Sunday, 16 November 2014

Kim Kardashian's Bum Breaking the Internet: Girl-Bashing and Slut Shaming

This week celebrity Kim Kardashian posed nude for Paper Magazine, attempting to 'break the internet' with her oiled behind. The nudes were not stolen from her, and neither were they leaked. However there has been an enormous backlash against Kim's decision to release the images, especially amongst women. I don't normally write about celebrity culture, but being a dancer and being interested in the body, I found this story quite interesting.

A lot of the comments I have seen women make about Kim's photos are both weak and concerning.

"She's supposed to be a mother, she should be ashamed"
This statement seems to imply that once you become a mother you can no longer claim your own body or sexuality. If the images were of her snorting cocaine or performing sexual acts, then there would be a problem in terms of her role as a mother. But it seems to me that embracing and celebrating your natural body is only healthy and positive. Additionally, an inoffensive nude doesn't suggest or prove that Kim is a neglectful or incompetent mother. It only proves that despite having had a child, Kim is still embracing her sexuality.

"Trashy. Guess that is why she is standing in a black garbage bag"
There seems to be a deepened fear of the female body that emerged in the Victorian era, which often leads to women bashing other women, and hence the 'trash' comments. We have no trouble looking at topless men in fashion campaigns, art or social media; but as soon as a woman takes her top off, the line seems to have been crossed. Women (and sometimes men) are taught that the amount of skin that they display defines their self worth. Showing too much skin and you will labelled a 'slut' and show too little skin and you will be labelled 'frigid'. Since Kim hasn't played by these rules, it is unsurprising that there has been protest from both men and women alike. Nevertheless, there is absolutely nothing trashy about a woman choosing to celebrate her body. It is her body and it is her decision to publicise the photos.

 Also, that dress is custom made, sparkly and cute and doesn't look anything like a garbage bag.

"Whore"
There appears to be some confusion between selling your body for sex and simply revealing your body here. If Kim used the images to advertise herself for sex, then she could be considered to be a prostitute. But it is dangerous to slut shame a woman for expressing herself sexually. Along with the fear of the female body, the fear of female sexuality in western culture still exists, and women are still scrutinised for expressing themselves sexually. Some people believe that slut shaming contributes to rape culture and promotes girl-bashing. In short, slut shaming sends a negative message about female sexual expression to both men and women that women who express themselves sexually are 'whores' or 'sluts'. This objectifies women as sexual objects exclusively for men (and not for themselves) and somehow makes it 'ok' to take advantage of the objectified woman, because she is no longer a whole human being, she is an object.

While Kim K might be seen as 'a vapid, no-talent reflection of society' to some, she is still a woman and she still holds the right to do what she wants with her body and her sexual expression. Although she has made the images public business, it is not our place to judge or scrutinise her. The photos released by Paper Magazine do not hint at her capabilities as a mother, or as a woman, especially not solely on the basis that she is simply naked.








Sunday, 5 October 2014

REVIEW: Igor and Moreno - Idiot Syncrasy

We started with wanting to change the world with a performance. We felt like idiots. Then we danced a lot. We jumped. We called on the folk traditions of Sardinia and the Basque Country. We sang. We jumped some more. We committed. Now we promise to stick together. We promise to persevere. We promise to do our best. - See more at: http://www.theplace.org.uk/igor-and-moreno#sthash.6zyFZAjk.dpuf
We started with wanting to change the world with a performance. We felt like idiots. Then we danced a lot. We jumped. We called on the folk traditions of Sardinia and the Basque Country. We sang. We jumped some more. We committed. Now we promise to stick together. We promise to persevere. We promise to do our best. - See more at: http://www.theplace.org.uk/igor-and-moreno#sthash.6zyFZAjk.dpuf
At first glance Idiot Syncrasy is a quirky, repetitive work that amuses and delights. However underneath its charming exterior, it is clear that the emotional intensity and overwhelming repetitive nature of the work lies in Igor and Moreno's subtle details. But what is most interesting is the artists' ability to make their audience feel exactly as they want.

The staging is minimal: white floor, three huge white screens staggered at the back, bright white lighting, no wings and no props. Thus the audience's attention is already directed to the two men performing in shorts and a plain t-shirt (which Igor continually changes, much to the audience's amusement). Other than the quirky opening of the work and their performance of Sardinian and Basque folk songs, the men simply bounce, for the majority of the work. There are few moments of pause or rest. From the outset, the repetitive bouncing creates a sense of tiredness in the audience.

The quirky details within the work set it apart from current and more conventional contemporary dance performance. Igor's careful concentration of undressing himself and delicately folding and laying his clothes versus Moreno's complete lack of care and disinterest in the act, is both intricately detailed and ingeniously funny. In addition, Igor's sudden reappearance from behind one of the white screens with two plastic shot glasses and a bottle of Scotch Whisky, is ludicrously hilarious. After pouring and drinking the shots, Moreno then disappears again and returns with two enormous stacks of plastic shot glasses and two large bottles of Scotch, which they then begin to pass around the audience. These charming additions to the work highlight the duo's imagination and attention to detail.

After the Scotch has been passed around the audience, the music abruptly becomes louder and more overwhelming. The auditorium is suddenly filled with the heavy vibration of the pulsating sound. The increased speed of the duo's repetitive bouncing, coupled with the alcohol, the increase in music volume and the gradual brightening of the white lighting, has a dizzying and drunk effect on the audience. The change in tone successfully provokes overwhelming feelings of tiredness and dizziness. The men continue to bounce, before slipping into a repetitive dance phrase that shifts them through the space with ease. Despite the exhausting nature of the work, they seem to glide and twist past each other effortlessly. After the work has reached it's climatic peak, the music slows and the men embrace in an intimate moment of contact. They spin slowly, hugging one another, clutching onto one another. There is a definite feeling of unity, of needing one another, as our journey with them gradually comes to an end.

Igor and Moreno perform a rich exploration of each section of the work, they exhaust every idea without compromise. No section is left inadequately investigated and no part of the work feels superficial. It could be this perseverance to fully explore without negotiation and the inclusion of charming details is the key to their capacity to manipulate the audience's feelings and emotions. In this way Idiot Syncrasy is both delightful and ingenious.


Igor and Moreno's Idiot Syncrasy was performed at The Place Tues 30 September & Wed 1 October, 8pm. 
 

Friday, 22 August 2014

'Hey girl, what's your number, where you from?'

When walking anywhere on my own, there is one thing I can be certain of wherever I am going, whatever time it is, regardless of what time zone I am in: I will always receive comments, opinions and catcalls from men.

We are all familiar with the misogynistic comments directed at us: 'Hey girl, what's your number, where you from?', 'Hey girl, you busy tonight?', 'Damn girl, you better be single'.

Interestingly, during Victorian times, the public sphere- the street, the work place and public social settings- was considered to be an authoritative, male space. And the private sphere- the home and the family- was considered to be the 'proper' female space. If we extend the theories of public and private spheres to the present day it could help understand the attitude of some men on the street.

Secondly, the idea of ownership of one's own body is important. There is a recurrent pattern of women seeming to be owned by men, rather than by themselves. For instance, historically, in the home, women were owned by their fathers and then by their husbands. This age-old male ownership of the female person and body reduced the woman's agency. She no longer had the control to make her own decisions or to have her own personal or financial independence. You could extend this argument to present day female music artists and actresses, who appear to be owned by their male managers and producers. It is the male authority who controls what is presented to the public and what is not.

Perhaps therefore, it could be suggested that the street is male territory, according to the Victorian idea of separate male and female spheres. So a woman walking alone in male territory can expect to receive a certain amount of harassment and opinions from men, since she is not in the 'proper' female space.

Something else I have noticed when walking around in public, is that the catcalling completely stops when I am accompanied by another man. This might explain why every man I have spoken to denies having any knowledge about this experience (or perhaps they are simply denying being the culprits themselves). So, it could be inferred that the reasoning behind the relentless catcalling is rooted in the belief that a woman not accompanied by a man is under no ownership. Therefore she is 'available'.

Although women have many more rights than a century ago, the attitude of some men has not kept pace with the legal changes. Many men may not realise that they are a part of this misogynistic pattern. Some believe that these attitudes are not conscious; the idea of separate male and female spheres is a cultural phenomenon that has been unconsciously instilled and passed down many generations.

If women have won the right to vote, and the right to equal pay, what can be done to bring about the cultural change that is needed to shift these attitudes?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The END: Back Home

So it has been twenty-five days since I returned to England and left all I had discovered in the States. It has already begun to feel like the months of heavy snow and endless days in the dance studio were a distant dream. Life feels very different back home. It also feels very strange that those familiar streets and buildings I walked past everyday are now so physically far away. 

I often find myself lost in daydreams of my memories from Goucher College, replaying and pausing them like stills from old films. The walk to my dance classes, the spot at the top of the library by the large windows overlooking the woods, the sound of the wind and the soft crunch of the snow under my feet after a snow storm. I miss my friends a lot and my teachers, my classes, and the comforting feeling that absolutely no one in that country knew me from home. As bizarre as it sounds, there was something strangely wonderful about not recognising or being recognised by a single person in America. I had the opportunity to completely reinvent myself. I could be the stronger, braver, more confident person I had always hoped I would eventually be. (But, unfortunately, I found that the friends I made actually liked my nervous English humour and awkwardness. So that sort of backfired.)

In addition, when I first arrived in America, I experienced severe culture-shock; no one understood my sarcasm, people were too friendly (but anything is too friendly compared to people in London, so that says absolutely nothing) and the portions of food were enormous. So when I returned to England I experienced further culture-shock after having comfortably adapted to these changes in America. Why are people so miserable in England? Why are the portions of food so small? Why do we drink so heavily so often? And why is it so cold? All the time? It took me a long while to firstly shift the jet lag, and then come to terms with the fact that Goucher and America were over and I had to come back to my old life and carry on where I left off. Once I had accepted that Goucher was simply a five month learning experience and a remarkable opportunity to explore and expand my dance skills, I could return to the things I had been pursuing in England. I'm now assisting and teaching in dance classes at my old upper school and have successfully applied for a site specific dance project in London at the Siobhan Davies Studios. My experiences at Goucher helped me secure these opportunities and I am excited to take all I have learnt to London next month.

Goucher taught me a huge amount about myself as a dancer and as a person. My time there provided me with an inclination towards dance criticism and writing, as well as helping me discover a satisfaction with dance improvisation and choreography. I want to make dances and I want to write about them. Making and writing about dances helps me unlock more about myself and more about my art form. However, as well as the skill-related discoveries, I also learnt that there is a lot more to being a successful dancer than just 'working hard'. A glowing fire needs to ignite within you and drive you in every class, every rehearsal and every performance. If there is no burning desire behind your need to dance, you simply won't. A similar concept can be applied to writing: every essay, review or post needs a certain amount of fire behind it. Find what irks you, excites you or utterly bores you, dig into it, lay it out flat and completely take it apart, leave nothing untouched. We only breathe through this one life alone, so do what you love till its death and don't walk away from it half finished. Above all, breathe and think deeply, live fully and dance (or write) until it absolutely kills you.



Final Intermediate Modern class with Linda Garofalo outside

 
Listening to: 
KT Tunstall - Through The Dark
Henry Green - Electric Feel Kygo Remix MGMT Cover 
René Aubry - La Grande Cascade

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Travels Around North East America Part II: New York: Homelessness

The homeless slouched on their blankets, sitting with their dogs is a familiar sight in most major cities in the world. Everywhere I have lived and travelled I have seen homeless men, women and children living and begging on the streets; London, York, Brighton, Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Brussels, Baltimore, DC, Philadelphia, New York, wherever. But since having come to America I have either become highly more aware of the homeless or distinctly more sympathetic towards them.

Although I had been told that Baltimore isn't a particularly wealthy city and has a high rate of crime, I hadn't fully appreciated how impoverished the city was until I had begun visiting Baltimore since February. Driving past the Health Care for the Homeless Center in Baltimore, which was established in 1985 to care for the underserved populations of Baltimore, brought the human-ness of the issue home. Outside the centre the pavement is covered in blankets and littered with flattened cardboard boxes. There must have been dozens of men and women wrapped up in blankets and hats and scarves. The temperature was dropping under -10C/14F early this year; I wonder how many of those men and women survived that winter without shelter.

I have always walked past the homeless, rarely giving them money when they beg. What use is a couple of pounds anyway? And what good will come of giving anything more than £25? I always (wrongly?) assume that it will simply be spent on alcohol or drugs. Or is that just an unfair stereotype?

Anyway, on Wednesday I was walking down Broadway in New York and I passed a man, slouched over, with his hood up and his head in his arms. On the cardboard sign in front of him it read:

"I just want to buy a bus ticket to get me back to Montana to go to my father's funeral".

Of course, the statement may have been made up to pull on the heart strings of people like me, to make his begging slightly more successful. But there was something deeply unhappy in his body language and in his person. It unsettled me, but I didn't stop, I carried on walking, swept forward in the fast pace of the crowd around me.

As the homeless man disappeared further behind me, I started to think about it more. I have always disregarded the homeless as individuals who wasted away their lives or their money or their relationships. I rarely gave them the benefit of the doubt, because I believed they didn't deserve it. But- we are all human, and some mistakes will push us further out than others. So why are we so quick to judge whether these people deserve our help? And why are we so quick to ignore those in need? It's all well and good donating once a year to Sports Relief or Red Nose Day (don't get me started on Red Nose Day, I could write five blog posts about my feelings there), but why are there thousands upon thousands of homeless people in each of our cities and we do nothing to help individually?

Furthermore, it seems that there is more grief to being homeless than simply not having money. Without a permanent address it is almost impossible to open a bank account, find a job or enrol in education. And in turn, without a job or a bank account, it is nearly always impossible to find a permanent address. Why limit the number of options open to the homeless when they need the most amount of options available? It seems completely maddening.

As I was walking away from the homeless man on Broadway it suddenly occurred to me that he will struggle to even buy a bus ticket. Buying a ticket in cash is very often ludicrously more expensive than buying online. But to buy a ticket online requires a credit or debit card. And to own a credit or debit card requires a permanent address. Maddening!

Why is it so hard for a man to travel seven states to attend his father's funeral? And furthermore, why was no one helping him? Do we resent the homeless, or are we just afraid of them? Are we a nation of fear-mongerers that simply blame the homeless for crime? And why are we so incredibly reluctant to help the desperate, who we mindlessly walk past everyday?


Monday, 19 May 2014

REVIEW: Glass Pieces - Jerome Robbins, New York City Ballet

Jerome Robbins' three-part 'Glass Pieces' is a powerful and quick-moving exploration of traditional ballet vocabulary intermixed with postmodern work, accompanied by music composed by Philip Glass. Set against a graph paper backdrop, the New York City Ballet dancers' fast pace and sudden bursts of energy are reminiscent of the unmistakable urban energy of the city. 

The work opens with the full cast walking swiftly about the stage, dressed in costume designer Ben Benson's mismatching shades of red, pink, blue, green, gold and grey. The space is alive with bodies and colour, as the dancers charge forward through a scene that could be a busy train station or city street. Glass' Rubric with its repeated rhythms, shifting patterns and sweeping force drives the dancers through the space. From the outset Robbins asserts and captures the repetitive and fast paced energy of urban American life. Amongst the chaos of the dancers, sudden bursts of energy erupt as female dancers are lifted by their male counterparts, and as soloists suddenly jump or leap before returning to a fast walk. The sporadic bursts of energy are crisp amongst the fast pace of the dancers' abrupt changes in direction.

The second part, set to Glass' Facades, sees the female corps de ballet lined against the back of the stage. The silhouetted bodies of the female dancers roll across the front of the backdrop as they perform bouncy walks and repeated sustained arm movements and pliés, which match the tempo and rhythm of the music. In front of them an intimate and athletic duet unfolds, performed by principal dancers Wendy Whelan and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Whelan is carried on and off stage by Danchig-Waring, lifted at the waist, her arms and legs effortlessly split and held almost horizontally. Facades has a much slower pace overall, yet the direct correlation of movement to music maintains the steady pace of the entire work. 

Finally, 'Glass Pieces' is concluded with an incredibly powerful and driving performance by the male dancers of the cast, accompanied by an excerpt from Glass' opera 'Akhnaten', Funeral of Amenhotep. The men respond to the fast rhythm of the hammering drums and drawn out strings by grounding themselves into the floor, as they run and leap in unison, before the female corps de ballet rejoin them for the conclusion of the work. The rich, deep sounds of Funeral of Amenhotep is distinctly different from Rubric and Facades, separating the conclusion from the rest of the work and creating a successful climax to the ballet.

'Glass Pieces' is a hugely expansive and athletic ballet that consumes the space and breathes Glass' score. Robbins is successful in creating a dazzling ballet that incorporates the elements of postmodernism and examines the fast pace of urban life. 



Georgina Pazcoguin and Adrian Danchig-Waring talk about how the corps makes the dance in this Robbins favorite with music by Philip Glass.


Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Composer: Philip Glass
Production design: Robbins, Ronald Bates
Costume design: Ben Benson
Lighting design: Ronald Bates
Conductor: Clotilde Otranto


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Travels Around North East America Part I : Philadelphia and a bit of New York City

Left Goucher on Monday 12th May after having spent a couple of days with Mum in Towson and Baltimore City. We took the Amtrak from Penn Station, Baltimore, to Philadelphia where we stayed in a very small, chic hotel near the centre. Philadelphia seemed to be a lot more metropolitan, a lot older, wealthier and happier than Baltimore City. There are fewer homeless people (-yet there is still a great deal of homelessness), fewer derelict buildings and generally cleaner streets.

Baltimore Inner Harbour (aka the nice bit)
The Bolt Bus from Philadelphia to New York took around two and a half hours and dropped us off about fifteen minutes away from the subway. We arrived at 6pm, ready to meet the lady responsible for handing us the keys to the little apartment we'd rented. But, as our luck often turns out, we couldn't understand a word she said to us on the phone (and I don't think she could understand us either) so we ended up waiting for a little over an hour for her to arrive. Luckily a friendly Persian lady invited us to wait in her apartment downstairs with her daughter. We drank Persian tea (so tasty, everyone must try Persian tea once in their life), ate macaroons and listened to her stories. 

Philadelphia
When we eventually got into the apartment it looked nothing like the photos on the internet. But then nothing (and nobody) looks anything like their photos on the internet, so I shouldn't have been so surprised.. 

But I am finally here in New York City; I am walking the same streets and seeing the same sights as all the great contemporary dance pioneers before me did. At last I have a solid connection to Graham, José, Cunningham, Duncan, Dunham and Humphrey that isn't just based in history books. I am in the same city where some of the most renowned contemporary dancers have lived and breathed and danced. 


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Suppressed

Finally finished rehearsals with my dancers last week and we presented Suppressed at a formal showing with lighting and costumes at Goucher College on Tuesday 6th May. The piece went well and I got a great deal of positive feedback from everyone. I am going to miss choreographing and rehearsing with my dancers, but the process has inspired and motivated me to continue choreographing this way after I leave America.

 I already have burning ideas and plans...

Here is the final video of Suppressed (excuse my nervous hand movements and dress tugging at the beginning).






Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Because We Never Want To Stop

As part of our composition class at Goucher College we have been encouraged to keep a choreographic journal and write a series of reflections about our choreographic processes. The most recent reflection is about endings and our reluctance, as dancers, to choreograph endings. I thought I would explore our reluctance a little further on here, since it's 12.33am and pouring with rain outside and I'm procrastinating from leaving the library:

After reading chapter eighteen from Doris Humphrey’s, the queen (in my eyes) of dance composition, The Art of Making Dances, I have become aware of some elements of my choreography that need development. Humphrey’s notion that a ‘good ending is forty percent of the dance’ particularly resonated with me.

If the ending is worth forty percent of a dance, and is the last and strongest impression that the audience leaves with, then I should have begun considering the ending of my piece weeks ago. A strong ending is considerably more important than I had anticipated during my creative process. However it is understandable why the last image, frame, shape or emotion is so important in dance, since our very medium is completely movement based. If I just threw an ending onto the piece a week before the performance, the clarity of my concept would be lost and the emotional qualities I had carefully inserted into the piece would be wasted.  

I don’t want the audience to leave feeling puzzled or confused about the meaning behind my piece or my choice of resolution of my conceptual exploration. The conclusion of the piece needs to fit with the tone of the work but shouldn’t be predictable; there should be an element of surprise. I know I want to explore the concept of suppressed anger: the way that suppressing our anger makes us feel and how suppressed anger might look. But I still don’t know how I am going to resolve this exploration.

Do we endlessly continue to suppress our anger deep inside of ourselves? Does anger that has grown deep roots in our identities ever disappear? Will there always be a small tight fisted ball of a feeling, of a memory, of the anger we once suppressed remaining in the pits of our stomachs? Or can we overcome our anger completely and just let it gently slip away, as if it were never there to begin with? If so, how do I effectively and successfully communicate any of those ideas to the audience in such a way that will both allow to them leave with both a positive image of the piece and make them actively think about their own experiences of suppressed anger?

I agree with Humphrey that we, as dancers, hesitate to even think about the construction of the endings of our works, because choreographing an ending means accepting that the dance has to end.  Symbolically, the ending of a dance reminds us that there will eventually be an end to our extraordinary intense dancing days, whether it is five years away or sixty years away. I have had some the best times of my life during the last three or four years since I started formal dance training. We love the rush and the sweat and the sheer physical exhaustion of classes, rehearsals, auditions and intense late night choreography sessions that tire our bodies and blister our skin. We are happiest when we are dancing and unhappiest when we have to stop. Perhaps this is why we are resistant to even consider choreographing the ending of our works: because we never want to stop.


Monday, 14 April 2014

"Seasons changed, and the years went by but Roxaboxen was always there" : 'Really Is, Always Was' - Julia Corrigan

This weekend Goucher College held its annual Dance Concert in the stunning Kraushaar Auditorium. My friend Julia presented her choreographic work Really Is, Always Was at the concert. There was something very moving about the way her dancers moved through her choreography. There was a real sense of intent that drew me in from the outset. As well as making me want to go straight to the studio and dance, it also made me want to write. So here is a little review/stream of thoughts about Julia's work.


Julia Corrigan's Really Is, Always Was is a profoundly moving and driving work that was adjudicated in ACDFA (American College Dance Festival's Mid Atlantic Conference) in March 2014. Corrigan's work explores the idea of embodied memory and childhood. What does memory look like when manifested in our bodies? The work is influenced by the children's book Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Roxaboxen explores the imagination of a group of children who create their own imaginary town in the desert, using the sand, cacti and rocks around them. The incorporation of intense child-like happiness that can be found in freedom and play, is manifested as human curiosity and exploration in Corrigan's choreography.



The evocative and driving La Grande Cascade, Salento and Noel Aux Balkans composed by René Aubry sets the sincere, reminiscent tone of the work. Aubry's accompaniments drive the bodies through the journey of the choreography. The quick bursts of guitar and the driving piano melody match the dancers' bursts of energy and suspension as they spin, swinging and snaking their arms through the movement. The dancers crawl and cling and reach out with long graceful arms; longing for something lost, something distant, something out of reach.

The sense of melancholy created by the music is counteracted by the sweeping momentum of the choreography. Corrigan's beautiful use of her dancers serves her well in her choice of spatial formation that highlights the driving force behind the music. Dancers gather together in a tight clump on their knees, peeling away in canon and quickly travelling to the opposite side of the clump, before suddenly slipping back into the swinging, spinning momentum. There is a growing sense of overwhelming energy as the dancers seem to turn and fall and spin between the divide between memory and reality. Some seem to get lost in their memory, sinking deeper as their bodies lose control of what's real, while others seem to balance precariously on the knife edge between the two realms.

There is a sudden eruption of child-like delight as two dancers leap and jump across the empty stage. The space is theirs and suddenly the atmosphere becomes lively and full of human vitality. Two other dancers grip each others wrists and spin like children in a playground. It is at this point that the wondrous timelessness of McLerren's children's book becomes discernible. This careful amalgamation of child-like delight and poignant sincerity is incredibly powerful and thought provoking.

At last a single dancer walks calmly through the mass of bodies spinning and turning and falling through space. Among the chaos and storm of our memories there is still calmness and rationality. We all remember the sun-burnt blue skies of our childhood and familiarity of the grass between our toes. But how do we disentangle the divides between memory and reality? And what we can and can no longer have?



Monday, 7 April 2014

Rants And Moans About Change: "Pre Post-Graduation Anxiety" (disclaimer: this is not a real disorder, I googled it)

So I thought I would write another blog post, since I've been quiet for  a week or so. I've been thinking about change a lot recently. Change of seasons, change of familiarity, social change, familial change, change of character, change of interests, change of direction.

The seasons have begun to change in Maryland; Washington DC had its annual Cherry Blossom festival this weekend and the trees seem to be reluctantly budding green on campus at Goucher. I am welcoming the warm weather with open arms and short skirts and sandals and bare legs. I am so done with the frost, snow and ice storms.

I hate change, which is unfortunate for someone who has changed address eight times and is constantly changing their mind about almost everything... Fickle? Or just doubtful? But of course, having decided to study Dance, I might as well get used to change if I'm to graduate as a freelance dancer or writer.

So how should I prepare myself for life after university? How do I prepare myself for the change of lifestyle, change of financial situation, change of address (technically I should already know how to prepare for another change of address, but eight times hasn't been enough apparently). Or is it just a matter of wading through the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with growing up?

Is it normal to feel as anxious as a twelve year old boy entering puberty? Or like an (anxious) bull in a china shop? Or am I over-reacting a little? I feel like I'm over-reacting a little. Perhaps they (whoever they are) should come up with a name for this emotion: "pre post-graduation anxiety" would work for me.

A lot of my dancer friends at Goucher are planning to move to New York, Washington DC, Seattle and San Francisco in order to start their lives as freelance dancers, company members and arts administrators. But I don't feel remotely ready to be unleashed upon the world of working adults, especially not as a dancer. It all feels so uncertain.

What I'm trying to say is that everything is changing so much so quickly, and I'm struggling to keep up with the changes that are occuring in my life. How do I prepare myself for the changes coming ahead of me, while not losing focus on what's happening right now?

Is there anyone else out there?

Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival: Photo courtesy of: http://onebigphoto.com/uploads/2013/04/cherry-blossom-washington-dc.jpg



Listening to: 
James Blake - Life Round Here 
James Blake - Retrograde
José Gonzalez - Heartbeats
Jamie Woon - Blue Truth



Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Cultural Differences Between England and America

My posts seem to be getting progressively deeper and more intense, so I thought I'd lighten the tone a little with some funny gifs, in an attempt to show the cultural differences I have found while studying abroad.

Humour: when I make a sarcastic joke, no one finds it funny here.
*Tumbleweed*

British love of tea: Americans don't fix their problems with cups of tea


Portions of food: everything I know about how the size of meals and courses in England is irrelevant here.
Ordering a 'light salad' and being presented with a bucket size bowl of infinity can be quite a surprise


Money: rather than the Chip&Pin system we have in Europe, America uses a Swipe&Sign system instead. In addition, dollar bills and American coins all look too similar to me. I still embarassingly have to ask the cashier to help me go through my purse, because "I still haven't learnt the money".



When people ask you "how you doin'?", they don't actually want you to tell them how you're doing. Which incidentally is uncannily similar to the London "Alright?"
The correct way of responding to "How you doin'?" would be: "Hey. How you doin'?"



American's don't binge drink from 6pm on Friday evening until 4am on Sunday morning.


Binge drinking is for alcoholics and the homeless, not for 18 year olds and university students.

 The sheer size of everything here: shops, roads, cars, houses, malls, highways, cities... everything
You can go to a shop and buy bananas and bikes under the same roof if you want to here!



I get strange looks when I ask where the "toilet" is.
The correct term here would be "restroom" or "bathroom"
Perceptions of distance and time. At home in England, an old building is around 1,000 years old, in America an old building can be around 100 years old. Furthermore, driving 100 miles in England is an exceptionally long way to drive, whereas in America 100 miles is relatively close.


Hearing words like 'bangs', 'bleachers', 'cell phone', 'co-ed', 'eggplant', 'chips', 'sidewalk'
Momentary confusion before sudden realisation

Pants vs Trousers: no one says trousers in America and pants don't mean underwear
The confusion and horror when someone mentions my "pants"



Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Monday, 24 March 2014

Half Way Through

Tomorrow is the 24th March, which means that Eszter and I are half way through our study abroad experiences at Goucher College. The past couple of months have flown by, as everyone told us it would.

Spring Break is over, which means that we only have six weeks left of classes before we finish for the summer. Of course I'm excited to come home, to see my family and friends and return to the familiarity of life in England, but I have grown fond of College and the American 'way' of things here.

Neither Eszter nor I want these last precious weeks to slip away, as the last eight weeks have. I rarely feel so happy dancing as I do here. I can't work out whether it's the novelty of being in a foreign country or the standard of dance here that has makes us so happy. Naturally we want time to slow down, so we can enjoy every moment as much as possible.

So why is it that the greatest things in life are always so ephemeral and fleeting?

Why does it feel like time is slipping like sand through my fingers?

The days, weeks, months and years seem to be rushing past me faster than I keep up. I will be graduating from university next year, another milestone will have come quicker than I expected and I will probably write another deep post on this blog about time and fear. As cliché as it sounds, I want to stay young and foolish and naive for as long as possible, because it means I still have time to grow, in search of this happiness, before I lose it in the repetitive chaos of life.

Outside the Capitol with Eszter, Washington DC
The only (semi) warm day we had in a month.



Thursday, 13 March 2014

Suppressed anger and other unnameable emotions

The choreographic project I am currently working on in my Dance Composition class at Goucher explores the notion of suppressed anger. We are exploring the tension and resistance suppressed anger can cause, the animalistic and instinctual nature of the emotion, and finally the sudden eruption of frustration, hatred and rage that follows the suppression.

There is something fundamentally unhealthy and dark about suppressing memories and feelings. We can push down memories that upset, or frighten, or anger us, but we can't escape them. We can crush  them in the darkest corners of our minds, underneath the time and routine and repetition of our daily lives. But they don't disappear: instead they rot and decay and darken. They fester and grow, clawing their way back to the surface, to surge through all we buried them under, in an explosion of fury and rage.

We all know the sensation of rising anger. Hot, sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, tense muscles, tapping foot. The surge and volcanic eruption of red fury, as it fills your mind and body is often too familiar. The urge to let loose, like a wild animal, to scream and shriek and kick and shout can be overwhelmingly powerful.

It seems that for a lot of people, suppressing anger in particular, starts from a young age. I remember my sister and I being told not to have tantrums by our mother (especially in the supermarket and in shoe shops), but we were never told to not express ourselves. So were we subconsciously conditioned by the society we live in not to express certain emotions? Or is it a personal choice, based on our own experiences and individual characters to suppress our memories and emotions?


Composition rehearsal. Dancers: Lindsey Hahn, Cami Del Mar, Eryn Simons and Raven Nee. Music: James Blake - I Only Know (What I Know Now)


Monday, 3 March 2014

Meet The Artist: Alex & Xan (the Median Movement) #JACK

Brooklyn based choreographers and couple Alex Springer and Xan Burley recently came to Goucher College to do a modern dance residency with Goucher dance students. They led modern dance master classes in some intermediate and advanced level dance classes and attended seminar to conduct a question and answer session with students. At the end of the week, Friday 28th February 2014, the couple presented excerpts from their latest work in progress at an informal Meet The Artist Event in one of Goucher's dance studios.

The Median Movement, Alex & Xan's artistic collaboration is, as Alex described, based on the meeting place or mid-point where people share commonalities. With an emphasis on creating work for both stage and film, the Median Movement appears to draw inspiration from improvisation techniques and has clear roots in release, graham and limón modern dance techniques. Having graduated from University of Michigan with liberal arts degrees and continued to work together as performers with Doug Varone and Dancers and within their own company, both artists have learnt to think conceptually about their choreographic projects.

Excerpts of JACK, their current work-in-progress, were performed by twelve goucher dance students, whom auditioned the previous weekend. The idea of a movement alphabet was explored and manipulated by the dancers. Each letter of the alphabet was given a particular movement and then each dancer altered these letters- using varied dynamics, spatial orientation and size, to represent the alphabet in capitals and italics. Using this variation, Alex & Xan layered the choreography by instructing the dancers to use different rhythms, patterns, directions, movements, dynamic qualities and relationships to each other. Duets and trios arose randomly as one dancer's movement accidently matched or complemented another dancer's.

The couple presented another exercept that discussed the idea of accumulation and the power of group mentality, which also used the idea of layering. Set to Tread On The Trail by Terry Riley, a single dancer stamps her feet and repeats the word 'Jack', then another dancer joins her and copies, then another and another, until a tight semi circle around the original dancer forms. The gradual build up of bodies, vocal repetitions of the word 'Jack', combined with the increased speed of the stamping establishes an overwhelming and crushing sense of choas. The group suddenly break out of the repetition and all lean forward, glaring into the eyes of a single dancer that faces them, alone. She runs to escape and suddenly the group has fixated on another dancer, who falls to the ground as they quickly switch direction and lean towards her in unison. The notion of power in numbers, and of a group's tipping point to destruction, as Xan explained, is evident in this excerpt. The incorporation of vernacular movement; running, walking, falling, leaning, allows the uninformed spectator to successfully find a narrative within the movement that reflects the chaos, turmoil and destruction of the excerpt.

As Artists in Residence the couple were hugely inspiring. Their organic and natural approach to choreography and incorporation of improvisation, variation in rhythm and group relationships were intriguing. In addition, as teachers both Alex and Xan were exciting and dynamic to work with. I really tried not to get cheesey or deep in this post, but it wouldn't be a successful post without a bit of cheese: as one of my friends in the residency said, it is these experiences that remind us that we are on the right track.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Rant: 'Real Women Have Curves'

There is one statement that has been carelessly banded around on social media sites a great deal lately, which has caused a lot of controversy. We seem to have begun deciding who 'real women' are, using the "Real Women Have Curves" campaign. Apparently "real women aren't size zero", and my favourite, "real men like curves. Dogs like bones".

There is a huge sense of ignorance and a fundamental problem with this assertion. First of all, in order to say a woman is 'not real', we have to decifer what makes her 'unreal'. Do skinny women not have female sexual organs? Can skinny women not bear children? Are skinny women more masculine? Or do they lack gender altogether? What makes a skinny woman not 'womanly'?

It feels to me as though the "real women have curves" trend is a cheap way of lowering someone else's self-esteem in order to boost the self esteem of another. Which is arguably uncannily similar to the cowardly behaviour of playground bullies, which we were warned about at school.

Of course the media has a big role to play in this conflict. The air brushed models we see in Vogue and the painfully gaunt models on high fashion runways do nothing to help our body image or self-worth. It seems clear to me that 'the real women have curves' is the voice of hundreds of women backlashing against the pressure to be perfect. Of course I have no problem with reminding each other that we shouldn't replicate the women put in front of us by multimillion-dollar profiteering cosmetics and fashion companies to be deemed beautiful or perfect. But to attack each other instead is simply detrimental and frankly beyond the point.

As quite a skinny woman myself, I have experienced a lot of unpleasant snide remarks, insults and nasty messages (most of which were from girls my own age in school). I found that insecurity and jealousy in particular seemed to be key drivers in those cases. They probably continue to drive the nasty remarks on social networking sites too.

The question is, when did we stop seeing the real beauty within ourselves and start judging our self-worth according to the number we see on the scales or by the comparison we see with the airbrushed model on the front of Elle? Why do we continue to hate ourselves and the curvier, taller, bustier, skinner woman next to us? Whether we have an athletic, pear shaped, hourglass, muscular or skinny figure, we should learn to accept ourselves and each other. Only acceptance can bring us happiness.



 Photo sources: 
source http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bz9b03DhJUQ/Uw2O5i8DLfI/AAAAAAAAAHo/hqJEENnECRs/s1600/Real+Women+Have+Curves.gif

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-EvyuEUnLYWk/Uw2O6y7FHvI/AAAAAAAAAHw/42qs8fiL8EE/s1600/Only+Dogs+Like+Bones.jpg




Friday, 21 February 2014

Journeys

As a young child I had many dreams, as children do, of being an actress, a pop star, a prima ballerina, a wedding planner, and during one phase, a dream psychologist. However none of these dreams were particularly realistic or suited to me (other than the wedding planner, which strangely still appeals to me). We are so often asked, even as six-year-olds, what we want to do in five, ten, twenty years time. Of course a six-year-old will tell you all sorts of things.

So, at what point do we know what we want to do? Will I simply continue to feel like I'm drifting through life, not knowing where I will be in the next five, ten, twenty years time?

Ten years ago I had no idea that I would be studying dance at a university in London or in America. I initially opted for dance at GCSE because I enjoyed it, and it was a welcome break from classrooms and textbooks. But it wasn't until after I'd watched a performance by the Richard Alston Dance Company in Cambridge that I realised that it was more than just enjoyment that compelled me to dance. I wanted to sweat and work and drive my body through the space as much as Richard Alston's dancers did on that stage. Alston's dancers proved to me that there was a finesse and sense of total personal devotion and commitment to the art-form. I wanted to be able to fully commit myself to one thing, I needed something to channel all of my energy into.

I have no idea where I'm going or what I will be doing in the next five, ten or twenty years. Despite how much this terrifies me, it is also strangely exciting. As long as we continue to stay true to what we believe in and strive to fulfill the dreams that make us happiest- whether they're occupational or recreational- hopefully we will end up doing the right thing, in the right place.

Having a whale of a time



Sunday, 16 February 2014

Baltimore Museum of Art

I haven't yet ventured out of Goucher, or any further than Towson, so Eszter and I arranged to take a day trip to Baltimore today with a group of girls from Goucher. We took the free shuttle bus, which serves the local colleges, into Baltimore. The shuttle runs every hour  (supposedly) and provides a service to Goucher College, Towson University, Loyola University Maryland, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Johns Hopkins University, and Morgan State University.

We spent between two and three hours in the Baltimore Museum of Art. which has an internationally renowned collection of 19th-century, modern, and post-modern art. BMA has many Degas originals, including his 'Little Dancer Aged Fourteen' sculpture, which has caused controversial debate since the 19th century. Considered to be "replusive", many critics have suggested that the sculpture is reminiscent of the seedy undercurrent of 19th century Parisian Opera and the life of depravity that many working class Parisian dancers would have faced as prostitutes. As to whether Degas' fascination was really in the dance and the dancers or whether it was rooted in something more sexual is unclear. However despite the negative connotations that Degas' Little Girl may have, I found her beautiful.

"Little Girl Aged Fourteen" Edgar Degas (1881)
Artist Alison Saar's scultpure "Strange Fruit" was also particularly interesting and thought provoking. Saar's scultpure depicts a black woman, bound and suspended upside down from the ceiling by her foot. The scultpure is evocative of Billie Holiday's moving lyrics:

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root. / Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."

It is clear that Saar is commenting on the racial violence and lynching during America's past. The vulnerability and suffering of the sculpture provokes a strong feeling of discomfort; as if you want to reach out and release the woman's ankles. However it would also appear that Saar is commenting on female sexuality. The suggestive placement of the woman's hands on her navel and breast creates an image of strong female sexual identity, which contrasts greatly to the vulnerability of her suspended body.

"Strange Fruit" Alison Saar (1995)
The BMA was very interesting, the difference in the 19th century and modern art collections was refreshing. We didn't get to see much of Baltimore unfortunatley, but that gives me a good excuse to plan another trip to downtown Baltimore next weekend. And it's a nice change from the ballet studio.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Courage

There is an assumption that as an art form, dance is associated with and categorised as a hobby or as leisure. Few people outside the dance world would consider dancing to be a 'legitimate way of life'. So when asked by relatives, friends of my parents, students from other universities, or even acquaintances, I dread the judgement and lack of understanding that often comes with asking what I am studying at uni.

Many people fail to realise is that there is a great amount of personal and academic dedication, physical exertion and emotional investment in the vigorous training that is required in dance. It is not just 'prancing around a room', as many people have eloquently put it to me.

Of course I had considered pursuing other career paths, which would have required, and lead to, a much more academic background. However after consideration, I decided I would do what would make me happiest. No part of me wants to spend three years studying something that I am not interested in, only to lead me into a job that I have no passion for. I would much rather spend three years developing my dance technique and knowledge of dance to give myself the opportunity to fulfill my dream. I am aware that the chances of me becoming a successful professional dancer are slim. But why should this stop me? I would only regret the mistakes I didn't make.

I choose to dance because it makes me insanely and deliriously happy. Have the courage to pursue what makes you happy.

Friday, 31 January 2014

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening"

As part of our intermediate modern technique at Goucher we are required to fill out a sheet of personal goals and reflection. Part of this assignment is a reflection on a famous quote by Martha Graham, who, in my eyes, is the mother of American modern dance. 
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost."

Graham's idea of vitality, life and energy suggests that there is an organic uniqueness within each of us. The way this is translated is unique to every individual. It is important that we don't disallow ourselves the opportunity to express this. No one else can experience, let alone deliver this vitality the same way. Every individual, regardless of artistic or emotional expression, is different. We all have our own stories and identities that are rooted in our upbringings, our parents, our friends and our families; which can not be recreated by anyone else. Only we can be responsible for the existence of ourselves and thus only we can be responsible for the expression of this. 


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Risks

From an early age I have always been afraid to take risks. Whether this was because I was always encourged to take great care and caution or whether it was because I was simply afraid of failing I still haven't worked out. Thus risk taking has never been something that I have been particularly fond of. However throughout my first semester studying Dance at University of Roehampton, I was (to my great displeasure) encouraged to take as many risks as possible. Edwin Denby's idea that "the risk is a part of the rhythm [as] one steps out of and into balance" (Denby, 1998) has stuck with me since my orientation at Roehampton. As I later discovered in my technique classes (also to my great displeasure), Denby was correct.

So, with the advice of my lectures and my tutors I decided to take a risk. I applied to study dance abroad for the Spring semester of my second year and was placed in Goucher College in Baltimore. From my first four days here it is apparent that Goucher is unapologetic in being a private liberal arts college. Both professors and students are incredibly passionate about their teaching and learning. There is an extremely strong sense of community here amongst both students and staff, which I have found in few schools and colleges in England. Despite the great cultural, academic and personal adjustments, in these first four days Goucher has already been a hugely positive and inspiring experience.

Perhaps the rhythm of "stepping in and out of balance" is similar to the leaps we take to improve our character and broaden our academic and personal horizons. Taking risks is central in developing ourselves, regardless of the extent or size of the risk. Whether it is abandoning your inhibition and fear to throw yourself into a complex routine, or chasing a dream to the other side of the world, these risks are fundamental.

Just like the dancer who takes a risk and is consequently dangerously uncertain of their landing, catching and falling; a life and a dream with risk is extraordinarily more exciting.

Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland, US 2014