Saturday, March 30, 2013

Adam Parson's Commonality Dance Company

Living in Simi Valley, is a tricky one because I'm close to the LA dance scene, and yet, it really takes a effort to get out and participate.  But, tonight I am so glad I did.

Last minute I decided to jump in the car and head to North Hollywood to see Commonality Dance Company at Liv' Art Dance Studio.  Adam Parson started the company in 1998 and has toured internationally as well as being an LA favorite.  His style: Jazz. 

Parson's choreography is an excellent example of Jazz dance that is diverse, entertaining, athletic and musical.  His choreographic style hinges exclusively on the powerful relationship he creates with the music, and his ability to manifest a distinct and complex pallet of dynamics and effort qualities.  What does that mean in every day language?  His dances go beyond the flat aesthetic of cliché jazz dance.  There is a richness to the movement, that is detailed, refined and precise. 

One of my concerns with contemporary jazz practices is the tendency toward the overly dramatic and painfully hyper-emotional.  Parson's work was honest and human without the affectations of "show."  The dancers were relatable (despite their jaw dropping endurance, athleticism and pristine virtuosity).  I love seeing dancers as people, and this show was full of people dancing.  It was sexy, fun, well crafted dance that renewed my conviction to advocate for the genre in academia.  

People wonder if Jazz has a place in Higher Education.

Well. . .

THIS jazz certainly does.  The works I saw tonight were not only physically challenging, but ripe with compositional integrity, movement invention, design and musicianship.  This is not just dancing to a good pop song.  This is true craft.  

But, the craft is so well done it is virtually invisible. In other words, the audience at large may not leave thinking to themselves "Wow! That musical counterpoint was tremendous!" or " Did you notice the use of the dancer's kinesphere? Such versatility in somatic connectivity!"

They leave with a smile on their faces, because they could see and feel that this was "good" dance.  It included themes that they could identify with and movements that spoke to their souls.  But, just because something is enjoyable doesn't mean we should leave it at that.  We can't make the mistake of only analyzing the dances that are hard to get and or semi-sufferable! 

Let's honor this dance form by seeing at it is: so much more than just beautiful bodies doing impressive steps.  Parson is a composer of dance. He is a painter of the space and a visual musician. 

Here are a few notes I made on some of the pieces that really stuck with me: 

Good Intent was an all female piece choreographed by Adam Parson.  The six women performed exquisitely.  The movement pallet included small gestures and isolations that highlighted the hot/cool juxtaposition of  jazz dance.  The women were commanding and exact in their shoulder shrugs, hip rolls and hand gestures. I think I was particularly taken with this piece because of the musicality of the choreography and the way in which the movements embodied such a diverse range of movement qualities from sudden to sustained, direct and indirect, light and firm.  The combinations were playful and enriching to the piece that was ultimately a playful and flirty seduction through movement and allure. 

In contrast, Howitsdun was an all male piece by Parson that gave the male company members an opportunity to shine in their strength, masculinity and sex appeal.  The men dressed in slacks, button down shirts and ties, bounded through the space with an animal-like quality that was all power, while their exterior was cool, calm and collected.  The rhythms were engaging in their syncopation making this a current jazz piece that successfully evokes the aesthetics of Gene Kelly and Matt Mattox. 

Check it out for yourself!:

Another pick of the evening was the work of one of the guest artists, Jennifer Hamilton. This piece, called When My Train Comes In, was a much more contemporary jazz piece.  The finely trained dancers moved with strength power and emotional investment.  What made the movement less "traditional" jazz and more contemporary?  Well, the intense musicality was there, but, was driven by something other than the structural play of rhythmic syncopation.  This piece included rhythm as a means for driving the emotional content of the work, with the focus on regularly repeated movement to drive home the emotional desperation in the dancers.

The most contemporary piece of the show was Kate Hutter's HyperSuperUltraNow (LACDC).  This trio was the most abstract (least narrative), performed by three very diverse women. The piece included the same type of precision as seen in the other numbers, but shed some of the jazz styling to transform the dancers into these quirky characters, bobbing and listing through the space.  I found the material refreshing, playful and pleasantly odd.  But, while this piece might read jazzy on a contemporary modern dance concert, it was definitely the most "stand out-ish" for branching away from the jazz value set. 

All in all, I enjoyed the entire concert, and found that each piece offered me something to enjoy or think about.  Kudos to the entire cast and to the rest of the choreographers, Olivia Gaugain, Dominic Chaiduang, Theresa Kahl, Shanon Novak, and Alex Little. 

While the space is likely to sell out again (and the only real downfall of the evening was the flat seating for the audience), I encourage all dancers to attend the second performance today, Saturday March 30th, 2013.  It is worth sitting on the floor if you have to (so don't wear a skirt!).  Parson mentioned his vision of Commonality becoming THE premier jazz dance company of LA and after seeing this show, I think that he is already on his way. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fighting Dance Discrimination with Dance Literacy

If you are a dancer, you know what is feels like to be a part of the "forgotten art form."

Granted, it is tough being an artist of any sort, but within the family of performing arts, dance has notoriously been at the end of the line.  Dance only recently graduated from PE (where is still lives for some dance departments) within the last 50 years.  Yes, we are more than exercise.  Gasp!

I teach within the California Community College system and am very, very proud to be a faculty member at Moorpark College.  I love teaching. I love it so much it hurts sometimes.  (Yes, teaching has made me cry-- more than once!)

And, it particularly hurts in times of budget cuts and "restructuring." 

Currently, community dance departments are under the gun to rewrite their curriculum in order to essentially "save" their departments.  This comes in the demand for leveled courses within each genre, with different learning objective and different content for each.

Hmmmmm.  A good challenge for this recently born area of academic study.  Because, of course the arts are ultimately immeasurable.  At least, not in the same way that you can assess a student's ability to add 2 + 2 (hint: it's 4).  In dance 2 + 2 might equal 5 or 6 or 0, depending on the aesthetic and artistic goal of the creator.  Soooo. . .

Tonight I sat down at my computer to decipher for the "non dancer" how I can determine whether a dancer is Level I, II, III or IV.  And, here is the hitch: It is not just mechanics.  It is not as simple as someone performing a single, double then triple pirouette.  Every dancer knows this, as does every audience member at a performance.  But, where is the language to effectively describe the difference?

I believe this lack of language, this lack of literacy within (and without) the field is what is ultimately holding dance back as celebrated field of academic study.  So, what am I going to do about it?

Well, shucks. I'm am going to find the words.  Then I'm going to use them, and then I am going to teach them.  I will teach them so often that they become household phrases!  I will teach them until they are used on billboards, in puns and as Facebook status updates!  Yes, the dance language will prevail!

But, back to the issue at hand. . . These d@mn course outlines of record. 

I sat down, I got quiet, and then I got honest and this is what I came up with.

Level I performance is about gross motor skills. Can you be on the correct foot at the correct time in the correct space?  If you can, then you are a level I dancer.

Level II performance is about coordination and increased complexity, strength, control and endurance.  Can you be on the correct foot at the correct time in the correct place EVEN when it gets tricky AND when it lasts for longer than 2 minutes?

Level III performance is about adding depth to your performance.  Can you do all the stuff you did before AND even more complex patterns WHILE modulating your dynamic energy so there is "texture" and "character" in your performance? Haha! That's the rub. 

Level IV performance is about doing ALL of the above AND helping others out in the meantime.  Can you do all that you need to do AND see the big picture? Take it for the team?  Make the whole better even if it means you may not get to be the star?  Can you do all of this, while still cultivating variety and subtlety in your performance?  And most importantly can you do this without acting like a jerk?

Of course, I couldn't put that last part about being a jerk on the formal state document (but I wanted to!). So there you have it. If you were to take dance performance 4 times from me, THAT is what I would want to see in you.  Of course. . . now I need to get the rest of the state on my band wagon.

Wish me luck!

(P.S. I realize that this post does nothing to address the fact that students learn dance and it various aspects (physical, emotional, energetic, character) at different paces-- but since the state budget doesn't care about that, I have decided to leave that topic for another time.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Last Birthday in my Year to Live

Yes! I am 33!

And, I am still working through my Year to Live reflective practice loosely based on Stephen Levine's book.  

I am roughly on day 186.  Officially at the half way point week. And, it just so happens it is also my birthday.  Yikes.  That is a lot to take in.  

So, I asked myself what I want to do for my "last" birthday, and I decided I want to make a dance for myself.  A solo made for me right here and now, reflective of this time and place in my life. And, this time and place is not perfect as far as a dancer is concerned.

I have been working with a back injury for that past year.  I have had a history of back issues as I have blogged about in the past (see About the Back and How to Heal), but this one has been the same injury (on and off again-- but mostly on) for the past year.  Only recently, when I began a new mind body practice called CFR, have I started addressing the nature of my injury and the consequences of my habitual patterns.  It has been an eye opening journey.  

The cyclical history of my injury is such that I haven't created a dance for myself in a long time.  I create pieces for others, and I have created dances in which I also perform as part of the ensemble (often in a limited way), but I haven't created something just for myself in over a year.  And, primarily because of my back injury.  Every time I made an effort to create something or to "get back into shape," I would reinjure myself. This was the cycle.  So, I basically stopped making dances for me.  

This year to live has reminded me that I should not wait for "complete healing" or "getting back into fighting shape"  or "until I am able to recapture my lost technique."  I can't wait.  

The challenge is accepting the fact that this solo won't look like my former solos. It can't because my former solos in fact what lead me to injury (not them exactly but the former choices surrounding their creation).  Also, I won't look like I did in my former solos.  I have a different shape than I did before this sequence of injuries.  Those are the facts.  

The movement can't be the same. I am not the same.  Whatever ever types of movement and choreographic sequences I made before are basically out of the question now.  I can't wow people with my extension or leaps. I won't be able to roll and get up with speed or force.  I have to make different choices. I have to make the effort to break the injurious habits and form new patterns in my way of moving, in my way of working and most importantly in my way of thinking. 

I need to make a dance that will serve me now.  One I can perform now.  And, I have to trust that I can enjoy a dance created under these circumstances.  And, it can be worthy of being performed for an audience.  It is strangely scary. Like I am choreographing for the first time.  

But, this needs to be my birthday gift to myself.  Because in my Year to Live this is my last birthday, and it can't wait.  

Dancing on,

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Are you vain?

I am. 

And, it’s ridiculous because I try soooo hard NOT to care.  And, yet, I do. I DO!

Granted, I don’t care enough about my appearance to put on make up in the morning or use product or electrical devices to achieve a “hair do,” but I still want it.  And, I get jealous. That’s right! I said it!  I get jealous!

And, chances are you do, too.

Maybe not all the time, but at least every once in a while, right? . . . (I squinch up my eyes . . . please say yes. . . :-/ )

The truth is, I lead a pretty darn amazing life.  With a lot of great, wonderful, fantastic elements to it! And yet, I find myself getting all caught up in a tizzy over someone’s provocative Instagram post, or latest Facebook profile pic or ostentatious Tweet that they had the “best day in the world!”

The thing is, life is life, and last time I checked. . .

It’s not all bright and shiny!

At least my life isn’t, but somehow I feel at times like I am in a competition to impress the world with the best, tone-enhanced, square image possible (that will ultimately be forgotten tomorrow. Or, rather, in the next 5 minutes. )

It’s not all the time.  I often feel genuine excitement and joy in others’ beauty and for others achievements. But, then I turn around and feel like sh*t (I mean crap).  Sh*t!

I am worried, not because I might not have the most beautiful “selfie” but because I have been played.  I keep being played. A puppet in this world of social media.  And, the puppeteer is my own self doubt.  And, I know I am not alone.

Now, I just look at someone’s picture and I think. That isn’t REAL.  Because, it is not real.  It is not the matter of this real world; it is a series of pixels in a likeness that has been enhanced, and filtered, and contrasted, and angled to suit the desires of its owner.  This is not real life. Because, life is not all bright and shiny.  I am not all bright and shiny. And, probably you don’t feel bright and shiny all the time either. 

But, what does this mean?  What do I do? Deliberately put unattractive pictures of myself up (complete with double chin and greasy hair) or should I post only the sh*ttiest occurrances of the day?  Do I delete my accounts all together?  Do I get psychological counseling until it doesn’t bother me?  Will it ever not bother me? 

I have written before about Twitter for Mindfulness.  And, I see the value in making connections and sharing ideas online. I also see the marketing potential for my dance company. All good thing, but I currently feel an acute awareness to how it is not good. Not healthy. Not the direction I want to be going.

This article in the Huffington Post asks “Is social mediaturning us into teenagers?” and I say:


“I am the equivalent of a teenage fool!”

And, I am ashamed and terrified. 

I have been reading an excellent book by Rick Hanson called Buddha’sBrain, in which I learned just how important it is to cultivate the positive channels in the brain through contemplative practices. What I found most interesting so far (and I’m only half way through!) is the idea that we need to sit with positive emotions and not breeze through them in order to rebuild and refine the neural connections for positive emotions and positive behaviors.  By taking the time to soak in the positive, we are able to help build the neural pathways that allow us to relax and generally feel better more easily.  But this takes time and practice.    Hence zazen (Zen seated meditation) everyday!

So, I have been making an effort to notice and soak in the good moments of life.  And, they are good, but in general things are general never as good or as bad as we think they are.  So, taking a walk is wonderful.  But, when I see a picture of people at the top of the mountain on their hike, I think: “That must be AMAZING!!!”  But, in fact it was probably just good.  Wonderfully good, but just real life good. 

I don’t want to lose my life choosing which Instagram filter makes my pictures look the most exciting.  And, I certainly don’t want to compete with those people who choose to use their time that way.  It’s not real.  It’s virtual. It’s a screen.  It’s a glorified likeness.

It’s not all bad, and I am not renouncing it.  I just want to be honest. To see it as it is.  And, to let simple reality be enough. 

Not so amazing, Not the over-the-top, with the perfect lo-fi filter and immediate status update type of amazing.

Just real life good.
For the record, here is a pretty real picture of me.  Sweaty, awkward, poor lighting, crummy composition, ill fitting outfit.. . . You name it. It's  real.  And, it was a good day. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Giving Yourself Permission

Yes, my title says "dance instructor" but studying the arts is so much more than than.  For me the dance classroom is a place students can discover life

I've been on a bit of a tear recently: seeing the varied injustices in the dance world, the bad habits, the unhealthy behaviors and negative self images. But, rather than get angry, I have decided to combat it one class at a time.  I can't let it get me down, because these struggles are at the heart life learning.  The arts really are our forum for self discovery. 

How we are (exist, behave, think, work, play)  in the dance classroom is reflective of how we are in the rest of our lives. If you are hard on yourself in dance class, you are likely hard on yourself in all other aspects of your "life performance."  If you use dance as an "escape," what are you trying to escape?  If you stop yourself from trying for fear of failure, how does that exist in your home life, school life, relationships? 

I had a student if my office who was suffering from lack of confidence and had started berating himself continually in class.  He identified frustration with executing a tricky turn (appropriately called a lame duck-- oh the irony). 

And I asked him the following series of questions:

What if you gave yourself permission to struggle with that turn? 
What would that feel like? 
What would that look like?  
What is the worst that would happen?

How can you give yourself permission to go at your own pace, to honor your personal growth and your personal needs?

Big questions, and of course much deeper than actually performing this stinky little turn!  Dance is not about the turn, dance is about your approach to life.  Can we choose to cultivate healthy behaviors and thoughts in the dance class. Can we give ourselves compassion rather than self inflicted pain?  Can we let go of the outcome and enjoy the process?

Of course, it will take practice. And, it should. We need to practice healthier thoughts, healthier views on learning.  Can we confront challenges with self compassion?  A generous spirit and love?

So, that is my motto for the weekend. As I prepare to enter the world that is the Rogue Festival in Fresno, I ask myself how can I let others know that they have permission? Permission to make healthy choices that will foster their growth and allows them to blossom. 

Of course, the answer is simple I have to start with giving myself permission.  So I declare today, that I give myself permission to let go of control.  I grant myself freedom from expectations. I give myself permission to simply go along with the ride, to speak and dance only from the heart and to see what happens.