This summer I partook in undergraduate research at a 3-week dance festival and workshop in Salt Lake City, Utah. My time there not only deepened my individual movement skills, but also allowed me to research methods of community building and translate them in to my own pedagogy. This experience furthered my development as a professional artist and teacher in the field of dance.
As a whole, my experiences in the Salt Lake City workshops affirmed my drive towards pedagogy. Specifically, they inspired me to start working in the community as a cultivator and facilitator of art and movement. The expansive range of people I danced with during that time reminded me that we are all movers. Professional dance experiences shouldn’t be limited by age, body type, or social status. As I observed all these different bodies move, I became very aware of my own assumptions and biases of what makes a dancer. I recognized that I have been exposed to a very niche type of movement that does not represent the breadth of styles, cultures, and bodies in the dance field today. I hope to broaden my perspective further, so I can do my part in informing the public of these rich diversities.
My Salt Lake City experience also attested to the use of dance as a unique method of introduction and personal connection. During physical movement classes, I recognized the power of getting to know someone through a medium of communication outside of verbal language. I also became very aware of how my movements projected my personality in this environment. In this process of revealing self through dance, my movement language became very specific and unique to me. This, in turn, enhanced my individual style and allowed me to be differentiated among the masses. This distilling process was evident in every body throughout the workshop.
From sheer observation and participation in the workshops, I learned how quickly individuals with a similar passion working towards a like-minded goal can bond. Though this idea can be applied to any field of study, there is something unique in the experience of non-verbal seeing, admiring, and responding that arises in a dance class. These types of interactions between movers evoke a momentous and infectious energy that drives the class. This shared energy bonds individuals on a deep level and places an equal responsibility on each dancer to witness and encourage one another. The classes in the workshop that remained engaged and invested in shared vivacity encouraged dancing as a unit, stealing tools from one another, and avoiding internalized movement. As I observed and participated in this generous process, I recognized the varied individualism in the room. However, the defined individualistic styles were not acting in a selfish and egotistical manner. Rather, the atypical styles emerged to support the whole.
Another tool which led to a stronger class community involved using metaphors rather than specific instructions during class and composition. Due to the range of individuals with differing movement practice histories, metaphors were extremely important. They provided space for individual interpretation but still gave an overarching theme in which people could explore. Similar to setting a camera frame, the metaphors made the creation of movement less daunting and, in turn, more generative.
The unique strength of community that dance can build was demonstrated in the relationships I made during my time in Salt Lake. After only one week of classes, I had formed close relationships with my peers and my teachers. I got to know a lot of these individuals by initially observing their movement language, and then engaging in a verbal introduction. A woman approached me after the first day of classes and asked me if I am a busy and highly motivated individual. Taken aback, I responded that I definitely was, and asked her how she knew this about me. She explained that she had observed me moving from the front half of my body, forgetting about the processing that happens in my back body and back half of my brain. This interaction alone was enough to convince me of the power of movement observation in getting to know someone. As a whole, I feel confident that the connections I formed in Salt Lake are honest, strong, and durable.
As part of my research at the workshops, I conducted a few interviews with teachers and artists who specialize in community-based work. A lot of these teachers had also worked with people with both mental and physical disabilities, and I was able to gather a plethora of pedagogical tools from their experiences with these populations. They provided me with unique games and exercises that had served them well in those environments. We also discussed productive ways of widening the public’s idea of dance in the twenty-first century. Everyone I interviewed agreed that dance should be available to all people and provided me with advice on the role I can play in that undertaking.
The insights I gained from this experience will play a monumental role in my development as a dance advocate, teacher, choreographer, and artist. My artistry flourished through the exploration of my individualized style throughout my classes. My pedagogical toolbox diversified and inflated with new theories proposed by experts in the field. My choreographic lens shifted from desiring skilled dancers in my work to individuals with broad skillsets and experiences. Lastly, this experience sparked a drive to advocate for all expressions of dance rooting from any body. During my time at the Salt Lake City workshops, I became conscious of my biases towards specific approaches to dance. As I continue my research, I would like to counter those tendencies through investigation in all spheres of dance study. As a whole, my STEP signature project led me to new mindsets and passions: a curiosity towards dance as a facilitator of communities, an encourager of movement in all bodies, and a stabilizer of minds, bodies, and hearts across the globe. I feel grateful for this growing experience and am excited to see where these budding inquiries take me next.