Meeting Misha

For the second month in a row, I had the terrific opportunity of working with amazingly talented teenagers via Miami’s YoungArts program. On a very warm Friday morning, I got in a van with a group of photography and dance students and went downtown to the Nader Gallery, an imposing gray building that is just as stark and plain on the inside as it is on the outside – save, of course, for the exquisite modern, contemporary and Latin American paintings and sculptures that it displays to the public.

I knew that the plan was to tour the gallery and meet up with master ballet dancer, choreographer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov. Little else would have gotten me up so early, and with so much energy, before 10 a.m. on a Friday morning. But there was no grand entrance, no applause, no introductory speech – nothing you would expect from a legendary dancer. He came in casually and stood with his hands in his pockets, talking to his assistant and to the curator, looking much shorter than you might think a man of so many leaps and turns would appear. When it was time for him to talk to us, he came over and shook everyone’s hand as they introduced themselves.

“Ryan – tap dancer,” I told him.
“Ah, tap dancer!” he said.
I had a feeling he already liked me.

"Take full advantage of your youth and energy. That's the best time to learn." - Baryshnikov

I had been forewarned that Baryshnikov (or “Misha,” as he’s often referred to) was not much of a Chatty Cathy, and the only way our two hours with him would be successful was if we carried the conversation ourselves and asked lots of questions. Luckily for us, he was very loquacious that day, talking at length about the value of making art, and encouraging young people to make art; about some of the highlights of his career; about Baryshnikov Arts Center in NYC.

He led us upstairs and gave us a tour of his new photography exhibit, “Dance This Way,” which features photos that he has taken over the past five years of – what else? – dance. Although many of the pictures capture moments and motion during rehearsals and performances of various companies, the exhibit also depicts dance in other ways: an older couple locked in a passionate ballroom embrace; a profusion of hula girls and skirts, as seen from behind; a young couple on the dance floor at a club.

Misha showed us each photo one by one, telling us where it was taken, what he liked about it, and what had inspired him to take it. Often, he simply said that he was “lucky” to have gotten the shot. Certainly, as so many of the images capture dancers in action, he does seem to have been fortunate to photograph them at just the right moment when the lines and colors bled together to suggest not a sweet second of movement, but an entire feeling, a connection between dancers or between dancer and audience.

"Never forget your instincts. Be persistent with them. Be stubborn. You have to be your best and worst critic.” - Baryshnikov

I was tentative to approach him afterward for a photograph, seeing how he was preparing for an interview and not wanting to bother him. He more than graciously accepted, even getting on tiptoe for one photo and laughing while he tried to look as tall as me. (I told you, I swear he liked me.) Perhaps even better than meeting him and getting the photo was seeing him the next day before a YoungArts performance, in the lobby of the New World Center, and him nodding and smiling at me in remembrance. I went up and shook his hand as if we were old friends. Or perhaps it was the beginning of a new friendship.

"Arts education is the most important thing in the world because art makes people more human."
- Baryshnikov

**To see some of Baryshnikov's paintings, and read more about the exhibit and the Nader Gallery, visit the gallery website.


Dance Around the World: Ancient Egypt

by Sarah Friswell

This month, we travel across the globe and back in time to Ancient Egypt, where dancing was a major player in many traditional activities and in everyday life.

Photo Credit: Dance and Dancers in Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, dancing was used in a number of different ways. Farmers would dance and give thanks to their gods when they had good harvests. Women would dance in groups after dinners as entertainment. Dancing was done at funeral processions by men wearing reed head-dresses. It was even accepted for both men and women to be professional dancers.

Women that danced usually wore only a belt of woven and beaded material around their waist.  This made it easier for them to move and dance freely with no inhibitions.  They also danced with weighted braids that were depicted being swung back and forth.  Although we may view this nudity as erotic or sexual, ancient Egyptians did not view the naked body in the same way that our culture does today. These women were described as elegant, graceful and acrobatic in their dancing.

It is unknown how much training and what type of training went into learning ancient Egyptian dance, although it is assumed that the dancers started to learn at a young age in order to master their craft. Art in tombs and monuments in Egypt clearly depicts figures dancing, leaping, turning, bending and twisting, which shows how widely accepted dancing was.

Dance and Dancers in Ancient Egypt written by Marie Parsons shows how scholars have broken down the types of ancient Egyptian dance into groups. They include dance purely for dance's sake, gymnastic dance, imitative dance, group dance, pair dancing, war dance, dramatic dance, lyrical dance, grotesque dance, funeral dancing and religious dance.

Unfortunately today, most of what we know about ancient Egyptian dance is what we have learned from temple murals and pictures. A depiction of the dance poses can be seen in this clip of archeao-choreology called "The Rite of the House of the Morning".  Researchers carefully studied Egyptian artifacts and art for three years to create this piece.  They maintain that it is in no way a replica of ancient Egyptian dance, only "a tableau of poses found in the art & artifacts, the beliefs, ceremonies, and symbolism of their sacred texts".

Hopefully as more information is uncovered, more light will be shed on this beautiful ancient art form. Until then, we can only hypothesize about dance and its use in ancient Egypt.

A little more about dance and music in ancient Egypt can be found at Ancient Egypt: Music and Dance. 


Heidi Henderson, Meghan McLyman, Micki Taylor-Pinney Mentoring Emerging Artists Program

by karen Krolak

As I mentioned earlier today, deadlines for choreographic opportunities are sprouting up all over Boston. Get your fingers waltzing around the keyboard quickly because Friday, March 2 at 5:00PM is also the deadline for Green Street Studios' Summer 2012 Emerging Artists Award Program. You can get insider insight on this program from EA Alumni, Jillian Grunnah here.

Mentors for the Summer 2012 session are:
Heidi Henderson
Meghan McLyman (EA Alumni), 
and Micki Taylor-Pinney.

This program is designed to provide infrastructure for choreographers, to create new work, and to provide deep, ongoing mentorship between experienced and early-to-mid-career choreographers. The Emerging Artist Award provides the opportunity for New England-based choreographers to be in residence at Green Street Studios from March to June 2012.

Green Street Studios will provide selected choreographers with:
  •  Mentor/Choreographers, 
  •  40 hours of rehearsal space per awardee for the creation of new work
  • piece presented in a fully produced concert on June 15th & 16th 2012 at 8pm (dress rehearsal June 14th at 8pm). 
Click here for application pdf

Program Requirements: -
  • professional experience in contemporary dance 
  • past award recipients (within the last year) are not eligible 
  • must be able to schedule and use 40 hours of rehearsal space effectively
  •  must be ready to create 20 minutes of new work 
  • group work only, no solos please 
  • must be interested in collaborating with other artists 
  • applicant must commit to attend all mentoring sessions with their dancers (see Scheduling, below)
  • if accepted, must be willing to be a volunteer alumni mentor for potential future EA cycles
Once accepted, choreographers will have until the middle of March 2012 to work on their piece; they must be able to show two minutes of work on the piece they intend to show on Sunday, March 25th from 1:30- 5:00pm (Subject to Change)  All Choreographers must be able to attend 2 additional mentorship sessions with all their dancers on Sunday, April 15th & Sunday, June 3rd from 1:30-5:00pm (Subject to Change)

Questions? Email info@greenstreetstudios.org

Iris Fanger & Karen Krolak Mentoring SCC Concert

by karen Krolak

Has anyone else noticed that azaleas in the Boston are already budding up? Spring certainly seems to be creeping up quickly this year and so are the deadlines for a number of great opportunities for local choreographers. Speaking of which, applications are due for the upcoming Shared Choreographers' Concert at the Dance Complex in Cambridge on Friday, March 2 at 5:00pm. Dance luminary, Iris Fanger, and I will be the mentors for this concert. (I must confess that I am rather giddy about this as I have read countless articles by Iris Fanger but have never met her before. In fact, I just discovered that she is also a Northwestern Alum. Enough digressing, though.) Selected choreographers will recieve:
  • a $40 honorarium 
  • 6 free hours of rehearsal at the Dance Complex 
  • mentor feedback throughout the process
  • piece presented in a fully produced concert.

Proposal deadline: Friday, March 2, 2012 at 5:00pm in the Shared Choreographers' Concert mail slot or by mail to The Dance Complex/SCC, 536 Mass Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139.
Choreographers and dancers MUST BE AVAILABLE on all of the following dates
Showings: Sunday, March 11 and Sunday, April 1, 2012.
Dress Rehearsal: Thursday, April 12, 2012.
Concert: April 13 -14, 2012

Please submit a written description of your proposed piece by the deadline including:
  • information about your idea, 
  • number of dancers, 
  • movement style, 
  • concepts, 
  • music, 
  • props,  and
  • goals.
Be as specific as you can and make sure to include your phone number and email address. Finished dances can be up to 10 minutes long. Preference is given to never-performed pieces and to choreographers who have not participated in recent Shared Choreographers' Concert productions.

The Process: After the proposal deadline, the producers will call you to give you a time to show your work in progress on March 11th between 1:00-5:00pm (if you or your dancers have any time constraints, say so in your proposal). For each showing, there is usually 20 minutes to perform what there is of the dance and get feedback from the mentors. The producers will notify everyone within 2 days after this showing to let you know whether your piece is accepted, not accepted, or a maybe. If your piece is not chosen this time, you can submit it for another of the three Shared Choreographers' Concerts each year.

At the second showing on April 1st, it is expected that your dance will have evolved. Mentors will also provide feedback at this showing and at the dress rehearsal.

For more information contact scc.dancecomplex@gmail.com.


Getting to Know: Jerry Goralnick from the Living Theatre

by Remy Marin

Jerry Goralnick has been working with the Living Theatre, a pacifist anarchist theatre company that explores expressionism, movement and improvisation as forums through which to convey powerful and controversial subject matter, for 25 years.  This past fall, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a workshop that Jerry and fellow company member Lois Kagan Mingus conducted at Skidmore College. The Living Theatre has a very refreshing and unique way of approaching movement, and so I was thrilled when Jerry agreed to share with us his experiences with the Company.

REMY:  Jerry, you have been working with the Living Theatre for 25 years now, and perform both new plays as well as pieces that the company has been performing for decades. What about the Living Theatre continues to capture your attention and dedication after all these years?

JERRY: Well, the Living Theatre is a pacifist anarchist collective and it’s very important that that opinion, meaning pacifist anarchism, is continually expressed. 

REMY: Could you describe what pacifist anarchism means to you? I know that people tend to view anarchism in a way that is not exactly how the Living Theatre views it.

JERRY: Well, first of all, we’re pacifists and when we look at all the different forms of political organizations, we see that the only form that really allows us to create the kind of world that we want is anarchism. The confusion about anarchism comes from the mainstream media using the word ‘anarchy’ when they want to say political chaos, and that started back in the 1880’s.  So for 100 years, people have seen the word ‘anarchy’ and thought that it meant political chaos, which in fact it does not.

REMY: Going to the pieces that you’ve done with the company, so much of what you perform covers such powerful and controversial topics like the death penalty, liberation and the plague.  How do you decide what subjects to address?

JERRY: The Company usually meets after we finish the current production. We start to discuss and the way we do that is we say “What’s the burning issue?”  For example, back in the late 90’s, we had one of these discussions and what came out of it was that we felt that water was going to be the war commodity for this century the way oil has been the war commodity for the last century. So we started to work on the Water Play.

REMY: Has the water play come out yet?

JERRY: No, we worked, we developed, we did a workshop production of about a 35 minute piece and then it didn’t develop after that.  We moved on to something else.

REMY: Does that happen a lot, where you start to go with an idea and it just doesn’t work out?

JERRY: Not a lot, but it happens sometimes. Usually it’s because something else occurs.

REMY: Do you ever go back to the old piece?

JERRY: Yes. For example, last year, we did a play about the Biblical character Korach. Korach is a story that Judith Malina and the Company has wanted to do for at least 20 years.

REMY: When you came and did the workshop at Skidmore you taught us a piece about Cain and Abel, and you’re mentioning that you wanted to do this piece from the Bible as well.  So you have these extreme, relevant topics and then on the other hand you have stories from the Bible. What strikes that balance there? 

JERRY: There have been several dissertations on the Jewish roots of the Living Theatre because Judith Malina is the daughter of the Rabbi and has had a very strong face in Judaism all her life.  In fact, every year we celebrate Passover as a Living Theatre ritual because, as far as religious rituals go, Passover is the one that is about liberation.

REMY: During the workshop, you taught us a lot about tableaux vivants and movement improvisation.  Could you explain what, exactly, is tableaux vivants and why improv is so important for your theatre productions?

JERRY:  Over the years, we are constantly looking for performance and so we mime old forms, which tableaux vivants certainly is—it comes from parlor games from the 17th century—and then we’re always asking ourselves, “what is the new form?”  We’re happy to take from the past and use it where we feel that it works for us and then we’re always sitting around or moving around and say “what’s the new form?”  A lot of our work is done in the street, and so this is very different from being inside a theatre where a pin spot can isolate something and draw everyone’s attention and you can do something very simple.  Of course, that’s totally different from the street, where you’re bombarded by all kinds of stimulus.  And so, we’re always looking for forms to use in the street that will focus attention.  We took the tableaux vivants form from the parlor game and started to develop it to where we could use it in the streets.  For example, tableaux vivants really means “freezes,” and in the street, freezes are extremely powerful. Often, when we’re going to do a street theatre play, we will deem a procession, we will decide where the performance is going to be, and then we’ll go a few hundred yards away from that point and we’ll do a procession.  That’s merely a way to attract attention—people hear a huge uproar and then silence with everybody frozen.  That immediately attracts the eye and the interest.  That’s one of the ways that we took that idea and turned it into something we could do in the street.

REMY: In addition to improvisation, we learned a bit Meyerhold’s method of Bio Mechanics, and that’s such a different form of movement.  How would you say that Bio Mech factors in to everything?

JERRY:  This goes back to the accosted search for new forms. What happened was, of course, nobody knew what was going on in the Soviet Union because there was a wall and there was no communication between artists and there was a book that the Living Theatre stumbled on of Meyerhold’s Bio Mechanics. In the book were photographs of the etudes, but they showed position 1, position 2, position 3 and so forth, but they didn’t show how you got from position 1 to position 2.  So the company together worked on what that might have been, and so the Living Theatre supposed what Bio Mechanics looked like and created a form.  And then, when the Soviet Union dissolved and students of the students of Meyerhold were able to come to the West and give workshops, we met.

REMY: What is it about Bio Mechanics that you feel really fits into the Living Theatre?

JERRY: It’s a form of movement that’s very expressionistic that captures the eye.  On the street, it’s very difficult to express things in words. You can’t have dialogue between two characters, there’s so much going on and so much noise that there’s a movement that can express the idea.  So, for example, you did the Cain and Abel etude, which clearly shows this idea of brother killing brother in 30 seconds. We adapted the Bio Mechanic form and adapted it in a lot of different ways. We have used Bio Mechanics as a form of expressionistic movement many times.

REMY:  You’ve been saying that a lot of the reason why the Living Theatre is so movement-based is because you’re on the street and it’s hard to hear dialogue, but what about when you perform on a stage?

JERRY:  We also often use it on the stage because a lot of our plays are more poetic text-based.  Again, there’s not a lot of dialogue, and so we might create a piece and we’ll say, we have to figure out how to move while we’re doing this.  Often we’ll say, is there a Bio Mechanic way to do this? If not, someone might come in with something else that they know and say there’s a yoga pose that we could use or a dance form that we could use.  And so we’ll draw from everyone’s experience.

REMY: You use so many different forms of movement, like you were saying, and you really look beyond what’s expected and stereotypical for a theatre group.  What is it that makes the Living Theatre so involved in movement and what is it about expressionistic, abstract and improv movement that you feel is so effective in the theatre?

JERRY: When the audience is experiencing the performance, so much of working communication is physical. Even in just a two-way conversation that you’re having with someone, you pick up body language ques.  So we communicate with what we say and with our body, and so sometimes it’s much easier to express what we want to express through body movement. 

REMY:  When you came to Skidmore and we did the tableaux vivants, you were talking about how it is not only a way to show the audience something, but also a way for self-discovery almost and a way to find what was within you. Could you talk a little bit about that?

JERRY:  Improvisation is a good way to discover.  When you really free yourself up, you might surprise yourself, and that’s why we use the surrealist form of writing, the exquisite corpse, because it’s almost a form of automatic writing.  You surprise yourself, and it’s the same way with movement improv.  The more that the group works together and gets to know each other, the further down people feel comfortable going.  For example, if we had worked with a group at Skidmore for six months and we had continued to do tableaux and exquisite corpses, eventually we would have gotten to a point where we knew each other so well and we would say “okay, the theme for these tableaux is x, y or z” and we world be able to do something and the people watching it would say “this tableaux communicates the idea so clearly.”  The director may have never been able to do that.  It’s almost by chance, but not really because so much rehearsal has gone into it.

REMY:  I also remember with the tableaux that, when we did our piece, we began it with a series of tableaux vivants that didn't necessarily relate to the subjects that we were going to discuss in the skits that we had created.  Why do you find that doing a tableaux vivant that’s more about going where you go is so effective when it’s not about the topic of that particular performance?

JERRY: Well, again, we were introducing the idea. For example, now you as a participant know the idea, so you might become part of a performance company that could rehearse for six months doing the form.  And as you’re doing it and you’re developing your piece and developing the specific ideas that you want to get across, you’d start to find that your tableaux are become more specific. I’m doing that right now with Occupy Wall Street where we’ve formed street theatre blocks and a group of people start to get together and we’re working with tableaux forms.  The very beginning of the work is to just learn to move in the space, you have to start to become aware of traffic patterns and the other people, first of all so that no one gets hurt and then so you can start to learn other peoples’ patterns and skills and you start to develop.  We did that, we just moved and froze, and then we started to write exquisite corpses on specific issues and then we started to combine the text from the exquisite corpses with the tableaux.  There was a huge change because, like you said, people then started to think about what’s the emotion, what’s the issue behind the movement, and that changes it.  That shoots it to a power of ten, we might say, and so the exploration deepens and becomes more profound.

REMY: Could you explain more about the exquisite corpses?

JERRY: The exquisite corpse is a form that’s surrealist and the idea is to do more automatic writing because there is this belief that our talent lies in our subconscious and so, if we find pathways to our subconscious, our talent comes out.  I think that everybody in performance experiences this kind of thing, whether it be dance or theatre or music, where you are going along and all of a sudden you do something brilliant.  You hadn’t planned to do it, it just happened and you say to yourself  “where did that come from?”  It came from your talent. So the exquisite corpse is a way to create text that often we discover really speaks to the issue.  You remember the form- you write two lines on a paper and then fold it so that the next person can only read that second line and writes two lines, and so forth.

REMY: Would you say that, in the sense of just saying what you feel instead of contriving something, it’s very similar to the way that you use movement improvisation?

JERRY: Yes.  So you’re doing the movement improvisation and you do a movement that creates an emotion within you.  That then forms the next movement that you do.

REMY: My last question, which I know might be a hard one to answer: of all the performances you have done with the Living Theatre, are there any that stand out in your mind as being your favorite or ones that you felt really resonated?

REMY: Mysteries was a collection of smaller skits that you did, correct?

JERRY: Yes, you might say it was one of the first non-linear plays and it’s a series of theatrical rituals.

REMY:  Why did that stand out for you?

JERRY: It’s one of the few times where I really experienced that, instead of me performing the play, the play was performing me.  


Getting to Know: David Leventhal from Mark Morris Dance Group

by Remy Marin

 David Leventhal, founding teacher, Dance for PD.  Photo by Amber Star Merkens.

David Leventhal danced with the Mark Morris Dance Group from 1997-2010, during which he performed over 40 difference pieces as well as principal roles.  In 2010, he was given a New York Dance and Performance Award for his work with the company. David also teaches students ranging from young to college-aged dancers at numerous schools and colleges, both in the United States and internationally.

David currently serves as the program manager for Dance for PD, a collaboration between MMDG and the Brooklyn Parkinson's Group that offers dance classes for people with Parkinson's Disease.  From its base in Brooklyn, NY, Dance for PD has spread to over 40 locations and offers workshops to train Dance for PD teachers. David was kind enough to share with us his experiences both as a dancer and as Dance for PD's program manager, about which he has plenty to say.

Remy: You danced with Mark Morris Dance Group for 13 years, including a number of principal roles. What about Mark Morris's choreography and company initially attracted you to the group? 

David: I grew up in the Boston area (Newton), and Mark's company was one of the only modern groups that regularly came through to perform. So I was familiar with Mark's work in high school and college. But I was always very musical, in an amateur way, and was immediately attracted to Mark's direct and intelligent approach to music. I always thought he captured something in the score that was there, just beneath the surface, but that was difficult to understand without seeing it expressed through his beautiful dancers. I felt a strong visceral connection to that, and then grew to understand and love his aesthetic as well. 

Remy: I would have to agree with you about that, especially since music is so complex and layered that it's very difficult to capture the feeling of it and incredible when it has been. You have also taught dance classes for younger dancers as well as college students. How do you go about constructing these classes for students? Do you try to capture this same musicality and expression that attracted you in the first place? 

David: It's difficult for me, given my background and my many years working with Mark, to approach technique and phrasing without helping students explore rhythm and music as a fundamental template. There are certainly some examples of dance styles that don't necessarily relate to music (Merce Cunningham is one), but even Merce's actual choreography is inherently about music and rhythm on the inside. And for most dance forms around the world, you wouldn't even consider dance without music. They go together always. So I start with that as a focus because I'm always surprised how few dance students seem comfortable dancing inside the music, or trusting the rich information that the music is giving them. And I try to pass on the great joy that music has brought to my life in dance. I always say that I came to dance because of its physicality and freedom, but stayed in it for the music. 

Remy: So when constructing a class or creating a piece of choreography, would you say that music choice comes first and then you build off of it? Or does having a live musician throw that off? 

David: Certainly when choreographing (which I don't do very often), I would always start with a piece of music as the source for inspiration, though many don't, and other approaches are wonderfully effective as well. In class, I usually make up a phrase without music but with a very clear sense of what the rhythm should be, and fortunately, we have talented dance musicians here who can interpret what I made up and create a musical phrase from it, or find just the right piece of music to tease out everything I want the students to explore. The relationship between a teacher and a musician is a symbiotic and special one, and it's quite different than what most choreographers work with, unless, of course, they are predominantly working with a composer on a commissioned score. But even in that case, usually the choreographer and composer work independently at many points during the process, and run things by each other every so often. I don't know many composers who sit in the dance studio and write music as the choreographer is making things up. But that is exactly what does happen in a class. 

Remy: I think that's the magic of live accompaniment- the musician and dancer get to work together to create something that is specifically constructed to connect seamlessly. Stepping aside from music for a second, would you say that there are any artists other than Mark Morris who have inspired you over time? 

David: Oh many. Well certainly George Balanchine, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gene Kelly have provided great personal inspiration through their individual brands of genius. But I think we're most closely inspired by great teachers, and I've felt very fortunate to have a string of them throughout my dancing life: Bruce Wells, Marcus Schulkind, Jose Mateo, and Marjorie Mussman, among others. I'm afraid we've reached a point in dance instruction generally where students aren't comfortable actually being taught with honest, direct and constructive feedback and criticism so that they can improve. Lots of people just want to take class, or feel that they know everything there is to know, which of course is fine, but you won't transform as a dance artist that way. So I really value these four teachers in particular because they took the time and effort to nurture me, to be honest with me, to push me to improve. And Mark Morris is a knowledgeable and intense ballet coach who has an eagle eye for nonsense and bad habits. 

Remy: Very good choices, and I'd have to agree about the value of having an honest and personal dance teacher- especially since entering a college environment in which dance classes are much larger, I've really learned to appreciate just how important it is to have dance teachers who connect with and understand you. But other than being a dancer, you are currently the program manager of MMDG's Dance for PD program. Can you tell us a bit about the program? 

David: Sure. In 2001, Olie Westheimer, the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, approached the Mark Morris Dance Group with the idea for a real dance class for members of her group. Olie felt that people with Parkinson's spent lots of time thinking and talking about Parkinson's, shuttling between doctors' and therapists' offices. She wanted people to do something positive together and she believe that a dance class, taught by professional dancers, was that very thing. So we started with one class a month--taught by my colleague John Heginbotham, another dancer with the company and me, and accompanied by a professional musician--for about six people. Now, ten years later, we have a weekly class--provided free of charge--for anywhere between 40-55 people with Parkinson's, their families, friends and carepartners at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn. And the program has been replicated in more than 60 communities around the world. The intriguing thing about our program is that on the one hand, it has nothing to do with Parkinson's--we don't talk about or address symptoms head on. But simply because of the way dancing and dance training are structured, the class has everything to do with Parkinson's. Dance seems to fit Parkinson's like a glove--but when you're in the class, people tell us they only notice the glove, not the Parkinson's. As program manager, I'm responsible for most aspects of program replication, our training program, maintaining and creating resources for teachers and other stakeholders, and many other things. I'm always busy, but I love being part of a team of people working together with a common vision that helps people with Parkinson's live well, and that helps expand the reach and power of the arts into previously unexplored territory. I'm constantly amazed by the strength of the demand--people with Parkinson's want new ways to think about movement, and new modalities in which to learn and feel confident again. Dance seems to be one of the things that people are very much drawn to right now. 

Remy: So how much of an understanding would you say that you have of Parkinson's Disease? Do you have an idea of what movement and dance will help patients, or do you mostly learn as you go? 

David: Remy, when we started, neither John nor I knew anything about Parkinson's. And Olie wanted it that way--she didn't want us to teach to the symptoms, or to address specific barriers that people had. She wanted us to trust what is inherent in dance training--that it addresses things like balance, movement sequencing, rhythm, spatial and aesthetic awareness, and dynamic coordination--which are many of the things that people with Parkinson's seem to want to work on to maintain a sense of confidence and grace in their movements. She didn't want us to add a layer of "therapy". Now, we know a lot about Parkinson's, and have attended many conferences to continue our education. We include a lot of information about Parkinson's in our training workshops for other teachers, but at the end of the day, we remind teachers about what we consider to be our unique approach--dance, when well-taught and well-constructed--is exactly right on its own, without trying to match a step with a symptom. A lot of what we learned about Parkinson's we learned as we went along. We got lots of feedback from participants at the beginning, and we still do get quite a lot. The other thing to keep in mind is that the more you learn about Parkinson's, the more you realize how differently it manifests in each individual, and how each individual's own experience changes by the week, day, and minute. It's a highly unpredictable and changeable disease, which is frustrating and difficult. Something you can do one day is very difficult the next. There's no platonic form of PD. But our class, we hope, is always a space about possibility, about what people can do in spite of whatever's going on for them that day. 

Remy: Dance for PD is technically a collaboration between MMDG and the Brooklyn Parkinson's Group. How would you say that the company influences the classes? 

David: The program is a collaboration in almost every aspect. MMDG is responsible for providing the artistic staff (dance instructors and musicians), fundraising for the program, and arranging logistics. BPG is responsible for outreach--getting word about the dance class and its other program offerings like singing and fitness out into the community. But our students, along with Olie, also give us lots of valuable feedback and in that way shape the approach and content of the class. This is not the kind of program where the teachers say, "We know what to do, just let us do our thing." We do have lots of experience, of course, and we all have varied backgrounds and a passion for what we do, but we are very open to things that our students and Olie bring to our attention, and are always looking for ways to make our classes more enjoyable and effective. So yes, the collaboration is vital and very real. Where things separate a bit is in the national scale of the program. MMDG, because of its touring schedule, is able to offer Dance for PD community classes in almost every city to which it tours. We offer these classes with the blessing of our colleagues at BPG, but it is an MMDG activity. And it is through MMDG's concerted efforts, with lots of guidance from BPG, that the training program and online resources have expanded to the degree that they have. 

Remy: How does your approach for teaching Dance for PD classes compare to your approach for teaching classes to dance students? 

David: Regarding my teaching approach, in the Dance for PD class, I'm much more animated, specific and interactive with students. Part of that is because the Parkinson's dancers are so eager and focused, it makes it a joy to work with them. It brings out my best. In professional-level classes, I often find that people are more closed off, in their own worlds, and less effusive. They are there for many different reasons, sometimes unexplored reasons, and I understand that. I give notes and corrections, but my general approach is not to get under peoples' skin because people come and go and I don't get to know them very well. In the Dance for PD class, we've been working with many of the students for years and they feel like family. The atmosphere is joyful and highly energized because movement is never taken for granted that way it can be with pre-professionals. The Dance for PD participants are by and large my best students. That said, I don't usually give individual notes in the Dance for PD class, but keep things general so that everyone can take what I'm saying and understand it at whatever level feels right to them. We see the class as a real learning environment, and break things down slowly and clearly so that the participants are learning the inner workings of what dancers do. But I don't want to put anyone on the spot. At the end of the day, we want them to feel confident and joyful. 

Remy: Finally, what have you noticed in the patients with whom you have worked for an extended period of time? Any changes? 

David: I'm going to speak to the benefits that we teaching artists observe. Certainly there are benefits that the scientific community is beginning to explore in some preliminary studies--improvement in gait, reduction of tremor, improved stability and short term mobility, increased facial expression, and a sense of social inclusion--but more serious research is needed. What we observe, day in and day out, is that people become more accomplished dancers. They're able to sequence movement more easily, and move with increased grace, confidence and musicality. They learn specific repertory and technique, and get to develop a sense of mastery over the movement and their bodies. Of course dance addresses very specific issues that start to go away with a Parkinson's diagnosis, but primarily we're interested in the change of attitude that comes when people with Parkinson's engage in an artistic learning environment like a dance class. Suddenly, they are surrounded by a world of possibility, not limitation, and it's liberating and inspiring for them and for us. We've seen the way that dance brings people together, and forms a strong community that engages and empowers. Out of that class, many important other activities have developed that serve to enrich and strengthen the community, and allow people to expand the sense of possibility in their lives. For example, the dance class has spawned a singing class. There's also a fitness program, and a wonderful Movement Lab taught by the amazing Pamela Quinn, a dancer who has Parkinson's. Pam focuses specifically on symptoms, so it's a wonderful complement to our Dance for PD class. In the course of the week, week in and week out, members of BPG have the opportunity to learn, to work on artistic skills, to socialize, to feel good about themselves through our class and through other activities. They are given a chance to succeed, and succeed they do. 


Meet Sarah Feinberg!

Sarah Feinberg graduated from Ithaca College with a B.S. in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology and a minor in Deaf Studies. While at IC she was the artistic director of On The Floor Dance Company and a teaching assistant for a ballroom dance class. Her choreography was showcased in Ithaca’s annual Locally Grown Dance Festival in 2011.

Sarah currently works as a teacher of children with Autism at the New England Center for Children. In her free time she enjoys yoga and taking dance classes in the Boston-Cambridge area. Sarah is very excited to be a C2C intern and can’t wait to start blogging.


Meet Remy Marin!

Remy Marin is a freshman at Skidmore College who is double majoring in Dance Medicine and English. Remy has been studying modern, ballet, jazz, and hip hop since a young age, and is a member of Skidmore's Terpischore Modern Dance Company.  In her spare time, Remy is a peer mediator and has interned with BodiMojo, the Boston Ballet, and AileyCamp Boston. Remy is ecstatic to intern with Monkeyhouse and join the crew!


A Giant Patriots' Palindrome

by Barry Duncan

The photo credit: Barry's sister Sally
As you may have heard, Monkeyhouse is collaborating on a new solo for Nikki Sao Pedro with Barry Duncan as part of our Outside Voices season. Barry is a Master Palindromist (His sweatshirt, pictured to the left, was a gift from his friend Gladys on his palindromic 55th birthday.)who has created some incredibly clever and emotionally evocative texts for our piece. To give you a taste of his remarkable mind, feel free to feast on this Super Bowl inspired palindrome as you countdown to kick off.

When I woke up on Monday morning, January 23, I learned that the New York Giants would oppose the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, giving the Patriots an opportunity to avenge their Super Bowl XLII loss.

Having grown up (in the Philadelphia area) rooting for an NFC team, and living now in AFC territory (in the Boston area), I felt uniquely qualified to write a balanced palindrome about the big game.

I tried to mention as many New York players as New England players, all the team owners, Madonna (who will appear at the half during the game and who also appears at the half in this palindrome), FOX Sports, and so on.

By Friday the 27th, the palindrome was 585 characters long; I thought my work was done.  Then I heard on Sunday that Kelly Clarkson would be singing the national anthem.  I decided to open the palindrome with the anthem and to make the ending a bit more dramatic.  On the 30th, one week after I began work on it, this Super Bowl palindrome (699 characters long) was completed.

Hope you like it.

Super Bowl XLVI

We now open: “O say” as is. So belt it now, hon, or if one more? Her! A rare KC. (I know.)
Had NE revenge, Bill, or no? W? On top? Same?
To get a flag: Ellis. Tip it! Won't Osi? One to NY. (Name it now.) NE position: on one.
Curt et al? Aces all. It's on! Turn a FOX on.
War day, eh? Din. Oh, sure. Now, as if it's a Feb. 5 SB. Tame?!
Set. Is opposition we felt? It's so. Two: NY v. NE.
(No risk, nor gain.)
I. Red. Now. Hut! I note: Ball up. No! Wide! Rah!
Seen Kraft (On), Mara (foot), ST (is a hero).
Tom era: W, an ad. Still? Or met Eli?
Madonna fan? Nod. Am I!
Let 'em roll. It's Dan (a Ware). Motor, eh?
As it's too far? Am not far. Knee.
Shared? I won? Pull. A bet on it? Uh, wonderin' --
I a Gronk, sir. On! Envy?
Now toss. Title? Few. No, it is opposites: EM, a TB's 5.
Be fast! If I saw one rush on, I'd –
Hey, a draw! (No XO, fan.) Rut? No, still a sec.
A late truce? No, no, no! It is open. Won? Tie? Many note, no? Is OT now.
Tip? It's illegal. (Fate got 'em.) A spot. Now on roll.
(I beg: Never end.)
Ah! Won! Kicker a rare hero. Men of iron (oh!) won title, boss. I say: as one. Pow! One W.


Related Posts with Thumbnails