Does your mind feel jumbled? Are you having a hard time identifying your emotions? Do you feel on edge or like your body has unspent energy? Do you desire internal organization? Do you have something to say but not sure what it is? I know exactly how that feels– not great. We created a workshop that can help you find your realignment and leave you with tools for your own creative and physical practice. Through dance, writing, and movement techniques, we want to help you find your voice, your stillness, and your power.
When I started the MultiGen Framers class, it was fairly new territory for me. The very essence of this class is that it welcomes beginners to advanced dancers of any age. So that’s pretty open! Teaching the class this Spring was an incredibly exciting balancing act of allowing adult beginner bodies to venture into new territory, keep the energy and flow high enough for children to stay engaged in modern dance technique that is true to the form, minus the extraneous physicality to keep the students working safely. I am compelled to engage the brain as much as the body, and with different developmental capacities, there was a new challenge to find out how to do this. Teaching MultiGen Framers was like a dream– challenging in all of the best ways, and rewarding in all of the best ways.
Something that did come up as I was teaching, was that due to the need to keep things moving along at a certain pace to keep the children connected to the work, I found myself wanting to spend more time than I could with the adults to help them journey into their bodies in a new way. So… the Sunday Adult Workshops were born. As someone who has always had an alternative somatic practice alongside my dance training, and desire to grow my spiritual self and investigate mindfulness, I wanted to offer this as a complete artistic experience for adults. I believe in cultivating a creative practice alongside your dance classes because dance is more than exercise. It is a means of connection between body, mind, and soul. We must develop all three to be the artists that we are.
So these four workshops (take one, two, three or all four) involve a gentle, deep, and slow pace to experience two different somatic practices, modern dance technique, creative writing that will connect mind with body, and a beginning choreography class. I hope you’ll join us! This is also a great entry point into joining the MultiGen Framers in the Fall.
Register Here. Sunday Adult Workshops are funded in part by the Houston Arts Alliance, capacity building initiatives.
Monday is no longer as blah with awesome insights into holding a Master of Fine Arts!
Here is another installment by MFA student, Angela Falcone. Enjoy!
What is a “notochord”?
A former Kilgore College Rangerette and friend of mine, Carla Rudiger, came to our somatics class at Texas Woman’s University to introduce us to Body Mind Centering. This ninety-minute introductory workshop changed the way I think, feel, and know my body. Carla’s first request (before meeting) was to read “The Place of Space” (Interview with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen on the Embryological Embodiment of Space) by Nancy Stark Smith and Andrea Olsen. Below is my reflection on the process of the class.
My experience with the Body Mind Centering class revealed how much I do not know about my own body. One of the most basic principles of Body Mind Centering is this idea of “support precedes movement.” With that, the class was structured into four sections: reading about the embryonic process (Smith and Olsen article), visualizing the embryonic process (from sperm to egg) on a sheet of paper, watching Carla’s embodiment of skeletal structures of the spine on a Pilates ball, and, finally, trying the embodiment ourselves. In the skeletal structure, she revealed three layers of the spine: the notochord, the intermediateplates, and the lateralplates. The notochord is the innermost part of the spine. In more anatomical terms, the notochord is “a flexible rod-like structure that forms the main support of the body, from which the spinal column develops” (The Free Dictionary by Farflax). As Carla began rolling on the Pilates ball, she placed her attention and focus on her notochord through visualization. During this somatic practice, her movement shifted ever so slightly. When Carla began to involve the other spinal structures (the intermediate and lateral plates), I could also see Carla’s movement becoming fuller and richer. I wanted so badly to embody this quality.
This vulnerable demonstration opened my eyes to the importance of my own support system. Her embodiment of the movement began with her deepest form of support, her spine and even more specifically her notochord. Unlike most of my fellow classmates, I, personally, became less familiar with my connection the deeper we brought our attention to the notochord. (Perhaps this unfamiliarity stems from my training and upbringing, which lacks somatic practice in general.) What I find ironic is the notochord layer is the most basic, deepest level of your body, but I quickly discovered that I am unable to embody this layer at this point in my life. As Carla began taking us through more exercises, I found a lessened connection to my body. Which, frankly, scared me. I began to tear up in class as I questioned my own support system, which then made me question my movement patterns. I finally asked myself…have I been “faking it” my whole life? If we choose to bring our attention and focus to our innermost layer of being, I believe our dancing can reflect that intellectual and physical connection.
All things considered, I am completely intrigued by this Body Mind Centering approach and want to take it a step further. My future ambition is to begin taking classes this summer at Dallas Yoga Center to develop my own practice so that I may inform other dancers about this approach to embodiment. I truly believe educators can begin at the core of the body (literally) to develop a more somatic approach for young dancers as well. Let’s all jump on the bandwagon and preach finding the notochord!
For more information about Body Mind Centering, check out the website at www.bodymindcentering.com.
Angela Falcone, a Houston native, graduated from Friendswood High School in 2007. She was a member of the drill team, the Friendswood Wranglerettes, where she held the title of Grand Marshal. After graduating, she followed her dream and tried out for the Kilgore College Rangerettes. She had the honor of being chosen as the Freshmen Sergeant and Swingster her freshman year, and received the greatest honor of being chosen as Captain her sophomore year. Following graduation from Kilgore College with an Associate in Fine Arts, she was accepted to the University of Texas at Austin, where she holds a B.F.A. in Dance. Angela currently attends Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas where she is pursuing her M.F.A. in Dance. She is specifically interested in shifting the paradigm of high school drill team by reinvigorating the choreographic process and bringing a somatic awareness to high school dancers’ bodies.
Confessions of an MFA: Day 3 – Thriller, Breakdowns, and Gingerbread Lattes
I read once that it takes the average person four months before they feel at home after moving into a new house or apartment. I remember thinking how long that seemed. I’ve always been someone who, once the boxes are unpacked, I feel like I am at home. Perhaps it’s my lack of sentiment, or perhaps it’s my obsession with unpacking just overwhelms any other feelings I might have, but even in this last move, crossing over state lines, the house felt like ours right away. Now, the city, that was a different story, but at least at the house, I felt like I was at home.
This past week was one of those weeks – the kind where, by Thursday, you get home from your day and just sit down in the middle of the hallway because the couch is just too far away. Between my car breaking down on the freeway and my students practically vibrating from all of the Halloween candy, it felt like nothing could go right. Yet, each night I got home, I felt great. In fact, I felt better than I’ve felt since getting to Denver.
Of course, this made me feel stressed out. Completely counterintuitive, I know – I was so baffled as to why I was feeling great when I was in the middle of the week that wouldn’t end that I felt like, of course, I had to be missing something. What was wrong with me? Was I a masochist? Am I just completely motivated by stress? Had I finally crossed over to the other side of crazy? And then it struck me – it all felt so normal. For the first time since moving, I felt normal.
Now, I think we can all agree that dancer normal is just not the same as other people’s normal. Our sense of a typical day is just different than others. Our weeks are filled with surprises: walking into your performance space to find it’s actually a circular stage ; giving a lecture about how we go to the bathroom before dance class only to have one of your students wet his or her pants halfway through barre; having a costume tear moments before going onstage and desperately hunting for safety pins, tape, glue, anything that will hold the seam together. Our days are unpredictable, and I have come to rely on those surprises as my norm.
What I realized this week is that it’s not adjusting to my new schedule that has made me so uneasy the past few months. Rather, it’s been my lack of confidence that I can handle all of the surprises that come along in my week. But this past week, I had answers. I knew my local mechanic where I could send my car. I knew that I had the freedom to give up on trying to teach my classes on Halloween and just put on Thriller. I even knew which coffee shop I could go to for a pick-me-up gingerbread latte. And having those answers made me feel normal again – that I was having a typical week once again.
It’s this confidence that I’ve been missing in my new home. Having to use a map to find the nearest Target, I felt like a visitor, and visitors don’t have answers to solve the everyday problems that arise in a new place. But, when I woke up Friday morning of this crazy week, I felt comfortable. I felt like I was at home. I looked at the calendar this morning and realized we have been living in our new city for exactly four months and two days. I guess that study had some merit after all.
Mary Grimes is a dancer, choreographer, writer, teacher, and working artist living in the Bay Area. Since receiving her MFA in Performance and Choreography from Mills College, she has started working as a dance writer and critique, writing for such magazines as Dance and Dance Studio Life. She has had to opportunity to work with accomplished choreographers including Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Molissa Fenley, and Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Her choreographer has been presented nationally. In the future, Mary hopes to continue her work as a dance writer and is excited to see where this path will take her.
For most people, we hear the phrase what’s themagic word and immediately think of childhood. Of course I remember robotically adding please to every question I posed, just in the hopes of avoiding the inevitable question that was sure to come if I didn’t say it. As I get older, though, and continue to explore this crazy world of dance, I am starting to think that perhaps my mom was actually mistaken. Please isn’t the magic word. It’s a great word and one that should certainly stay in everyone’s vocabulary. But the word that actually carries magic for me is one that is much shorter, yet so much harder to say. No.
I have always been the queen of yes, especially when it comes to dance. It has never been uncommon to find me, Sunday afternoon, in a princess dress, teaching the two year old birthday girl how to do a plié, and absolutely emitting bitterness that I didn’t have the ability to say no. I feel like it is engrained in me to say yes first, think later. It’s certainly a personality flaw – although, I have to say, I don’t think the years of being drilled with the rules of dance class etiquette helped any. Every dancer I know is a yes person. How else would post modern have come to be? Respect it though I do, can you imagine the first meeting with your choreographer describing the piece?
Moving out to a new city and looking for new teaching positions, this yes tendency of mine has been in full effect. Being the overly organized personality type that I am, I decided the only way to solve this problem was to create a no checklist based on all of the clues I should have paid attention to in the past when talking with potential employers. If an offer had a “no” answer to any of the questions, I gave myself permission to say that magic little word. Here is a section from my “Not For Me Checklist,” as I titled it
MFA Monday typically centers on musings from local holders of Master of Fine Arts, but for this series we’ve got something a little different! For the next three weeks we will get to hear from a contributor all the way from California…drrrrum rrrolll please:
Part 1 of 3
As I sit here trying to figure out how to start writing about my experience in graduate school, I am becoming keenly aware of my many mixed feelings about my time there and my time since. So here is to hoping that whatever comes out here makes some sort of sense, for me if no one else.
First let me say that if I could go back and do it all again, I would have waited a few years after undergrad before going to graduate school. I started my doctorate at age 22, immediately after completing my BFA. A lot happened in the subsequent five years of my life while I was in school and working on my dissertation. Your early twenties are incredibly formative years, but I wouldn’t know because I spent them ALL in school. So all I know is how formative graduate school can be.
The moment I learned that a field called “Dance Studies” existed, something in me shifted. Growing up with parents who were teachers and in an academically rigorous community, I have always enjoyed traditional learning. But dance was always my passion. Until college, I thought the two things existed separately.
Although I have danced since I was a child, I’ve never thought of myself as much of an artist. When I was given the choice to write a thesis or choreograph a concert for my Senior Project in undergrad, I only considered the concert option for about 15 seconds. I wanted to write. I was interested in the research process and wanted to be a part of something that blew people’s minds the way Dance Studies did for me when I was 19. After dancing and thinking separately for two decades, I was excited to discover a place where both worked together. I’m not suggesting that choreographing and performing doesn’t require both activities simultaneously, because it certainly does. For me, growing up dancing meant just replicating with no thinking. And while I logically understand that both can, and do, happen in the same body at the same time, I am not sure I have ever fully understood how to make that happen for myself. Even to this day, I don’t fancy myself much of an artist and am incredibly insecure about my own artistic process and choreographic product. But give me a page and I will write! Give me an inspired theoretical text and I will happily analyze movement! In fact, at my going away party before I moved for grad school, I remember a conversation with a dear girlfriend and brilliant choreographer. She couldn’t quite understand why I was choosing to subject myself to even more schooling immediately after graduation. I remember telling her, “I want to be able to write about what you do. I want help people know it exists and remember that it exists for the rest of time.” So when I was 22, that was my plan: To write. About dance. Beyond that, I had no idea what graduate school and a doctorate in dance meant. This should have been my first clue…
I was excited for the letters after my name. I was excited because it sounded cool. But, frankly, the whole thing was hardly planned. I applied because it came recommended from a trusted mentor and I didn’t have any other plans. I honestly didn’t think I’d get in. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. I wish I could have taken an extra year to work, even if it meant working as a caterer, to think about life, about myself, and what I wanted in my future. I could have read more, increased my vocabulary, and written more. I would have interacted with more people, learn what life was like outside of that of a full-time student, and simply enjoyed a moment in my 20s before real life became too permanent and demanding.
I think that year in between would have helped me avoid the panic attack I had the third week of classes. Towards the end of a seminar, in a small and crowded room, after trying to stay calm for several weeks, the realization that I simply had no idea what I was doing came flooding over me. It turns out everyone in graduate programs are REALLY smart (usually). It’s like having a class full of only the smart kids that raise their hands. Let me clarify, it’s not “like” that, it is that. This is really intimidating for the quiet 22 year old who is keenly aware of her own inexperience. So in that moment, I couldn’t figure out why I’d moved away from everything I knew. I couldn’t figure out how I came to sit in a room with so many people who were so much smarter than me. I was convinced that I’d never succeed, that I’d possibly even truly fail for the first time ever. Suddenly, the classroom door got farther and farther away, the tears welled up and I realized that I would not get through graduate school without crying in public…
Now, I’m not suggesting that a year serving food and working for minimum wage would have kept me from crying in graduate school, but I do think it would have made me more confident and more self-assured. I think I could have come in with a better perspective of the world and not one developed solely from books and research. Or maybe even a master’s program would have helped. I thought I was on the fast-track because I was special, smarter than the average bear. And I might have been. But no matter how good I felt when I got that acceptance letter, no matter how smart I may have been in undergrad, I found myself in a room with a collection of people that still, to this day, are the smartest people I know, with more experience, more knowledge, and more skill than I had in that moment. If there is one thing I am confident in in life, it’s my intelligence. But graduate school is NOT real life. These people were/are really brilliant. I was too inexperienced to have confidence in my own intelligence in that moment (and many more to follow).
The one thing I wish someone had told me before I went to school was: “Wait, not yet, maybe next year.” Graduate school is only what you make of it, so be sure you have all the tools and resources you might need to get the most out of it. It’s like trying to paint the walls before you’ve done the primer. It’ll get done, but the color could be sharper and last longer if you prime it first.
Stay tuned for more from Dr. Alexis Weisbord!
Dr. Alexis A. Weisbord received her BFA in Dance from University of Minnesota and her PhD in Critical Dance Studies from UC Riverside. Alexis was a competitive dancer in high school and later spent over ten years directing dance competitions throughout the US. Her dissertation was entitled “Redefining Dance: Competition Dance in the United States” and she has a chapter, “Defining Dance, Creating Commodity: The Rhetoric of So You Think You Can Dance,” in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen. Alexis has held positions as Lecturer in Global Studies at UC Riverside and Associate Faculty in Dance at Norco College. Currently she is an Associate Faculty member at Mt. San Jacinto College, Managing Director for The PGK Dance Project in San Diego, and founder/co-director of an emerging dance company, Alias Movement.
The River Oaks School of Dancing. The name alone is intimidating. River Oaks. Anyone living in the Houston area understands the prestige behind the name. Older men and women dressed in Ralph Lauren and Ann Taylor practically floating around a ballroom was the image that burned in my brain. But I was so excited about writing an article on their dance studio. I always wanted to learn how to waltz! Then it hit me. I was going to learn ballroom dancing…in a room full of people…who have been taking lessons for a while….watching me mess up. Oh dear. What did I just do? I don’t have a dancing background! Sure I took ballet when I was five and swing dancing in high school, which I couldn’t remember, but those don’t count! I became so nervous that I couldn’t even figure out what to wear to the lessons. I thought I needed a specific outfit or special shoes, like the dancers in their pictures. All of a sudden I didn’t feel that excited anymore.
I realized there was no turning back and when the day came I drove to the dance studio. I secretly thought that since I’m just a writer I wouldn’t have to dance that much, I could simply hide somewhere and observe. But when I got there, I realized it wasn’t a group class, it was actually a private session. Great! Now all I needed to worry about was the large probability of stepping on my instructor’s feet.
My instructor wasn’t even what I had imagined. I expected someone closer to my grandfather’s age or a strict Russian woman telling me I had the rhythm of a goose walking on a tightrope. I know it’s a stereotype but I couldn’t help it! However, none of the instructors were like that. They were all in their twenties and thirties and some of the nicest and funniest people I ever met. Their kindness and constant encouragements gave me confidence even when I messed up; which happened more than once.
Before we even started, my instructor John first asked me what dances I knew. I told him my all about my dancing “experiences” and he decided to start off with something I had previously learned (forgotten) instead of immediately throwing me head-first into the deep end. It actually boosted my confidence and made me feel more comfortable about the actual dancing part of the job. After the review, we slowly worked on new material. The Foxtrot was at least similar to the swing dances, but The Cha-Cha…uh well…wasn’t.
At least with some of the dances a person can almost fake the moves. Even Mel, one of the instructors, said if you aren’t that great at swing dancing just look like you’re having a good time and people will think you know what you’re doing. Love it! But when dancing The Cha-Cha, yeah I wasn’t very good at even faking that one. The nice thing was that after nearly colliding with John a couple of times, I finally got it. Yay! So, I ended up learning four dances in a 50 minute class!
Now before anyone gets too excited or too scared about taking one of their classes, let me explain. Since I was invited to write an article on their dance studio and get first-hand experience, I was given the opportunity to learn a lot more in a short amount of time. Otherwise the private classes are tailored to your own skill level, needs and goals. Since you work one-on-one with your instructor, you can learn at your own pace, ask as many questions as you’d like, and learn the dances that interest you.
I was actually disappointed the session was over so soon. I had more than fun than I had ever imagined. I was even trying to stop myself from dancing in the car on the way home. I also found myself practicing the dances around my house. That’s how much fun I had! The best part was being invited back for their Friday group class and their dance party along with one more dance lesson. That night was more fun than the previous one.
This time my instructor taught me the Waltz and the Rumba. I think I did better with the Rumba than the Waltz mainly because John gave me a little tip. When learning the Rumba, never pick up the balls of the feet when sliding from side-to-side. The best way to remember this is to imagine a mint conditioned vintage baseball card under each foot. The objective is to try to keep the cards in perfect condition under the feet and away from exposure. The other part of the dance focuses on the toes. He told me to pretend I was in a vineyard squishing grapes. Squish-Squish-Slide-Squish-Squish-Slide. Then I got it! Brilliant! Ok to me it was brilliant. I honestly had no idea how to Rumba, but when John gave me the visuals then it became easy.
The Waltzing part was fun; aside from stepping on John’s feet twice. He did make me feel a little better when he told me I would be surprised how many times it actually happens to him. I felt as if I had been initiated into some sort of club. But it really was great! I kept picturing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers gliding across a ballroom floor. It truly is the most elegant dance on the planet-in my opinion anyway. All in all it was a great lesson.
The fun wasn’t over yet! The group session was next. Every Friday their group classes practice the spotlighted dance from 8:00-9:00 pm. Each month the River Oaks School of Dancing focuses on a specific dance in their group classes. This month they spotlighted the Waltz and in February they will be teaching the East Coast Swing! It was very convenient to have my dance lesson be the same dance that was being spotlighted in the group classes. I felt a lot more comfortable about performing with others by that point. I thought I was going to have to perform in the middle of the room and have everyone watch me. Not even close. John and Pari basically break the steps down piece-by-piece and everyone copies the moves. The group classes aren’t intimidating at all and that part was what I was dreading the most.
But then the real fun began after the group session. Party Time!!! This is where the magic happens. The instructors and students show off their skills in a fun, social environment for an hour. To be honest, just watching everyone was just as much fun as the actual dancing. They played a variety of music and a “serve yourself” bar is provided. No, I did not try the bar because I was my own date who was driving herself home that night. The party is a great opportunity to mix and mingle with the wonderful students who are also interested in learning to dance!
If a song came on and I didn’t know the dance, an instructor would come up to me and ask me if I wanted to learn it. Pari was really sweet in teaching me how to tango. Thank you Pari! Yuri and Angele were my waltzing partners at one point too. It was so much fun! Every fear I had just melted away. I never felt out-of-place or intimidated. I loved every moment of it and was a little sad that it was over so soon.
I want to thank the wonderful staff at the River Oaks School of Dancing, Ina Darley and Miss Kim for their help and for inviting me to the dance studio. I also want to thank all of the amazing instructors for their patience, humor and kindness. Pari, Yuri, Angele, Mel and John thank you all so much!
So what is the takeaway for all of you readers?
Ladies, don’t be intimidated to give dancing a try
Gentlemen, real men ballroom dance
Interested in signing up? You can schedule an online appointment at http://www.riveroaksdancing.com or call 713-529-0959 and start your complementary lesson now!
Emily Pau graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in English and a minor in Communication. She is a native Houstonian and first-generation Cuban-American. She is fluent in American and French Sign Language and when she is not working as a lion tamer, she enjoys drag racing her red Volkswagen Beetle named “Harvey” on the weekends.
Emily Pau, Social Media and Blog Manager for Frame Dance Productions, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.