MFA Monday: Surprises of Grad School

MFA Mondays

MFA rightBiggest Surprises of Grad School

 by Amanda Diorio


I would make friends

I thought when I went back to school to get my MFA that I would be entering an uptight academic environment.  I was so preoccupied with the idea of school and relocating my life that I forgot I would be entering a community of like-minded peers. In undergrad, even among dance majors, I was considered the “dance nerd,”   In grad school I was surrounded by not only dancers but specifically  “dance nerds,” people who wanted to explore, dissect and reveal as much about the art as I did.  This community turned out to be a vital support group throughout the process of completing my degree.  Having others to bitch to, socialize, laugh, and share my fledgling art with became essential for my survival during this stressful time.  These bonds were not only a lifeline during the process but created many long lasting friendships and an excellent network that stands strong long after graduation.


The teacher/student relationship has evolved

When you enter a graduate program you have already passed a test in the eyes of the faculty.  You have already completed one major academic step and have decided to continue onto another. There are fewer grad students for them to keep track of and you yourself are probably a much better student.  For me this reduced a lot of the intimidationI felt with my undergraduate professors.  Continue reading

MFA Monday: Little and Big Things

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Happy Monday Framers! Today we kick off a new MFA Monday arc written by the lovely and immensely talented Amanda Jackson!


MFA: Little and Big Things

Part 1 – Penguins, Collaborators, and Community… Oh My!

We’ve all seen him awkwardly permeating the web, penguining around in various social situations. He goes by Socially Awkward Penguin. While in grad school, my colleagues and I turned to the Internet abyss of memes and YouTube a little too often to escape stressful realities and enter other worlds of shock, awe, and wit. These moments of escaping together created bonds between us, albeit strange ones, that filtered into movement and theory classes, rehearsals and feedback sessions, and potlucks that doubled as times for mind-mapping. I would be withholding information if I didn’t tell you that some Internet gems even made appearances in our choreography.

Back to the penguin meme: The poor penguin offers an “Oh God No” reaction to a teacher that states, “Ok class, find a partner.” Although this is quite funny to me now as a teacher, the penguin’s offerings were slightly less relatable during grad school. Our cohort’s unique bonding experiences paired with TWU’s strong focus on Contact Improvisation made finding a partner more exciting than dancing solo.

We learned more about each other, through what I’ll call spontaneous movement puzzles, in extremely rigorous and generous class environments facilitated by our professors. We also learned through witnessing our partners’ thought processes and reactions as well as how they prefer to move and be moved, even beyond a physical sense. This is what drew many of us to the MFA program and to each other.

Back in 2010 a group of ten dancers from TWU, all in various stages of our MFA cycles, came together to form Big Rig Dance Collective – a Denton-based group that is now co-directed by myself, Whitney Boomer, Crysta Caulkins-Clouse, and Lily Sloan. The impetus for our collective was to create more outlets beyond the academic setting to develop a deeper collaborative process. Big Rig was also experimenting with new methods of inviting communities into our process through performances and workshops. We ultimately wanted more of everything and were eager to share with everyone! (As if our graduate work didn’t keep us busy enough.)

I share this with you because I think there is something intriguing about our grad school environment that encouraged our desire to connect communities through dance. Also sprouting from this environment were Muscle Memory, CholoRock, and Simple Sparrow. I am reminded of the energy that we all brought into this environment – It felt electric and contagious, an infinite cycle. In my mind, we fueled the environment just as much as it fueled us.

So in the spirit of community, I’ll leave you with some insights from my friend/colleague/co-director/fellow kitchen improviser:

“After I graduated and began working as an adjunct professor in the community, I was still as driven as ever to work in Big Rig, but I felt the harsh reality of being removed from the community from which Big Rig was born. All of my friends were still in grad school, and I was out. I missed out on the inside jokes, the basement banter, and simply the wonderful treat of moving and dancing with friends on a daily basis. It was very, very hard.

Throughout the continual journey of figuring out what we want Big Rig to be in our lives, I have realized that community is first. This sense of community might mean remembering to see each other as friends first. It means developing a rich and rigorous dance practice with each other, in the midst of our crazy schedules and busy lives. I feel best when I stop and remember the first reason that we ever started collaborating: we liked each other. We liked each other’s ideas, energy, spirit, and creativity. Out of that likeable attraction comes some of our best work.” – Lily Sloan

So as you are researching MFA programs, I think it is equally important to research the MFA students. Are they doing work that interests you? Are they welcoming and supportive of what you can bring to the cohort? Are they people with whom you can spend long nights in the basement watching ridiculous YouTube videos? These MFA students can become some of your strongest supporters and collaborators throughout your time in grad school and beyond.


A Jackson - Photo by Jesse ScrogginsAmanda Jackson holds an MFA in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is a performer, choreographer, educator, stylist, and avid cooking improviser. Her work has been presented across Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Louisiana with a notable experience at Harvard University with collaborator, Matthew Cumbie. Amanda is Co-Director of Big Rig Dance Collective in Denton, TX and Adjunct Professor of Dance at Tarrant County College Northwest.


MFA Monday: Amanda Diorio

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Happy Monday and thank you to the soldiers who have protected this country! 

We’re back with the final installment by Amanda Diorio.  Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!



There is not enough time to do everything under the sun.

Entering the MFA program at UNC Greensboro I anticipated having loads of time to take heaps of courses both in and out of the department. At the start 3 years seems like a long time. In the end it went by so fast I remember wishing I could have taken more courses than I had time for. If you come in with all your prerequisites met many programs are only 60 credits total for an MFA intended to be completed in 3 years. That translates to 10 credits a semester, which usually ends up being 3 academic courses and a technique class (this of course depends on your department). When I was registering for fall semester of the third year and looking ahead to the final semester in the spring I was discouraged that I had not had a chance to take every course from every teacher I originally wanted to. I was comforted looking back on how much I was able to do while I was there but there was still a feeling that I could have done more. I came to the realization that even though the time seems to drag when you are working on the 20 page research paper with little sleep in the long run it goes by quickly (if you thought high school and college went fast just wait). Think about this when you start your program. Try to decide what it is you want to your studies to focus on early. This will help you to create space in your academic plan and allow you to touch on the subjects that interest you the most.

Go at your own pace.
I have a bad habit of comparing myself to others. I tell myself I am not doing enough because so and so did so much more in my same position. This is not a good attitude to have in general but certainly not while trying to obtain a terminal degree. Know your own limits in regards to stress, work load and sleep deprivation and respect them. Like every individual candidates deal with the stress and time management in their own way. I was marveled at some of my friends who took on so many projects while pursuing their MFAs both in and out of the department. Some of my colleagues were fostering companies and other artistic ventures outside of school. Some of them had families going into the department while others planned weddings and were pregnant while working on their degrees. I could barely handle taking care of my two cats and myself while balancing the heavy workload. Working outside of the degree also varied, several people found outside employment while a number survived on student loans. Deciding to participate and perform in other student and faculty works is also a decision that affects how much time you have left for yourself and your course load. I found it comforting to live less than a mile away from campus to get that extra bit of sleep, quite a few of my friends found it more stressful to be so close and decided on a small (or not so small) commutes. Your family, tolerance for stress and strategies for time management all play a part in your decisions and individuals have their own set of circumstances that determine how they handle things. Do not compare yourself to others and decide that you are doing too much or not enough. Find what makes you comfortable and be proud of your accomplishments regardless. This is your degree and you should be able to obtain it in a way that makes you proud but also maintains your sanity.

B0061P 0098Amanda Diorio is an adjunct faculty member at UNC-Greensboro and Elon University.  She teaches adult classes open to the public at the North Carolina Dance Project where she is also a member of the board of directors.  Amanda holds an M.F.A. in Choreography from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a B.F.A. in Dance from Temple University. She has taught, produced, and choreographed dance extensively in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina at universities, studios, public and private schools and community centers. Specializing in Contemporary, Jazz and Hip Hop techniques she enjoys spreading peace, love and understanding through her teaching of dance, choreography and culture.

MFA Monday: Stephanie Todd Wong

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It’s a new day, a new MONDAY. We welcome Stephanie Todd Wong to the Frame Dance blog. Enjoy her experiences today and for the next two weeks!


The Highs and Lows of My Personal Experience


I received my MFA from George Mason University in 2004 and I look back on those three years through a lens of extremes.  Fondness, frustration, pride, uncomfort, growth are all words I use often when telling others about my experience. For me, it was a life changing experience full of highs and lows, as I believe it should be for everyone.



Structure and resources:  I suddenly had both! Class everyday, someone consistently asking me questions, challenging me, reserved studio time for rehearsal and dancers waiting for me, deadlines etc. It is amazing the work you can create when you have what you need to create it and the structure to both support and push you to produce your best.


Friends and colleagues:  Some of my dearest friends were either colleagues I met while in school or my professors. The dance world is a small one and the relationships I built while in the program are just as important to me now as they were then.  Our paths cross consistently and we still find ways to help and support one another.


Growth:  I exited my MFA program a completely different artist than how I entered. I fully embraced the journey and allowed myself to be changed by it. The growth I experienced during those three years is probably one of things I’m most proud of.



University politics:  I wasn’t prepared for the reality of the politics I was exposed to during this time.  I’m not sure if it was because of my specific program or the difference between being an undergrad versus a grad student, but the politics involved were much more evident.  There were times I had to fight with administration to do what was best for me and I found it very frustrating.  But it was also an important part of the learning process.


Exhaustion/Life Outside the Grad School Bubble:  Or should I say the lack of my life outside the grad school bubble.  An MFA program is intense with a lot of demands on your time.  I taught adjunct while I was getting my degree and between teaching, my own classes, readings and assignments, rehearsals and performances, I was rarely anywhere other than the studio.


Cost:  Grad school is expensive and I’m still paying back my student loans. And while I don’t love writing those checks each month,  it was worth it for me.




Stephanie Wong - 20130303-1-2 webStephanie Todd Wong moved to Houston in 2008 after spending ten years in Washington DC as a dancer, choreographer, dance teacher and dance administrator.  Stephanie holds a BA in Dance from Mercyhurst College and received her MFA in Dance from George Mason University in 2004.  While living in Washington she was a dancer in the Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company, which performed in various locations in DC and New York City.  She also had the privilege of working with Lorry May, founding director of Sokolow Dance Foundation to learn and perform Anna Sokolow’s The Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter.  As a choreographer, Stephanie’s work was presented at both Joy of Motion and Dance Place.  Stephanie also spent time teaching dance and worked to create a high school dance program for The Flint Hill School in Vienna Virginia.  Beginning in 2007, Stephanie began working for Dance/MetroDC, the local branch office of Dance/USA, serving as its Programs Associate and ultimately its Interim Director.  In this role she was responsible for creating and executing all the organizations programming, including the Metro DC Dance Awards, a region wide awards program that took place at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  Stephanie became Executive Director of Dance Source Houston in 2011 and currently sits on the Advisory Board for Arts + Culture Magazine and an Affiliate Working Group of Dance/USA.

MFA Monday: Matthew Cumbie

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Happy Monday dear Framers!  I am excited to post this because I have so enjoyed reading Matthew Cumbie’s articles.  But it’s the third of his arc, so that’s a bummer.  But in the meantime, enjoy…


“Small Dances About Big Ideas,” and the importance of story telling*


So far, when writing these blog entries I’ve chosen to tackle topics that I’ve felt strongly about. I haven’t talked directly to my experiences in graduate school, or before or after, very much at all; a conscious choice of mine, most certainly. But in doing this I realize that I haven’t given much insight into who I am or what I do, merely glimpses; I haven’t shared my story, and frankly, I believe that everyone’s story matters. It’s this belief that shapes much of what I do today and has led me to where I am now. It’s also this belief that, for me, contextualizes the larger artistic questions that we as a community find ourselves asking and the research we do to explore those questions; in plain, within these personal stories lie universalities and shared experiences that ground what we know and how we come to know that.

My current story picks up in Washington, DC, where I am a Resident Artist and the Education Coordinator for Dance Exchange, an organization rich in history and rooted in the belief that everyone’s story matters and that everyone can and is encouraged to dance. The path taken to this fortuitous place has been one of much meandering, difficulty, and perseverance (and a bit of good fortune). Truly, until my time in graduate school I had a very small understanding of what the organization did and does still; then it was the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and I distinctly remember at one point encouraging a peer of mine to audition but not really envisioning myself involved in such a process. After finishing my MFA, however, I decided to get to know the organization better and enrolled in their Summer Institute, a condensed amount of time in which participants work closely with the company learning about their collaborative process and tools and history while collectively making and sharing. I fell in love and almost immediately knew I had found a home, one in which I was enlivened and engaged in a way that I had been searching for.

While in graduate school, as I’m sure many can attest to, one must really be focused on the work that is happening. This is particularly important if the work you’re doing is challenging and valuable, as I think most work at the graduate level should be. For me, graduate school became everything. I felt challenged on all fronts and grew three dimensionally in a way that I had never before experienced and with such rapidity that at times it felt almost impossible to keep up. It was probably one of the most difficult and exciting points in my life. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. And I learned more about myself and my craft than I could probably ever explain on paper. I lost a relationship, and at that point particularly, poured myself without abandon into my work. My dog Lucas served as my anchor at home and my friends and peers within my program kept me afloat. I don’t regret any of it, but as I exited that environment and found myself back in a world outside of academia I realized how disproportionate my life had become.

It was at this point that I began to want and need and work towards finding a way to compromise the distance I felt between my artistic self and my everyday self. I began to question the processes that I was engaged in, wondering why I was doing this work and of what value did it have for others besides myself. What good was I doing for anyone else but me? What did I value in both my art making and my life making that I could harness in a process and feel satisfied with? How could I participate in a rigorously full artistic process and a rigorously full life simultaneously? These questions felt important in lessening that gap. When I started my work with Dance Exchange at that Summer Institute, and subsequently on some residencies that I was invited to help facilitate, answers to some of these questions manifested themselves either in the work that was made or in the relationships that formed, and I have a feeling it has to do with the alignment of my values and the organizations’ values and in the way that this process and work asks me to bring my whole self regularly.

As I mentioned before, at Dance Exchange we believe that everyone’s story matters and that everyone can and is encouraged to dance. Because of this philosophy, and our constant questioning of who gets to dance, we are committed to making space for all to participate in the making of art; from trained professionals to unexpected movers and makers, criss crossing all disciplines and engaging any who are interested in questioning and creative research. It’s in this place of exchange of ideas and information that I feel my many selves, Matthew the artist/human, fully engaged and aware. It’s in this place, where 90 year old women and men move with teenagers and twenty something year olds as a way to know and relate, that I find resonance in what I do and how I do it. It’s in this place that I have found a bridge between my many selves and feel more able to work on lessening that gap between the artistic and everyday.

To take a more macroscopic view, I want to leave you with this. In my personal experience, and in talking with many, many peers, I have found that leading full artistic lives and full everyday lives to be sometimes difficult (one could also change the word ‘artistic’ to ‘any other career’). But both are important. An integral step in doing that is finding a process or group or company or school or ensemble that continually asks you to bring your whole self, your many beautiful selves, to the work. It’s in this exchange between your own ideas and interests and this exchange between you and others that richness can be found and that much can be learned. Sometimes this work is hard; that’s when the work can be the most rewarding and relevant.  One of my former graduate professors once spoke of her ‘pedagogy of discomfort,’ a term that I have come to love. Although probably different in meaning, I have found that when situations or experiences seem to be uncomfortably hard or trying, it’s through the perseverance and working through those that has proved to be the most illuminating.

There’s something in here related to my previous posts about value and pausing, and in the combination of these 3 writings that I think speaks to carving out sustainable lifestyles as people that are committed to processes that might sometimes be difficult, especially in regards to an increasingly connected, fast-paced, and ever changing world. I hope that, wherever you’re at on this journey, you have found some nugget of something worthwhile in this and that applies to your story and story telling. It’s these stories that we carry and share that make our work worthwhile, that allow us to better our art and our lives, that allow us to gather as a community and work towards our individual and shared goals. It’s these individual small dances that we make which contribute to our collective big ideas.


* “Small Dances About Big Ideas” is a work by Liz Lerman and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange which premiered in 2005. It is not at all related to the topics discussed above other than the connection of Dance Exchange. 


Photo by Jori Ketten. Dance Exchange artists Matthew Cumbie, Sarah Levitt, and Shula Strassfeld (in order) in Cassie Meador's How To Lose a MountainMatthew Cumbie is a professional dance artist based in Washington, DC, and is currently a Resident Artist and the Education Coordinator for the Dance Exchange. As a company member with the Dance Exchange, he works with communities across the United States and abroad in collaborative art-making and creative research as a means to further develop our understanding of our selves and community in relation to the environment around us. He has also been a company member with Keith Thompson/danceTactics performance group, and has performed with Mark Dendy, the Von Howard Project, Sarah Gamblin, Jordan Fuchs, jhon stronks, Paloma McGregor, and Jill Sigman/thinkdance. His own work has been shown in New York, Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and at Harvard University. He has taught at Dance New Amsterdam, Texas Woman’s University, and Queensborough Community College. He holds an M.F.A. in dance from Texas Woman’s University.

MFA Monday: Why I despise the word ‘passion…

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And this is why I despise the word ‘passion,’ or Establishing our own value

by Matthew Cumbie



How much is my career am I worth? How much is my art work worth? When is it ok for me to ask for expect compensation for my services?

These are questions that I struggle with almost daily. And I’m willing to wager my small salary that many of you struggle with these same, or similar, questions at various points in your artistic career. Why is that? What is the cause for this dilemma? And when did it become O.K. to divert our attention from addressing these questions by saying, “Oh, you do it because you love it”?

Before I go any further, I want to say that I feel very, very fortunate for my current situation and for those experiences and situations that have led me to where I am. I realize that few opportunities to do what I do exist, and to get paid to do those things is sometimes unreal. And I love what I do. But I don’t ever recall this to be a reason that we not pay someone for their work. Returning to our questions above, the reasons could by many: too little funding, it’s a great experience, I don’t have a budget, and many others that we could compile over a few glasses of wine I’m sure. And while these all might be true and very valid, I would like to throw one (or two, depending on how you look at it) more in the mix that I find often unacknowledged: you and me.

That’s right. We are sometimes the cause of our own problems, especially in this situation. I say this because we, as performers and makers and teachers, perpetuate this problem of not paying artists when we participate in this cycle. We do it because we have no other option. We do it because we want to be involved in this love affair at whatever the cost. We do it because we know that if we don’t, someone else will…and for free. We do it because we want that, that right there, on our CV. You know, so when we decide that we’re marketable or valuable we’ll have more artistic weight to throw around. And that’s the magic button- we decide.

This is where the water gets murky, though. When do we put our collective foot down and say enough is enough, and that I have bills to pay too? I recently had a discussion with a good friend from my undergraduate years regarding this issue of paying dancers. Following school, we pursued very different paths; both still involved in the field but in different professional capacities. I say this only to illustrate that we are coming from different vantage points. Anyways, our debate came down to a discussion about experience and caused me to reflect on my own participation in this unspoken poor person’s treatise. Prior to and throughout graduate school, I viewed getting paid to dance as an added bonus. I was there for the experience, and felt quite uncomfortable addressing the compensation side of things. Almost afraid to bring up the subject, really. As if some omniscient fairy would one day fly down, take all that money (which was not a lot) that I had earned from various dance gigs, and bop me on the nose for being silly enough to think that I could make a living doing something that I enjoyed so much. Looking back, I’m not sure that I thought much about the fact that I had to work a number of other jobs to carve out a sustainable life; some of that might have had to do with my age and some with the place in which I was living (a much, much lower cost of living than where I’ve been post graduate school).

Immediately following graduate school, I moved to New York City for the second time (the first was brief and I was young- another story for another time). Surely, I thought, here would be a progressive community of like minded professionals who all valued dance the same as I and wanted to acknowledge and celebrate our abilities as professional artists by paying each other accordingly. Wrong. Instead I found myself having to work a number of projects simultaneously, as well as work a few other odd jobs to pay my rent…and loans. What ended up happening in this time period, interestingly, was probably more valuable than actually being paid enough to make a living; I finally started to look at how I was allocating my time and my work and began to curate what opportunities interested me the most, looking at what kinds of experiences I would be invested in and what kind of investment this artist was making in me. All of the artists I found myself working with at some point verbally acknowledged that the amount we were receiving was nowhere near what it should have been or what they would like it to be, and I appreciated the dialogue and knowing that they were making efforts to help us create a sustainable life. I appreciated the external validation that I was valuable in the same way that I saw myself as valuable.

More recently, my friend and fellow Dance Exchange artist Sarah Levitt and I were attending an arts conference about sustaining and growing the arts. When discussing how our various organizations might do more for less, it was suggested that we all hire interns because, “they don’t need to be paid.” Both Sarah and I, having had many conversations privately about paying artists/people what they are worth, were aghast. While I realize that internships provide excellent opportunities, and many of these opportunities are unpaid, the manner in which this comment was so brazenly delivered had me seriously questioning at what point do we deem someone valuable enough? Is there a transition point when we go from being unvaluable to valuable? Does it hurt? I mean, interns are people too. Somewhat related, Sarah and I have talked about a ‘new model’ for the arts, something we’ve both heard from various sources. As a working artist, the proposed new way to do your work is to get a full time job doing something else and to do your art on the side. Why? What does that say about how we value our work then? Not that I think it’s a bad model, but I believe that we all should be able to create our own models for working and sustaining ourselves. If I want to make a living by creating art, then I should be able to do that and know that it’s my responsibility to be able to communicate why this art is valuable to a larger audience.

The whole point of this blog is not to answer any questions really. It’s to ask more questions. Why is the system like this? What are we educating and telling the future dance makers and artists out there? That there are prescribed ways of working? Of valuing? Of navigating this diverse and rich field? I hope not. If we’re ever going to challenge our old ways of doing and thinking, we need to start talking about it. I think that making the decision to be valuable is up to each individual, and to weight that against whatever the experience might be and whatever the compensation might (or might not) be. You are of value, rich with history and talent and ideas. I’d like to think that through this conversation and acknowledgement of who we are and how what we do is worth something, that perhaps we can start to change the system. Perhaps we can up the ante and help create, find, or inspire those funding sources. Maybe we can encourage more artists to think about how they’re working with others and compensating them for their time. Hopefully we can challenge this popular, romantic belief that we are only in this because we love it, that our passion for dancing is what gets us through. Hopefully.

And that is why I despise the word ‘passion.’



Matthew Cumbie is a professional dance artist based in Washington, DC, and is currently a Resident Artist and the Education Coordinator for the Dance Exchange. As a company member with the Dance Exchange, he works with communities across the United States and abroad in collaborative art-making and creative research as a means to further develop our understanding of our selves and community in relation to the environment around us. He has also been a company member with Keith Thompson/danceTactics performance group, and has performed with Mark Dendy, the Von Howard Project, Sarah Gamblin, Jordan Fuchs, jhon stronks, Paloma McGregor, and Jill Sigman/thinkdance. His own work has been shown in New York, Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and at Harvard University. He has taught at Dance New Amsterdam, Texas Woman’s University, and Queensborough Community College. He holds an M.F.A. in dance from Texas Woman’s University.



MFA Monday: What is a Notochord?

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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 intermediate plates, and the lateral plates.  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




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.

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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.


HeadShot2012Mary 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.