Wednesday, April 27, 2016

No such thing as stillness

Welcome Spring!

I celebrated with a long walk through a nature preserve with my family. The paths were lined with generations, bikers, puppies, and sharings of the life experienced through the preserve.

Did you see the turtles sunning themselves?

Look - there's a giant bird who just caught a fish!

Do you see all of the little minnows swimming?

Are those baby fish or tadpoles?

Listen - the frogs are calling to each other! Over there - over there!

"Check this out" a fellow explorer called to us. "He's so small I almost stepped on him! I am usually looking up, but I looked down and there he was! I'm going to put him closer to the water."

Our new friend stretched out her palm holding a tiny turtle. Moments earlier, I had scared sunning, car-tire-size turtles off of a pond-side spot. (I was across the pond, but they still heard me and dove into the water). The difference in size, and the difference in time/ life experience between the baby turtle and the sunning turtles left me breathless.

My friend might have crushed the small turtle had she not been paying attention, but the activity of the Spring demanded that she remain aware. That all of us in the preserve remain aware.

And find our own stillness so we could experience the motion of life.

Without my own stillness, I could not see the tadpoles under the murky water. I could not identify the cacophony of bird calls as individuals. I could not perceive the scent of cedar from one direction and the pine from the other.

Stillness brought movement. Stillness allowed me to experience movement.

So in nature, so in life. So in dance.

I am reminded that in the process of dancing, we have the opportunity to create stillness so that the movement around us can exist; so that we can perceive that movement and then be inspired by it. In technique, in rehearsal, in class, in life.

Stillness need not be passive or gentle or fleeting or interrupted. Rather, it is powerful, dynamic, and active!

What do you find in your own stillness? What moves you when you are still?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Practice. Rehearsal. Cliches.

I'm learning to play the ukulele.

And it's hard.

My dad is teaching me. He's spent many years playing and teaching guitar and picked up the ukulele a few years ago. He has the unique ability to play the Marine Corp Hymn on almost any instrument. (It's no wonder I married a vet!)

I learned three cords, with which I should be able to play most popular songs. But, the challenge is in the transitions.

After only fifteen minutes of strumming and moving through the cords, my fingers were getting numb and cramping. I have enough on my plate - why am I doing this, I asked myself in a bit of frustration. Playing the uke looked and sounded so much easier than it was. And therein I found the nugget and the purpose!

The development and the skill comes from the practice of doing the same thing over and over again. Not in the "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten" sort of way, but in the way that "when tested, you don't rise to the occasion, you revert to the level of your training". In learning the cords and working through my transitions on the uke, I need to put an immense amount of time repeating the training of transitioning so I can move onto the next level and be prepared for my "test". (Or in this case, family sing-a-longs).

Why share this little story and cliche quotes?

I'm preparing myself and many dancers for upcoming performances. It's the point in the year/ semester when my dancers/ students are tired and other stresses are pressing upon them (papers, family, the weather, allergies...) Learning the uke reminded me of the importance of practice in my everyday dance life.

The practice of showing up fully.
The practice of being mindful of my movement.
The practice of making choices within the process.

Many years ago, "practice" was a regular meeting of an athletic team to repeat drills. I was insulted when someone referred to my rehearsals as "practice". (Didn't they know I was making ART?)

Practice, to me, has come to mean the repetition of a skill in order to more fully develop the craft. This is showing up. Being present. Executing the degage, the plie, the tendu. Transitioning between cords. Again. And Again. And Again.

It takes time. It takes effort and energy. It takes patience.

Eventually, the transitions become easier. Not necessarily perfected, but smoother. The practice makes way for the artistry to unfold. (And, sports fans, I realize that a well crafted athlete can be beautiful).

Rehearsal has become to mean the practice of the craft of making. In dance, this is the refining of the timing, the intention, and the dynamic of the movement. Rehearsal provides many choices, options, and opportunities to dig deeper into the art-making space provided by the discipline of practice.

I remind myself and my students that the way we chose to execute and be present (or not) in class is the way we're going to perform. Our bodies are imprinting the way we're repeating the movement so that in the time of the test, we can trust our training (or realize that we didn't take that time seriously enough).

It's with this realization that I take comfort in my sore hands from uke practice and torn feet and bruised body parts from dance practice. I am reminded that the attention to the practice will result in a more fully-prepared performance.

Or, "you get out what you put in".

(Shout out to the military for many of the sayings I often hear repeated in my family circle and some included here. That practice worked!)

(I realize that cliche has an accent, but I normal alt codes aren't allowing me to insert the symbol.)

There are many ways we embody "practice". How do you?

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's the week of the show, y'all!

Check out KYL/D at Prince Theater this weekend:


KYL/D Prince Theater Official Preview Video from Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers on Vimeo.

An article I wrote for the Dance Journal & picked up by Phindie

Get your Tickets & use code Jessica5 for a discount when you check out!

Rehearsal photo of KYL/D by Freddie Kelvin

Monday, April 4, 2016

What goes on my CV and where? - commission vs. instruction

Your CV is as unique as you are. Everyone doesn't fit into a little box and neither should the way we present ourselves. That being said, each industry needs some working definitions and guidelines. People working within the same field need to be on the same page and be unified in talking with people outside of their industry. Specifically, we as dancers need to understand what we're saying so we can communicate with non-dancers about our work, performances, and why dance education and performance needs to be funded!

I offer these.


Commission - a. to bring (something newly produced) into working order. From a Latin word meaning "to entrust" (from a Google search).
                        b. a work created by an artist and paid for by an individual or institution, outside of or in addition to other existing professional agreements (my own informed definition).

Repertory - a. performance of various plays, operas, or ballets by a company at regular, short intervals (from a Google search)
                   b. work in the lineage of the choreographer or company (my own informed definition)
                   c. a class in which students are lead by a professional choreographer through the creative process, usually resulting in a performance (my own informed definition).

Q: If I'm teaching a Repertory Class at an institution, and I'm being paid to create choreography on them, am I being commissioned?

A: Based on the above definitions, no. The professional title for that instance is Professor (Lecturer, Adjunt Faculty, etc) of Repertory.

Q: If I'm paid to set choreography on a group of students/ individuals/ company outside of the classroom setting, am I being commissioned?

A: Based on the above definitions, yes.

Separate the work you've done by titles. Some examples are: Studio Teaching; University/ College Teaching. Professional Commissions. Theatre Commissions.

I've also been encouraged to have an appendix to my CV, listing and detailing the courses I've taught and the choreography I've created. This, too could be separated in categories (i.e., Professional, University/ College, Studio/ Competition). For example:

Teaching College/ University
Ballet, all levels
Modern Dance, all levels
Improvisation, beginner

Teaching Studio/ Community
Ballet, all levels, child to professional
Modern Dance, intermediate-advanced, teen-professional
Tap, beginner, child to adult

(in)visible veins: Rivers Merge. 26 minutes. Site-specific Modern Dance. 23 performers, college students and professionals.
Have a Little Faith in Me. 4.30 minutes. Lyrical. 5 performers, age 11-14.

What's worked for you?