Score Muscles

By Rowena Richie


Choreographer Christy Funsch is delivering a new home practice called the 100 Days Score: a collection of 100 prompts to spark daily creative investigations.

AMONG DANCEMAKERS of a certain ilk, there seems to be a need for a creative taskmaster. “I have been feeling discouraged about making work and finding myself in that ‘Why bother’ place quite a bit. I thought a nudge at my creative self from the outside might help me figure out some shit.” That’s choreographer Chris Black getting real, telling me why she wanted to do the 100 Days Score. Black is one of my inspirations, and as any- one who saw her in her latest solo TOUGH can attest, she’s as creatively nimble and viscerally disciplined as ever. But hungry for something; in need of a push.

The concept of daily home practice might not sound appealing. Compared with spacious, smooth studio floors equipped with springs and wings, our homes may feel cluttered and constraining. But some of us don’t have the resources for bona fide rehearsal space on a regular basis. Our limited resources can dictate how deeply or sporadically we engage with our craft. Funsch is promoting a model that makes us make use of whatever space is available. “Home practice,” she believes, “is the most important thing we can do to develop as artists. It is a place where we create our own economy for our work, and are only limited by our commitment.”

“Getting to know corners of your apartment in a new way, and turning your living/ sleeping/eating/working/lounging space into a creative space of possibility.” That’s choreographer Erin Mei-Ling Stuart’s definition of home practice. “When I first heard you were doing this 100 Days Score,” she told me, “my immediate feeling was, ‘I want to do that!’ I imagined a kind of creative workout, totally separate from the grind of producing work for presentation.” Stuart was the second person ever to complete the 100 Days Score. I was the first.

That was two years ago. It was the end of 2013, a notable year for me artistically—I had co-created a new work with Jennifer Chien as artists-in-residence at CounterPulse. The CounterPulse residency was exhilarating and exhausting. I had no problem binge-watching Homeland in place of rehearsal when the residency was over. But by the year’s end I was hungry for a new project, though not necessarily the “grind” of self- producing. I confided my creative craving to my longtime friend and mentor Christy Funsch. I knew I could count on Funsch, a veteran choreographer who had just been named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” to challenge me creatively.

Over email she said, “Let’s make something wild happen.” I responded: “I want to have a 100-day, no-holds-barred project that involves moving and dancing and documenting.” Unbeknownst to Funsch I’d been reading the book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, about Strayed’s 100-day hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was moved by Strayed’s trans- formation along the trail, and the departure embodied in her adopted name “strayed.” Funsch offered to create 100 prompts to sup- port my curiosity. “It somewhat wrote itself,” she told me. On January 1, 2014 I began with the first prompt. “Day 1: Shedding dance: Hold onto nothing.”

The score has “rules”—though these are more guidelines than rigid stipulations. The most important “rule” is “commit to doing it daily.” The most inspiring “rule” is “feel free.” I asked Funsch to explain the second directive: “For us to be really free we need to not be trying to please anyone, least of all ourselves.” But feeling free with the score is largely contingent on having Funsch tell us what to do.

Eight people launched their 100 Days Score this January 1st. Riverside, California, resident Sue Roginski was one of them. Roginski, a member of the Mt. San Jacinto College Dance Department faculty, is fed up with “back-burnering” her creative life, as she puts it. “I have never really had a home practice that involved movement…This is a first,” she told me. Thus far her home practice has been mostly concentrated in her bedroom. When I asked Roginski why she wanted to do the score she said, “I was looking for a way to place art making at the top of a day’s priority…I facilitate many experiences for students throughout the week and I wanted somehow to honor my own daily creative practice.”

“Commit to documenting your practice” is another rule. Some people have chosen to document publicly. Stuart kept a blog that chronicled every prompt in digital detail. The fact that she included online documentation of each prompt meant she spent up to an hour or two per prompt. Others are keeping their documentation private, avoiding those who have gone public with their documentation so they won’t be influenced by them or spoil future prompts. I kept a hardbound journal. At first it was just dashed off words. After day one’s “shedding dance” I wrote: “Shedding preconceptions of space. Shed rehearsal studio, embrace bedroom. Shed sense of obligation to travel, embrace limitations of a single carpet square.” One of the beauties of Funsch’s score is that the prompts are designed to take place anywhere you can make them happen—in an apartment, a park, a cafe?, an alley, on Caltrain.

Documenting in my journal sustained me for the first 50 days, but at the halfway mark I made a video. It was a video of me turning the pages of my journal. It had become increasingly playful with drawings, collages, and movement maps. But I wanted to see the body moving. I set my iPad up on a tripod and I improvised. The improvisations got more extravagant with props, sets and costumes. I danced with abandon to my son’s pots-and-pans percussion. I abandoned my self-consciousness and danced in the Dolores Park tennis courts, in Glen Park Canyon, outside Tartine Bakery (the prompt had to do with the sense of smell), often bringing my iPad and tripod in tow. I was beginning to feel free.

Funsch doesn’t know about a quarter of the 26 people who have started the score since last October. They are coming to her via word of mouth, some perhaps inspired by Stuart’s provocative blog. Still, she has an exchange with each person before she gives them their score. In some cases it’s a Skype date; people are practicing the score in Lisboa, Moscow, Italy and New York. This “meaty exchange,” as Funsch describes it, is what compels her to want to customize the score for each person.

When someone inquires about doing the score Funsch asks what they’re working on, what their primary modality is, and what directions they want to be pushed into. Then she shapes the prompts to address what they’re interested in. Her prompts t into three general categories: Composition, Improvisation, or Physical Conditioning. The prompts come from her experiences. “Very much a sum total of every resource I’ve been able to get my hands on,” she told me. She also stresses the importance of self-discipline: “Your decision to take on the score should be considered as a commitment to yourself, not to me,” she says.

Another rule of the score is “prompts can be done in any media.” Black’s frustration with the dance world has led her to dance as little as possible in response to the prompts. “I’ve been drawing and writing and some- times even just envisioning without doing… It is a relief to work in forms that I have no expectation of being good at.”

Conversely, writer John Milton Hendricks welcomed the movement investigations in his score, “as potential disrupters of my own creative habits.” He employed a Tumblr blog as his form of public documentation. Hen- dricks said the hardest part of the 100 Days Score for him was, “resisting the urge to finish with a completed work, some deliverable.” Stuart concurred: “The suggestion to ‘try and not make anything’ was the source of some struggles.” I, too, grappled with producing something from the explorations. On Day 60 I wrote, “Christy is cautioning me to avoid end-gaming—squash thinking or working towards a finished product. My responsibility is only to each day. Just plumb the prompt and turn the page.” Funsch suggests, “There are lot of ways to be generative without self-producing a show.”

As of early 2016, three of us have completed the 100 Days Score. Impressively, Hendricks finished his 100 Days Score in exactly 100 days. It took me 122 days. Stuart took 182 days, but the idea of daily-ness was important to her. In her final blog item Stuart wrote: “Having a daily practice makes me happier, for the most part. This particular practice was not always daily for me, clearly. But when it was daily-ish, it had a real effect on my general well-being, despite the artistic angst that popped up at regular intervals.”

After the on-time completion of his 100 Days Score Hendricks reflected: “I do believe that ‘daily’ is of primary importance…Forcing yourself to focus on your creative process through family holidays, occupational drudgery, illness, a full change of a season… hearing and responding to your creative need at least once a day on some level—that was a crucial experience.”

The 100 Days Score was a wild ride for me. At times it felt more like the 100 Days Chore. But just like Cheryl Strayed’s limbs toughened up the longer she hiked, my artistic instincts, resourcefulness and receptivity—that is, my creative muscles—grew stronger the longer I practiced the score. I wanted a “no-holds-barred” experience, but that required buckling down and being disciplined. It reminds me of attachment parenting theory: the more secure a child is at home, the more free they feel to explore their environment. The 100 Days Score is the home base. With it, Funsch is offering us a chance to take off on limitless creative explorations.


Rowena Richie is a San Francisco-based dancer, writer, movement facilitator, Senior Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health and member of the For You performance group. Wisdom Weavers is her second video collaboration with Alex Kornhuber. Their first video, Gertrude and Virginia in San Francisco, features longtime Bay Area dancer Virginia Matthews.