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8 Lessons for Dancers in Higher Education

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 8 Lessons for Dancers in Higher Education

by Sarah Wildes Arnett

1. Dance is not a terminal field, even though the MFA is. Most dancers (and performers in general) know and accept this as truth – dancers are students their entire lives. There is always a way to improve and become better as our bodies change and as the field evolves. I accepted this long before making the decision to go back to school. What I did not realize until much later was that this applies to my creative work as well. As I went into my thesis work and now, as a professional and in setting choreography on my students, I started the process of reworking old choreography. I’ve now taken what was originally a sextet and translated it into a duet (which works much better that way) that has been reworked at least five times on different dancers, each time finding out new information about the piece. The piece has evolved from a general exploration of rhythms and patterns to being about a simple relationship to death and the afterlife. I’m pretty sure it’s not perfect yet.

2. It’s ok to beat a dead horse (figuratively). Not every piece has to be a masterpiece and you don’t have to make work about something new and different every time. Some things are worth investigating again and again. Just because you tried something once doesn’t mean you are done and that you cannot do it again.

3. Age is just a number. I went to school with people from all walks of life, including those in my MFA program and the undergraduates working on their BFA and BA degrees. I truly believe that there are things to be learned from each other, no matter what the age as everyone brings in their own experiences and ideas. One of the best collaborators I ever worked with in graduate school (and best friends I’ve ever made) was an undergraduate student, Megen Burgess. We still work together and talk weekly about dancing ideas even though we live 9 hours away from each other.


4. Not every rehearsal has to be in a studio. Megen and I created an entire duet (and mind you, a very physically challenging duet) without managing to spend but maybe a total of 4 hours dancing. Sometimes you just need to have rehearsal at El Carreton. Sometimes you just have to draw a dance.


5. Write everything down. I cannot tell you the number of brilliant ideas (and I mean brilliant – I should be Trisha Brown by now) that I have forgotten because I didn’t write them down. Continue reading

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!

MFA Mondays

MFA rightI’ve been thinking a lot about what the MFA degree means for artists in our country right now. We’re living in a world so heavily driven by capitalism that any artist struggles with the effects of commercialism and mass production values. Is it really valuable to obtain a degree in the fine arts right now? Obviously, my answer is yes but it is worth recognizing the issues and struggles artists deal with on a daily basis. I’m going to approach this from the ways I’ve dealt with financing my own art, but please feel free to comment and add any advice you may have.

“Fine” art doesn’t necessarily (or hardly ever) generate a lot of cash 858671_563107497041148_2128003440_o-1[1]flow. Artists aren’t usually creating in order to fund an end result, we are looking for an outlet of expression. Some artists are very interested in words of our critics and ticket sales, and some are not. It just depends on what kind of work you are making and why you’re making the work. Certainly the MFA program will give you a good bit of help in both of those directions. The feedback I received from my peers and professors in my choreography classes pretty much spanned the entire spectrum, ranging from questions of how the eyes were directed to asking questions directly to the dance, not me the choreographer (thank you Larry Lavender!) I found that considering my work through these multiple lenses was extremely valuable and gave me much more information about what kind of artist I am.

However you do view your art, if you can find a position at a University that supports creative work as research, you will probably find that funding opportunities are available for travel to conferences, festivals, performances, or wherever it is you decide to take your art. Of course, value is placed on adjudicated works, so when you are competing against other faculty for travel grants, it is important to consider. If full-time faculty work isn’t your cup of tea, it is possible to receive grant money, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult. Individual artists are mostly ineligible to receive grants from most agencies nowadays, you must be affiliated with a nonprofit corporation and an element of community outreach is becoming almost a requirement, with a few exceptions. This is great news for our youth and our communities as it strengthens our audiences and community appreciation for what we do, though it adds one more thing that gets in the way of just making the art. For anyone considering the MFA (or any artists in the field) I would highly recommend taking coursework in arts administration, particularly covering grant writing and non-profits. It was a course I have used time and again in working to fund my own travels and productions since I’ve left school.

For those artists that do depend on ticket sales and contributions (commercial or otherwise) the issue of creating art that is “accepted” is a very real one. The internet has made things so readily available that people can make a few clicks and have world class dancers right in front of them for free. Television has commercialized dance in a way that is boosting support for dance in a positive way, but also in a way that is confusing and misleading for many. In competitive shows like So You Think You Can Dance, audiences see brilliant dancers perform short dances (2-3 minutes) that tell entire stories on high production budgets and they can understand them! It’s not really SYTYCD’s fault – its commercialism as a whole. We get blasted everyday the same – ads, music, tv shows. Its simplified and you understand exactly what you’re supposed to. This makes things incredibly difficult for the abstract artists who aren’t always making art specifically “about” something, thus causing problems when we do get people in seats and they expect to see what they saw on television. I’m not saying there isn’t merit to what the choreographers and dancers do on SYTYCD, because they truly are amazing at creating captivating, well performed, well rehearsed dances in one week for two minutes. It is making our jobs a little more difficult to feel that we have the freedom to say what we want to say in more time and with much less money.

Sarah Wildes Arnett is Founder/Artistic Director of SWADanceCollective and Assistant Professor of  Dance at Valdosta State University in Georgia. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Dance Choreography at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2012 and a Bachelor of Arts in  American Studies from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Sarah’s interests are interdisciplinary as she enjoys integrating her talents  in film-making, photography and music composition into her choreography while also expanding boundaries of genre and style. She continues to perform professionally with various companies and artists in the southeast. Most recently, she has performed and shown work at the MAD Festival (Atlanta), Alabama Dance Festival (Birmingham), NC Dance Alliance Annual Event (Greensboro) and RE:Vision by Forward Motion Theatre (NYC). http://www.swadanceco.com/

MFA Monday

MFA Mondays

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These past several weeks we have had the pleasure of being escorted through a fabulous series of MFA Mondays by Megan Yankee and two of her colleagues Erin Law,  Amanda McCorkle and Gabrielle Aufiero.  What a pleasure it has been.  If you’re just now tuning in, I encourage you to go back through and catch up.

A lot has happened here at Frame Dance, and today I want to fill you in on all things #framer.  First, I’d like to introduce you to our next writer, Lauren Ashlee Small, who will begin her MFA Monday series next week. Her perspective will be new, as she is preparing to begin her MFA program in the Fall.

Lauren Ashlee SmallLauren Ashlee Small
is originally from Springfield, IL. Her training began at Springfield Dance and the Springfield Ballet Company and continued in college where she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance at Belhaven University. Lauren went on to study in The Ailey School’s professional division as a recipient of The Oprah Winfrey Foundation Scholarship and to perform with Amalgamate Dance Company and Dance Into Deliverance. Her choreography has been featured at The Ailey School, Belhaven University, American College Dance Festival, Undertoe Dance Festival at the 92nd Street Y, the New York Jazz Choreography Project, and in Amalgamate’s 7th Annual Artist Series. Lauren has interned with Free Arts of Arizona and Amalgamate Dance Company and was a guest artist at the 2012 Teen Arts Performance Camp in Washington, DC and Emmanuel Ballet Academy’s 2014 summer intensive in Juarez, Mexico.


lydia with littlesSecond, we announced on Friday, that we are starting a program called Little Framers.  It is a children’s dance ensemble that will work with the company this year.  Ages 7-9. Registration is open, and space is VERY limited.  More info is here.






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. www.ajdance.org


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: Observations

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Please welcome back Amanda Diorio to MFA Monday on the Frame Dance Blog. Enjoy, dear Framers and have a happy Monday!




Observations that helped me create my MFA thesis




It will happen.

As those of us who have worked in show business are well aware “the show must go on”.  It is amazing when you think about all that needs to get done in a production like an MFA thesis concert but miraculously it all happens.  This was a helpful attitude to take when I was working on my own concert.  I had no idea how all the work would get done but I knew that somehow it would all come together and of course it did.  Remember this when you are at your wits end and about to freak out about not finishing your work for the show.  One benefit of having a concert as a final project is that you have no choice but to get it all done. The dates have been set long in advance and cannot be changed.  This is one advantage that those seeking other kinds of terminal degrees do not have.  I have friends who have been working on their PhD dissertations for years.  The have no specific end time so it can be drawn out.  We as performers have the benefit of having a set date to be done by, a finish line to look towards.  When you are in the thick of it and your life has consisted of this crazy schedule for years it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel but remember grad school is not real life.  Your concert and your degree will happen.  Hang in there!



The project is still a part of the learning. 

While your final project is a reflection of your overall work in graduate school it is still a part of the learning process.  There is this sense that your thesis concert is representation of all your work in graduate school.  This is true to a point but you are still in graduate school while you are creating it, therefore making it part of a whole and not a separate entity representing your entire MFA education.  As a first year MFA candidate it is easy to look at the third years that are settled in and comfortable in their working grove and think of them as finished products of the program.  But as any third year will tell you, they are still in the thick of it.  After your concert is over you will have to defend it to your committee and get an approval in order to receive the MFA.  As you create your work you will learn new and valuable lessons along the way, thinking of this time as part of the learning process instead of the representation of that process can help you keep an open mind in terms of your own work.  I found it extremely helpful to gather opinions from my committee members during this time just as I had done in my previous choreography classes.  In the end I think this made my show better than it would have been had I considered myself a full-blown MFA while I was creating it.  Keep the learning doors open all the way until graduation (and hopefully beyond) in order to get the most out of your MFA education.


B0061P 0098

 Amanda 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

MFA Mondays

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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.