Photo by Pranav Kothary. Illustration by Kaitlyn Clevenger.

“Mhmmmm,” we hummed, not only matching pitch with one another, but using sound to focus our attention into this moment. My eyes fluttered open to see my classmates, glistening with sweat, ready to move, in this new, organic way. 

Why do I feel sort of uncomfortable? I thought to myself as I started to walk around the room, accompanied by the increasing volume of the humming. 

“Mhmmmmm.” 

This is the place where I had been stuck in a routine for the past fall and spring semester, moving the way I knew how, following some sort of technique, technique meaning practicing and solidifying a particular way of moving depending on the type of style. Almost everyday, we took ballet and contemporary class, refining our pointed toes, our pathways to roll on the floor, creating longer lines with our limbs, etc. Typically, class started with warming up our bodies, executing dance phrases across the floor, and ending with a combination that highlights particular steps from the warm up or across the floor. Now, I was far out of my comfort zone, humming—singing even, and trying to answer open-ended tasks given by the teacher, Jasmine Hearn, with my body. 

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It was many moments like these that stunned me throughout the six week residency. I was amazed at how the same building at 111 2nd Avenue, where the dance majors took classes all year, completely transformed as every week a new artist or company arrived. Week by week, teachers came clothed in their own approach, culture, philosophy, and their love for moving, and students seemed willing to try on the entire outfit for the week. As the residency continued, I found myself in different worlds; from contemporary dance with Gibney Dance Company to a “Rite of Spring” remix with Netta Yerushalmy, to classical modern with past company members Antonio Brown, Jenna Riegel, and Germaul Barnes of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, to the next “Step Up” movie with Ephrat Asherie. My body and mind were challenged in learning different languages of movement and trying to comprehend the variety of tasks at hand. I understood what the teachers were asking—like crawling across the room with my shoulders, or jumping backwards—but my brain seemed to have a bit of disconnect from my body. In my head, the task seemed doable but when actually attempted, it felt awkward and imprecise. 

How do I dance with my face without just opening and closing my mouth?

I’m a faun from Rite of Spring, now a scared little girl, now a member of the tribe. Shoot, I forgot to be a faun again. 

House dancing? It looks cool when Teena and Ephrat do it. Don’t think too hard, just try to groove. And move my feet correctly. And coordinate my arms. And seem tough. But keep the chill groove. 

Okay so I’m looking for places to move to as I climb people. Armpit to their shoulder, knee on their hip, now what? Liel from Gibney Dance made it look so easy. 

Because I focused mostly on how I looked doing the movement, I found myself defeated at times, wanting to look exactly like the company members who had danced like this for years, in one day. But eventually, the summer session acted like its own routine. Each day consisted of two technique classes, where the artist of the week taught the basic foundation of their prominent style. In the afternoon, company members taught us their repertory; each hour acted as the true test of how well our bodies could embody the basics that were embedded in our minds earlier that day and apply them to multiple sequences of movement. The greatest part however, was that at the end of the week, all the participants in the residency got together and showed each other the dance pieces we had learned. I enjoyed this part the most because high energy and a sense of community filled the space as we celebrated one another for surviving another physically and mentally draining week. Picture this:

Imagine walking into a space where your friends and classmates are sitting around the perimeter of the room. You and your group spread out in the middle of the dance floor, waiting for the artist of the week to tell you to begin. You look down on the floor, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the room because you are a little nervous to show this new side of you that you yourself just discovered these past few days. 

Okay everyone, this is really new to me so please don’t look at me. 

As you begin to start the phrase, the people who sit disappear and your focus turns to the sensations in your body and the pockets of cool air that graze against your body as you dance with those in your group. You surrender yourself to the piece even though it may still feel a little uncomfortable, and you stumble a couple times before the end. 

Hey, this actually feels a little more familiar now, I can actually do this, almost done. 

But as you finish, satisfied with growing this week, your thoughts are interrupted by the screaming of your peers who are rapidly applauding and cheering you on because they are amazed and happy to see you adapt to this style. They didn’t know you were capable of this (and to be honest, you weren’t either), but because your peers are all acting like you are Beyoncé, the challenges and tasks from the week seem worth it. And then you get to sit down and cheer using all the energy you have left.

In order to feel acclimated to the movement, the style, the new outfit, I needed to lean into the instability and the unknown, surrender the frustration and fear that came with learning something new. After reflecting on the summer residency, I realized that there was more to the professional dance world than just the styles I practiced during the school year. Our teachers had adopted their personal dance forms through exposure to a variety of techniques, so I knew it was important for me to indulge in each company’s aesthetic and be uncomfortable to be a step closer to finding my own creative voice.

Email Rachel at [email protected]

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