Monday, March 9, 2015

New ways to explore in aerial class

I started taking photos during class last fall and it has helped me take my classes in new directions.

When I look at the photos a few days after taking them I notice what is (or is not) going on.

For instance in one class last fall I noticed that the dancers all had completely straight spines. Although a straight spine can be a sign of great technique, if the spine is always straight we limit our movement vocabulary.

I found some great solutions for this right away through Robert Davidson (so many gifts are shared through Skinner Releasing!) But then I began to try other things as well.

This week I left the spine out entirely and focused on spiraling the limbs. We tried it first on the floor, during partner graphics and our warm up, then with graphics in the trapeze and finally, with ascending and descending dances.

The pictures below show some amazing progress....

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fly-by-Night's Scholarship - more than skin deep

We have been offering our scholarship to dancers of color for many years now and it is an inherent part of the company's vision. It is particularly important to me this year given the feelings that have been aroused by events in Ferguson and, here in NYC, on Staten Island with Eric Garner.

Racism is real in our country and it seems to rise when minorities make progress (Obama as President, Sotomayer on the Supreme Court, changes in immigration law, etc.). The first time I posted our scholarship online I received an venomous, anonymous letter in the mail. The letter was both threatening and shocking - someone took the time to get our address and spit out hate with pen and paper. I don't think it would be quite so jolting to me now - it is what one should expect.

PHOTO at left:
2014 Scholarship student Ashley Brown "hanging out" in class.

Events in my life stand out that have helped me to see racism more clearly. One particularly vivid surprise hit me years ago in the process of selling my used car to an African-American colleague. My co-worker took a test drive with the car through the streets of Harlem, commenting along the way about how she liked the car. As traffic increased we waited a long while to merge back onto the highway. Finally, when another  African-American woman slowed and allowed us in, my colleague said to me, "Oh good, I'm wasn't sure she would let us in with you in the car."

Her comment hit me deeply. "Ouch," I thought, "It would never occur to me to think (yet alone say) such a thing if the situation was reversed." On later reflection I began to understand that it would never occur to me because as a white woman I only occasionally experience the world that way.

I've always been aware that people of color can be discriminated against when looking for jobs or housing but the subtle, day-to-day racism in social situations is equally as damaging for us all.

It takes conscious efforts from ALL of us to work past these feelings. It is great to see people of all types of backgrounds at a protest march but it isn't enough if we all go home to our segregated lives.

To combat racism we need to find more ways to be in the same room together, doing meaningful things on a regular basis.

Photo above: 2012 Scholarship recipients Shawn Fisher and T David

This is why our scholarship program matters. The classes we offer are based on improvisation, allowing everyone to add their individual creative, physical input. But we also do verbal reflections and this is vital - it is a place for us to listen to one another.

We don't have to discuss racism to bridge our divides - what we need are more ways of connecting to our similarities in deep, meaningful, and creative, ways.

Our classes are, for me, a weekly reminder of the fact that we are all members of the human race.

PHOTO LEFT: Dancer Patrice Fyffe came to our scholarship audition and continued her studies with the company for over a year. Although she didn't receive a scholarship (it was a competitive year), she was offered a $5/class rate and later took on a workstudy position for free classes.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reflections from Skinner Releasing Fall Workshop

Our series of Skinner Releasing classes here in Inwood has come to a close. It was a wonderful experience for me to be in the studio with so many uptown neighbors. Doing the Skinner work is always rejuvenating for me so a big THANK YOU! to those who were able to join in with us to experience our first uptown workshop.

Here are some of the wonderful, reflections made by participants:

Ho to the Heee...
 Aho. To the celebration that is me...
3, 4, 5, women dancing
Not too far from the trees
but safe, sequestered in our room
For gently bending knees
And traveling with permission
In and through and from and
to and around
This ship we call our body
To deep beneath the sea
To high up in the air
All guided by breath
in this Sunday morning celebration
of weeeee__________
         - Tara Mooney

Capricorn carpaccio
Cabbage camels corn
Moving like particulates
On the day they were born

Effortless imaginings
Could your toenails bite?
Or perhaps some tentacles
Could on your nose alight
                                                              Prefer to march along the sea?
                                                              Or into some little shop?
                                                              Once you prance at a panda's pace
                                                              You'll never want to stop.
                                                                                          - Laurie Newell

"My mind would come back to making sure my jaw was not clenched as it was in the first few classes – but today when I checked, my jaw was already relaxed.....
Then I noticed Tera did a dance as she bent toward the paper and pens, chose a pen, detached a sheet of paper. The paper dance....."
- Gretchen Mergenthaler

There was a wonderful article in The New York Times today about this type of effortlessness...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Free Classes again at Muscota New School

Yesterday was "Thank a Dance Teacher Day" but today I really want to thank a few behind-the-scenes people who have helped me to be a dance teacher here in Inwood.

This fall I am so happy to be back at Muscota New School for the FREE afterschool program on Monday afternoons. The Muscotas PA has made it all possible with exceptional help from Laura McCluskey, PA co-president. Thank you Laura for all your administrative help!

Another big thanks needs to go out to one of the best neighbors Inwood could ask for - Margaret Peeler. It was Margaret who first contacted me about doing an after school program at Muscota and got the ball rolling with me.

I'm thinking of Margaret because one 5th grade student said to me, "I've had you for dance my whole life." (She has been in the program every year). What a wonderful legacy - the gift of a free dance class for a student in a public school.

So hats off to all those who help make the dance classes happen!

all photos below by from 2012 program

left: students creating shapes with space in them

Discussion of what students saw when watching one another.

A solo "goodbye dance".

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hanging Again After Hiatus

It is great to be exploring in class again.
Here both Janet and Ashley look happy to be in the air...

After a summer break we started back slowly, thinking through the technique....

You can clearly see Janet's spinal alignment here as well as her ease of movement.

Nothing extra - only the amount of force that is necessary is applied.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What is Listening?

We recently finished our spring workshop in trapeze dance. There was an amazing combination of folks who attended and many of the lessons found the sweet spot of deep listening. This experience got me thinking about my main goal as facilitator in these classes and it made me realize that the one, true goal I have for teaching is simply to experience a profound sense of listening. Let me try to define what I mean by the term "listening"....

In all somatic techniques there are exercises that guide us towards listening to our own bodies. When I explored the Feldenkrais method I remember discovering what it is to allow my nervous system a break and for brief periods (sometimes merely a few seconds) I had to train myself to do "nothing". I learned to recognize the layers of letting go that can happen in the muscles. This type of exercise deepened my ability to listen to my own body and to discover waiting on a neuromuscular level.  In my studies of The Skinner Releasing technique this "nothingness" is essential and it includes waiting for images to completely take over to such an extent that they cause me to move/dance through the image. Since an image on any given day may, or may not, move me, I had to learn to both listen and to wait (sometimes for long periods of time) for the image to take root in my whole self. This waiting is profound and philosophical - it is a form of meditation.

By applying the Skinner principles to work with aerial apparatus I found that the listening ability went beyond the body. When a dancer allows herself to be moved by an image while dancing with an apparatus she is able to move more freely and often finds herself doing moves that she would otherwise be afraid to do. The dancer with the strongest ability to connect to the releasing images is able to improve at a faster rate than the dancer who is weaker with the imagery work.

Still, the exercises I've mentioned are about listening to oneself. In the Skinner Releasing Technique Joan Skinner taught that this listening goes beyond the self; that listening and waiting allows one to merge with the forces of the universe. The first time I heard  this it seemed rather heady ( and like far too much for a dance technique to claim).

However, through repeated experiences as student and teacher I have found that the ability to listen within has proven to be the key to "hearing" the world around me. Thus, not only do students improvise better with an apparatus when they are listening to their own body in a deep way, they also tend to improvise better with other dancers.

All of these listening layers take incredible mental focus. The process also requires a leap of faith that one will be able to stay safe/keep track of multiple stimuli while dancing. Having taken that leap the dancer also needs to notice when the meditational imagery has fled and been replaced by the ego. Once the ego takes over and a dancer begins to "drive" the dance, the listening safety net is gone. That is when dancers begin to manipulate their partners and the apparatus as a separate entity (in Joan Skinner's world the dancer is no longer connected to the forces of the universe). This creates a disconnect between dancers.

Short story longer...
Listening to oneself can also be listening to the world around oneself.
And who doesn't enjoy the sense of being heard? The dancers who listen most often are coveted partners.

From now on when people ask me what I teach I will say "listening".

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What We Do After School....

We had a great time at Muscota New School this year doing our FREE After School Dance Program.

The Parents Association was an essential part of our success... thanks to Laura McCluskey for all her hard work in getting students signed up and communicating with the parents and school officials!

We also need to thank Cristobal Vivar for his assistance with our video (if you need a photographer or videographer for an occasion, Cris is fanstastic!

We hope to be back next year for more.
See the video

with audio1-HD 720p
with audio1-HD 720p