What Inspires You?

By Community Submission

January 1, 2008, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Wanting a bit of winter inspiration, Dancers’ Group sent a request to a variety of dancers, administrators, choreographers, designers, artistic directors, funders, and even some politicians, asking them to respond to the question: what inspires you? We’re thrilled to share the following responses, listed here in alphabetical order by first name. Enjoy!

Andrea Snyder
Executive Director, Dance/USA

What inspires me? Thank you for asking. It’s such a provocative question, and one that I don’t get asked very often. On the mega-level, the strength of the human spirit to triumph inspires me. That translates into such day-to-day inspirations as: hearing a news story about a child—or adult, for that matter—who overcomes incredible odds to succeed; getting goose bumps watching breathtaking dancing of brilliant choreography, or being touched by an extraordinary artistic moment in any art form; registering in my mind the thoughts of a wise and experienced leader; or creatively solving a problem for a family member, friend or colleague, which makes me more inspired to help others. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Anna Halprin
Holding a baby.

Amy Seiwert
Artistic Director, im’ij-re;
Dancer/Choreographer, Smuin Ballet

Music, always music. It can turn a bad day good. For double inspiration find a good museum, installation, dog park, redwoods or the ocean, take mp3 player, and remember that we’re all a part of the same huge web, be astounded by the connections, and remember that feeling all the emotions deeply (even the crappy ones) is a great way to live. Then create from THAT place.

Chi Chi Okonmah
Artistic Director, Purple Spirit Productions

For me, inspiration encompasses the words “spirit” and “action.” When I take time to listen to and nurture my own spirit with its many impulses, feelings and ideas, I am reminded of how blessed I am and how much I have to offer as a result. From this, I can find almost instant inspiration. But when life’s circumstances take their toll and my spirit is under-nourished, I take time out to view other artists’ works and performances and surround myself with people actively manifesting their dreams. It is their actions and talents that lend me much needed inspiration.

Jessica Robinson
Executive Director, CounterPULSE

I’m inspired every time I walk through the studio and catch a glimpse—however fleeting or partial—of artists engaged in the creative process. I’m lucky because in my work at CounterPULSE, I get to witness the often messy and yet ultimately rewarding process of hundreds of artists each year. In my office, it’s easy to get bogged down in details and feelings of scarcity. In the studio, I remember what brought me to this work in the first place.

Judy Smith
Artistic Director, AXIS Dance Company

What inspires me? From the beginning of AXIS 20 years ago, what initially inspired me was the excitement of discovering and creating a new paradigm in dance. The evolution of our dance form continues to draw me in and keep me engaged. In 1997, I ended up with AXIS in my lap so to speak. I was driven to radically increase the artistic quality of our work and the visibility of physically integrated dance, which involves dancers with and without physical disabilities. To that end, we’ve had the great good fortune to commission some truly incredible choreographers, composers and designers over the past 10 years and I’m endlessly inspired and challenged by these collaborators, which would take a long paragraph just to list. Not only is their work inspiring, but who they are as people and how they approach the process of working with AXIS is fascinating. The dancers, staff and students who are drawn to AXIS inspire me to keep trying to survive and do the f*#@%ing impossible on nothing—which is what I feel most of us do in the business of dance.

June Watanabe

There was a time, some 30 years ago, when an aesthetic experience seemed more available within myself in perceiving the arts, and I can recall a few of those times.

•Murray Louis’s Porcelain Dialogue totally caught me off-guard and swept me into the illusive distillation of their wondrous dancing that moved me to tears, and surprised me.
•Seeing Sankai Juku for the first time at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, where at the end of the performance the entire audience of 2,000 rose to standing at the same moment, and one could sense that we were all feeling the same way as we applauded to honor and say thank you for a spiritual journey.

Both instances had to do with not being in my head but surrendering all the senses and spirit to come together in that heightened subconscious moment, which has to do with one of the reasons why we continue our art. How often can performers and the work come together in a single moment of totality (an hour or few minutes), and have an audience who will be ready to see, perceive, feel and experience it, and with all of that occurring at the subconscious level. What can the aesthetic experience be in 2008?

Kathleen Hermesdorf
Artistic Director,
MOTIONLAB/Hermesdorf & Mathias

I am inspired by dance – by the reality that my body and mind never get tired of this medium as a method for truth-testing and revelation. I am inspired by the wisdom and wit of the body, by music (often by Albert Mathias), by the power of words and the sublime architecture of a perfect phrase with multiple meanings. I am inspired by science and philosophy (the big questions, the big picture) and by the play of light and time upon a day or body of water or person or… I am inspired by the state and motion of nature, animals, dancers, other artists, people doing something completely different with their time, people taking a stand. I am inspired by other cultures, languages and ways of living; by empty spaces and pages; by mystery, honesty and history; by passion, a good sweat, a great rant and a real risk.

Ken Foster
Executive Director,
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

What inspires me is the way that artists continually create new work and provide me with fresh insights into the contemporary world and how we exist within it. Without them, there would be no purpose to my work and little purpose to my life

Kristine Elliott
Director of Ballet, Stanford University

Peet’s coffee in the morning inspires me and a double espresso mid afternoon—short and strong! Kindness, generosity and beauty, and lately the poems of Langston Hughes particularly inspire me.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
— Langston Hughes

Margaret Jenkins
Artistic Director,
Margaret Jenkins Dance Company

I am inspired daily by the extraordinary wisdom, compassion, commitment and creative inquiry of the dancers and collaborators that I’m privileged to have surround me. They inspire me to push past the ordinary, the easy solution, the quick fix.

Nancy Ng
Director, Community Development,
Luna Kids Dance

Watching young children dance. Their pure and unadulterated movement stripped free of a codified technique or dance style—a 4 year old boy running to a slide and then a roll and then starting the entire sequence again; a 6 year old girl bent over at the middle, walking and waving her spine and arms—her spinal undulations reminding me of a master class with Katherine Dunham—yet this young girl has never seen or heard of Ms. Dunham; my 3 year old daughter finishing her impromptu living room dance in a butoh-esque low crooked shape with fingers curled around her face, mouth and eyes open wide.

RJ Muna

I’m always inspired by the simplest of things—an idea. I amazed by the very nature of them – the elegance and power of them. All of our achievements are grown from the seed of a single idea and our most tragic failures are the outcome of an idea abused. They can lift us beyond ourselves, or they can utterly crumble us—all within a single moment of realization. Our art, science, religion, beauty, pains, pleasures and tragedies are little more than metaphors for the ideas at the core of us, and when all we’ve built is gone, it is only our ideas that survive.

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