Long time, no see my darlings!
The lull of summer is slipping away, I’m back in Brooklyn after my nearly two month hiatus, and I’m ready to dive into the focused energy of fall.
But first, we’ve got some serious catching up to do…
I took S P A C E from a lot of things this summer. Within that space, a lot of ground was covered, both literally and figuratively. Still reveling in the sweet scent of my summer wanderings, this letter takes on an air of poetic musing. Less structure, more exploration. Lacking order in exchange for a breadth of experiences. Surrendering my senses to take root in the heart of the matter.
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One car, fourteen states, seven weeks, thousands of miles. Stepping foot in Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Trading one routine for another. Fluctuating between an excess and absence of structure. Freeing summer winds whispering hints of guidance through my hair – a wing tip blessing.
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One thing I didn’t take much space from at all was dance. And after four weeks of intense exposure to my first love, we are still deeply invested in a romantic affair of sorts. Getting so up close and personal with my art form in the very specific context of a dance intensive shined a light on what was lacking in the relationship, and there was no room to hide away from the lurking shadows.
The dizzying rush of maddening passion that makes you do silly things when a love is young and fresh - the ignorance is bliss, shortsighted, lustful, honeymoon phase of our relationship has most definitely come and gone. Compared to romantic relationships with other humans, I’d say dance and I have done pretty well with extending our honeymoon phase for the better part of our relationship.
No more drunk in love. I’ve sobered up, in a sense. Matured. Not as easily seduced by the seemingly bright and shiny, but often times unfulfilling promises of a professional dance career. This rendezvous with dance gave me some time to address underlying issues and work to understand the root of the issue rather than attempt to soothe the symptoms. This is not easy work, nor is it something that miraculously shifts overnight, over a four week period, or even over a summer season. I’m in a process of alchemizing my relationship with dance – an ongoing process that will continue to be a thread throughout my life.
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The Alchemizing of a Relationship
No.1 – Extract the elements of the relationship that are the essence of why I chose to dance long ago, and throughout all of the trails and tribulations, still choose to dance today. Imbibe their spirit. Hold them dear to your heart.
No.2 – Compost the residual muck that is no longer serving a beneficial purpose in the relationship. Do not dispel the lingering negative notions, but rather, allow them to decay. Be patient with their death. As the life slips away, reflect on what you’ve learned from their teachings. Invest in the act of gratitude as the organic matter of your relationship transmutes.
No.3 – Fertilize the elemental essences with the rich, organic matter of your past experiences. Allow for the alchemy to take root in the heart of the matter. See what new life takes form.
Repeat steps 1 through 3 as often as is necessary. May be used for all kinds of relationships.
*Results may vary
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I speak of dance as though it is a person, or a characterization of all that it is. This is simply for expression’s sake and written creativity. When in truth, dance – the way I have grown to see it, to know it, to experience it – is much more thematic in texture. A human motif. An innate wisdom of the body, experienced across all cultures throughout time, as we know it. The essence of dance, this truth, is what I’ve loved all along. It’s what has kept me invested. What has brought me through countless periods of struggle and pain, inflicting wounds of rejection and confusion.
When I was 3, I wanted to dance. I don’t know why, but I did. I insisted on it. I would only wear dresses, mind you, that twirled when I danced around…no matter what the weather was like outside. Simple and pure, movement was life. Fast forward many years and somewhere along the way, I got a little lost. A little caught up in the concerns of “making it” and being a successful professional dancer. Thinking I knew what I wanted out of a professional dance career and that ultimately, I would be happy once this career goal was reached. Until then, being content in my career was always a stone’s throw away. Setting the bar higher. Wanting more out of life. Never stop, never settle. Just a few of the guiding mantras I followed.
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Sometimes, you’re on the search for the perfect whimsical summer dress when en route to the next hip boutique, you stumble across a kitchy Volkswagen van selling vintage clothes and score a darling folksy skirt for ten bucks. Sometimes, you travel across the country in search of something you thought you lost only to realize other things are seeking you out.
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On the first day of NWDP’s Summer Intensive, we were asked to write a letter to ourselves at the beginning of a composition/improvisation workshop. The prompt was something along the lines of if you could do anything, what would you do. My answer was as follows:
“A village, a center, a space within the landscape for artists and curious seekers of something more that what this modern cultural construct has to offer. A place where people come to learn, explore, heal, and grow into themselves then take that back out into the world – a ripple effect, led by example. PNW, lush forests near the cliffs of the coast. Or, perhaps somewhere else. Vibrant, full of wilderness and wildlife. I see expansive lands, clear of people, yet a tribe tucked away in their secluded spots. A hub for gathering, centrally located. Minimal, dynamic, flexible spaces made out of the earth. Spaces for artistic residencies and performances – where dancers can connect back to the roots of the body they came from; the elements. A large bonfire space where we dance awake the dream. For all, yet specific programs for different walks of life. To move as a part of the land – to feed and be fed. Shifting the paradigm through movement.”
I felt my relationship to dance shifting long before this moment. But in this moment, when surrounded by fellow artists seeking the same path as professional dancers, I still chose to string that selection of words together. To veer off the path of desiring the “traditional” path of a professional dancer – the one I yearned for, for so long. Sure, it was the first day. I hadn’t been immersed in the world of an elite dance company. And yes, there were times throughout those four weeks where I questioned my desires, where I felt the slippery seductress of all that I had ever (thought) I wanted from my dance career begin to sing sweet siren songs and lead me astray.
That dance studio felt like a cage at times. In part because I felt captive to a program that wasn’t feeding me in the way I was hoping it would. That isn’t so much of a reflection on the program as it is a reflection on myself as a dancer, and before that, a human being. They all say, we are dancers, but first we are humans. They being the people in the dance world who care about the person inside of that dancer form.
If you truly care about the human first, then you wouldn’t hold the human captive. You wouldn’t trap the human in the studio all day, where the human cannot acquire healthy exposure to the elements. Where the human cannot interact with the world around them. Where the human is blocked off from the abundant sources of energy and inspiration flowing through the various expressions of life we find in the natural world.
My ideas as to what it means for me to be in touch with my human self have shifted as I’ve been walking down a rewilding path. It’s a very hard pill to swallow when it dawns on you that the very thing you love to do has become captive to the domesticated world, too. When it dawns on you that the very thing you’ve grown up loving and devoting yourself to has manifested itself into a career paradigm that holds direct conflict with how you actually envision your life unfolding.
Without those moments of quiet contemplation, of asking myself the hard questions, of confronting my darkest fears and deepest desires, I wouldn’t have realized that what I thought was lost, wasn’t meant to be found again. At least, not in the same way as I had known this relationship to dance before. The calling to create a new path, a new paradigm for dance, is what was, and I believe, has been seeking me out all along.
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I only took a total of three yoga classes in four weeks, which during the month long intensive felt very lacking in regards to the cross training my body was so desperately seeking. Now that I’m reflecting on that statistic, I realize how getting to three yoga classes in a month timeframe is rare when I’m leading my “normal” life in Brooklyn. I teach plenty, and practice nearly not enough. So despite only exploring one yoga studio in Portland, I’m grateful for the time I did carve out to deepen my yoga practice. And even more grateful for listening to what my body and spirit were asking of me come performance week.
A badly sprained, possibly broken pinky toe + an old school, hardcore ballet teacher = not my ideal morning warm up for a contemporary performance that evening.
Following the nudge of well thought out rebellion, I decidedly skipped ballet to take a vinyasa yoga class to prepare my body, mind, and spirit for the performance that evening.
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
- Kurt Vonnegut
When the teacher opened class with this quote, inviting us to view our practice as an art form that morning, I knew my rebellious inklings had served me well.
Following that thread of intuition landed me in a place where I could ground + center.
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At the intersection of time and place, awareness and movement. This is where my arts are leading me to these days. To work within a landscape, dance among the elements, and create something that sheds light on the heart of the matter – our humanness, our nature; our human//nature.
My wild woods man and I have been dreaming up a collaborative project that was dropped into our sphere of awareness with the falling of a rain shower this past spring. A project that melds our art forms with our human forms. On the artistic side, combining site specific dance performance and fine art photography. On the human side, combining our need to feed and be fed by our natural world. A project where we, as artistic humans, can GROUND + CENTER.
This summer served as a research period for this project, taking time away from our local landscape and “normal” routines to unearth the inspiration hidden within foreign landscapes and fluctuating routines. Using the organic matter composted from the dissatisfaction of our respective art form paradigms to fuel the essence of our vision, we are excited to share this journey with you as we continue to develop GROUND + CENTER.
To see where this vision takes us, follow our journey on Instagram: @groundandcenter
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Still Frame: Kitfox Valentín
Here I lie, in a transitional space, on the edge of a precipice both literally and figuratively. I've always had a fear of open heights. Roller coasters, zip lines, or anything where I'm contained or controlled by an external source suits me just fine. Remove those external protections and leave me bare, standing at the edge of a precipice with nothing to anchor me to safety but the capability of my own body and the sensation of anxiety is summoned. For someone who has trained extensively in a movement form like dance from the time I was a tiny human, this fear seems irrational to me. However, it exists. Yet...here I lie, confronting my fears, gently and with a trust that I can push past the boundaries of my own psychology. As this project continues to come to life, I am confronting fears of opening myself up to the unforeseen heights of where it will take me. I never really had an interest in creating my own work, and felt rather comfortable with the external protection of being contained by another choreographer's vision. Choosing to hoist those anchors of comfort and set sail to explore my own choreographic vision is definitely stirring up the waters of anxiety. The rush of water slipping underneath the bridge of my body as it crosses the threshold into territories unseen reminds me that the most rewarding discoveries come into sight when you allow yourself to be swept through uncharted territories.