Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Jazz Hands to Post-Modern Stare Continuum

When people (who 'know dance') ask me what kind of dance I make, often joke "It's somewhere between jazz hands and post-modern stare." It usually elicits some good laughter, but also, quite a bit of truth. I really think I continue to offer this idea up because there is something to it.

Photo by Bill Cameron of Karla Grotting's 2017 work "Hold and Release"

I've been thinking a lot lately about how my modern dance training (and I suppose my training in it's 'more current' cousin contemporary, whatever that means) impacts what I make and what I prefer to view and move through. These trains of thought were really kicked off by students attending Friday Morning Jazz when I'd teach who'd tell me my class had a lot of modern dance influence.

To be fair, these were students that I KNOW come from more theatrical jazz dance backgrounds. Which brings me to this: it seems to me that the overarching crux of the differences between their backgrounds and mine is jazz training in relation to ballet versus jazz training in relation to modern forms. I recognize that this is not an earth-shattering idea - many dance scholars before me have considered the idea that ballet heavily impacts theatrical jazz forms. That said, it's been somewhat of a personal artistic revelation for me in the last year or so to be regularly considering how my own modern dance training really has deeply impacted my aesthetics.

Taking tap class last night for the first time in months, it occurred to me, knowing that I'd be trying to write this the next morning, that I love the rhythm of tap. I need it. This thought led me to again smile when thinking of how much I loved flinging myself through the space in curvilinear, grounded, expansive ways during Erin Thompson's New Years Eve modern class, and how much I really miss doing that on the regular. I need that, too. I know I've entertained such thoughts before, but it's feeling useful to put them down into writing right now: I think I really need to acknowledge, for myself first, how much of an impact my modern training (and continued interest in modern forms) impacts what I make and prefer in staged dance works and training for them. Setting this idea next to the rhythmic footwork of tap class lights me up in thinking about how what I really love is a combination of these things and the various, primarily American but not exclusively, social dance ideas I've come across and trained in over the years.

Perhaps a list - some hallmarks of my own work and what I perceive to be their root in my own life in dance:
  • Grooving: African Traditional and Diasporic styles, Polka, Square Dance, Swing, Salsa, Jazz, Tap and House
  • Rhythmic Footwork: Tap and Jazz
  • Syncopation: Swing, Tap and Jazz
  • Polyrhythm: African Traditional and Diasporic styles, Tap and Jazz
  • Isolation and Micro-Isolation/ Democracy of Body-Parts: African Traditional and Diasporic styles, Jazz, Transnational Fusion Bellydance, Popping
  • Groundedness: African Traditional and Diasporic and Modern styles
  • Expansiveness and Traveling: Modern styles
  • Floorwork: Modern styles and Breaking
  • Facing and Spacing Shift: Modern styles
  • Weight-Sharing via Hands and Whole Body: Polka, Square Dance, Swing, Salsa and Modern
  • Improvisation: African Traditional and Diasporic, Jazz and Modern styles (and really, any social dance style I've studied)
  • Interaction: I suppose all dance-for-stage has varying amounts of this, as the medium of the art form is people themselves :)

Really, nothing specifically ballet-related (for me) is popping up as I curate this list. The closest things I could see would be 'Rhythmic Footwork' and 'Expansiveness,' qualities I enjoy in ballet class but I feel more naturally in Jazz and Modern contexts where I am able to prioritize groundedness, pelvis and knees flexed toward the earth. I find I'd much rather articulate my pelvis and ribs than my feet!

While I'm sure there are ideas missing from the above list, its a good start. Surely another clear support of the truth that 'ballet is NOT the basis of ALL other dance forms,' even dance-for-stage forms. That said, I continue to bring myself to ballet class here and there because it does challenge me with movement ideas to which I am not naturally/ nurtured to be inclined. An additional way to tune my instrument, per say.

This post does not feel like the end of my writing about this topic. Perhaps just a beginning. While I'm sure there will be more to write the more I think I about it, it's felt great to get some of the thoughts that have been swimming in my brain for a while into initial words. Later on today, I'll get some of these words into motion as I rhythm-glide my way through space while working on material for new commissions this Spring!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

When I turn my back on the sun,

I get to see it light up the trees.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Intention @ New Years 2020



Vitality | Purpose | Curiosity | Kindness | Simplicity




NY 2020 Ideas for Guiding Intentions

I'm adding this intermediary post because I'm really on the fence about whether or not to be this specific with my 'intentions.' Several of these don't even feel worth writing out because they are things I've internalized and really am already practicing, but in a way, it still feels worth it to be able to see them in writing somewhere. So here they are:

Visit MN state parks

Fly your kite

Experience some state-side travel (Vegas and Austin, Seattle or Boundary Waters)

Invite dear ones into existent action (Dance Church, seeing shows, etc.)

Do short, solo drop-ins for social dance outings if that's what'll get you there!

Integrate reading into nighttime routine

Encourage a "I only feel like I'm really working when I'm DANCING" mindset

Fit 2-3 dance classes in per week when not in rehearsal (tap, African, hip hop, modern)

Maintain a cardio and weight training schedule of 3 times per week

Continue exploring my aesthetic interests in groove, interaction and improvisation-driven jazz through creation of classes, workshops, dances (+ productions) and writings

Use writing to keep documenting artistic research and emergent unique perspectives (ex: how modern dance plays in, ideas about jazz improv)

Explore both creation of new creative work and touring existent work

Submit one new and casual grant or foundation app for RS per month

Cultivate at least one regular higher ed class to teach in the Twin Cities area

Develop two out-of-town residency opportunities

Continue learning how to manage your own expectations

All of this written, I'm really desiring to check in on a simpler framework in my quarterly check-ins, so I've separated that as my final post.

New Years Intentions 2020 - PREP

1). Priming Writing: 

I've already landed in, thanks to getting the juices going with my last post.

2). Revisit previous year’s intentions, comparing how active you were with them as measures of manifesting your values: 

Last year, my work yielded a values/ mission/ guiding statement of sorts, a revision of last year's NYI done halfway through the year:

Vitality & Purpose through Curiosity, Kindness & Simplicity

Here are some other important words/ ideas that were cut out or part of sub-intentions, as well as writings about them: 

  • Consciousness: An offshoot of this was 'embracing noticing as path to gratitude' (David Cain of This started as 'presence' and was changed to 'consciousness' after I got thinking more deeply about what defines my movement through life as a creature making positive choices. I think my morning walks REALLY help cultivate this, and I've been doing a better job of trying toward it while dancing, eating, spending time with friends.
  • Inspiration: Already, a word I feel has crossover with so much listed below in 'Curiosity' - I think that's why I'm gonna move toward a 'Values & Manifestations' or 'Content & Form' outlook for things for the coming year. I find inspiration in movement, music, nature, food, style, people . . . easy to list off and so clear to me! These inspirations help me find vitality, purpose, kindness and simplicity! Yes indeed, I think my values actually feed each other. I suppose this is not surprising.
  • Growth and
  • Creation: Related to inspirations! I noted 'Protect the time before 9:30am,' and when I do not have a scheduled money-making item on my calendar, I'm really good about this. I think that's a good balance. Labelling writings - been doing! Daily physicality: walks are my bread and butter for this, though I want to up that to either taking class OR going to the gym every day too.
  • Relationships: As noted in my last post, I'd like to make more time to see Joy, Wayne, Reilly and our really close friends. More invites to join me for food/ shows/ music/ dancing!
  • Sleep: Been trying to get more of it. That might be contended with if trying for a kid is a choice that is made!
  • Contribution: Bringing people to embodiment and groove! Giving. 
  • Undulation of form and content: Shift.
  • Embodiment: Dance - both social (Dance Church, Thursday swing, Sunday House sessions) and presentational/ walks/ yoga/ cardio and weight training. I like to MOVE. It was so obvious to me when in and out of sickness this month HOW MUCH I NEED THIS. I also like pairing it with nature.
  • Food: Cooking/ reading about nutrition and policy.
  • Intake - Reading, podcasts and videos on topics of interest: methods of indulging curiosities. I'd like to do more reading and less YouTube.
  • Output: Writing (reactions to live music and dance shows, journal publications, personal writing), dances and shows, workshops. I'd like to continue to doing more writing and posting of reactions to live music and dance shows/ Walking & nature/ Dances.
  • Consciousness: There it is again.
  • Donate 1% of income: Seems like something we've embraced into regular practice.
  • Complexity - the beautiful human puzzle. Continuing to embrace this as I seek to better-understand things.
Perhaps this year I'll split my ideas into 'Values' and 'Manifestations.'

3). Review past year’s personal writings with an eye toward themes of progress and opportunity related to your values and how you choose to manifest them: 

Continuing: knowing what amount of (and what types of work) is manageable is an ongoing process. And I'm paying attention. SO how much better could I be doing? 

Emergent: setting some goals for RS funding efforts? I don't totally love the word 'goal,' but indeed, some intentions? I haven't put it into writing, but perhaps I should - I'd like to get a new grant or foundation proposal in at least once a month for RS this coming year. That feels reasonable right now. 

Emergent: It appears I DO naturally come back to the artistic ideas I really want to pursue, so perhaps I should stop worrying about creating a system to track them (I already write them down in my notebooks!).

Emergent: More clearly defining my artistic values (groove, interaction, improv) and recognizing what my unique perspectives are (how modern dance plays in, perspectives on improv).

Emergent: Focus more on creating new work or on touring? How about a little of both? 

Continuing: Expectation management.

4). This year reflection questions: guided by what you uncovered in the previous steps, answer the following:
  • What did you experience this year? Makers Space program at Keshet in Albuquerque, hot air balloon ride!, residency at the University of Idaho, residency for River Falls, Cowles teaching (the good and the ugly), a Contempo show, Houston and the International Swing Dance Championship, pushing pause on Winona in the Spring (including setting work on Dancescape), Japan trip, Dance BARN, NDEO Jazz Conference/ Rhode Island trip, reformatting the RS annual show, Colorado trip and Courtney's wedding, SAINTS CHAMPIONSHIP!, teaching at the Texas Dance Improv Festival in Denton, Texas State Fair!, Iowa State residency, Morris residency, Social Animals show planning and execution, Hanson, CHILL round 2.5, not getting grants and losing out on plans, learning to use all the rehearsal time I can pay for. Surely lots of other small stuff, but that's what's coming to mind.
  • How did what you experienced this year help you manifest your values?: Already addressed in above writings/ prompts. That said, off the top of my head, I'd note increased sense of holding myself to consciousness, more and better sleep, deeper understanding of my artistic interests and purposes over the course of many opportunities, indulging curiosity in habits and letting that feed professional output.
5). Next year reflection (guided by what you uncovered in steps 3 and 4): What do you want/ intend to experience next year that will help you manifest your values? 

Teaching at least one regular higher ed class in the Twin Cities area, additional out-of-town residency opportunities, some state-side travel, tap dancing, live music, African class, social dancing (even if I have to go alone and just for an hour - in fact, that's been awesome!), continued exploration of my aesthetic interests through creation of classes, workshops, dances (+ productions) and writings, I'm interested in visiting more MN state parks, looking for opportunities to invite dear ones into existent action, little ways to help.

6). Framing your intentions: examine your writings from steps 3-5, and format them into intentions that will help you manifest your values while moving you toward desired experiences: 

See next (final) post.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Life Reset

I'm a sucker for reflection prompts and such, and there are always a glut of them around the turn of the new year. This year in particular there have been a lot of decade-related lists too - music of, diet trends of, you name it. These were my examples specifically due to my own interests, but you name the topic, and there are likely several lists for it out there. 

I'm sort of surprised at how little I want to do a decade reflection - in fact, it just crossed my mind. Maybe I'll just do a tiny little one here, stream of consciousness. At New Years in 2009, I'd just moved back from Canada by way of Chicago, moved in with Kris and started dancing with the cloggers. I believe I'd gotten the job at Ginkgo by then and was doing a hodgepodge of that, clogging, EEEing and teaching - I can't recall how Cafeteria/ the days of subbing fit into this, but I think by then I was teaching at Dance Factory.

What a gigantic shift. I no longer work in the service industry (in fact, haven't since Ginkgo, I don't think), I no longer regularly teach in private studios, and I no longer dance with EEE. I kind of find it hard to believe that I've chosen not to go back to it upon returning to the TC after grad school, but it's always felt right to leave it as it was and be involved in the ways I can.

Perhaps that word 'return' is the wrong one. In fact, I know it is. I've always felt that way. Another chapter, perhaps. 

Moving away from the service industry and private studio teaching, and toward deepening my own creative projects and teaching in higher ed and for the Cowles has been an amazing shift. I'm very grateful for what these ten years have brought. Grad school. Deepening my choreography and knowledge of running an organization around my creativity and interests. Being published. Teaching residencies. Dancing with the cloggers and Contempo. Cohabitation. Marriage. The purchase of a home. Loosening grips on old friendships, maintaining and deepening those that feed and establishing new ones. Developing hobby interests in food and style. Officiating a wedding. 

Taking the time to think through all the fruits of the last ten years would take reflective energy I'm not willing to pull away from my reflection of the past year. That said, just thinking about 2009 and 2019 was eye-opening of its own volition. It also makes me realize that my time in Canada was OVER ten years ago now. Milestones.

So back to those reflective lists. I came across this one in an email from a blog/ger I appreciate, Becoming Minimalist. He's called this list "How to Reset Your Life." I think it appeals to me not because I feel I NEED to 'reset my life,' but because I love simplified categories for reflection. A quick pass:

1. Look hard at your spending: I/ we do this regularly, from me checking in on our finances once a week (and him frequently in his own way), our monthly "Save Money Day" - during which we decide if and what amount of money we can put into savings or toward debts or investments, and over-arching conversations about strategy we tend to have quarterly. I DO think I would really like to try having 'Quarterly Retreats' with Kris to discuss finances, vacations and other pressing life matters. Perhaps I'll run this by him. Regardless, besides groceries (which I'm actively tracking!), I'm for the most part very satisfied with our spending, saving, debt-repayment, investing and charitable giving.

2. Consider your time commitments: This is something I kind of have to do ALL the time, given I don't so much have a steady schedule in which each day of the week is always similar. In that regard, I have to keep making sure I look at the bigger picture when I'm adding something to my schedule. For example, when I take on a residency, I try to consider how it fits in the year and month. When I add a workshop or meeting, I try to look at what the rest of the week in question looks like, ensuring I still have time for administrative tasks (and really, for my own movement practices. That said, I've realized part of my issue this fall has been that so often, my Cowles teaching is happening at the same time as the classes I'd like to attend. I think I've gotta then try harder to fit in the ones that will - I've liked my 'in for an hour by my onesie and out' approach to social dancing this week). Right now, I don't have too many, it's more about how they overlap, and solving for that. I generally prioritize the commitment thats going to make me money right now (that's just where I am with work - fortunately I genuinely enjoy everything I do and feel it's all impactful). Knowing that, I want to continue to increase consciousness of adjusting for that to be sure I keep time for classes, the gym and cooking. All of this said, I feel my thought process around all this is going to have to completely change if we decide to try for a kid. None the less, I guess I can just approach all this knowing what I know right now. 

3. Question your work: I do this all the time. That said, I don't want an easy way out, I'm just always thinking of this as my work is always shifting. I'll ask myself to continue to move with the shift in intentional ways.

4. Check your motivations: Vitality & Purpose through Curiosity & Simplicity. A statement of values and intention.

5. Evaluate your relationships: There's no one in my life I'd like to spend LESS time with, so that seems great (except in considering the potential for regaining time!). I'd actually like to see MORE of my parents and brother and our really close friends. I think I'm gonna keep being more proactive about inviting people with me when I make last-minute decisions to go see a show, hear music or go dancing. Mom and dad included.

6. Be honest about your habits: My habits are pretty solid. That said, I think I WOULD like to establish a bedtime routine. Putting things away, a cup of tea and brushing teeth seems good, and I get stuck at whether or not to include reading. Part of me thinks it gets the brain going, yet I always seem to move toward sleep well when I've been reading, so maybe I should give it a try. That'll mean always having a book around, which is something I've been trying to do anyway.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Preparing for NYI

This post serves as preparation for moving through my New Years Intentions process closer to New Years Eve itself. 

Item for Fun: "How to Reset Your Life" from Becoming Minimalist

1. Look hard at your spending.
2. Consider your time commitments.
3. Question your work.
4. Check your motivations.
5. Evaluate your relationships.
6. Be honest about your habits.

New Years Intentions Process

I think that this year, I'm going to use my 'mission of sorts' as a guidepost for assessing the past year and setting intentions for the next. My 'mission of sorts,' as it stands:

Vitality & Purpose through Curiosity & Simplicity

I think I'm excited by the idea that I've been doing this for so long that themes have emerged and do not/ need to change every year. Perhaps the focus/es I give the themes shift slightly from year to year depending upon what I uncover when revisiting the past one, but I feel pretty confident that the themes themselves are here to stay (albeit with some potential tweaking) to stay! In fact, arriving to the above guiding statement has happened just in the past year, as its not what I had ended up with at New Years last year. That was the following:

New Year Intentions 2019

WHY --> HOW --> WHAT
Vitality Presence Growth-Inspiration
Purpose Simplicity-Complexity Relationship-Creation
Contribution Embodiment Danced-Contribution . . .

Practice kindness
Embrace noticing as the path to gratitude (Cain)
Value the complexity-simplicity continuum as the beautiful human puzzle
Expect undulation of commitment level and change in conditions (ex: balancing RS & freelancing)
Protect the time before 9:30am
Label where & when on writings
Expand yourself for wellness, joy and growth: daily physicality outside career (class, tap-yoga-circuits)
cook often
reading, podcasts and videos on topics of interest
connection with loved ones
social dancing (Dance Church, swing, Sun sessions)
live music (buy tickets ahead)
camp three times
Write and post reactions to live music and dance shows
Donate 1% of income

I do still really like what I'd now consider the 'ideas for manifesting' that I included, but wouldn't consider them actual 'intentions.' I think the intention is the guiding statement, I thing I'm excited to keep consistent. I'm also excited to check in on these 'ways of manifesting,' to figure out what was served, what is useful to carry forward and what potential new ways I might forge.

So here's the (slightly modified) process (see last year's NYE entries for the complete original process):
  1. Priming writing: write a little bit about where you are at the moment.
  2. Revisit previous year’s intentions: compare how active you were with them as measures of manifesting your mission (listed above for easy-access)
  3. Review past year’s personal writings: with an eye toward themes of progress and opportunity related to your mission
  4. This year reflection questions: guided by what you uncovered in the previous step, answer the following - What did you experience this year? How did you progress toward your mission? What are opportunities for progress toward your mission?
  5. Next year reflection questions: guided by what you uncovered in steps 3 and 4, answer the following - What do you want to experience next year? What continued and new themes of opportunity emerged in your writings from the year that could use some of your focus? 
  6. Framing your intentions: examine your writings from step 5, and format them into prompts that will help you manifest your mission while moving you toward desirejd experiences.
Some initial thoughts:

People: helping, connecting with
Health: sleep quality and amount, diet, movement-dance!

People: helping

Food: cooking, learning about policy
Adventure: work and pleasure travel, time in nature
Style: in clothing, in moving self through the world


I think I'm more than ready to dive into all this when the time comes!