Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's About People

Similar words, from a couple respected people within the span of a few days, have caused me to think pretty deeply about the modus operandi and result of actions that people take. Previous to the wise words of these respected people, my easy answer would have been something to the tune of "my actions are usually to further an element of my career," or "to get everything done in time," the later being particularly true when it comes to how I operate on a daily basis.

My triggers to think about this came from advice in two different scenarios - the first from a satisfied reader of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and the second from a discussion about a dance piece centered on the idea of how, at the metaphorical end of the day, life is really about people.

While I have not yet had the chance to read the afore-mentioned book (though I plan to now), I did connect right away to the choreographers explaination for how she arrived to this conclusion, and why she wanted to showcase it in a dance. In explaining the piece, she started by saying that it is all too easy for one to get caught up in the obstacle course of daily life. Though the course changes form with each phase of life, offering new challenges with each new chapter presented, there is one constant; there are always too many important things to get done on time, in order to stay on top of things and be successful.

The key to analyzing this assumption is pondering what it is that drives us to get these too many things done. Yes, 'too many things' was followed by 'to get done on time' and 'to be successful.' This is where I haved stopped in the past, in trying to figure out why I operate the way I do. Go further. Why is it important to get things done on time and be successful?

First, I draw up the idea that these things are important because we think that what we achieve individually validates our existence as humans, our purpose for being on earth. However, this is not specific to you alone, one person at a time. A factor of what makes the world truly interesting is how we are all connected to each other in some way - My purchase of coffee beans creates revenue for farmers in Ethiopia, that farmer in Ethiopia is then able to invest in cellular technology developed in India, so on and so forth. Though my example is strikingly similar, I am not talking about glogalization here. I am talking about how our personal actions, in the long-run, really are about how we relate to other people, and the importance of those connections.

I'll make the scale a little less worldly - this time, I'd like to suggest that the quality attention and intention you invest in your interactions with co-workers is just as important as the quality you invest in completing a project. Or; the quality you invest in interacting with a loved one is just as important as getting the house clean. When it comes down to it, the house, pending fire or other disaster, will always be there, but your loved one will not. I do not say this in a way that suggests people are important only because they have a shelf-life. Rather, our abilities to interact with people in ways that we cannot with a broom are precious, and should not be overlooked or sidelined due to tight scheduling.

This idea is something that I can easily and joyously understand, but will be a challenge to put into action. I thrive off the necessity of getting numerous things done in a simultaneous fashion. In fact, a big ponder last month was whether or not I create tasks to make myself feel like I am on top of things and going somewhere. These things said and considered, I do not desire to cut out any current projects from my life; after evaluating, I realized that I really DO want to be doing nearly everything I am doing, outside of tasks that are simply necessity for sustaining of life (i.e. day-job-to-make-enough-money activities). Despite being happy with the fullness and variation of objects on my plate, I have realized that it could be beneficial to reconsider how I go about . . . eating them?! Ok, cryptic, stick-to-the-analogy tools aside, I have realized that I could be more conscientious about how I interact with people.

In my heart, I am fully aware of the fact that people are the true driver of what I do, but that idea often stays a bit buried when I am trying to accomplish a task. In other words, I have a tendency to sideline people or rush through an interaction without noticing because I am so focused on the task at hand. After being triggered by two respected people to think more about this, I plan to be more active in supporting quality within my interactions as they happen. While I have never had difficulty expressing how grateful I am for support and interactions I experience after they happen, I could stand to be in the moment more on such things (well, most things, really :) ).

How will I do this? Unfortunately, there is not an instruction manual (that I know of, anyway), because I would sure love that. However delightful a manual would be for me, this one is the kind of idea that seems to be different for each person to put into practice. I am going to begin with the simple idea of trying to be actively conscious of how I interact with people, and I will go from there.

My 'at heart' understanding of how anything I do, though filtered through the achievement of personal success, is really for the purpose of connecting with and supporting my loved ones and people in general. In my case, the teaching, performance and creation of dance are conduits for the development and passing on of my ideas about the world, most of which are meant to reach out to people and ask them to see and feel the world more actively as they live in it. Hopefully, after having pondered all this, I can work toward always treating my daily interactions with as much purpose as I do the consideration of and acting upon my internal drive. When it comes down to it, these two concepts share a common source; people.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

From Ear to Eye: Ideas to Aid Jazz Music Lovers in Viewing Jazz Dance

Written for the August 2009 edition of CODA, the Twin Cities Jazz Society newsletter.

Saxophones, trumpets, drums, dancers . . . the beginning of a large list of musical
instruments. Wait a second – dancers?! Yes! Dancers should indeed be a part of this list, according to those who study and practice jazz movement. This sentiment is not as uncommon as one would imagine. Lovers of the jazz aesthetic can agree, regardless of whether they prefer music or dance, that the two media are inherently and beautifully connected to one another for many reasons. It is these elements of connection to and respect for the music, versatility, embracing humanness, and most importantly, rhythm, that provide the common ground for jazz
music lovers to view and appreciate jazz dance.

One of the most satisfyingly simple and authentic ways for both a dancer and a
viewer to get involved is finding connection to and respect for the music. Purposeful use
of and genuine connection to the music is a hallmark of quality jazz dance. Many jazzers
enjoy dancing socially just as much as they enjoy dancing in a concert setting, and the
common thread is music. Jazz musicians savor a close relationship between ears and mind, and by throwing in the additional element of the eyes, jazz dancers develop a keen relationship between the operation of the body and the act of listening to music – they create a visceral absorption of and response to music.

Another factor that can be taken into account by jazz music fans watching jazz dance is the concept of collaboration. Both jazz dancers and musicians have the distinct pleasure of working in tandem with several elements at once to produce a unified whole. Varied instrumentation (be it several dancers with their own distinct movement style or several musicians with their own distinct sound) creates numerous possibilities for unique and satisfying outcomes.

Jazz dance and music also share in the joy of improvisation, another element that encourages the creation of fascinating chance encounters. The jazz aesthetic also fosters versatility, an element that keeps jazz-interested folks constantly wondering what could be done next. Jazz music has fused with pretty much every other form of music, and if it hasn't, it can. The same idea goes for dance – jazz fusions have created seemingly endless possibilities for movement and idea explorations. Truly understanding the basics of this aesthetic, such as musicality, rhythm, honesty in emotion, and collaboration can provide a solid base for successfully and whole-heartedly catapulting into new musical and movement territory, fostering a sense of variety not

Jazz dance is unique from other dance forms in the fact that it often seems to be simply celebrating the music. seen quite as much in other forms as it is in jazz. In a solid jazz-dance concert, the appeal of this idea can often be seen rather well through presentation of a wide range of movement styles and music choices, allowing the viewer to enjoy several styles in one
sitting. Jazz also allows musicians and dancers a sense of emotional freedom. As a vernacular
form from its roots, rather than trying to rise beyond it (as in forms such as ballet), the
jazz aesthetic asks its participants to embrace and showcase their humanness by using
common energy to emote. Jazz dance is unique from other dance forms in the fact that it
often seems to be simply celebrating the music. If one takes into account the inherent
humanness of dance and music existing as result of one another, this dance already has its
purpose. This incredible humanness alone is enough to create purposeful, satisfying,
engaging and visceral dance, particularly when matched with just the right tune.

Finally, there is rhythm; Our body runs on the rhythm of our heart. We make rhythm with
our bodies through the creation of music and of dance. This bond is a strong one, and it
comes across quite clearly when experiencing a well-thought-out collaboration of jazz
music and dance. Regardless of the music choice, rhythm is ever-present in dance. It is simply up to the choreographer and performers regarding how much they would like to acknowledge it. People who feel drawn to jazz often find rhythm to be the most essential element in their medium. Sharing interest in this creates a common thread for jazz musicians, dancers and viewers to understand and appreciate one another’s pursuits. Connection to and respect for music, collaboration, versatility, embracing humanness, and rhythm provide a common ground
within the jazz aesthetic for dancers and musicians to appreciate one another’s work.

The inherent and beautiful connection between movement and music, though elusive, gains
clarity when considering all that the two media share. Keeping this view in mind, it
seems only natural that dancers be included on a list of musical instruments. Operating
from this standpoint, jazz music lovers will be on just the right track to take a leap into
whole-heartedly viewing and truly enjoying jazz dance.

Erinn Liebhard earned her degree in dance at the University of Minnesota in 2007. As a
choreographer, her work has been presented by the Eclectic Edge Ensemble, the Red Eye
Theater and the Lowry Lab Theater in downtown St. Paul. Additionally, her work has
been presented by Dancer's Studio West in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, as a part of the
Alberta Dance Explosions Festival 2009. Her interest in the development of jazz and
vernacular dance recently took her to Calgary to study extensively for a year. She and
collaborator Heather Parker are co-producers of “Rhythmically Speaking: Seven Jazz
Perspectives From Emerging and Established Choreographers.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Social Dance Subculture

This past weekend, I attended and helped host Moosejaw, an old-time music and dance weekend put on by the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers at the Maplelag resort near Detroit Lakes, MN. I knew I would have fun, as I enjoy dancing and music, but didn't really know for sure what I was getting myself into.

The first couple of hours of arrival, I could feel myself shrinking in response to the clear indications that everyone seemed to know each other. I was dissapointed in myself for my reaction, unclear as to whether it was really a desire to be inward, or if it was simply that I was not prepared for a weekend of being around many people all the time for a whole weekend. Despite my initial feelings, these reactions washed away quickly, as the family-style dinner was served and the music and dancing began.
As quickly as I knew someone's name, we were just as quickly sharing in a dance. Square and contra dancing are designed for people who like other people - this is apparent in the hand holding, eye contact, partner switching, and unspoken idea that it should be your pleasure to take part in the dance, regardless of with whom it may be. Additionally, these forms of dance are for people that love music and rhythm; old-time and bluegrass music operate around repetative and catchy rhythms and hooks, and they rely on easy to understand musical structures and patterns, which come out in audible chunks of sound that are easy for dancers to identify and for musicians to structure around the dance on hand.
Creation of community seems to be the number one result of being involved in this kind of music and dance. Though people may get involved for the purpose of serving their own love of these things, they end up on the other side having not only experienced the joy of really listening to music and the synergy of moving their body to it rhythmically, but they have also shared in these joys with others.

After getting involved myself, the openness of this community people is so obvious to me in so many ways, and one of the ways this was embodied this weekend was the willingness to learn new things. Attendees stepped out of their old-time comfort zone to learn and partake in traditional Ukranian social dances, taught by Don LaCourse of Ethnic Dance Theater and danced to the music of the Twin Cities-based Ukrainian Village Band. Though very few of the weekend's attendees had experience with this kind of dance, it did not take them long to pick up on and enjoy it. I truly believe that it came as quickly and enjoyably as it did to everyone there because they foster a general atmosphere of interest, willingess and support, and this showed in everything, from learning a new dance to locating the hot tub!

I could go into unnecessarily minute detail, simply for my own pleasure of recalling the weekend's hijinx, but I will try to stay relatively to the point; the old-time dance and music subculture is alive and well due to a couple of key factors - an extremely welcoming crowd of people, diverse in background and age and experience, and music and dance forms that are simple, communal and rhythmic. I often receive slightly befuddled reactions when I tell people that I go to square dances, or that I have joined an appalachian clogging company, or that I recently spent a whole weekend clogging, listening to jam sessions and contra dancing at a secluded Northern Minnesotan resort. I think it is easy for people to be detered by the title of 'old-time,' which often draws up ideas of outdatedness. In trying to explain, it is often difficult to put into efficient response why it is that I have been so drawn to this community, yet I will try.
I am glad that I have not let the genre title of 'old-time' get in the way of how I see this community and what it can offer me as a dancer and lover of music. Just because a form has a long history does not mean it is outdated; on the contrary, history allows digging into past experience to find ways to engage new people, as well as to keep interested the people who have already been drawn in. In short, I find this subculture's sense of open, unapologetic, community-building, fun-loving simplicity to be among the freshest apporaches I have experienced regarding sharing a love of rhythmic musical patterning and movement.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

West African Dance Workshop with Djenba Sako

Monday night's workshop was awesome. This is not to say that I had a revolutionary learning experience, but I certainly had a revolutionary movement experience. To me, this is one of the nutshell-sized ways to explain why traditional African dance, while not 'pushing any boundaries,' has extreme value to offer to both trained dancers and novice dancers alike.

To begin with, the evening's teacher (Djemba Sako), a guest artist from Mali, brought with her a whole sense of authentic styling and teaching, both of which had a certain casual (I might say cool) flair. Despite the fact that she seemed to be operating through a language barrier, the detail and clarity in her body of experience was enough to communicate to us students exactly the way in which the movement should be executed.

Seeing videos and learning from a third party instructor are fantastic ways to immerse yourself in a craft when that is what is available. Even better is striving to supplement such learning with learning directly from the source, which is exactly what this opportunity provided. Dancing to the drumming of Fode Bangoura and the instruction of Djenmba was an incredible, exhilarating brush with authenticity.

The setting of the experience was perfect - a mirror-less studio in a community center that I had never even heard of (Sabanthi Community Center), and folks with whom I had never before danced. The newness of this community was invigorating for me; it was so exciting to discover that there are communities of dancers expressing themselves that I had not been aware of until putting myself into the middle. After my short-lived experience in Chicago, I pledged to myself that I would delve into excavating my information regarding what is happening for dance learning opportunities in the Twin Cities. I was pleasantly surprised to quickly find class opportunities in places that I had never before heard of - Central Do Brasil, Sabanthi, etc.

However, just uncovering information regarding these classes did not get me very far. Yes, it was exciting to gather the knowledge, but it took experiencing one of these opportunities in person for it to really sink in how intricate and exciting our dance community can be, with its multiple, far-reaching arms.

After Monday night, I am definitely going to make a more concerted effort to get myself out to more of the unfamiliar and exciting dance opportunities in our great cities.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Clean Slate, Blank Brain

Clean slate, blank brain.

It is amazing how quickly your brain can fill up with thoughts upon waking, no matter how hard you try to keep it un-tainted. Focusing on nothingness when there are so many opportunities in the opposite direction is amazingly difficult. Food, bathroom, to do list, when do I need to be to work, did I call that person back? Tainting.

But here is the bigger question - do creative impulses come out of that stream of unavoidable thoughts, or out of managing to avoid them? I am sure there is no constant, but for each person, there must be a tendency. I can only assume that, since I am not manufacturing amazing creative thoughts every two seconds, most of my tendency must lean toward when I manage to avoid that stream, or maybe when I swim upstream?

I think that is the purpose of why, a couple of weekends ago, I decided to try and plan nothing - tried to avoid that stream of thoughts, and instead let time develop as it would. This idea seemed romantic and fantastic, and I couldn't wait to let it unfold.

Turns out, it was nothing near what I was making it out to be. Another impotece for this little experiement was also the thought that shaking up personal patterns can be good for you. In theory and sometimes in practice, this is true. However, what resulted from my no-plans weekend was me feeling like a boring, time-wasting person avoiding what I really wanted to be doing - moving toward completion of plans.

Another thing that called me to try this was the realization (which I did arrive to long ago, but seem to have sincere difficulty affecting) that I tend to let never-ending lists dictate me. I say this in a way that suggests that there is such thing as a list with an end point, which I believe to be entirely untrue, at least where highly motivated people are concerned. Therein lies the problem. Often, these lists dictate my time in a way that seems to run me in circles, rather than in a defined direction. I realize this.

However, after a couple weekends ago's experiement of trying to plan nothing, as if operating in a blank fashion equal to that of simply trying to run through a list at as fast a pace as possible, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, would help me in some way.

What really comes out of all this is the continued reenforcement of the fact that nothing is black and white (I suppose even the concept of 'black and white' itself has to be grey somewhere), everything is best in moderation. But not moderation for moderation's sake, moderation with thought behind it, careful enough that it is purposeful, but not so planned that interfers with a moment's ability to unfold into what it wishes to be.

So, new approach; two weekends from now, I am going on a road trip with Aaron and Sarah. At first, I hadn't even asked what we were going to do, in order to respect the ways in which randomness can carry us. Realizing that I was too curious to have no idea, I asked her the plan, which turned out to be holing up in a hotel room because no one has money and talking through with a friend some troubles. Glad I asked.

With information and perspective, I am going to choose to let randomness draw the cards part of the time, while planning draws the other part.

Any suggestions for fun, cheap things to do in Madison in March?