What I Learned at Dance Class

Dance Heginbotham and Alarm Will Sound

Last week I had the great fortune of spending much more time than normal with dancers. First with Dance Heginbotham and Alarm Will Sound at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then with Cori Kresge and her dance class at Dickinson College. Cori invited me to improvise with her students’ motions. She teaches in the Merce Cunningham style using the technique he codified. It was exciting (I’ve never improvised in a situation like that before) and informative (it seemed like an excellent opportunity to learn something new). Here’s what I took away:

Begin simply

  • They began by jogging around the room and feeling the connection with the floor. That’s got to be a fundamental for dance… dealing with the floor.
  • It’s the same way I begin my musical day. Getting in touch with the most fundamental thing: the sound.
  • Seemed like a good way to begin to get the heart rate up as well.

Look the f%$k behind you

  • At some point during their jog Cori told them to run backwards and watch where they were going (ie. To look behind you.)
  • As a physical action it’s something I rarely do. Everything I deal with is in front of me, why turn around? Because it’s another perspective.
  • Maybe there’s some metaphorical significance to looking at the past while running away from it. 🙂

A change in position equals a change in perspective. A change of perspective can be a good thing.

  • This is another point that parallels music. I’m aware that what I hear from behind my instrument is different than what the audience gets from their perspective. I try my best to put myself in their position.
  • Cori had the class face different directions and rotate positions within the room. All of which helped create a changing dynamic.

Improvisation can be piecing together components you already know

  • Much of the work the class did seemed additive, they would do a series of moves that occurred in a meter and created a phrase.
  • The phrase could be extended by adding more movements or could be elaborated by embellishing the existing movements.
  • To me it was very musical: simple cells of material put together to form a phrase that could be added to or ornamented.

Do only what you’re capable of/what you’re capable of may vary from day to day

  • Some of the motions required rotation or bending. Students were told to not stretch themselves beyond what they were actually capable.
  • It takes a fair amount of awareness and honesty to pull this off. We frequently want to do the most we can but our bodies may not be up for it. It can be detrimental to “go for it.”

A corollary: don’t let friction do the work for you

  • A warning to not use the ground to push your feet into position but rather to use your muscles to do the work.
  • Trombonists can fall victim to things like this by using pressure of the mouthpiece against the embouchure

James Blake

  • And finally I learned about James Blake. I feel like I’m behind on this one. He’s one of those artists that as soon as I heard it I figured “I’ve got to be one of the last people to hear this guy.”
  • Check him out:

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