1. STEP Signature Project
Dance Denmark was a five and a half week long performance, teaching and cultural exchange program that was committed to utilizing dance as a creative movement practice with many forms of expression. Partnering with Gerlev Sports Academy provided the rare opportunity to experience Denmark through the lens of a Danish student progressing from the pressures of high school towards a world of jobs and universities. While biking the cities of Copenhagen, Aalborg, and Slagelse acquainted me with the country’s quality of life, Ann Sofie Clemmensen’s (visiting assistant professor/resident director) deep-rooted dance connections opened the door to form intercultural bonds that will continue to be preserved and developed in years to come.
2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Before traveling to Denmark, I aimed to attain a singleness of purpose, which revolved around dance. I believed that mastery of an art form was almost never the result of mere talent. It was, rather, the blending of a passion with a certain quality of sustained and intensive effort. Therefore, I was convinced that all of my training needed to consciously support the study of dance performance/composition in order to reach my end goal. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that this process of unification caused me to miss out on many rich learning opportunities.
Movement is big. It is bigger than any specific movement discipline and it contains within it huge ‘worlds,’ like the world of somatics, dance, martial arts, calisthenics, circus, sports and more. The information that is often isolated in these segregated practices can be extremely useful to achieve versatility and target atrophy. Specializing is great, but beyond my specialty I am human first, a mover second, and only then a dancer/choreographer. It is immensely important to note that I no longer have a fixed training regime, or restrict myself to any kind of movement. Instead, I desire to create a dialogue and experience a cross disciplinary exchange of information between various types of movers.
3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation, and how did those affect you?
As I mentioned in my STEP Signature Project Proposal, the sport of gymnastics is highly valued in Danish culture. However, after watching gymnastic teams from various Danish Folk High Schools and the renowned National Danish Performance Team, I noted a stark contrast between the objective of Danish gymnastics and the competitive gymnastics that I had previously trained in. The ultimate vision of a Danish gymnast is not the Olympics. Their training does not consist of a syllabus with multiple events and levels because there is no competition, scoring system, or coveted gold medal. Furthermore, the gymnasts are not distinguished based on their skill level, which eliminates any personal agenda. Instead, the sport is truly a way of life and part of a democratic and edifying development. The gymnasts function collectively as a group of ambassadors, performing in shows and teaching community workshops to promote a healthy, active lifestyle. Their performances included a mixture of technically advanced tumbling and what could be perceived as “dance.” Although, like competitive gymnastics, it is still lacking in artistry.
Despite the differences between the two versions of the sport, I was still able to connect on a mental, physical, and emotional level. There were gymnastics facilities in every school that we visited, which continually provided the option for me to reclaim my background as an elite gymnast. All of the nostalgia that I had been suppressing for the past six years came rushing back, but this time I embraced it. I decided to confront the thought of “what if I hadn’t quit” that came with returning to my roots. Yet, any feeling of regret quickly diminished because of the supportive community that surrounded me. There were no external pressures or internal expectations. I finally had the chance to simply enjoy the raw power and physicality of the sport. As I reveled being back in my element, I realized that the training and skills were not something that I had to leave behind once I left Denmark. Gymnastics is, and always will be a part of me. Just because I’ve changed the direction of my path does not mean that I have to completely convert from my inclinations as a gymnast. Instead, I want to train in both disciplines until I am able to find a way to integrate them harmoniously, without one overpowering the other.
During my time at Gerlev Sports Academy (Slagelse, Denmark), I was able to continue the diversity of my training. Although the school was only required to host us as guests, they cordially invited us to engage in their non-formal education. Among the many majors and minors that were offered— dance, parkour, beach volleyball, windsurfing, yoga and martial arts— I chose to participate in Natural Movement. Natural Movement was a minor subject that focused on trying to seek and reconnect with human nature as it relates to movement. According to the philosophy there are three fundamental human movement elements; manipulation, locomotion, and combating. The exploration and cross training of these domains formed the basis of the course as we exposed ourselves to different outdoor environments and various movement disciplines.
Throughout the three weeks, I was introduced to concepts inspired by judo, mobility training, catching/throwing, improvisation, hand balancing, gymnastics, and low gate locomotion. As we approached this intense method of training with a sense of play and curiosity, we brought simplicity back into complex movement patterns. We also had the chance to witness the body’s full potential in practice and theory. Reverting back to my inherent movement patterns made me realize how neglected functional activity is in our modern society and the cosmetic-driven fitness culture that comes with it. The truth is, no amount of exercise will undo the pathology that is sitting and remaining sedentary. I have learned to move for movement’s sake. Not only did I experience pure gratification, but I also gained real skill development that can be applied to my dance training.
4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
I am now a third-year in The Ohio State University Department of Dance, which means my entrance into the professional dance world is quickly approaching. At this time next year I will begin auditioning, but it is impossible to determine for who or for what. Although I would like to picture myself in a certain dance company with a certain salary in a certain location, that is not realistic. My past explorations and endeavors have taught me that nothing is that straightforward, nor should it be. Dance is a multidimensional, multidisciplinary, and all-inclusive field, and I refuse to close myself off to a world of possibilities with tunnel vision. Instead, I want to make myself available and adaptable to every opportunity, whether it is at home or abroad. Yes, the job market is competitive and shows no mercy or favoritism, but what better way to prepare myself than to train in a variety of disciplines. There is the derogatory saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.” While this may be true for some people, I deliberately avoid falling into this category by fully engaging in the present moment, whatever it may be. In this conscious state of mind, I am able to find connections between the different movement disciplines. From there, I can integrate them using dance performance/composition as a medium for innovation.
Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse_Improv