Lindsey Renee Derry is a solo dance artist in San Francisco. She founded L i n s d a n s in 2012 as a platform for her work. Here, she describes the ups and downs of producing her own practice.
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra
What does your current dance practice look like?
My practice varies depending on if I am in creation, preparing existing work for a tour, or am in between cycles. In terms of training, I have many mini-systems I like to repeat and continuously tweak, visiting each of them at least once a week. These routines exist in the areas of somatic/physical therapy, Pilates reformer, yoga, cardio/weights, and contemporary center technique. Once a week I savor taking ballet with Summer Lee Rhatigan at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and, if I am able to, yoga with Wes Linch at the Clayton Yoga Shala. Most open classes, with these as the exception, take me outside of my body for various reasons. I crave deep mind-body connection and often find that the only way I can achieve it is to be alone where I can listen at the micro level and move at my own pace.
When it comes to creation or rehearsal, I like to work in three hour blocks with frequency depending on what I am building. Without an outside choreographer or rehearsal director to structure the time, I have found working with natural desire and something called time boxing really helpful. For example, if I am feeling disconnected, I’ll put on my timer for 45 minutes and tell myself to do whatever I want during that time with zero expectations, not even to build heat. Desire and ideas, eventually, always show up. Or, if I am reconstructing a solo for a performance, I’ll time box an hour and a half to just be with the material. Sometimes I’ll take the full time to rediscover the movement as if I am learning it for the first time. Other times, I’ll put on pop music and sing out loud as I jam with the movement. As I near performances, I like to invite guests to watch, mainly to observe myself being witnessed and how this shifts my decision-making process and energetic/emotional output within the work. I never really know what a work is or where it stands on its scale of development until it goes through the witnessing process. Using the opportunity to receive feedback is equally a plus.
For the most part, all of the spaces I have performed my solo evenings in thus far have been “dance studios by day/ performance spaces by night” with DIY systems for lighting. I have come to really appreciate performing in these intimate spaces where eye contact can be made and subtle choices read. Locally, I enjoy performing a couple of times per year on mixed programs such as sjDANCEco’s ChoreoProject and LEVYdance’s The Salon. Internationally, I have been fortunate to find different residency programs that include both time for creation and support for public presentations of my work. In November, I soaked in every second at the Derida Dance Center in Sofia, Bulgaria, where I worked on and performed the first iteration of my new solo show Would_She, set to premiere May 6-7 at the Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco.
How do you fund your practice?
Cost avoidance; I do as much as I can artistically and administratively on my own and rehearse as often as possible where I teach and have access to free studio space. Exchanges and collaborations – whether with organizations or individuals. Fundraising; as a fiscally sponsored project of Dancer’s Group, I am able to receive tax-deductible donations and apply for grants to support my work. Of course, even with cost avoidances, exchanges, collaborations and fundraising, a lot of time is required, and time, in one way or another, equals money. Beyond the income that my teaching and small choreography commissions bring in, I have an extraordinarily supportive husband who has made it possible for me to dedicate such an enormous amount of time to my craft.
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra
What are the benefits to working on your own (as opposed to working within a company or institution)?
In 2012, when I launched L i n s d a n s as the platform for my solo performance work, I was flooded with an inner sense of autonomy and freedom I had never experienced before. Up until then, everything I did dance-wise depended on other people and organizations’ making opportunities available, from scheduled time in the studio and touring to the creation of fulfilling work for me to dance. When I took on the full responsibility for the experience I wanted to have with my dancing, I felt instantly happier. When the companies I worked with had less work one season or when I was rejected at auditions, I used to get really down. I still hear “no” a lot, way more, in fact, but through L i n s d a n s I have an outlet through which I can be more proactive, whether it’s investing more time in the studio, getting extra applications off, etc.
What are the drawbacks?
Though L i n s d a n s is the platform of one dancer, it requires the same rigor as any dance company in regards to administration, marketing, fundraising, producing and so on. While I have loved developing many new skills in these areas, they are unbelievably time consuming and pull me out of the studio way more than I would ever like to admit. There is a certain rise of energy and excitement, added stimulus and inspiration in a studio when working with others that’s more difficult to generate alone. Humor too. To satisfy my cravings and needs for this, I consciously seek group experiences, right now through dancing with Hope Mohr Dance, teaching at Santa Clara University, and engaging in collaborations.
What do you find are the hardest obstacles to overcome in making your work?
My unending quest to perfect my surrounding circumstances. I will spend over three hours warming up my body, and by the time I start rehearsing and creating, the quality of my focus and energy begins declining, or, though I have a home yoga/Pilates studio, I won’t use it unless my entire house is clutter free. Ridiculous, I know. My need to have everything in an ideal condition, whether it’s my inbox or body, can prevent me from just diving it. My fixation with details can make starting a new process or continuing on a project very overwhelming. I find residencies especially helpful because when I am away from home, I allow myself to escape the details of daily life and fully embrace the creative process. Beyond my personal obstacles, there is self-producing, which I find strenuous and most draining. Ideally, I would love to find an organization who would be willing to co-produce my work and share a portion of the overall responsibilities, freeing me up to stay more in the realm of being an artist, especially in the final weeks leading up to a performance.
How do you personally measure success? When do you feel most successful?
I pay attention to the yes’s that show up and less to the no’s. I have observed that often times, the specific goals that motivate me are rarely directly achieved but always, from my effort and devotion towards them, deliver some other indirect reward. In hindsight, I am able to see how severely changed my course would have been should some of my more specific goals been achieved. Would I still be dancing for Paul Taylor should my early college fantasy have become realized? I use rejection as a compass and always deeply consider opportunities when they do show up because I recognize them as energetic matches to what I am putting out there. While I do measure my success by the victories that materialize, like invitations to festivals or other special recognitions, I am, ultimately, chasing after a feeling. I experience it once or twice a year during performance and when I do, I am left in a euphoric state for about 24 hours. Is it higher consciousness, inspiration, presence, the essence of my own vitality, or simply a mixture of adrenaline and endorphins? Though I cannot pinpoint it, I know it only happens when all my invested efforts – mentally, physically and spiritually – made over many months come together and, because of this, this feeling has become my gauge of personal success.
Would_She premieres May 6-7 at the Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco. For more info, visit linsdans.org.
Photo by Atanas D. Maev