By Hannah Garner
In a workshop organized by Katie Monroe ’12 as part of the Drop Shot art space House series, dancer Leah Stein led a group of bi-co students to explore movement, space, and bodies through improvisational dance last Tuesday.
In the two-hour workshop, Leah guided us through various improvisational exercises playing with movement, stillness, space, and sound. A professional dancer with her own dance company in Philadelphia, Leah has taught improv dance at Bryn Mawr in the past and will teach again in Spring 2011.
Some of the workshop participants on Tuesday were dancers, many were not, and most were unfamiliar with improvisational dance. Not being a dancer myself, I felt the accessibility of performing improv, especially when compared with the more structured forms that audiences may be more used to seeing.
Without background music and without instructions on how to move or what positions to take, the dance I allowed my body to form was liberating and independent. But we were also dancing together as a group, constantly aware of our spatial relationships and engaging with each other’s bodies, if only subtly. Even though I focused most consciously on my own movement, I could feel it was the group dynamic that propelled me.
In one exercise, Leah asked us to find a spot in the space, create a movement in that spot, and find a sound to incorporate into our movement. Afterwards we noted down our thoughts on the exercise:
“My place,” I wrote “was between two, or maybe three floorboards in our squash court, the noise of the squeaking a reverence to the tradition of wooden floors and the anxiety of displaying perfection. The movement belongs to my father setting down forks and knives just so on our dining room table (wooden), manic about social gatherings and the upholding of rituals.”
Writing down what I created in the exercise allowed me to translate into words (and a story) what it felt like my body carried out on its own. Dancing in Leah’s workshop allowed me to re-enter into a physical artistic expression that I had lost touch with. Used to expressing myself in somewhat anti-physical ways, dancing gave me a new point of view. And it was in writing down my physical expression that I felt the strength of crossing over between different expressive forms. Translating dance into words was just one way in which the workshop took part in artistic overlaps.
The workshop was situated, after all, in an old squash court turned into an art space where just two weeks before another student had held an installation. And as the ten of us dancers worked with Leah, three other students participated through different mediums. Two photographers captured our movement from the corners and doorway, and one girl sat discreetly behind the front glass wall making sketches. As Leah noted, a photographer crouched in a corner as we danced across the court became part of the composition of the dance.
As we were divided into groups to choreograph pieces, I broke away to pick up a video camera and slip into the role of documentarian. I walked up and down the hallway alongside the squash courts and played with the video camera in my hands, viewing and framing the dancing that I had moments before been a part of.
It was a Tuesday night and a dozen students, many of us strangers to each other, had come together to dance. I could see as I zoomed into their movements and expressions that they were inhabiting their bodies in a way that most people fail to do on a daily basis.
I could see through my camera lens that their dance was created with intention and care, and when we all came together as an audience, the pieces were fascinating and fulfilling to watch. And I remember now how enlightening it was to embody movement as I might music or words. Easing into my own rhythm of movement, I felt the value in dancing not for an audience or for any clear purpose but for a fleeting cohesion between dancers and environment.