It’s Time…for a Revolution

Tech rehearsal for The Pack (2012) at Dance Mission Theatre, SF, CA (with dancers Janesta Edmonds, Amanda Crawford and Kimberly Peterson).

Tech rehearsal for The Pack (2012) at Dance Mission Theatre, SF, CA (with dancers Janesta Edmonds, Amanda Crawford and Kimberly Peterson).

The funding model for the arts is broken.

For all those non-profit development professionals who are now screaming in agony over this statement, I make my first point by introducing you to Kickstarter, a for profit company that provides an easy and simple virtual site for creative people to launch their own campaigns.  Easy?  Simple?  “This can’t be!” would be the words cried from development professionals in foundations and non-profits all over the world.  But, yes, it can!

Since their launch in 2009, Kickstarter has funded 35,000 creative projects.  Its premise is simple.  There are no long forms.  There is no “panel” of people sitting in chairs at desks and cubicles reviewing your fifty-page proposal, which took you weeks to write and perfect to yet another foundation’s requirements and goals.  Instead, Kickstarter is based on the premise that the artists who submit proposals will either raise the money or not based on talent, their networks and their individual marketing strategies.  Artists also get to keep 95% of the profits, with Kickstarter deducting a mere 5%.

And, my favorite aspect of this grassroots-funding tool is that artists have 100% ownership of their work.  For those of my readers not familiar with the grant world, in exchange for funding, most grant makers have partial ownership of the end product.  Even if that “ownership” is simply in the form of a logo on an artist’s website or in small font at the end of a program or in the tweaking of an artist’s vision, it is still some sort of stamp, attesting to the fact that someone else, someone with more money than the artist herself, paid for this work.  This exposure in turn provides great public relations for those foundations and companies funding art and culture.  But, what does this funding really do for the emerging artist?  Does it help in the transition from an emerging to an established artist?  Yes, maybe it could help speed up this process.  However, on the flip side, what are the downsides of creating work funded through grants alone?

As you ponder these questions, let’s move on to my second introduction, as I would like to introduce you another entrant to the virtual fundraising platform, Indiegogo.  Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo has campaign options for non-profits and has different fee structures from which to choose, for both individuals and non-profits.  Indiegogo also ensures that campaign creators maintain 100% ownership of their ideas, whether funded or not, and offers global exposure.  While their fixed and flexible funding options could have financial consequences for those who do not plan their fundraising strategy well, it offers the free platform needed to promote oneself, whether one is just starting out or is a more established non-profit looking to gain funding from a new client base.  Overall, like Kickstarter, Indiegogo offers a free virtual tool that enables start-ups, non-profits, entrepreneurs and individual creative types an option and the tools to get one’s creative venture up and running, without the hassle of grants, paperwork and politics.

And, yes, the arts are a political business.  Just as much as the job market and the new economy is about who you know, the same rules apply in the arts and the arts funding scene.  As a new artist, I oftentimes see grants that market themselves to “emerging artists.”  However, when you read beyond this headline to the details, these same grants often require press releases, photographs, a five-year plus history of creating work and some even have the audacity to require 501(c)(3) non-profit status.  501(c)(3) status? If I had this status, I would be closer to an established entity than a new entrant onto the scene, so please, let’s not get started on this requirement.  The point is that as a new artist, I need money to pay for rehearsal space, venues, costumes and ideally dancers.  That’s it.  It is very simple and clear-cut, and does not require a complicated budget.  Thus, for a new artist, I see many of these grants as red herrings, which distract, not support, from my dance-making journey.

In all, similar to the changing world of recruiting and hiring for a knowledge-based economy, if the arts funding world really wants to support emerging artists, it needs to begin basing grants on both potential and past accomplishments.  While I have continued to create and produce my own works without any other financial support but my own, it is challenging.  I am the sole administrative and creative driver of my work and, as such, I do not spend any more time on administrative tasks than is needed, as I need to spend my time in the studio, not on the computer, honing my skills as a choreographer.

In closing, as artists, it’s time to take back our rights to our art and Kickstarter and Indiegogo are a great starting point to do so.  With this said, my fellow artists, the following is our challenge:  to fully own our own visions by showing work on stages, galleries and coffeehouses all over the nation without any formal funding.  This challenge may sound impossible, but if any group of people can be successful going against the norm, it’s artists.  In the end, it is up to us to take back the gifts we have so carelessly and quickly put out there for someone else to shape, direct and own.  It is up to us to take back the countless hours spent in the studio tweaking our vision.  It is up to us, and us alone, to begin this revolution.


So You Think You Can Run for President

What is missing from the presidential debates is a discussion about the arts.  Math and science are important.  However, in order to innovate and to creatively devise solutions to this nation’s every growing list of problems, we need a generation of thinkers that know how to do more than conduct a Google search.  We need thinkers that can function in the undefined gray areas of life, for our solutions to the debt and jobless crises are not in a book, on the Internet or on a calculator.  They are in the collaborative and creative work of people that know how to think and act differently and are not afraid to do so. 

While Romney is dead set on attacking China, Obama touts our country’s need to focus on math and science in order to devise a long-term solution to outsourcing and joblessness.  So, while Romney is planning WWIII, Obama seems to have forgotten that the key to fostering creative and innovative thinkers is the arts.  In art class, there are no clear-cut answers.  A blank canvas, a film and a dance do not come with a step-by-step guide detailing the “right way” to develop a great work of art.  The solutions to these dilemmas are all in the artists’ minds, training and willingness to explore, take risks and make mistakes, all attributes which are greatly needed, and, missing, in today’s schools and popular culture. 

As schools continue to eliminate the arts, the newest generations are left with the Internet and TV and YouTube as their source of art and culture.  So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars glorify the glitzy performance aspect of dance, filled with dazzling costumes and tricks.  Dancers, just like all performers, make this work look easy and fun.  However, what happened to the more than 15 second focus on the dedication and sacrifice that is needed to compete in this non-lucrative and unforgiving industry?  If the entire show just followed each dancer around to technique class and to all four jobs each one usually has to have, in addition to focusing on her art, the show would probably be a failure as making it as a dancer is not a star studded experience.  Back to my main point though…Kicking one’s leg high and doing a backflip are great technical skills and very fun to watch.  However, where is the soul of the technique?  Art is a combination of technique and soul, and these shows reward and popularize the former and not the latter, creating the illusion that dance is just about technique and the sequencing of standard familiar movements. 

As the arts are eliminated, so are our students’ creative problem solving abilities and skills.  As an artist in residence in the schools, I witnessed this lack first hand, as students gazed at me with wide eyes, looking for the “correct answer” to a pathways making activity.  This creative dance activity challenges students to work in groups to devise a way to move from one end of the room to the other, across three different pathways (e.g. straight, curved) of their own choosing.  The challenge is that the audience must be able to decipher the pathways from their movement, not their pictures or verbalization of their pathways.  Today’s testing mandates have ingrained a sense of paranoia in our students.  So much so that today’s students are acutely aware and afraid of taking risks, thus promoting the black and white problem solving approach instead of the risk taking needed to truly find the best solution possible, which may not be the “right” solution.  One of the gifts of being human is the ability and room to make and to learn from our mistakes.  By focusing on one correct answer and perfectionism, we are taking this gift away from our students and society.

When I enter a school and am asked to teach dance, the only understanding people have of this art form is what they hear on the radio and see on TV.  While I appreciate the popularization of my most beloved art form, they also create astronomical challenges for me in the classroom.  My 3rd graders want to do “that trick” they saw on TV and are adamant that hip-hop is what they see on these shows.  Our radios blare music glorifying sex, material possessions and the use of derogatory verbiage towards women, which my 1st graders in turn sing and want to hear in class so that they can “shake their booties.”  (Yes, one of my first graders used these words.)

As the arts quickly dissipate from the public schools, our culture becomes more and more uneducated about the arts, which are a crucial part of any country’s legacy, culture and education.  Recently, Judith Jamison, Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, spoke in San Francisco.  As soon as I learned of this rare event, I bought tickets and anticipated a sold out speaking engagement.  However, in reality, the theater was half empty and the crowd consisted, for the most part, of those around her age.  During the question and answer period, an audience member asked, “How do you turn off your right brain to let the left take over” and “how does architecture impact your choreography.”  To this, Jamison responded, “Well, I can’t speak to this right brain, left brain thing as I use both as a choreographer.”  This question, amidst many others, was uninformed and insulting to the work of an artist and a choreographer.  Making dances does not discriminate.  It uses all of one’s body and mind at once, and if one cannot connect the two, one will have a lot of trouble making brilliant dances.

Needless to say, I was astonished.  Judith Jamison is an iconoclast of American dance.  She is one of the greats and her work will live on way past her time.  In all, everyone should recognize her contributions to the dance world, as a dancer and a choreographer.  But, alas, today’s generations hardly know her name, nevertheless her body of work.  Dance, just like America, has a history, from Martha Graham to Merce Cunningham to Alvin Ailey himself.  These people have impacted not only the world of dance, but the world in which we live in.  So, why do we not teach this history in school?  By not even recognizing the accomplishment of artists, especially dancers and choreographers, we are telling our children from a very young age that the arts and a career in this field are unimportant.

While this blog is a digression from my normal musings on my role as a dancer and choreographer, I could not watch one more debate without crying out for the arts in this blog.  I know and hope that others will speak out as well, for the arts are just as or more important than every other subject area.  In fact, the arts promote learning in other areas, as one can apply the creative problem solving and team-building skills learned in the arts to every subject area.  In fact, these are life skills.  How does filling in bubbles, to find that one correct answer, help move us forward as a society?  How do these tests help us to compete?  As the jobless rate increases and our obsession with technology takes over every moment of our lives, we become more and more disconnected to ourselves, to our lives and to creating and promoting a real “culture.”  Show me a how a standardized test increases our ability to compete, to innovate and to take risks and by all means I will give some credit to these antiquated tools.  For now though, I suggest taking a step back and asking yourself, not Google, what it would be like to live in a society without art.  I am referring to real “art,” the stuff born of creative minds, pieces that are open to interpretation.  Works that moves you like nothing else can.  In all, pieces that make you feel AND think, not one or the other, at the same time.

We, as humans, deserve more than this that we now provide for students and ourselves.  Computers and mobile devices are great tools, but they are not human.  Only we then can find the answers needed to bring this economy and this nation forward, not backwards.  If not, say hello to your computer, hug it and go to sleep with it, because the voice of Siri and all the other electronic devices that we so proudly tout and have with us at all moments of the day will be the only “people” with whom we know how to interact.  I know that I want more than this in life.  The real question is, do you?


Artists Anonymous

As we begin 2012, I have come to the realization that I have an addiction-dance making.  I oftentimes feel that I need an Artists Anonymous group filled with other addicts like myself to whom to admit this fact.  I imagine myself entering the room in my purest dance form, dressed in comfortable black stretch pants, hair tousled and in sneakers.  I would approach the front of the room confidently and state, “Hi, my name is Becky.  I am an artist and I am addicted to dance-making.”  After some “oohs” and “ahhs,” and probably some exaggerated shaking of the heads up and down in recognition of our similar plights, everyone would respond, “Hello Becky.  Welcome.”  I would then be able to sit down and breathe a sigh of relief, a real exhale, for all the pretending, all the schizophrenia I have lived as a public school teacher, a corporate HR professional and as an administrator would be pushed aside in this room.  Here, I could be pure, raw and honest with myself and be the artist that I have always been deep down inside.

Of course, I am just guessing and jesting at how this interaction would come about and then unfold.  However, the crux of it is that as an artist, I often feel isolated and unsure about the work I do and how I go about doing it.  How do I choreograph and lead, dance and live, and teach and educate all at the same time-gracefully, with humor and with passion?  How do other artists lead this life successfully and how can I find them?  Again, I say to the group that reads these words in cyberspace, “Hi, my name is Becky.  I am an artist who is addicted to dance making and I am proud of it.”

This idea of an AA for artists may sound ludicrous.  I mean, how could being addicted to making art really be an addiction?  What harm could it cause?  Oh, but only if I could list all of the dangers…isolation (purposeful much of the time), manic ups and downs, insecurity and instability are just a few words that come to mind.  Simply stated, being passionately in love with an art form requires tradeoffs and very difficult ones at times.  Family and friends will oftentimes not understand the risks you take and the decisions you make for your art.  But, those decisions are yours, and no one else’s, to make.  You have to live with them, every day.  And, only you know, deep down in your soul, whether you can live with yourself if you decide not to make those sacrifices as well.  Our spirits tell us this by nagging at us, by pleading with us every day that we are not in the studio creating and dreaming.  In today’s matter of fact, technologically driven black and white world, being practical is the norm.  But it is also such an impediment to art-making and this is why many artists are seen as odd hermit types who live in the clouds.  This is why we need an AA, but in this AA we could use our real names if we like.

What would you be willing to sacrifice for your art?  I ask this question because it is an important one to know the answer to as you tip toe across this high wire of an artist’s life.  Would you be willing to give up the security of a stable income in order to create space and time for art making?  Would you be willing to give up time with friends and loved ones?  Would you be willing to give up everything material in order to create just one masterpiece?

To many more sensible people, the above questions do not even make any sense for if one were to sit down and make a list of pros and cons of being an artist, the cons would add up quickly and the pros would be limited to the single digits.  If this statement is true, then let us return to the idea of art being an addiction for this idea then makes logical sense as that is how an addiction with anything is.  It doesn’t make any sense to those not addicted to it.

For example, if one were to look at my dance making from a financial perspective, one would think I have lost my mind as I put more money and time into rehearsals and production than I have ever made from any showing.  However, the financial piece is not why, nor can it ever be why, I create dances.  It would be a wonderful honor to one day make some money by showcasing my work, but that is not the reason I create work.  It is not my inspiration nor can it ever be, for then I would simply be creating art purely for the audience and not for myself.

Thus, I would like to end this post with the same question already asked:  What would you be willing to sacrifice for your art?  Money?  Time?  Relationships?  Or, nothing at all?  Please feel free to respond to these questions, comment on them and to introduce yourself to others via this blog post.

 


Affirmation, Declaration & Subjugation

Tech Rehearsal for City Dance Show with Jardy Santiago, December 2009 (Photo courtesy of Sandy Lee)

As an artist, alone with my thoughts and visions of movement, I often experience moments of self-doubt, criticism and vandalism to the soul.  I will stop and look at myself in the studio mirror and question my skills and my ideas to the point where I am stymied in my own self-deprecation.  The voices come quickly and I am then left frozen, a statue in my own time warp of emotions and confusion.  I know I am not alone in this game I find myself in, for as I talk with my friends and colleagues who are also artists, I hear these same stories, these stories of uncertainty and self-loathing.  The question then becomes how do we as artists and human beings push these voices aside and continue forward with our creative endeavors successfully and consistently, every day?

I think I may have found some answers to this question at an alumni conference for Harvard’s Arts in Education Program.  The weekend was filled with stimulating discussions, stories and of course, lots and lots of questions.  While immersed in this Program, I did not understand why we asked so many questions.  I was young, naïve and oftentimes frustrated.  I was looking for answers.  Why couldn’t this Program offer them to me?  It has taken me 10 years, multiple careers and my recent return home to the arts to understand and embrace my Program’s focus on inquisitive learning.  Simply put, this form of reflection is key as we as art professionals, proponents and teachers embark in our work, which is anything but well-defined, understood or supported.  If we do not ask the questions and find some answers, someone else will, someone who has no understanding of the arts, and will offer the wrong answers that could destroy our field.

Thus, after two days of questioning, my mind was swarming with thoughts and during a much needed reflection time I attempted to pull all these thoughts together.  What did all these thoughts mean?  What did they have in common?  How could I bring this momentum and invigoration I felt from these few days back to my life in SF?

While in the reflection room, surrounded by great minds, hearts, and many beige walls, I found the answers I have been seeking.  For an hour, I wrote, I sighed and I breathed as I pulled my artistic manifesto, my confirmation and affirmation together.  All these years, these are the words I had been searching for and they were in me the entire time.  These very personal statements are what I now look to as I begin to slide into a session of self-loathing.

When I looked back upon my words, I realized that all these years what I had been searching for, external validation, was never going to be unless I could validate my own gifts and skills first.  All of us want to be loved and supported by others.  However, as an artist, external validation plays an entire other role, as our art that we put on stages, on walls and many other places is the most pure and raw expression of ourselves, all exposed for the world to see.  Thus, when we receive negative feedback on our work, it is hard to separate the objective from the personal.  Even so, I have learned that the ability to provide myself with internal validation is truly what I need to continue making my art.  Of course I enjoy supportive comments and feedback from others.  I truly do.  However, for every positive comment, there will be a negative one that I cannot control, and to be able to handle these comments, I have to keep cheering myself on and become the power of 100 or 1,000 adoring audience members.  If I do not, I will be stuck in a cycle of schizophrenic voices, berating and praising me, driving me to a state of insanity.

With this said, I would like to share my affirmation, my declaration and subjugation of my uncertainties.  It is very personal.  It is very exposed.  It is very real.  I encourage all of you, artists or not, to write your own affirmation, to read it every day and to believe in it AND yourself.  Believing in ourselves, like a zealot, is the hardest part of life’s journey, but it is also the most important, for if we do not, no one will ever believe in us, including ourselves.    

Affirmation

I no longer want to apologize for being sensitive, for being whimsical, for relishing in my time alone, writing and dancing.  I no longer want to apologize for being a dancer and a choreographer, who shouts inside as my feet move quickly about me in rhythmical patterns; for being enamored with an art form that makes no money and oftentimes makes little sense to mainstream society.  I no longer want the opinions of others to drive my life.  I no longer want to apologize…for being ME.

I do want to continue to fight for what I know is right in my soul and body.  I do want to continue to feel joy throughout my body, every single day, until I can no longer move.  I want to cry at sad movies, to yell at mean people and to continue to teach in a way that is uniquely me so that our future generations can learn to be creative and to love themselves for them.  I want to continue to grow, to constantly question and to always dream of a world where a career in the arts is rich in more ways than just for the soul.  I want to continue to fight for my life, one that I let go of once.  I want to continue to fight…for me.

I want to continue to find my sustenance in things that matter to me.  I want to believe in myself, eradicate self-doubt and not worry that I will not make it because in so many ways, I already have.  I want to hug myself every day and say, “I can,” “I will” and “I must,” no matter how hard it is.  I want to dismiss people in my life who belittle my existence as an artist and reflective spirit.

I want to continue forward in my work as a dance maker, to never settle for less and to always be astonished by our infinitesimal minuteness in the greatness of this world.  I want to let the rhythm of the waves rock my inner soul every time I watch them.  I want to embrace every sunset like it is the last one I will ever see and to live every day of my life with this notion as my mantra.

I want to spend time on activities that matter to me, whether others understand or not.  I want to give thanks, every day, for those in my life who support, love and understand and embrace me for me.  I want to continue to connect with people who share my values, my passions and my frustrations with the status quo.

In sum, I no longer want to stand or dance on the sidelines.  I am my own cheering section and I can no longer wait for others to be.

I want to embrace my strengths and no longer listen to those who say I need to work on my weaknesses.  Life is too short to work on things I am not good at.

I will remain confident, caring, humble, curious, joyful, passionate, inquisitive and reflective.  I can, I will and I must…believe.  And that is exactly what I am going to do-today, tomorrow and every day forward.


Awakening

Janesta Edmonds in Awakening

“Wow!  That was sexy.  That was hot.  That was just…amazing.”  These were the phrases and words that echoed behind me as I sat and watched my first solo work for another dancer come to life on stage this past October.  While “sexy” and “hot” were not quite the descriptive adjectives I had in mind while creating this piece, I found it fascinating that, to this viewer, these were the words that immediately came to his mind and popped out of his mouth.  I imagined a billboard with my dancer’s picture and the words “sexy” and “hot” being used to describe my work and my company.  I wonder what type of fans I would have?  I wonder what my life would be like?  I then imagined a cheap, dirty room, and the soundtrack to Burlesque playing in the background.  It only took me a about a second before I came back to reality for this picture was definitely not the direction I wanted my work to head.

 For me, Awakening, a piece about the physical and the spiritual rebirth of the body and the mind to movement and rhythm, was a creative experience like none other.  I had been working with Janesta Edmonds, the dancer for this piece, for many months, and knew that she had the skills to fiercely take ownership of a stage on her own.  I wanted to create a piece for her to explode on stage and this was it.  I went into this piece with this idea, the concept of awakening and the music.  That’s it and that was a little scary for me, as the creative process is a vulnerable experience, where one has to be completely honest with oneself in order to create great art.  It was hard enough alone, never mind with another human being in the room with you, awaiting direction.  But, that is how this piece had to come to be as I needed to work with her in person to not only see what movement looked good on her, but also to showcase her unique gifts and talents as a dancer and performer.

Janesta Edmonds in Awakening. Image courtesy of Rapt Productions.

In all, Awakening was an awakening for me as a choreographer.  I learned to trust this possibly less traditional creative dance making process.  I also learned that this process is critical in the making of powerful, engaging and visually appealing dance works.  This is not to lessen the integrity of my last works.  However, as a choreographer, I have found that by stepping out of my pieces, I am able to direct, create and relish in the luscious beauty of the dance making process like I never was able to before.  Janesta, I have you, your enthusiasm, dedication and amazing talents to thank for this awakening.

At the moment, I am working to expand Awakening into a 2-3 part work, to bring in additional characters and dance forms, and to explore their interactions.  I am ready to get back at it, to keep creating and to keep trusting that this path I am now on is the right one.  Right now, right here and right at this moment, wrapped in movement, is where I am supposed to be for a long time to come.  And, to the gentleman in the audience that night, thank you for calling my work “sexy” and reminding me that my work, in the end, is a performing art, to be viewed and interpreted by others.  Janesta may have brought “Sexy back” for him, but I think, at least for now, B-Boogie Dance is going to let that one go.


Becoming a Choreographer

When I was young, I created dances constantly.  At around eight years old, I of course had no dancers, but I did have my little sister, who was my principal dancer, whether or not she wanted to be.  By the time I was thirteen, my pieces had progressed, or so at least I thought, ranging from hip-hop to jazz, incorporating lots of leaps and pivot turns.  When I was young, I never gave a second thought to whether my pieces were any good.  I just knew that they felt good to dance, no matter the stage or the audience.  I also could have cared less that my bathing suit costumes were a little uncomfortable and rode up our butts.  As the choreographer, looks were more important than comfort, and with my limited resources, bathing suits were the perfect solution.  And, in my mind, they looked somewhat like leotards, so I did not think anyone would know the difference.

I was a constant performer, looking for any audience, even though my family became the frequent ticket buyers to these local events.  My grandparents cooed over my sister and I, while my parents applauded graciously every time we came out on the stage that was our living room, our grandparent’s dining room and our front lawn.  Each stage was different, yet each performance was the same, as by the end, I was ecstatic, smiling from head to toe and ready to move on to my next masterpiece.  When I was young, I felt no inhibitions in terms of the creative process.  I just created, freely, openly and often.  When does this feeling of carefree creativity stop and stifled self-doubt begin?  And, how can we, as educators, mentors and parents empower our children with the tools to be creative, every day, for life?

This is a question to which I do not have a direct and clear answer.  I do know though that the arts are a pathway leading to creativity.  Creative problem solving, critical thinking and decision-making are all skills needed in art class more than any other type of class as students are constantly facing choices and decisions that must be made in order for them to move forward with their art making.  For example, in creative dance, when students are in teams designing pathways to get from one side of the room to the other, they must actively problem solve and then dance this solution in front of others.  And, as there are no right or wrong answers to this activity, students are allowed to try new things and discover new skills in themselves that no other forty-five minute class, confined to textbooks and state testing, can ever provide for them.

Recently, I finished a residency in which I worked with 1st-6th graders at a school in Daly City, California.  This school did not offer any daytime art classes.  When I heard this news, I was shocked.  “None?”  I asked.  “None,” confirmed the after-school Program Director.  With so many students at all different levels and ages, I knew that traditional studio dance class was not going to work.  So, I called my former colleague, Paula Perlman, an amazingly gifted creative dance teacher, and she made some recommendations, including the purchase of Patricia Reedy’s book, Body, Mind & Spirit IN ACTION.  This book has become my creative dance bible, filled with age appropriate activities, games and advice on teaching and standards integration.  As the founder of Luna Dance Institute in Oakland, CA, Patricia’s philosophy and pedagogy in working in this field are ground breaking, and truly do work.

For the next 10 weeks, I delved into this book and tried everything, from partner work with swimming noodles to the creation of different shape lands with cones.  Through this work, I learned a great deal about myself, my role as a creative dance teacher and about children.  When I met my students, many of them had preconceived ideas about dance, what it was and who could participate in this art form.  I even had students tell me that they didn’t like to dance, which of course was very disheartening.  However, by the end of my two 5-week residencies, I had a classroom full of 4th grade boys moving, creating and smiling from limb to limb.  I had groups of adolescents creating group dances, not wanting to leave a two-hour class before a three-day weekend!  Creative dance had inspired these students to move in ways that they were never before able to as this form of dance class gave them the freedom, the structure and the support to do so.  I was amazed, awe-struck and ecstatic.

As the new school year has begun, I begin a new residency, with new tools, ideas and inspiration from a summer of dancing and creating.  And, I always ask, “How can I pass on my love for this art form to students, of all different backgrounds, levels and ages, so that they too can experience the joy I feel in my body every day?”  That is the challenge, but that is also the excitement for me as an artist-in-residence.  I enjoy the fact that there are no simple answers or formula for the work I do in the schools.  I enjoy acting as a coach for students to find movement and patterns that enable them to create dances out of simple, every day movement.  In today’s school systems that are so overwhelmed with mandates, testing and an emphasis on rote memorization, creative dance allows our future generations to think and solve problems creatively.  This process is how students learn to think and is inherently present with every art form.

As I look back on my childhood, in which I spent so many hours daydreaming and making dances, I can thank my parents for allowing me the freedom to create freely, to play with movement and to simply have fun.  As adults, many of us have become inhibited, by cultural norms or a bad experience moving in front of others, and tend to pass on these hesitations to our students.  Many of us have forgotten how to have fun.  We must remember though that children have a natural tendency to create freely when in a supportive situation, and this skill, just like addition and subtraction, has lifelong benefits.

Thus, as I enter a new school year, I think of the child in me, who no longer performs in a bathing suit, but still experiences that same joy when creating.  Dance has made me a better thinker and problem solver, the exact same skills our nation is supposedly trying to teach our students in the classroom, but is miserably failing to do well.  Just like my bathing suit costumes from my first explorations as a choreographer, the creative process is oftentimes frustrating and irritating, as it has no right and wrong answers.  But, once one experiences it, and all it has to offer, one will gladly endure some discomfort for the gifts of the creative process.  After all, life would not be exciting without some surprises.  So, put on your bathing suit and see where it takes you!  You never know, you may soon be creating dances in your living room.

 

 


The Show Must Go On

Rehearsal with dancers Laura Maurer & Janesta Edmonds

It was 7:55 PM as I entered the theatre, and all I heard was, “We have no lights.  The grid is out.”  With the show set to begin at 8 PM, I had to let go of the tedious hour spent the night before teching the piece and going over cues.  I had to let go of this vision, for if I did not, I would be stymied in frustration, in the role of the choreographer and for the next two nights I needed to morph back into my role as a dancer.  As I proceeded to go backstage and share the news with my dancers, we stretched, we rehearsed and I prayed to the dance muse, once again, to inhabit my body before I went on stage.  I was tired, mentally and physically exhausted, from bringing my baby, my dance, to life.  But, I was also ready.  It had been in me for so long, I was ready to pop, and ready or not, out it was going to come.

At 8:10 PM, the stage manager came back stage and announced that the lights were back on.  Everyone rejoiced, ecstatic that each of our visions’ would be brought to life with the added artistry of lighting.  While there were some lighting cues that were forgotten, the piece, which I titled, Physical Dissent, came to life on July 8 and 9 at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtmifL2rNao.

This first draft of my piece has given me the courage to rework it, to extend it and to make it even more powerful than it is.  Told in segments, it is a piece about isolation, physical and emotional struggles and tolerance.  Inspired by my battle with physical injuries, the dancers represent the physical personification of my body rebelling against me and aggressively taking over my body.   When the piece was over, the words, tolerance, acceptance and evolution reverberated through my mind, reminding me that this piece in itself was a journey much like the one my body has been on for the past two years.  And, what a journey it was and still is, as I reflect and look to perfect this first draft of work.

So, even though the lighting cues were off, and my stomach was an insane hyperbole of emotions that evening, the show went on, and as it did, I felt that breath of relief for which I had been searching.  And, it was a good, long, belly felt breath, reverberating throughout my body.  This is why I dance.  This is why I create.  This is why I yearn for more.  This breath, that leaves me gasping for more, is my sustenance.  And I cannot wait to experience it all again.