A typical “what do you do with your life?” conversation I’ve had a lot lately:
“Oh, you’re a dancer. Cool. What style do you do? Ballet?”
I try not to look offended, assess the person’s knowledge of dance outside World of Dance and productions of The Nutcracker they saw when they were five years old.
“No, I’m experimental.” …Oh, wait; they won’t know what that means… “I’m kind of like modern. I use some of their movements, but I do my own thing. I use a scarf a lot. No, I don’t do burlesque. How about I just show you my Instagram?”
It took me a while to even feel comfortable calling myself a dancer. I didn’t feel I’d earned the title or something. I didn’t follow the standard dancer development map of starting at an early age, getting a degree in dance, and seeking to join a dance company. I started dancing three years ago when I was 20 during my final year of college as an English major and I told my advisor Ballet I was just a “fun elective” to end my semester with. But I knew in the back of my mind that it meant much more to me. It was an opportunity to truly explore dance, something I’ve wanted to do with my life since I was about eight and I spent hours copying videos on You Tube and then put on dance performances for my parents, who unfortunately couldn’t find it in their budget to fund dance classes. After I left home and began to explore classes on my own, I quickly discovered that pure ballet’s rigidity isn’t what my body thrives at, but began to experiment with my own movements and interpretations of basic movements I learned outside of class. That was when I began to find the voice I’m so happy to have now.
In the first year or so of developing myself outside classes I took at various studios, I felt compelled to conform as much as possible to the narrowly defined concept of dance I’d grown up with, despite the fact that I’m not that flexible and I have a chronic pain condition called Fibromyalgia that often makes certain movements too painful for me to execute gracefully. I tried endless turns, kept my arms in proper 1st-5th positions, forced my body into shapes that didn’t feel good and, in all honesty, didn’t look particularly good either. After years of practice, however, I gained the comfort and creative drive to resist conformity, do what feels and looks good according to my own unique body and the stories it wants to tell, and to allow myself to get shockingly weird. I admittedly shock myself sometimes! Just ask any of my friends about the peanut butter dance or the time I pulverized a bunch of roses on stage. Now that I feel I know myself as an artist and what I want to create, I’m delighted to share it with the world at St. Lou Fringe Festival. I have some weird, provocative pieces I plan to present that I hope will leave the audience entertained and with their minds running wild.
The roses will definitely return at St Lou Fringe (the peanut butter has a rather messy clean up process), but my main prop will always be my scarf. The only established form of scarf dancing I’m aware of involves a very thin piece of fabric that the dancer keeps fairly spread out and fluid, creating a happy weightless feel. What I have been continuously developing is quite the opposite (I’m admittedly somewhat of a masochist). Rather than keep the scarf fluttery, I tend to use a lot of tension and keep it on my body rather than around it. I bind myself—neck, wrists, crotch; yes, I use my teeth—to explore a complex relationship with control, masochism, and the animalistic tendencies of human nature. Because I consider my work so visceral and instinctive, I actually choreograph very little, if at all (i.e., I begin with a very rough plan). The pieces that I’m putting together for St. Lou Fringe with thus be raw and spur of the moment. The audience will watch a large part of my creative process live as I continuously discover new ways of expressing what can’t be said in words through movement instead.
Photo by Tristan Shannon