This is a series from the class I taught at #performatica2018 called MOVEMENT IN NATURE. I teach this class because I want to share a practice I have been cultivating that re-patterns my relationship as human to the Earth 🌏. It was such a joy to teach this in Mexico and I am grateful for the opportunity.
By becoming more attuned to the structure and processes of our own bodies, we also have the opportunity to register the balanced wholeness of the world more vividly. Such heightened awareness may move us past abstract concern for "the environment" to a more immediate and physical identification with the earth"
This is a quotation from a book titled, BODY AND EARTH, written by Andrea Olsen.
I started teaching movement in nature because I saw a need for humans to remember their origins- the human body evolved from the Earth. I'm not sure why I came to teach this. For me, it gives me peace, it connects me to myself, and I feel that is not something I was taught in the civilization that humans created. How did we manage to get so far from our origins? How have we managed to destroy our home?
I am here speaking with a student after class. We talked of Authentic movement. We work on finding our authentic movement patterns as we dance with the Earth. Listening and valuing what the body has to tell us, remembering that it is our home and it is part of Earth that is our home
This is a powerful quotation if you are still reading 🤗
"Some students who protest the use of chemical spray on blueberry barrens in Maine, and...fertilizers in grain fields...and pouring raw sewage into streams...do not hesitate to take Ritalin (to stimulate brain chemistry) or Paxil (to slow down) or Motrin or Valium...what goes into the bloodstream enters the tissues, alters the overall balance of the body. Why is interconnectedness important when talking about migration patterns....but not the hormonal secretions of the thyroid gland." BODY AND EARTH by Andrea Olsen .
Reflexions and interviews on Dance to the people's first open class series at bax
An elementary school student might think her teacher lives under her desk to awaken only to teach and to retreat under after the school day terminates. Adults know that teachers lead lives outside of the classroom, though not necessarily separate from teaching. My definition of a teacher is one who began to study because of a strong pull or desire to master a certain area. A teacher knows more than a book or paper can explain and has experienced the lessons she passes on to the students. A teacher has the aptitude to convey knowledge and simultaneously gain knowledge. He is an improviser, a leader, a sage, and a life changer. I am interested in how teachers become a master of their subject and what knowledge they have learned from other teachers, from life experiences, and from mistakes. I interviewed two teachers, Angel Kaba and Melissa Lohman, who both taught for Dance to the People’s (DTTP) Open Class series at Brooklyn Art’s Exchange (BAX) this past fall (another series will start in the Spring). Here’s what they had to say about teaching.
"I must have been 9 years old and My body was changing and I remember feeling stiff and awkward. My teacher simply stated out loud that I was struggling, without making me feel bad or good about it. Acknowledging that I was going through a change, but that the disaster was not the end-all, was a crucial lesson for me that I still grapple with today. "
Do you have a story of a dance class that you can share or a dance class experience that you remember and think of often?
Angel: One day I was packing my bag in the dance studio and a 5 year old girl came with her mother to ask me to teach her dance classes. I had never worked with someone so young, so I said no. Persistently, the mother asked me to put on music and watch her daughter dance. Her name is Elya and as of today it’s been 11 years that I have taught her. She is one of the best dancers in my company.
Melissa: I must have been 9 years old and for some reason my jazz class choreography became a challenge for me. My body was changing and I remember feeling stiff and awkward. My teacher simply stated out loud that I was struggling, without making me feel bad or good about it. Acknowledging that I was going through a change, but that the disaster was not the end-all, was a crucial lesson for me that I still grapple with today.
What inspires you to teach?
Angel: Life and People.
Melissa: I learn things that I want to share with others and I believe that part of the learning process is sharing.
How do you think that non-dancers view your profession?
Angel: Some people will say that dance is not a real job, just a passion, but I think it’s funny when they say that.
Melissa: I think in general non-dancers are in awe of the dance world. It is a kind of mysterious profession that entails a lot of training and dedication in order to make beautiful things with the human body. A general stigma attached to dance and art at large is that it is not a necessity for society and so, the hesitation to view dance as a profession and to be paid fairly for one’s work remains a problem.
Environmental Dance Experiment
In Aldo Leopold’s view, conservation of wildness was self-defeating. ‘When we cherish nature,’ he said, ‘we must see and fondle it, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.’ Leopold contested humans should experience nature through perception and not through recreation. A photograph is one of the few hobbies in which a human can perceive nature without ‘writing one’s signature on the face of the land.’
Leopold believed in order to conserve nature we needed to establish a land ethic that focuses less on our enjoyment of nature but more on our human connection to ecology. Environmental philosopher, J.B. Callicott, furthers Leopold’s argument by advocating for a human land aesthetic that appreciates an ecosystem for its function and all of its biotic components, versus an idealized beauty that appreciates just the photo.
" An autonomous natural aesthetic should involve so much more than the visual appeal of natural environments...the appreciation of an environment's natural beauty should involve the ears (the sounds of wind, insects, birds, or silence itself), the surface of the skin (the warmth of the sun, chill of the wind, textures if the grass, rock, sand etc), the nose and tongue (the fragrance of the flowers, the odor of decay, the taste of saps and waters) as well as the eyes.”
J.B. Callicott from an essay titled, “The Land Aesthetic”
Callicott believed in order to establish an ethical and aesthetic kinship with the land, the human relationship with nature needs to shift to support a non-anthropocentric value theory that recognizes the intrinsic values of all species to the function of the ecosystem. This shift opposes the current theory that places human as the center.
Evolution is not Anthropocentric was a scientific inquiry that began with a Research Question in 2010: Can dance be a method to discover the innate human connection with the Earth, to support a non-anthropocentric dialogue of species, and to experience the land aesthetic? The Hypothesis, derived after five years of research (shorted version in the first three paragraphs) evolved to be: Yes. The role of an environmental dancer, and any environmental activist is to find a practice that habituates ‘listening’ and non-anthropocentric values. From that practice, a dance would then emerge from assessments and artistic choices with regard to eco values.
The process of creating and performing Evolution is not Anthropocentric was the Experiment/Test.
We began by dancing outside in five New York City sites: Prospect Park, a park alongside the Gowanus Canals, Central Park, Red Hook Recreation Area, and Rockaway Beach.
The first sessions in Prospect Park began with contemplative dance practice: 20 minutes of meditation, 20 minutes of warming up the body with the eyes closed, and 20 minutes of open space (open eye) improvisation. We generated movement patterns from the last 20 minutes and shared it with each other, collaborated on more movement ideas from that place, and did some contact improvisation in the park with each other.
A journey into a piece of Madness
On the first day of rehearsal when the director of Dance to the People (DTTP), Maira, said, “this dance is inspired by ideas from Foucault’s Madness and Civilization,” I knew I was in the right place. I had originally arrived at the DTTP rehearsal in January to take advantage of the free training and open collaboration opportunity. I openly admitted to Maira and the rest of the DTTP crew that I was (and am) a dancing fool. Like the character I portray in Dance to the People’s Narrentanz (Dance of Fools), whose masked smile first alludes to her normalcy, I too entered the dancing space with a façade. But just as my rapid and uncontrollable hand jitter develops in the piece and the smile graduates simultaneously into a forced grin, my attempt at deception deteriorated and I revealed my real fool by the second day of rehearsal. The other dancers reciprocated.
Narrentanz formed with the support of the CUNY Dance Initiative, which gave Dance to the People a residency at the College of Staten Island. The making of the dance came from ideas of spectacle. The dance examines the discourse involved with putting on a show. Coincidentally, Foucault’s examination of the discourse associated with madness overlaps ideas of spectacle. Being mad, or a fool, wasn't always associated with medical institutionalization. Renaissance people put their mad denizens onto ships, instructing the seamen to rid the city by taking the fools out to sea. Hence where Bosch got his inspiration for Narrenschiff, the ship of fools. The spectacle of the ships, full of foreign lunatics, created great excitement for onlookers when they docked at fresh harbors. I myself had a chuckle when I looked at Bosch’s painting and thought of the boat-landing sight. Is it the familiarity with the mad that draws us to their spectacle? Is there an inner reality in folly that we possess but hide due to societal constraints?
In Narrentanz the dancers play a game, each coveting the other’s chair, dressing up in clothes, and running in space. The spectacle of the game is enticing. The challenge to win brings out the madness within each player. In rehearsal for the game section I felt unrestricted, as if I was in grammar school again. The social pre-occupation attached to the folly of wanting to win that I adapted in adulthood disappeared when I got more comfortable with the other dancers/players.