included are some pictures and a link to Hope Dances.

The June 30th performance contained some amazing dancers and people. I'm grateful to have been invited to be a part of the experience!

Brian Mengini's photography from the performance:

About Hope Dances: 

Notes from Unexpected Lessons:

Stay tuned.... 

Psychoanalysis of a plie... Part 2

Part 1:

Part 2:

Quick review.

Art reflects life. Dance = art. Three little dots in a triangle or therefore: dance reflects life. (I can't do those fancy math/ simile/ SAT/ GRE formats on this blog. I'm going to assume you get the picture.)

Realizing that making assumptions makes an @$$ out of U and ME. And that in that equation, there are no transitions.

Did I mention that I'm not a fan of transitions? It's a personal thing. I've been working on it. And it's something that I think is reflected in my choreography. But, strangely (thankfully... because I've been working on it and it's been noticed), I've received recent comments in class specifically regarding my transitions. Ellie Goudie-Averill encouraged us to pair up and watch our partner - providing specific guided feedback (side note - love this pedagogical tool). My partner had a daring-ness that I admired. She said she admired my transitions and how seamless I made them. (I found this quite humorous and interesting.... I hate transitions, but she saw them and perceived them... research!)

Which brings me back to the plie.

I've been practicing and leading barre Monday-Saturday mornings since the beginning of June. Almost eight solid weeks of serious, intense, daily barre practice. My practice begins with a tendu exercise followed by a plie exercise. There is some variation, but not too much. Karen Dearborn, a dear teacher and mentor, instilled this practice in me. The showing up to the barre is the first step. The familiarity of the first few exercises is the second step. In that familiarity, the body, mind, and spirit prepare for the ensuing practice and are allowed to enter into the practice with a safe point of engagement. From this safe point, the challenge, daring-ness, vulnerability, failure, and risk-taking can occur successfully.

About four weeks into this practice, I noted that my plie was deeper. Something that my body structure would never previously allow. This deeper plie provided a release, a safety, a jumping-off point to further investigate the boundaries and limits of my body. Because this/ these initial plies gave me a sense of self, I was able to work more deeply in my practice.

And then....

my plies became different.

Every day.

Things in my life space are changing... things in my dance space are changing... things are changing.

And my plie is responding, but without judgement. I am paying attention... and recognizing that my body is responding and processing through my practice. That my external situation is manifesting itself in my body and my practice and my plies, and that my internal situation - from which the plies stem and then grow into larger movement - allows me to process those external situations.

And in my practice of teaching, I've recognized that showing up to the barre has become more than just waking-up-early-and-warming-up-before-a-technique-class.

It's a practice of showing up to the body.

My own teaching and learning practice is revealing to me that I have a linear structure and a clear technical structure within which to work (the ballet vocabulary and pedagogy), but my own kinesphere is larger... my capacity is larger. And my lessons (at least in my mind and design) have begun to reflect the absence of concrete structures. (ie, the floor... which I understand is a very post-post-modern way of teaching and thinking. More on this later? I LOVE the image of sand. And the sand beneath the swing set in a public park. There is a natural trenching that occurs from the dragging of feet and swinging momentum that burrows below the expected line of the ground.... The undercurve... the rebound... the impermanence of it all)

The plie is constant motion. Constant change. Acceptance of movement. A lowering, a raising, an arriving, and a continuance.

My pelvis, and therefore upper body, are different in first, second, fourth, and fifth positions. In the span of two minutes of plies and port de bras, I negotiate my body in at least sixteen different ways with awareness, expansiveness, delicacy, discipline, and reverence. Reverence for my body and for the discipline.

Those plies connect me with myself, with the energy of the day, and with the universe as it is revealing itself to me. It's no wonder that many audition-ers can know what type of dancer you are after plies and tendues. We are revealing ourselves in the simple (?) bending of our knees.

I will lead barre again tomorrow. I don't know who will come to the practice, if anyone will come to the practice. But I will engage with my plies. And so engaging with my plie and with my body, engage with the many transitions that my body (bodies - physical, energetic, psychological, emotional) will engage with throughout the day. (Too many prepositions? I'm out of my analytic mind right now and into my body-mind).


We practiced plies in Dance for PD today. Plies to strengthen the body and the legs to support... well... that's another post.

May you transition well... and may you accept the undercurve of the plie knowing that the grounding leads to lengthening and to a new journey... even if that journey is only from first position to second.

5...6...preparation... and....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

the embodiment project - reflection by Jessica H.

For about two years, I engaged in a comprehensive pedogogical practice with several young dancers. At the end of this process, I asked them to reflect on how dance has influenced their lives or the way they see and participate in the world. "Notes from Unexpected Lessons" (recently performed at Hope Dances' Dance for Dreams) was/is my physcialized reflection to the changes, growth, and development I had seen in them. Here are their words. (*only the name of the institution has been altered. This material has been used with permission of Jessica Hardinger).

The Embodiment Project.

Two years before I came to college, I was telling myself and everyone who would listen that I wanted to dance. Ever since the small amount of dancing I did in color guard junior and senior year, I was hooked: I wanted to dance. Most people I told this reminded me of my brief stint of dance classes when I was four and five… I hated it. Even at four, while the rest of my classmates were thrilled, I didn’t understand the point of dancing on stage dressed up as Baby Bop from Barney, or tap dancing nuns, or Pocahontas. It didn’t have meaning for me, and I could never remember anything I was supposed to be doing onstage, so basically I just stood there  under the stage lights tried to do what everyone else did. But years later, at seventeen years old, I knew there was something more to dance that I wanted to explore.

Two years ago I got my chance when the college offered its first-ever dance classes. I can still remember the first day of ballet so clearly… I woke up two hours early and was outside Sean’s door, dressed for class, twenty minutes before we needed to leave for class. (Welcome to ball-et!) I could hardly contain my excitement. I had been waiting for this opportunity for four years, and had spent the entire summer eagerly waiting for the first day of class. I had dreams of ending up in beautiful pink pointe shoes several years into the future, and however impractical this dream seemed to me, (and believe me, it did…) I simply didn’t care. I was ready to learn everything I possibly could about this thing called dance that I had been waiting so long to explore.

I remember the first time we did balancés, and how this was the first movement that I really connected with. I loved how flowy and light they felt, like I was gliding across the floor. I would spend each of our movement meditation/mission moments doing balancés over and over, loving how graceful they felt. I think this was the first moment I felt like a dancer.

The next semester brought with it new adventures in the form of an abandoned honors thesis, tap dance, show dance, and Oklahoma!, as dance challenged and changed me in ways I could never have dreamed. My entire audition process for Oklahoma! was mainly centered around intense stage fright, particularly of singing by myself onstage. But the dance audition put me back onstage in a place I was comfortable- moving, expressing without words, through rond de jambs and my favorite balancés. While the role of ballet Laurey, from understudy to the real thing when I was presented with it, felt completely out of my league, it turned out to be exactly what I needed at that time. A chance to stretch my ideas of what I was capable of, to connect with the theatre and dance families that I was already close to on a whole different level, to experience the magic of connecting with an audience, and to build the strength I needed to make real decisions in my life about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. It was here, in this process, in the crazy months of stretching beyond my limits, in trying, failing, and trying again to learn things I never dreamed I would be doing, in learning to work with every single person onstage and offstage and relying on one another, and in gaining a very slight understanding of how dance connects us to one another and helps us to express volumes without a word, that I found the courage to apply to Teach for America.

The summer after my first year of dance brought the magic of modern dance through classes at the Chi-MAC studio, which took everything I knew about dance at that point, turned it upside down, and made me fall even more in love with it. I loved the free, flowing, catch-and-release movements we learned in my very first class with KC, (I still remember the sequence we did), and how there was no expectation for me to do anything exactly “right”. The essence of the movement was in my expression of it, and I was free to explore within the movements. And just when I thought dance had completely blown my mind, I the semester began, and with it, dance appreciation.

Here a small group of us, guided by Jess, were able to discuss and explore this thing we call “dance”, and what it means to us, art, society, and the world. I began to make connections between two of my passions: teaching and dance. I could see movement as expression used constantly by the students in the autistic support classroom where I was teaching, and was inspired by my students’ abilities to use movement to express what they had no words for. This was the link I had been trying to find, a way to connect the two biggest parts of my life and use each to inform the other. Fueled by this inspiration, I followed through with the decision I had made in the spring and applied to Teach for America, confident that my interest and intent to connect the arts and education to bring learning to life for my students would help me to meet the challenges of the adventure I was hoping to embark upon.

 As a class, we then examined and brainstormed ways to break barriers through dance, and created the college dance, a dance we planned to spread campus-wide in order to unite our entire student body through one song and one dance. At the same time, as we headed into choreographing for the winter dance concert, I found myself needing dance to help me to break barriers of my own. After coming out of a less than healthy relationship, I turned to dance to explore and deal with things I simply did not have words for. Working collaboratively, Jess, Tommy and I were able to choreograph a piece that did exactly that, with movements that allowed me to both process everything that had happened, and begin to move forward. Here, I learned the power of using movement as a means of processing things we cannot verbalize.

Spring semester brought even more exciting adventures, all beginning on the same day. Our hard fought for pointe technique class began, on the exact day that brought news of my acceptance into Teach for America with a placement in the Mississippi Delta. And so, as I began to process this new path I was about to take, I attended class with my dance family as we all began this new journey of dancing en pointe, working (and occasionally commiserating) together and strengthening our bodies for the coming challenges that would accompany those beautiful pink shoes I had been dreaming of since my very first ballet class on campus. I will probably never forget the day I drove to Philly for my first pointe shoe fitting with Jennifer and Jess, or how excited I was the first time I walked over to the bar and rolled up to full pointe. This was what I had been dreaming of since day I walked into my first dance class, and probably even before. And even though I would wake up each morning after class the night before with feet that seemed to ask “what on Earth could you possibly be thinking?!”, I was (and am) completely in love with my beautiful pink shoes and everything about dancing in them.

My last dance concert on campus meant working on two pieces that I had been looking forward to for quite awhile: a trio with Kate and Kristine, and an eight minute instrumental duet with Sean. Both pieces, though completely different, along with a piece Jess choreographed for our pointe class that told the story of our class, and our now well-known One Tribe dance, felt like a perfect reflection of everything I had learned over the past two years. The beautiful, graceful technique of ballet, paired with the determination, concentration, and attention to detail required by pointe; our growing abilities to express emotions, thoughts, and ideas through movement and connect to each other and an audience with those movements; dance as process; dance as exploration; dance as celebration; dance as reflection, dance as connection. I could not have imagined a more perfect expression of such a life-changing journey that is only just beginning, or a more incredible group of people to share it with than my dance family, a group of people with some of the biggest hearts and kindest souls I have ever encountered.

On my very last day on campus senior year, I walked all around campus, taking the usual path I had taken so many times over the past four years. I found myself in the grotto, the place where I had played piano for numerous outdoor masses over the past few years. I knelt down on the ground in front of the gate that stands in front of the altar, intending to say a prayer asking for the courage to follow the path I have been shown, the one leading me halfway across the country away from everyone I love and everything familiar, to a classroom full of kids who need a teacher. Instead, however, I found myself putting on an instrumental song that came into my head, and dancing the words that I simply could not form. In my last few hours as an undergraduate student on the campus that has grown so dear to my heart, and before embarking upon a journey full of uncertainty, I learned about another form of dance: dance as prayer.
Looking back, I know I have only just begun to learn about and explore dance, but I am so grateful for the incredible journey it has taken me on over the past two years, and for all that it has taught me. I am also incredibly excited to continue this trek, and to continue to learn and grow through this thing called dance that has become such a huge part of me. Here we go!