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Arts Leadership and a Healthy Arts Community

I think it was sometime back in the 90’s when the arts field first started talking about a crisis of future leadership. We looked around and saw a LOT of Baby Boomer organization leaders nearing or entering retirement. “Where is the next generation of leaders coming from?” became a big worry and a topic of many conversations.  Leadership development programs of all types were created to address this concern, including a proliferation of graduate arts management programs that would help train “the next generation of arts leaders,” ready to take over once the Boomers got out of the way.

It wasn’t long however, before some wrinkles in this imagined scenario emerged.

The first was that a LOT of baby boomers refused to retire. There were many reasons for this. To begin with, the arts leaders of the Baby Boom generation were deeply involved in creating the enormous nonprofit arts infrastructure that we have today. We prided ourselves (I say “we” because I am of this generation) on our devotion to our work above all else. Having invested our hearts and souls in our work with a passion of a generation determined to change the world, we were understandably reluctant to leave. Additionally, with our identities so completely intertwined with our work as an “Arts Leader,” many of us balked at the idea of walking away from something to which we had devoted our entire adult lives. Without these jobs in these organizations that we had worked so hard to create and inhabit, what meaning was there in our lives?

Furthermore, over the years that we had selflessly worked for arts organizations we had discounted our own health and well-being and sacrificed our future “for the good of the organization.” Many of us went without health insurance; most failed to invest in retirement. Now, approaching age 65 and beyond, the decision to keep working “until I die in the chair” was as much about money as it was about meaning. So we stayed; and continue to stay.

In some large organizations, with more stable and secure finances, arts leaders actually did invest in their future, so they could, and did, retire. But then, as search firms and search committees looked around for their replacements, another trend emerged. Not only were younger people lacking the “deep experience” that every job posting asks for in executive roles, it became clear that many younger people actually didn’t want those jobs! Watching their “elders” in these all consuming, eighty hour a week jobs devoted to a LOT of “administrivia,” many of the next generation were thinking, “Why would I want that job? It’s enormously stressful and unhealthy!” Who can blame them? We are now in this interesting phenomenon in which organizations are looking for leaders who fit a leadership profile that fewer people fulfill, and even fewer want to fulfill. This is not quite the leadership crisis we expected.

But is it really a crisis? Or is it a chance to remake our field and the very concept of leadership in a healthier way? To answer that, we need to step back and take a more expansive view of the world we live in and how we might need to rethink our idea of what makes a healthy organization and what a healthy leadership approach actually might be.

As the contours of our world are changing, and as organizations become more multi-faceted and diverse in their composition and staffing, ideas of what makes a healthy organization are evolving. I want to focus here on two major external trends that are, in my view, transforming our understanding of healthy leadership and functional organizations.

First, thanks largely to the internet and all its technological progeny, we are now living in a horizontal, networked world, not the vertical, hierarchical world that we Boomers inherited, sustained and still try to sustain even as we see it no longer operative. “Information wants to be free” may be old (and debatable) news but it is a signifier of the wholesale disruption of hierarchical patterns of control that once were signifiers of a “strong” or “healthy” organization. Social media and its ilk mean that everyone has access to everyone and everything all the time. Information chaos reigns in the contemporary world and no carefully designed, centralized, “chain of command” system can contain that chaos. We see evidence of that everywhere we turn from politics, to media, to education, to health care. All of our previously stable, solid, societal institutions are being upended and remade. Why would we think the arts would escape this fate?

Second, as the population continues to diversify and the values and beliefs of the multiple cultures that comprise the country proliferate throughout all of our societal structures, organizational systems that have been created, controlled and dominated by straight white men and the people who try to act like them, become increasingly susceptible to disruption and transformation. When the dominant culture (which actually thought/thinks of itself as the “only” culture), is confronted with the reality of its loss of the power that comes from being the dominant culture, organizational change has to occur. Command and control can no longer command or control the organization.

Happily, ideas like leadership are not the province of a single culture and a healthy organization recognizes that and embraces multiple leadership strategies to insure organizational health. We are now in a world of shared leadership, consensus decision-making, horizontal organizational structures, team building, work-life balance and self-care to name only a few more effective, and healthier, approaches to organizational leadership. These are concepts that heretofore have been ridiculed as soft, non-competitive, unrealistic and similar adjectives that are used to denigrate what are actually policies and practices that are humane and respectful of our individual and collective selves.

As we move into a new world with alterative ideas of what a healthy organization is comprised of and what constitutes healthy leadership, those individuals and organizations that are riding these trends rather than fighting them are the ones that will emerge from the chaos of our transitional moment into a new, healthier environment.

So what should those who aspire to be healthy leaders and organizations be doing?

First, study environmentalism and resilience theory and re-envision your idea of what makes a sustainable (i.e. healthy) arts organization. There is an environmental concept that I love that defines sustainability as the endless striving for an unattainable ideal. Is there a better way to define art and therefore arts organizations? As artists, are we ever “finished” with the process of creation of a work of art? Healthy arts organizations must think in the same way; that our work is an endless process of striving for an unachievable ideal. It is the ideal that drives us to work; sustainability comes in the act of the work itself. It’s not about how big your organization’s budget is, or how many staff you have, or how stable (or maybe rigid?) you are! It’s about that vision—and the endless striving towards it—that makes you sustainable and healthy. Are you really working towards that ideal or are you just trying to grow your budget?

A new, resilient organizational vision also requires a new vision of leadership. Healthy organizations will look at the diversity of their staff and leadership for clues to new ways of providing organizational leadership. Do we really need a CEO “at the top,” a concept and a term that we have appropriated from the hierarchical, straight white male dominated business model of corporate America? This is an organizational form and structure that is, in fact, antithetical to who we are as artists and what we do as arts organizations. It stifles the creativity, experimentation and exploration that are, or should be, at the heart of our organization. Can we imagine new ways of working that has us thinking – and acting – more like the artists we are than the business people we most assuredly are not?

Now that we have (finally) made some progress towards bringing diverse voices into our organization, we need to bring those diverse leadership perspectives into our organization as well. Today’s arts leaders need to be open to alternative points of view, able to encourage intense and productive discussions and not threatened by dissent and disruption. The best arts leaders in today’s world must above all be synthesizers; people who can listen to and manage alternative, even conflicting points of view and synthesize them into a coherent organizational ethos. Getting everyone “on the same page” does not mean lock-step agreement to a single narrative but instead a somewhat loosely defined, adaptable idea based on where we are headed and able to acknowledge that multiple paths will get us there. Our willingness to tolerate an atmosphere of continuous change and adaptability to that change is what will make us both successful and healthy organizations.

In today’s chaotic environment we have a very human desire, perhaps need, for “stability” for “rock solid” answers. We desperately seek a predictable future. This is not possible. It’s not the world we live in and there are no signs that events around us are going to get any less unpredictable than they are. So arts leaders interested in creating healthy arts organizations will have to strive for a more dynamic view of what stability means, one that is focused on the vision but willing to entertain multiple strategies to get us there. We just can’t be the “institution builders” that defined the Baby Boomer generation of leadership. Instead, we need to be facilitators and guides, helping steer our organizations through some very rocky waters.

Our choice now is to either adapt our organizations and our leadership to this changed world, or engage in the endlessly frustrating, unsatisfying and ultimately unhealthy way of working of the past.

Where are you headed?

Welcome

Each new year offers opportunity to illuminate ideas, instigate new ideologies. A chance to be inspired so we can inspire. Dancers’ Group’s staff brings in 2019 with responses to the question, what is healthy?

Sprinkled throughout this issue are articles centered on this question, including Juliet Paramor’s coverage of ODC’s Healthy Dancers Clinic and its upcoming Day For Dancers’ Health on January 26; Ken Foster considering health in arts leadership; and Sima Belmar’s regular column “In Practice” transforms to share a personal journey towards wellness.

I grew up equating health with success and I’m working to unlearn this notion and numerous beliefs about what constitutes being healthy. As a dancer am I naturally healthy? No. Evolving, and aging, are complex and I work to believe—or is it to trust?—that my aging body is whole, and beautiful, and perfect in this moment. With the start of the new year I recommit to my body—I am not the person I used to be. Wayne Hazzard, Executive Director

A healthy life is about maintaining balance of all things that can affect a person’s mentality, physicality, emotionality, finances, and spirituality. Each of these selves are connected to one another, therefore causing a perpetual balancing act that we have to perform on the daily. Some are lucky to be able to support and be supported by others whenever they begin to teeter totter. However 2019 pans out, may we all find grounding, support and presence whenever we fall off balance. Valerie Mendez, Program Assistant

When approached about this opportunity to write about health as a dancer, my mind immediately started exploding with ideas. Where does one start? For me, the subject hit remarkably close to home.

This past summer, my immediate health was challenged by a fall I took during a performance at the Sun Gallery in Hayward. I was presenting a solo work, Terra Femme, about embodying the Earth as a goddess who was being attacked by smog, pollution, nuclear bombs, and other man made weapons to the natural soil.

During one of a series of spins, i fell down onto the wooden platform. Like any true performer, I continued through, as if the fall were a part of the choreography. The actual pain didn’t settle in until days later and even then i was used to my almost lifelong back issues so I wasn’t vigilant.

It was only when I couldn’t sit up straight without having excruciating pain going down the length of my right leg that I finally went to a doctor. They said without a doubt that I was dealing with sciatic nerve pain.

I had never felt anything like this in my life. Having been a fairly safe kid, I never broke any bones growing up so I had nothing to compare the experience to. This debilitating pain kept me up nights and made every day movement insufferable. Having initially no relief and fearful thoughts that I might become addicted to painkillers plagued my mind. It was in those moments I knew that I had to change.

With the help of prescribed medicine, alternating heat and cold packs, natural salves, constant stretching, massage therapy, and an overhaul of diet, over the course of 5 months, I was eventually able to walk, sit and sleep with much less pain.

This incident was definitely a wakeup call for me. I wasn’t listening to my body and it was calling out for help. As the new year approaches, creating new regimes for one’s body and mind may seem cliche but sometimes they are truly necessary.

Going into the next 365 days, there’s an ever-present call to refresh your mind state, grow in character, set personal goals, and yes renew that gym membership. Andréa Spearman, Program Assistant

In recent years, I have ventured into more nontraditional, Eastern, Indigenous, brujeria-spiritual based healing modalities to address my health-based concerns. This shift has arisen as a result of a severe concussion I experienced in the spring of  2017. My time in the offices of Western doctors had not been particularly helpful, primarily because I felt like there was a lack of embodied understanding and that my full self was not being taken into consideration. Whenever I’ve seen Chinese Medicine specialists, I’ve been asked about my diet, personal life, emotional state, family, metabolism, etc. This is not to say that I don’t think that there are many Western medical advancements that continue to save lives time and time again; I simply wonder if there will ever come a moment when the respective modalities\/ technologies will meet and converge.

I remember calling my mother post-concussion who immediately suggested we pray; this happened after I had performed my own full moon ritual at a friend’s dance studio earlier that same day. I also reached out to Hannah Wasielewski, choreographer and craniosacral therapist, who was giving free craniosacral therapy sessions at the time, which helped tremendously in getting my body back into its’ deep healing rhythms and potential. The impact of the concussion generated an interesting tension because prior to the moment of injury, movement had always been my medicine/methodology for survival and healing. Because the concussion limited how much and how rigorously I could move, I then had to find another way to channel movement’s healing capacity in order to ground and stabilize the symptoms I was experiencing.

When it comes to issues pertaining to mental and physical health, I have continued to turn to these alternative modalities. Discussions around the ways race / gender / class / citizenship / language intersect with being an artist and how these factors affect access to healthcare need to be had and examined more thoroughly.  I wish I could attend to the tuning of my body on a more regular basis, but sometimes am not able to due to lack of funds. So how does one get what one needs when the system in place is inherently designed to keep specific people out and others in? This is an ongoing question that continues to haunt me. One proposition is to create one’s own system. Currently, my system includes being in close dialogue with herbalists and Chinese Energetic forms along with meditation and prayer. Thankfully, the Bay Area continues to be a place where NOTAFLOF, trades, and exchanges exist both within and outside of the performing arts as one remedy in addressing the issue of accessibility to healthcare. randy reyes, Program Assistant

When I think of health, my mind turns to the word care and the idea of taking care. But, I resist the idea of “self-care.” Admittedly, it’s enticing – in a American Capitalist culture that rewards production, earnings, and acquisition, prioritizing one’s own body and mind sure seems like sage advice. But it sneakily perpetuates another dark aspect of the American idea: that there is an Individual Self and there is an Other, and we are in competition for every resource. I’d prefer to think of my “self” as an inextricable part of community and family. I reject the binary of self and other. Let’s build a culture, not of individualism, but of reciprocal wellbeing. Let’s take care of one anotherMichelle Lynch Reynolds, Program Director

SPEAK: RECKONING: A decade of FRESH Festival and 20 years of ALTERNATIVA

Reckoning with time.

There is something thrilling about a new year, a fresh start, the beginning of another cycle around the sun. There is also the reckoning it invites, to acknowledge the past and set things right or free to make space for change. As I prepare for FRESH Festival 2019, a celebration of a decade of FRESH and 20 years of ALTERNATIVA, my company with musician Albert Mathias, I’m noticing what of the past lingers, what has impact on this moment in time, and what reflects into the future. As I collect and connect the years leading up to these anniversaries, I see ripples in a body of water created by a stone thrown long ago, and find myself in a boat made of my own body, throwing more stones to make more ripples.

Two dancers on the ground with legs in the air.

Monique Jenkinson and Mica Sigourney / photo by Robbie Sweeny

The need to create. The need to connect.

I am an artist in the field, professionally nomadic, working outside of and in collaboration with more formal institutions. From this position of relative freedom, I want to create alternative situations and structures for dance to develop within, and to connect people and places, joining forces and generating situations for artists, including myself, to deepen our focus, expand our range and widen our exposure. One of the first events that Albert and I produced was OPEN FIELD, an improvisation swap/meet in which we brought together an idiosyncratic group of dance, music, spoken word and performance artists. FRESH Festival has become the fulfillment of those initial impulses to create and connect, to gather the brilliance of synergistic artists, to cultivate collaboration of mediums and communities, and to create contexts for experimental art.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

FRESH is an ARTLAB, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ aspect of ALTERNATIVA that satisfies two of our main missions – the sharing of creative resources and the expansion of what art can be. The Festival became possible because of sublime timing, affordable spaces [co-sponsors Kunst-Stoff Arts from 2010-14 and Joe Goode Annex from 2015-19], and substantial community support. With this triangulation of time, space and effort, we have been able to construct an immersive arena for collective, diverse and inclusive energy and exchange. FRESH has changed shape and size over 10 years, expanding from a week of training and informal performances to 4 weekends of mainstage performances and 3+ weeks of Practices and Exchanges. This has only been possible because of the ongoing, invested energy of FRESH artists, participants, audiences, volunteers and funders.

FRESH 2019 extends our curatorial reach, mixing local artists with guest artists from Mexico and Europe. Co-curator José Navarrete has attracted Regina Evans and Nicia De’Lovely, Juan Manuel Aldape, Byb Kongo Bibene and a cast of 20 dancers, Antoine Hunter and Ayisha Knight-Shaw, and EastSide Arts Alliance, and will share new work by NAKA Dance Theater with Debby Kajiyama. Chrysa Parkinson, Amara Tabor-Smith and Sherwood Chen are back, along with Festival regulars Sara Shelton Mann, Abby Crain and Keith Hennessy. All of the participating artists are fantastic and the entire list is in the box on the right-hand side of this page.] We’re hosting a cohort of collaborators from Ponderosa, near Berlin, Germany, including FAKE Company, an eclectic group of international performance artists. I have been spending my summers at Ponderosa since 2000, collaborating with Stephanie Maher on projects and programming, and am overjoyed to bring so many folks from there to here. We’re also engaging in cultural exchange with artists from Mazatlán, Guadalajara and Mexico City, Mexico. By inviting our colleagues from beyond borders, and representing generational and aesthetic lineages from different regions of the Bay Area and wider world, we’re instigating an embodied, articulate exchange of cultural contexts, current considerations, and creative propositions.

One performer making a C with her arms with a multi-colored screen and a live DJ/percussionist in the background.

ALTERNATIVA Kathleen Hermesdorf Albert Mathias by Robbie Sweeny

Reckoning – facing the music, figuring the math.

The theme of FRESH Festival 2019 and the title of ALTERNATIVA’s 20th Anniversary piece is Reckoning. We are in the thick of it, facing the music and figuring the math. What is fake and what is fact? Who needs to talk and who needs to listen? Where is the balance, the justice? How are we accountable? In response, we gather close to 100 artists to share their art practices, processes and projects, as well as their perspectives on somatics and society, art and culture, the personal and the political, and individual and collective responsibility.

As FRESH goes into double digits, and ALTERNATIVA heads towards 25, possible futures unfold. Will we expand or contract? What must change? Who will join us as production partners, community allies and curatorial collaborators in the Festival? How can we create more exchange, equity and accessibility? Where will this new cycle around the sun take us? And the ripple effect of this rising tide? I invite you to celebrate with us and reckon with what is next.

The need to collect. The need to recollect.

I need a time machine. Reckoning 10/20 is an installation, event horizon, gathering space, community library and live archive that inhabits Space 124 in Project Artaud for the entire 24 days of FRESH 2019. Surrounding and permeating it, a collection of images and video shares the work of hundreds of artists who have participated in the company and the Festival. I might live there. Come visit me. I’ll tell you stories…….

A person standing on a chair on top of a table with their head in the ceiling. A stuffed animal (maybe a rabbit) hangs from the ceiling with it's head inside as well. A demonic mask rests on another chair near the table.

NAKA Dance Theatre / photo by: Debby Kajiyama


ALTERNATIVA, directed by dancer Kathleen Hermesdorf with musician Albert Mathias, is an apparatus for deeply integrated contemporary dance and music. Active in San Francisco since 2000, the organization supports the creative work of the directors alongside programming which includes an annual January FRESH Festival, classes and workshops in the Bay Area, and residencies and commissions at universities, festivals and studios worldwide. la-alternativa.us

In Practice: Going Health Nuts

In our usual pre-article email exchange, In Dance editor, Wayne Hazzard wrote to me, “What is healthy these days?”

I have a very personal stake in this question, which made it hard to sit down and write about it. I tried to write about it when I was feeling well—but when I’m feeling well, I don’t want to think about my health. I tried to write about it when I was in the throes of a panic attack because I was convinced I had neck cancer (more on that below)—but it’s challenging to write when you’re lying on the cool tile of your bathroom floor with your legs up the wall, sobbing on the phone to your psychotherapist. I tried to write about it when the air quality in the Bay Area was worse than Delhi and Beijing—but my kids were home because schools were closed and Yahtzee took pre-cedent over writing. I tried to write about it the Monday after Thanksgiving because my deadline was in three days—that worked!

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2016, found out I had the BRCA1 mutation a month or so later, had a double mastectomy in July, and a full hysterectomy plus breast reconstruction in December. Then, in early 2018, I discovered the doctors missed a spot in a single lymph node, so I had surgery again, then four rounds of chemotherapy, and five weeks of radiation. I finished all the treatment in July, spent September in a panic that I would be diagnosed with cancer every two years for the rest of my life (hence the aforementioned neck cancer panic—it took three doctors to convince me that I have, in their words, “a perfectly normal neck!”), and enjoyed the extra hour afforded by Daylight Savings Time wallowing in the realization that I have anger issues and can’t forgive myself for yelling at my kids all the time.

Hard times, my friends, hard times. Add to my personal saga our national politics and global climate change and it would seem perfectly rational to start smoking a daily pack of Winstons again and having liquid lunches (Seabreezes, to be precise) like I did during the summer of 1988 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. (That was my weight loss plan at the time. Worked like a charm.) But I want to stick around for as long as I can for those kids I yell at all the time so they can complain about me in therapy and then tell me about what a shitty parent I was at Passover seders.

So what does health look like “in practice” for me now? And what does my reflection on that question have to offer our phenomenal dance community?

The hardest part is feeling like I don’t have any control over my health because there are too many variables at play. I know I have some control, and most it has to do with what I do with my body—how and how often I move it, what I feed it, how much I allow my mind to fuck with it. To cultivate the best body-mind relationship I can, I engage in a rather extensive and somewhat unwieldy self-care regimen, which includes:

Feldenkrais with Mary Armentrout; dance classes with Randee Paufve, Nina Haft, Mo Miner, Melecio Estrella, and Joan Lazarus; Iyengar Yoga with Anneke Faas; lymphatic massage and somatic experiencing with Ama Dawn Greenrose; acupuncture with Carla Cassler; Jungian psychotherapy with (not telling! I’ll share body workers but not my shrink); nutritional advice from newly minted nutritionist Vika Teicher; no screens past 8pm, lights out at 10pm (this is more aspirational than actual); consumption of half my body weight in water every day (also aspirational—I hate having to pee all the time); mindfulness meditation (I don’t always manage even five minutes a day, but I believe “meditation on the spot” as Pema Chödrön calls it, counts); listening to Tara Brach podcasts; clean eating (I started a 30-day clean eating challenge, the 30-Clean, in late September, and haven’t gone back to any of my old habits…yet; I could write a whole piece on the stress of trying to figure out how to eat—what’s an omnivore to do? Right, ask Michael Pollan). I’ve got calls out to a Reiki practitioner and a Jin Shin Jyutsu master. I dabble in Qi Gong (I love your DVD, Margit Galanter!). I get occasional chiro/ART tune-ups from Bruce Rizzo and Rob Pape, plus PT with Wendy Clark at Kaiser Oakland. And of course, as much time as possible with beloved friends and family, indulging in intellectual inquiry, creative practice, commiseration, and The Great British Baking Show.

How do I afford all this? I do a lot of bartering, for one thing. And it’s not like these things are weekly or even monthly in some cases. I mainly try to make room for at least one of the above body-mind modalities per day. Also, though precarious, I’m privileged to have three jobs that allow for a flexible schedule to accommodate these psychophysical adventures.

Folks give Descartes a really hard time for initiating the mind-body split, but I think we’re too hard on the guy. I certainly know that my mind and my body are deeply connected but I also often feel like they are two separate entities vying for my attention. I was not raised to listen to my body, so my mind does a lot of the heavy lifting for me, often to ill effect. So I need all those body-centric activities to give my guts and fascia an opportunity to tell me what to do.

If I’ve learned anything about health, it’s that trusting in one’s health is fundamental to feeling healthy, and that enjoying oneself as much as possible is good for your organs. I remember yogi Rodney Yee telling a smoker who was feeling bad about smoking that if he’s going to smoke he might as well do so with pleasure: deep inhale, long slow exhale—the yoga of nicotine addiction. It’s also a great idea to see beauty and humor wherever you can. Sounds Pollyanna-ish, but for a gal who grew up with whatever the opposite of Pollyanna is (Yenta?), it works wonders. For example, having gummy bears that are anchored under my pectoral muscles in place of breasts that used to hang so low it took an acrobatic feat of drop-and-scoop to get them into a bra, means doing grand allegro braless—plus, I can now wear plunging necklines and backless dresses. Having no reproductive organs means no menstrual cycle and thus no fear of pregnancy (I know, I was pretty much out of the woods before my hysterectomy, but not totally out!). Other perks: my hair has grown back curly post-chemo and I have an asymmetrical tan across the right side of my chest that makes me look like I sunbathed half topless.

My health woes have taught me a lot about gratitude, though it’s still hard to feel it sometimes. (Thus the gratitude accountability email exchange I have with a friend.) They’ve showed me who’s in my corner. Above all, they’ve made me painfully, joyfully conscious of the fact that we’re all born into a death sentence. And what better way to partner with death than to dance.

Sima Belmar, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her scholarly articles and book reviews have appeared in TDR, the Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices, Performance Matters, Contemporary Theatre Review, and The Oxford Handbook of Screendance Studies.

Injury Prevention and Longevity with ODC’s Healthy Dancers’ Clinic

If you have ever taken a dance class or had a rehearsal at ODC you may have noticed the door in the Dance Commons with the words “Healthy Dancers’ Clinic” written above it. Whether you have stepped through those doors or not, you have probably wondered at some point: what exactly goes on in there? A small room equipped with a treatment table and every type of athletic tape you could desire, The Healthy Dancers’ Clinic is a volunteer treatment center designed specifically for dancers. Through the volunteer collaboration of academic health care professionals, The HDC strives to improve the well-being and healthcare of the San Francisco Bay Area dance community through education, musculoskeletal screenings, and enlightened treatment protocols—the goal being injury prevention and longevity.  

There are many approaches to dealing with injuries both preventatively and after the fact. A first step is to see a physician who may refer you to a physical therapist, or you can go directly to a physical therapist without a referral in the state of California.  Massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, pilates or yoga instructors; all can be beneficial to you. I spoke with three trusted healthcare professionals who have been providing highly specific care to dancers for years. Nancy Kadel, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon and Dance Doctor; Kendall Alway, Doctor of Physical Therapy; Stephen Coleman, Licensed Acupuncturist; and Lenny Stein, Doctor of Chiropractic have different methodologies in treating their patients and all three are passionate about the individuals they care for.  

Initially, I asked them each to describe what they do. On Dance Medicine, Kadel said “For me the focus of dance medicine is to support dancers of any style or genre to perform at their best. This includes giving an accurate diagnosis, realistic rehabilitation options and goals, and assist in modification of activities in the case of injury to allow healing while not making the danger lose conditioning.  It sometimes includes technique evaluation or demonstration by the dancer of their specific choreographic demands.” Alway said “Physical Therapy is both preventative and for when you have an injury. Physical therapists use a combination of manual therapy and exercises as well as looking at your joint motion and alignment to determine what other things you need to work on. We also use treatments like taping and occasionally muscle stimulation with a machine to help you learn how to use your muscles more efficiently.” Coleman did not define acupuncture but took me through his history as a bodyworker for 44 years and an acupuncturist for 32 years. He said he, “…hadn’t intended to go into acupuncture. A lot of people come out of programs but they don’t really understand who they are. I also studied Rolfing at the same time. In ‘75 I started Acupuncture, Rolfing in ‘82, in ‘86 I got my license in acupuncture, studied somatic, and Feldenkrais kind of thing in ‘97. I felt like I could bring an awareness to people and developed my own style completely. It happens after a while, you just have a sense to things.” Stein mentioned, “Chiropractic care has a lot to do with function and balance in the body. It’s about trying to identify where people have imbalances and where people have overuse injuries or lack of high performance. We try to figure out where those imbalances are in terms of skeletal and muscular structure. We don’t use drugs or surgery, it’s an all natural approach to wellness. Whether it is in response to an injury or to perform at a higher level.”

Alway went on to explain that, “The first concern for everyone is their ergonomics, I want to make sure they are walking or sitting correctly before I check their plie. Sometimes I will ask them to show me a little bit of choreography. The most common injury in dancers happen in relation to the  foot and ankle. Then it goes up the kinetic chain: knee, hip, lower back and lastly shoulders and neck. Of course, if a dancer is doing more weight bearing on their arms they will have more shoulder issues. I don’t fix people. I help people fix themselves.”

Coleman states, “It just depends on who the person is. Who they are, how serious the injury is. If someone has a very serious pain I will talk to them more about it. I don’t try to necessarily therapize them, I just try to help them understand why the pain is there. Usually they will tell me. I’ll bring up the idea of why pain is there in the body in general and they will come forward with why the pain is happening. The whole idea is that the body is speaking to them and that is why they are in a lot of pain. It is bringing awareness to them so they can figure out how to manage the situation.”

When asked how treatment differs between patients, for example: what’s the difference between treating a dancer or someone who works in the office all day? Kadel said, “Often the injury (for example an ankle sprain) may be the same, but the treatment and rehabilitation may be very different as what these individuals have to do with their ankles is different. Dancers can’t really dance with a brace that limits their motion.  So understanding what dancers need to do helps in focusing the treatment and rehabilitation.”

Stein affirms, “Dancers are the most complex of all athletes. Unlike most people, they are required to use their body in a very specific way based on the choreography. You have to be much more precise and much more nuanced and more sophisticated in how you work on them than the average person. It’s way more detailed and way more sophisticated. You could be very skilled at working on the average person but that doesn’t mean you would be able to do all the things that dancers would need. They have very unique injuries and complicated relationships between parts relating to others. It is very unique even within sports medicine.”

All four of these healthcare providers are experts in what they do. Alway has played a huge role in The HDC since its inception, volunteering time to see dancers as well as maintaining the clinic today. She is also the person who has initiated the programming of a Day for Dancers’ Health in the Bay Area. The Day for Dancers’ Health will be held throughout ODC in the Theater Building and Dance Commons on January 26, 2019 from 10am to 6pm. The event will provide screenings where dancers will be able to be seen individually by physicians to test their strength, endurance, and learn more about form and function. Nancy Kadel will be presenting a keynote speech. Two panels, of which Kendall Alway, Stephen Coleman and Lenny Stein will be on, will take place where dancers can ask questions to various health professionals and choreographers to get feedback from a wide array of methods and approaches to healthcare and well being. And that’s not all. During the day, there will be break out sessions with physical therapists and mental health professionals including progressive ballet technique, stress management, finance, identity as a dancer, nutrition, core workout series and anatomy in clay. The day will include an open lab and a workshop hosted by ODC’s artist in residence: Kinetech Arts.

The event has been planned as an exciting and dynamic day designed for the dancer to explore and learn more about their body, their mind, and how to take care of themselves. There is limited space available for the health screenings and registration details can be found at odc.dance/hdc.

Dance Medicine and treating dancers is a tricky job to master, and these four have truly made a name for themselves in this field. Kadel, Alway, Coleman and Stein are trusted by the dance community to not only assist them in healing physical injuries, but in bringing dancers back to their craft and art form. A dancers’ career does not have to be cut short. A dancer can keep moving and dancing their whole life, with care that is specific and sensitive.


More to Consider

Most, if not all dance injuries are technique and overuse injuries, including injuries due to fatigue. There is sometimes a misunderstanding about overuse injuries. An overuse injury does not occur because you are doing too many battements or shoulder rolls. An overuse injury occurs because a dancer overuses specific muscles incorrectly in their battements or shoulder rolls, while underusing other muscle groups. As you train your body a certain way, you develop habits. The body is incredibly smart and may find shortcuts or compensate by activating other parts of the body to do work if you are weak in another area. A bad habit may not seem to affect your ability to dance until you begin feeling a consistent pain, get it looked at by a professional, and find out you have been doing battements incorrectly for years. It is not your fault. There is also a tendency for dancers to accept chronic pain as normal. Dancers will say “oh, I have always had back pain” or “that’s just my hip thing!” casually, brushing off their own pain. Ignoring aches and pains like this could result in a more serious injury later in your dancing career. Taking the time to see a professional you trust BEFORE you are injured is crucial. Learn more about your body, ask questions, feel good and pain free, and stay curious.

In a New Place: Dance & Disability in 2018

The San Francisco Bay Area is known to be on the vanguard of what is possible in dance, who dances, where, and how. Because of the work of AXIS Dance Company, Dandelion Dancetheater, the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival, Jess Curtis/Gravity, Sins Invalid, and other local companies, we are exposed to all kinds of dancers and are reminded that everyone can find a place in our dance community. Since 2012, Luna Dance Institute has hosted an annual Dance & Disability discourse panel comprised of local experts to address issues of equity, access, and inclusion. It has become a place where questions around exhibitionism, awareness, stereotypes, prejudice, ignorance, and bias are unearthed and investigated and where artists on the frontlines of disability activism are able to share their progress, continue conversations, and acknowledge collegial solidarity. This article describes the arc of the Dance & Disability discourse panel experience over the past seven years.

The Dance & Disability discourse panel is typically held on a Saturday afternoon in mid-October. It is offered free to the public. The discourse is structured in a “fishbowl” type environment with the panelists sitting in a semi-circle and the audience lounging in Luna’s “parent area” in front of them. A moderator asks three open-ended questions that are answered by the panelists, followed by questions from the audience, and an extensive period of resource-sharing. The panelists have become increasingly comfortable conversing with one another, inviting the public to glimpse rare, important conversations among expert peers.

Panelists volunteer their time to participate. They are invited through extensive outreach efforts to have the most diverse representation possible. Over the years, representatives from the dance organizations above have been joined by professionals in the field of education: autism experts, special education teachers, university disability activists, and infant mental health clinicians. Many, such as Judith Smith from AXIS Dance, Eric Kupers from Dandelion, Antoine Hunter from Urban Jazz Company, and autism expert, Pamela Wolfberg, are repeaters. As a dance education organization, Luna holds this panel in order to imagine and create a world where every child can participate in dance. The voices of those who work with children enrich and enliven the conversation about theater-based dance.

One thing that I have come to love about the discourse panel is the repeaters—both on the panel and in the audience. This year, I delighted in watching Dandelion director, Eric Kupers, and autism-expert, Suzanna Curtis, knitting as they talked about how Aikido is a model for multi-level teaching. It became evident that the panelists had participated in each other’s events since the last convening and become collegial friends.

When Luna offered the first discourse panel in 2012, it was because we were immersed in creating inclusion classes in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) elementary schools. We had expertise among our faculty but wanted to know more. As with many events at Luna, we believe if we want to learn something, others might too, so we opened it up to the public. The questions at that first panel focused on strategies, structural obstacles, equity, and inspiration: Why should teaching dance to children with special needs be different from teaching dance to children? How did you start working in dance & special needs? What lesson learned can you share with someone who is just starting this work? The first convening had a sense of “preaching to the choir,” and people felt relieved at the opportunity to speak their truth. Over the years, the panelists have returned, and new experts integrated, and the conversation has changed to be less about providing opportunity and more about furthering the field. Inclusion, at least among this group, has become a given, but equity remains a priority issue.

This year, 2018, the major questions were: What is disability? What do we mean by dance? What is rigor? How can we educate funders and administrators that it isn’t about the numbers? Disability arts activists have been doing this work for a very long time, and now that funders have finally begun accepting their work as an essential endeavor, they are supposed to have solutions—expected to have measurable outcomes. When the conversation was merely about access, measurement was more straightforward: how many theaters had ramps, how many presenters included works by artists with disabilities, how many special education children received dance in school? One panelist suggests, “high impact doesn’t just mean numbers, it is somehow being able to make the case for looking at systems, and how the fact that this small class of four people with disabilities is helping to balance our larger society. And, maybe some classes do have 100 people in it, and it happens online for something else but, to have a balanced, thriving human community we need to have these intimate spaces.”

There was a great deal of conversation about what is meant by the term “rigor with regard to inclusive dance practices. Panelists were in relative agreement that rigor needs to be de-coupled from technical prowess or virtuosity and that there needs to be multiple entry points for dancers with disabilities to study or train. People who danced before acquiring a disability have a different understanding of what is possible technically and artistically than children (or adults) who participate in dance to be part of a community. One panelist equated these topics with the problems “contemporary dance has grappled with throughout the years; what is artistic quality?” and who gets to define it? People come to dance for different reasons and artists and organizations require funding for different purposes. Another panelist challenged us to think about quality and rigor differently, “rigor can mean so many things, and it can be physical rigor and muscular rigor, it can be rigor about communication techniques, it could be rigor about learning to hang out in a space where we don’t know what’s happening and it’s very uncomfortable, and we have to deal with that. It could be rigor in dealing with racism and sexism and all that…sometimes we equate rigor and technique andI think that’s a mistake…what drew me to modern dance … is a discipline of questioning and questioning and questioning and inclusive dance is the edge of that right now.”

Dancers with disabilities are in a new place. They are welcomed more frequently into community dance classes even though dance teachers on the panel humbly admit to not knowing how to support them effectively. According to the AXIS dancers in the room, dancers with disabilities still have to figure it out for themselves. At the same time, one artist shared that community expectations might not prepare dancers for what is required of them in a professional setting. They have to figure this new level out, as well. With a different perspective, an elementary school special education teacher shared the value in her students having to figure things out, “dance…is that opportunity where they run into each other and they have to figure out how to go about it, where they trip over each other, and they need to apologize and help the other person up and then continue on and listening to what your teacher is saying at the same time and creating something that’s really, really beautiful without a screen involved… and, when I have the most challenging class I’ve had in years and I’m baffled at what to do with them but in dance I don’t have to worry about that…they can find their own voice and they can find their own space and if there was a way to measure that you would get every grant you ever applied for…”

No answers were provided for the rigor/expectations conversation, but there was a great deal of agreement about the need to expand our understanding of rigor and technique. “Being able to translate (use various parts of the body to express a similar idea) is a huge technical ability,” was a statement agreed by everyone in the room who has tried it. Aikido was brought up as an example of multi-level learning that is both rigorous and allows for multiple entry points as peers of different abilities learn from and challenge each other. Panelists were excited by this example, but also agreed that teachers need to be able to try things and make mistakes, we need time for research and development. In 2016, AXIS Dance founder, Judith Smith, curated a summit to discuss the future of physically integrated dance in the U.S. and summarized the findings in a national report. A finding from that convening was articulated in this year’s conversation, “field-wide, I think that’s what’s going to be necessary to get inclusive dance up and going at a lot of different levels, is that time to lab.”

The 2018 Dance & Disability panelists have moved the field forward and take for granted the need for inclusion, access, and equity. They are pushing boundaries at a very high level. It would be misleading, however, to not describe issues of public ignorance that were shared. One panelist asked the special education teacher if she felt parents’ had lower expectations of their children with disabilities and did not hold them accountable. The answer was a resounding yes, with reports of how frequently smartphones or tablets are handed to children the moment school is dismissed. Another panelist responds from personal experience, “I believe that for exceptional children or neurodivergent children, a lot of people who don’t know better have lower expectations for them and this persists throughout adulthood. I’ve been on panels as a researcher and [been] asked hard questions… I’ve been on panels as an autistic person, and they don’t ask us anything. They email us all the questions beforehand, and they’re very, very simple, and we go around the room, and we each say a few words. They assume we can’t have a conversation. And, I think that holding people, holding disabled children to high standards is very important.”

For dancers with physical disabilities and mobility issues, there remain concrete barriers to their full participation as artists in the field. Far too many dance studios are housed in inaccessible buildings and theaters are often designed with limited backstage access, even to bathrooms. Some performing arts centers recognize the need to provide access to training, rehearsing, and performing for dancers with disabilities, others do not. Educating the public about access and inclusion remains a significant issue to address.

As the panel portion wound down, the moderator asked a final question, “When you’re existing in the margins there’s an opportunity, right? You’re all working with populations and people that have existed in the margins….some of you…have existed in the margins. So, thinking about that, what are the opportunities?” Each panelist offered closing words on this issue that left us with a sense of possibility:

“So, if you’re in the margins, if you’re not being done yet, it frees you up to do anything like, so I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

“ … because I’m part of it, it’s a group for autistic researchers, we share resources with each other, we talk, and it’s a small group because not everybody gets to call themselves a researcher. You kind of have to get to a weird point in academia where you can call yourself that. And, some of the people that I’ve come across are doing really rigorous things, really high standard-y things and one woman in the group is in the Ph.D. program doing alternative communication, she uses the touch thing, and there’s this other woman who’s non-speaking entirely and has an aide who does typing and she writes book chapters and articles that are published. There are lots of people who are doing things from the margins, and it looks different but, it’s immeasurable how valuable it is.”

“ When you bring people who move very, very differently together in different apparatus, you know the vocabulary is radically expanded, rather than limited, so I think that’s one of the opportunities… expanding movement possibility.”

“I really like this intersectionality of all of these issues that, to me, it becomes a practice that each of us has to do to, none of us are really completely living our life with full diversity and inclusion and that we all have to keep looking at where are my blind spots? Where are the places that I’m not, including or not considering this possibility or people? How can I widen my thinking? How can I widen my creativity around it?”

“And, dance is such a beautiful way to do that. We’ve had the opportunity to perform for thousands of kids who are getting a very, very different look at what dance is, what ability is, how people work together, across difference, so that’s the great thing, and that’s the opportunity that our field has, is that we can go in and can model these different levels of equity and these different ways that we’re including people, and it’s just what we do.”

And, “It can start very young, and if it does, I feel like that’s the best way change is… with those little kids.”

Describing Pamela Wolfberg’s Integrated Playgroups® as a model of inclusion, a panelist describes what can be, “there’s never any attempt to use any therapies to make the children stop behaving the way they behave, they’re included the way they are. If they’re doing something, a little different [and] everybody gets used to it…”

In 2000 there was very little awareness of dance accessibility in the Bay Area except for AXIS Dance Company, and in 2018 there are new accessibility issues we’re grappling that need to be documented because we’ll be asking different questions in 2028. And there will be new levels of accessibility then, and again at a new level in 2038. We want to tell funders and other stakeholders that this evolution is what we’re documenting and we’re not counting the number of individuals in each program, we’re acknowledging change.


Each year panelists share their favorite resources for physically integrated dance:

AXIS Dance Company for training, jams, and advocacy: axisdance.org

The Future of Physically Integrated Dance in the USA, report published in 2017 by AXIS Dance Company: axisdance.org

Autism Institute, for integrated playgroups: autisminstitute.com

Autonomous Press, for books on the subject: autpress.com

Making an Entrance: Theory and Practice for Disabled and Nondisabled Dancers, written by Adam Benjamin, published in 2013 by Routledge

California State University East Bay for classes open to the community and a Creativity Lab for students with autism: eric.ray.kupers@gmail.com

Freedom to move: Movement and dance for people with intellectual disabilities, written by Kim Dunphy and Jenny Scott, published in 2003 by Dance-Movement Therapy Association of Australia. dtaa.org.au  

Nick Walker, and Aikido master focused on neurodiversity and cognitive liberty: neurocosmopolitanism.com

Dance for Connections for their Octaband community stretch tools danceforconnection.com/octaband

Plymouth University: plymouth.ac.uk

Play and Imagination in Children with Autism, written by Pamela Wolfberg, published in 2009 by Teachers College Press.

Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee Announcement Nominees and Honorees for 2017-2018 Performance Season

The Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, known locally as the Izzies, are awarded annually to acknowledge exceptional creative achievements in the performance and presentation of dance. This year the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee will celebrate 33 years of honoring local dance artists by acknowledging their outstanding achievements in dance.

Awards are given in nine categories to honor the dancers, choreographers, designers, composers, dance companies, dance scholars and other individuals who have made important contributions to the San Francisco Bay Area’s thriving dance community.

During each 12-?month performance cycle, running September 1-August 31, the volunteer Izzies Committee collectively views over 400 eligible performances. The final nominees and honorees are selected at an annual voting meeting held in September after the close of the viewing cycle.

The winners will be honored at an awards ceremony to be held in the spring of 2019. This event will be free and open to the public. The following is a list of Nominees and Honorees by awards category.

 

Outstanding Achievement in Choreography

Christine Chung, Alex Nana-Sinkam, Nina Wu, Julie Ni, Daniel Cancel, Isa Musni, and Tanya Gonzalez Rivera, ?I, Too, Sing America,? Bay Area Theater Company, Buriel Clay Theatre, San Francisco

Christopher Wheeldon, ?Bound To?, San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

David Dawson, ?Anima Animus?, San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Jyothi Lakkaraju, ?Ananda Narthana Ganapathi,? SF Ethnic Dance Festival, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Keith Hennessy, ?Sink?, Circo Zero, Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco

Trey McIntyre, ?Your Flesh Shall Be A Great Poem?, San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

 

Outstanding Achievement in Performance – Individual

Crystaldawn Bell, ?XO: eXquisite Orientation?, choreographed by Randee Paufve, Paufve Dance, Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco

Giordan Cruz, ?existence,? choreographed by Dazaun Soleyn, dazaun.dance, Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco

Mathilde Froustey, ?Sleeping Beauty,? choreographed by Helgi Tomasson after Marius Petipa, San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Hien Huynh, ?Within These Walls,? choreographed by Lenora Lee and dancers, Lenora Lee Dance, Angel Island Immigration Station, San Francisco

Frankie Lee Peterson III, ?helmet of salvation?, The Black Choreographers Dance Festival: 2018, Laney College Theater, Oakland

 

Outstanding Achievement in Performance – Ensemble

Isaiah Bindel and Erik Debono, ?Floating in Mid-Air?, choreographed by Gregory Dawson, dawsondancesf, YBCA Theater, San Francisco

Melecio Estrella, Ben Juodvalkis, and Andrew Ward, ?Manimal Suite?, choreographed by Fog Beast, Fact/SF Summer Dance Festival, Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco

Hien Huynh, Zoe? Klein, Andrey Pfening, Jeremy Vik, and Xedex, ?Born, Never Asked,? choreographed by Zoe? Klein, Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco

Miriam, Andy, and Frida Wolodarski Lundberg, ?The Dad Joke at the End of the World? (part of Dance Lovers 7), choreographed by Miriam and Andy Wolodarski, CounterPulse Theater, San Francisco

Xochitl Sosa and Caroline Wright, ?Unravel?, choreographed by Xochitl Sosa and Caroline Wright with input from Sarah Poole, San Francisco Aerial Arts Festival, Cowell Theater, San Francisco

 

Outstanding Achievement in Performance – Company

Alleluia Panis’ Diasporic Futurism Dance-Media Project, ?Incarcerated 6×9?, choreographed by Alleluia Panis, Bindlestiff Studio, San Francisco

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, ?Skies Falling/Skies Calling?, choreographed by Margaret Jenkins, Wilsey Center, Veterans Building, San Francisco

OngDance Company, excerpts from ?Salt Doll (Dance of Flowers; Dance of Life)? (SF Ethnic Dance Festival), choreographed by Kyoungil Ong, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

San Francisco Ballet, entire ?Unbound: A Festival of New Works?, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Sean Dorsey Dance, ?Boys in Trouble,? choreographed by Sean Dorsey, Z Space, San Francisco

 

Outstanding Achievement in Music/Sound/Text

Michelle Carter (libretto), Janet Kutulas (music/lyrics), Erika Chong Shuch (direction), and Kitka Vocal Ensemble, ?Iron Shoes?, choreographed by Erika Chong Shuch, Shotgun Players, Ashby Stage, Berkeley

Sean Dorsey (text), ?Boys in Trouble?, choreographed by Sean Dorsey, Sean Dorsey Dance, Z Space, San Francisco

Zakir Hussein and Sabir Khan, ?Sutra?, choreographed by Alonzo King, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, YBCA Theater, San Francisco

Othello Jefferson (music direction), ?I, Too, Sing, America?, choreographed by Christine Chung, Alex Nana-Sinkam, Nina Wu, Julie Ni, Daniel Cancel, Isa Musni, and Tanya Gonzalez Rivera, Bay Area Theater Company, Buriel Clay Theatre, San Francisco

 

Outstanding Achievement in Visual Design

June Arellano (costume) and Wilfred Galila (media art), ?Incarcerated 6×9?, choreographed by Alleluia Panis, Alleluia Panis’ Diasporic Futurism Dance-Media Project, Bindlestiff Studio, San Francisco

Byb Chanel Bibene (set/costume) and Del Medoff (lighting), ?Nkisi Nkondi: Sacred Kongo Sculpture,? choreographed by Byb Chanel Bibene, Kiandanda Dance Theater, ODC Theater, San Francisco

Christine Crook and Alice Ruiz (costumes), Kal Domici (Moonhead design), Haleigh Park Dulce (set/props), Ray Oppenheimer (lighting), Darl Andrew Packard (video content), and Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky (projection design), ?In Event of Moon Disaster?, created by ?Stephanie DeMott, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Isa Musni, Nayeli Rodriguez, Soren Santos, and Don Wood?, Mugwumpin, Z Below, San Francisco

Sheldon B. Smith (set/video design), ?Six Degrees of Freedom?, created by Sheldon B. Smith and Lisa Wymore, Smith-Wymore Disappearing Acts, ODC Theater, San Francisco

Amara Tabor-Smith, ?House/Full of BlackWomen: episode 12: passing/through/the great middle,? co-created by Amara Tabor-Smith and Ellen Sebastian Chang in collaboration with the performers, Live Arts in Resistance, EastSide Cultural Center, Oakland

 

Outstanding Achievement in Restaging / Revival / Reconstruction

Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Isabelle Guerin, revival of ?Fancy Free (1944)/The Cage (1951)/Other Dances (1976)?, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Joanna Haigood, revival of ?The View from Here (2002)?, directed by Joanna Haigood, Zaccho Dance Theatre, Zaccho Studio, San Francisco

 

Special Achievement Award for Outstanding Production Honoree

Within These Walls?, concept/production/direction: Lenora Lee, Lenora Lee Dance, Angel Island Immigration Station, San Francisco, for ?telling the story of the immigrants that passed through Angel Island and remembering the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Staged at the former immigration station on the island, the work reflects the strength and trauma of those historically detained at the station via site-specific dance, video projection, and original music.

 

Special Achievement Award Honoree

San Francisco Ballet, for ?Unbound: A Festival of New Works?, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, for an unprecedented festival of contemporary ballets by 12 globally-acclaimed choreographers. Along with films, behind-the-scenes interviews, rehearsal footage, and talks and lectures about the creative process, the festival brought contemporary ballet into the international spotlight by bringing dancers, critics, and dance aficionados together.

 

Sustained Achievement Award Honorees

AXIS Dance Company, for 30 years of innovative artistry, sustained community engagement, and steadfast local and international advocacy for dancers of all ages and abilities. AXIS led the charge to create inclusive movement spaces, and continues to provide opportunities for community empowerment in the Bay Area and beyond.

Carnaval San Francisco, for ?celebrating the diverse Latin American and Caribbean roots of the Mission District and the Bay Area for over 40 years. Carnaval San Francisco has been an opportunity for many cultures to come together in one spirit and share their creative expression.

Jodi Lomask, who through her company, Capacitor, has for ?20 years combined dance and circus arts with science to create outstanding artistic and educational moments. Over the years she has worked closely with scientists in the fields of geology, oceanography, computer science, neuroscience, and more to create authentic experiences that extend the art of dance to a larger community, and that make science understandable to the layperson.

izzies-sf.org

 

SPEAK: To Witness and Re-member: Movement Practices with Elders

As dancers over 65, we have been leading free movement and dance explorations in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery for the past four years as part of our project Walking in Witness to Life and Loss. Our collaboration continues to evolve as we mine the complex intersections of life, death and dance within the vibrant natural life of the cemetery. Here we reflect on how we first came to work together and the surprising places it has taken us.

Kaethe: When I moved to Berkeley in 2013 from Boston, where I had lived since graduating college in 1969, I knew I wanted to dance again. I had last danced in college in a Graham-inspired program, and then pursued a career as a psychologist and academic at Harvard Medical School. I hadn’t danced in over forty-five years! Where in this new home could I find meaningful dance opportunities for women over sixty? After many disappointing leads, a phone call to Luna Dance in Berkeley led me to Greacian and her IMPROMPTU NO TUTU elder dance ensemble in the East Bay.

Greacian: I also danced in college but focused primarily on literature and writing and then visual art in graduate school. I returned to dance with new purpose in 1986 when my father died by suicide. This gut-level shock abruptly shifted my primary expression from photography to performance art. Moving as a performer, rather than observing passively, was essential for me to make sense of this loss. I completed an MFA at California College of Arts and Crafts (now CCA) in 1990 as the first graduate in Interdisciplinary Performance Art. Since there was no dance offered at CCA I took classes in the community, most memorably on trapeze with Terry Sendgraff. I also studied theater and dance improvisation inspired by the participatory work of Anna Halprin and Liz Lerman. Later I received an Orff Schulwerk certification in movement and music for all ages.

Two elderly women are dancing in a cemetery hall in unison.

Photo courtesy of Greacian Goeke

I became a teaching artist and have worked throughout the Bay Area in venues ranging from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to the city dump (Recology’s artist residency). I am committed to strengthening community and building hope through art. In 2008, I founded IMPROMPTU NO TUTU, the elder ensemble that Kaethe joined, to show the world what movement from the experience of a long life can be. 

Kaethe: I took classes with Greacian and participated in IMPROMPTU NO TUTU events for a year. She then invited me to create a duet with her for a performance with Dance Generators, the intergenerational company based at University of San Francisco. We met regularly to rehearse at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, conveniently located for both of us.

Greacian: I have been practicing T’ai Chi in and around the cemetery for years. It’s quiet, obviously, but not as much as you might think. I’m at home in unusual sites and Kaethe shared my fascination with the physical and social space of this large urban oasis.

Kaethe:  While developing the duet we both realized that our previous work—for me, in communities in the aftermath of violence, and for Greacian, offering artistic means for elders to stay connected to life through imagination and community—had led us to develop many shared values and practices. I first saw how similar Greacian’s pedagogy was to mine by taking her dance classes. Her way of both structuring and participating in the classes was the movement equivalent of how I teach psychology. We both have enormous respect for people’s creative potential and relish the process of creating open-ended opportunities for exploration.

Greacian:  After our duet performance in 2015, which memorialized what would have been our parents’ 100th birthdays, we felt we had just touched the first layer of creative exploration together. The cemetery had deepened the themes in our duet and we committed to meeting there weekly to improvise and see what else would emerge.

Kaethe:  The cemetery is essentially our silent third collaborator. While dancing there we have a visceral experience of being alive, in motion, and looking at our ultimate, inevitable end. We are moving in this beautiful container of death.

Greacian:  In early 2016 we began designing monthly movement labs for dancers from IMPROMPTU NO TUTU and others from the community. They continue at no charge in the present. Each month a different group gathers to improvise in the cemetery using concepts and scores we have evolved from our own movement research on site.

We call our project Walking in Witness to ground us in a basic movement form that unites many visitors to the cemetery.

For our first Memorial Day lab, Kaethe had suggested we work with the theme of witnessing, since she realized that each previous lab had been an experience of witnessing. This was a term I often use in a poetic sense and had experienced via Authentic Movement, but she meant it in a very specific way from her clinical and community work.

Kaethe:  As a trauma specialist I have spent most of my professional life working with witnessing. I have published many articles and a book, Common Shock, Witnessing Violence Every Day: How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal (Dutton, 2003). While most people are familiar with the terms “victim” and “perpetrator,” few are aware that by far the majority of violence and violation we experience comes through the witness position. This is not the same as “bystander,” which implies that the person standing by is unaffected.

Witnessing is a two-sided coin: one side is harmful to the witness, but the other side can be healing. As a clinician I had worked with a form of witnessing practice originated by the anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff with a Jewish community in Venice, California (documented on film and in the book Number Our Days). She developed a storytelling technique that allowed these elderly displaced persons to “re-member” their lives. “Re-membering,” more than simple recollection, is a communal engagement in witnessing and reflection that offers opportunities for reviving and re-embodying what has been lost or diminished.

Greacian:  We transformed Myerhoff’s spoken language process into a nonverbal movement and dance score in which each dancer moves to commemorate a person or idea she wishes to “re-member,” with the group silently witnessing. Then the group reflects the movements they saw, with the dancer observing. Next, the original mover can incorporate new insights into her movement remembrance while the group joins in.

Working with Myerhoff’s ideas in this form deepened my belief in the necessity of moving together in community. The body’s natural language is such an overlooked resource for reflecting on experiences, especially when words are at a loss. We will continue to bring this important process to older adult groups coping with transition and loss, which are so prevalent in later life.

Kaethe:  This past September we worked with an intergenerational audience when we participated as one of five artist projects chosen for the Oakland Museum’s Around the Block: A Day of Neighborhood Stories. We created an interactive performance and installation for a plaza at Laney College titled HOME IS WHERE.

Greacian:  We wanted to highlight the vital issue of housing in Oakland – to acknowledge the stress of living under the threat of displacement and loss of a safe home, particularly for elders. And to provide a creative way to reflect on it.

Kaethe:  We also wanted to seed the idea that experiences of home are rooted in more than the physical space – they are built from relationships, shared time, and memories of feeling at home.

Greacian: To incorporate voices of long-time Oakland residents, I met with participants at the downtown Center for Elders Independence, where I have taught a movement and music class for many years, to ask the question: “home is where…?”   

Two women are lunging on top of cemetery blocks grasping each others' hands smiling at the camera.

Photo courtesy of Greacian Goeke

Kaethe:  We transformed the responses into haiku-like gestures as the basis for an easily learned movement chorus. On the day of the event we worked with our visitors’ thoughts about home in the same way, creating “instant dances” knitted together with the movement chorus. Later visitors could leave additional thoughts on postcards that decorated the trees in the plaza.

Greacian: We definitely sparked a deep conversation that allowed diverse people and age groups to interact. I think this project is the start of something that will thread through our work in other forms and venues. We’ll bring this theme into future movement labs in the cemetery as well. We recognize we are working in a time of great national upheaval affecting everyone. People need a place for safe freedom of expression and we offer that.

Kaethe: Besides our annual Memorial Day “re-membering,” we observe occasions such as the solstice, new year, and significant local and cultural events. Our weekly explorations and now this recent project have given rise to many percolating ideas about what we will do next.

Greacian: We’ve been so busy talking about our work, I want to make sure to say how grateful I am for our collaboration—twin rivers of rigorous creative inquiry and exhilarating freedom of movement! This is one of the main things keeping me hopeful in this political moment.

Kaethe: Yes, our creative dialogue keeps us focused on what matters most. And I think there are more visitors to the cemetery these days. It seems that others also find it a place to ground in what matters most. Of course, there are probably some who wonder why we would choose to dance in a cemetery. But it is precisely here, in this beautiful place, looking directly at mortality, where we feel most alive. We hope those who see us moving feel something similar.


Learn more about Walking in Witness

Special thanks to Ingeborg Weinmann for work on an early draft.

The Nawkhatt in My Mother’s Living Room

Photo of classic Persian artwork taken in mother’s liv- ing room; source unknown

Photo of classic Persian artwork taken in mother’s liv- ing room; source unknown

Come, I am lovesick and desolate without you
Come and see how sick I am in this sorrow without you
At night I lament your absence, oh fairy-faced,
And when the morning comes, it is as if I am on fire without you.
–Sa’di

With each return I see my mother’s home in sepia tones. Pan to her zereshk polo dish being served in technicolor, my father harvesting lemons in monochromatic static. Despite my nostalgia remembering these images in obscura, my parents’ home is luminous in color. The carmine Persian rug vining paisley knots, the precious saffron-stained rice tahdig my siblings and I fought over.

This is the house I grew up in. Next to the Starbucks we contested that leads the way to a labyrinth of forested suburban roads.

As a child I stared endlessly at the artwork ornamenting the walls. Behind glossy frames sumptuous Sultans looked to me with solemn almond eyes. The females adorned a single unibrow, akin to Frida, and a faint mustache. Their long, willowy bodies contrast the curves in the Renaissance paintings I saw in grade school. The men, too—with slender bodies and delicate, hairless faces—opposed western binaries. 

If it weren’t for turbans and crowns, the bodies and faces of these painted figures would be indistinguishable. There was a muted poetry within these genderless humans that I tried to understand through my youth. As male peers implored I should man up, I must eat more, I’m too skinny (yet women, of course, must grow inversely), the characters in the paintings grew to deities. Why did they look so similar? What legacies did they know? My premonitions were foreshadowed by historic truths.

Boy Holding a Falcon, Iran, Late 18th century, Qajar Dynasty, Hermitage Museum

Boy Holding a Falcon, Iran, Late 18th century, Qajar Dynasty, Hermitage Museum

In 18th century Pre-Islamic Persia, young effeminate men, or nawkhatts, were the portrait of beauty [1]. Sexual mores permitted homosexuality, though as travel between Persia and Europe rose, Persian beauty ideals and sexual sensitivities shifted. Persia sought assimilation. The establishment of the first Iranian Muslim Kingdoms further ushered new cultural vicissitudes [2]. Overtime genderless figures and same-sex practices were cryptic taboos, reserved for panegyrics and portraits to carry on ancient secrets.

Visiting my parents in Saratoga, California, the bathroom mirror blurred my pedigree. I branched out my arms beneath photosynthetic fluorescence and pondered my thin frame. A century ago, would these soft contours belong to a unibrowed nawkhatt?

When we conjure medieval Persian folktales, we learn that their secular scriptures were purposed to praise a prince, an erotic love, and later, mystical verse reinforced the ambiguity in these messages.

Classic Persian literature dreams of imaginary utopias, where nothing vulgar or abrasive—including gender—can obtrude. Such is the ambiguity of genderless language and portraits, where gender is nothing more than abstraction, and unisex figures could be either a lover or a mystical god. In these vague panegyrics, we don’t know of the addressee is a lustful prince, a deity, or both.

Like a flower I shall embrace your love
And then switch off the light of reason.
I shall place my head between your breasts,
I drink love from the scent of your body.
–Homa Katouzian

Miniature Painting. Two Lovers, Safavid Period, Isfahan, Iran. Date: 1630 AD. Artist: Riza Abbasi (ca. 1565–1635).

Miniature Painting. Two Lovers, Safavid Period, Isfahan, Iran. Date: 1630 AD. Artist: Riza Abbasi (ca. 1565–1635).

The tropes among classic Persian poetry intertwine in ceaseless harmony with the artwork. Romantic adulations interlace with intricate rugs that allude to animals, structures, and plants–all entangled with entropic beauty. Rather than using a subject, classical Persian painters used imagination inspired by literature to create exotic scenes, resulting in dreamscape imagery free from western art conventions.According to Art History Professor W.J.T. Mitchell, polychromatic Persian visuals are inevitably contaminated by language, and that …the dialectic of word and image seems to be a constant in the fabric of signs that a culture weaves around itself [3].

Language, poetry, and divine praise spin and intertwine with myriad interpretations. Gender fragments from its binaries and enters a new ontology. Genderfluid becomes artfluid.

Let me offer a critical framework. In conversation with Julie Phelps, Judith Butler speaks on gender performativity at the 2013 Dance Discourse Project:

Look, we all emerge in the world entangled, like being caught in a web of gendered meanings, like this is what is a woman, this is what is a man, and there are norms and constraints and also ideas of pleasure.

And yet what’s really interesting is what people do in the middle of that web. It’s not like it’s forcing you to be one thing or another, or that you don’t have a choice or there’s no room to play. There is room to move and work in it and cut holes through it. So although we’re born into a sometimes very contradictory set of gender norms, they don’t determine who we are. We’re able to exercise what I would call agency in the midst of that entanglement.

Outdoor entertainment for a prince (believed to be Shah Abbas II), Mohammad Qasim (1620-25), British Library.

Outdoor entertainment for a prince (believed to be Shah Abbas II), Mohammad Qasim (1620-25), British Library.

In college I learned of cultural discourse patterns. The Eurocentric model asserts that you must stake your claim with evidence. Middle Eastern writings, conversely, are riddled with metaphors, spinning around one another, kaleidoscoping into new geometries of interpretation. Through my research gender revealed itself to be a Fibonacci sequence, tangled through colonial histories.

In Untitled 1396—as part of Hope Mohr Dance’s 2017 Bridge Project—Maryam Rostami lip synced classics from Persian pop icon Hayedeh. She danced in high-femme drag, sparkly gold Persian garbs juxtaposed with faux-cheerful expressions as a satirical wink to the audience. Her classic Persian dance moves are notable in Persian weddings and pop culture, a twist of the wrist like you’re screwing in a light bulb, arms curling upward, a twitch of the hips.

Yet there was something disquieting lurking in Untitled 1396, later revealed in Maryam’s journal readings. The solo work, named after the year used in the Iranian calendar corresponding roughly with 2017, asks “how does a Texas-born, Iranian-American Muslim femme deign to decolonize her body?'”

After seeing Maryam’s work, I gazed at the nawkhatt in my mother’s living room and wondered how one begins to unstitch the fabric of colonial histories within a body.

Last June at CounterPulse, trans performance artist Alok-Vaid Menon asked a related question: What feminine part of yourself did you have to destroy in order to survive in this world?

I reflect not only on interpersonal trajectories, but cultural assimilations throughout generations, dynasties. I think of the modern imprisonment, lashing, and execution of Iranian homosexuals–their flag unthreaded and restitched with non-secular and western threads long ago. I think of our own country’s current draconian transphobic regime. When the odyssey of non-binary folklore mends to imperial clout, my ancestry might offer some sense.

Back in Saratoga I flipped through photo albums with my mother. I smiled at the identical mushroom haircuts my sister and I had, given by my father and a cereal bowl. Her, ten years of age; me, six. In our baggy 90s garbs, gender hadn’t yet fully crystalized. I flipped to another page. The colors of these photos were fading to sepia, but the memories were as vibrant as the rug beneath us.


[1] Women with mustaches, men without beards; Beth Potier; The Harvard Gazette, 2002
[2] Persian Painting: A Visual Window into a Genderless Language, Najmeh Khatami; Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies:Alam–e-Niswan, 2013
[3] Image and World; W.J.T Mitchell; Art Theory, 1986

Welcome

I’m breathing deeper, smiling more and sleeping. This is largely due to the results of the mid-term elections in November, which provided major wins locally and nationally—good news that was needed and deserved. And part and parcel to this good news is that in next year’s session of Congress, there will be over 100 women in the House for the first time in history. And: Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland will be the first Native American women to serve in Congress; Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will be the first Muslim women to serve; Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes will be the first black women to represent Massachusetts and Connecticut in Congress.

In San Francisco a significant Proposition that would impact arts funding was decided on. Prop E, with the tag line “arts for everyone,” passed with a whopping 74.28% of the vote. When in place, this new legislation will dedicate 1.5 percent of the base hotel tax — a 14 percent tax levied on hotel stays in San Francisco — to support arts and culture programs. The city estimates this will add more than $15 million in arts funding (through Grants for the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Commission) over the next two years.

Even with progress being made—I’ll dub them windfalls of hopefulness—there remains the ongoing important work towards racial equity, inclusivity and my personal objective of identifying and securing more permanent arts space in the SF Bay Area. To accomplish each we will need to remain resilient while continuing to pinpoint more opportunities for change. Dynamic resilience is now a daily refrain that keeps me moving forward while breathing deeply.

“Within the current dominant U.S. culture, the most common way we understand Power is through oppressive power or, power-over.” Aiano Nakagawa, a new writer for In Dance, draws attention to the fact that as an early childhood educator she provides opportunities for students to explore and understand their power through movement without being dominant over another person. The article goes on to illuminate a variety of topics that mirror larger social concerns around touch and choice that Nakagawa sees as vital to dance education.  

Oakland-based Cunamacué, led by artistic director Carmen Román, will finish out the 2018 Rotunda Dance Series season on Friday, December 7. Local educator and poet Yaccaira Salvatierra brings to life Román’s vision in an article that discusses how Cunamacué reflects Afro-Peruvian culture and contemporary expression. The company’s name fully embraces this blending of past and present—“Macué is representative of the ancestors; it is a stream in Mozambique, one of the places from which Africans were uprooted and taken to Perú. Cuna is the Spanish word for crib, representing future generations.”

Rounding out the December issue are articles that bring light to ways in which we think about our moving bodies—at all ages. In a SPEAK piece written by Greacian Goeke and Kaethe Weingarten they discuss how their “collaboration continues to evolve as we mine the complex intersections of life, death and dance within the vibrant natural life of the cemetery.” Heather Desaulniers is in conversation with Robert Dekkers about his dual roles as the Artistic Director of Post:Ballet and Berkeley Ballet Theater and how both entities create space for people to come together. Family, food, history and colonized bodies tangle beautifully in Justin Ebrahemi’s questioning of perceptions of body and that of artists asking parallel questions like “how does a Texas-born, Iranian-American Muslim femme deign to decolonize her body?”

Practice resilience and nourish yourself so that you can nourish others.

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