Erin: Lessons From The Body

Each summer for the past five years, I have asked a group of young dancers where they are with dance. I leave the question open-ended in order for them to answer however it resonates personally. My goal is to create a yearly check-in to chart how these young women grow and mature through dance.

Below are Erin’s shifting perspectives over the past five years. I eagerly await what direction her path will lead in the future, and what role dance will play. -Emmaly Wiederholt

2017: age 21

I am at this very moment in time, summer 2017, dancing in a study-abroad trip based in Denmark. Also, currently, I am looking toward my final year as a college dance student at Ohio State University pursuing a BFA in Dance.

I have learned a couple lessons this year which I will carry with me for the remainder of my career. Even if not consciously, the lessons will live in my body — an entity which I truly believe is smarter than my own mind.

During the fall of 2016, I had the opportunity to dance with choreographer Bebe Miller for her last work at OSU before her retirement in December. Here I learned about the importance of the people inside a contemporary dance. “Contemporary dance,” I think, is still very loosely defined. From virtuosic leaps to grungy contractions, from narratives to dances that seem to mean nothing, everything along these lines of reference could be contemporary dance. What I found through working with Bebe Miller was a movement piece that centered around the individuals operating inside the work. The choreography was hers; in fact, we were drawing phrase-work primarily from her earlier works Going to the Wall (1998) and Nothing Can Happen Only Once (1993), but we as the dancers shaped the work as it evolved. From Bebe, I learned that every dancer carries their own nuanced understanding of how movement interacts in space. From that, a new dance will form even when filled with movement from another time.

The other lesson I learned is that furthering ideas comes down to the process of communication. This is a thought that I am still unpacking, but it stemmed from when I constructed a solo, Of Stillness (2017). In this work, I looked at the use of motif and Laban Movement Analysis as modes of composition to help a dance shape itself over time. The journey to the end product taught me communicative patience. As both choreographer and dancer, these two parts of me wanted information at different speeds, in different time frames, and at not-always-aligning abilities to provide either end of that information. I saw that even in one person, the communication of ideas from imagery to physicality required varying transactions, all of which landed with varying degrees of success. Imagine how truly difficult it is then to make dance with many people, to make any vision happen with a group? Moving forward, I’d like to maintain awareness of this.

Erin Yen

2016: age 20

I am currently a student at Ohio State University pursuing a BFA in dance. In the fall, I will begin my third of four years.

I believe I will look back at this past year as a year marked with change and growth. There were many ‘up’ moments filled with excitement from new knowledge and self-discoveries, just as there were many ‘down’ moments filled with stress and self-doubt, but I am thankful for the journey that has led me to where I stand now. I more than ever trust my instincts, believe I have a good head on my shoulders, and see all the tools I need to make informed decisions.

Two important decisions I made this year were that I will have faith in following my instincts to do nothing more than what I think is right for me in the moment, and that I want to perform professionally. Upon entering Ohio State’s college dance program, I wanted to see what the field had to offer. I learned there are many different outlets in which to use dance knowledge, and after getting the taste of quite a few, I can say I find all aspects as equally important cogs in the working clock of the field, but my heart lies in performing. I love the choreographic process. I love the art of tapping into another’s mind to help coach movement art into fruition.

And although I have decided I want to perform, other aspects of dance remain just as important to me. This year I learned about movement analysis, a new passion of mine I did not previously know existed. I’m super into Rudolf Laban. He revolutionized modern dance to become an abstract expressionist art form. While I appreciate the rich history and art of Labanotation, my interests in movement analysis at the moment lie more with Motif and LMA principles, which I believe allow for a more complex, deeper understanding of movement to develop. Some things I am thinking about now are how efforts and intentions as explained by Laban enhance a performer’s understanding of work.

Over the course of my years as a dancer, I have had some great teachers, and this year was no exception. What I got in excess this year was a group of dance scholars — I say this to encompass both dance academic and movement professors — with advice that significantly changed my outlook on dance and the greater role it plays as a part of the human experience. One lesson that shaped me came from Dr. Hannah Kosstrin, my 20-21st century concert dance history teacher, who said, “Our bodies are a living history of everything we have danced before.” In other words, our bodies are moving archives of every past dance technique and teacher we have trained with, every choreographic process and performance, every injury or trauma, every movement interaction we have made with the world surrounding us. Bodies are smarter than the mind realizes, and it carries years (for me it is now 20 years) worth of movement information.

Understanding this allowed me to better celebrate the movement journey that has brought me to my current place. To hear that essentially every individual body is a different grouping of eclectic physical lessons was important for my greater appreciation of where I am at. I can be nothing more than what I am currently. In the past, I found myself somewhat ashamed of my not-so-traditional, very jumbled and eclectic route towards contemporary concert dance. I had believed that not being raised a “bunhead” left me lacking, and that I would need to play a constant game of catch-up to those with backgrounds in solely codified techniques. But I am not lacking. My experience in tap, Irish dance, cross-country running and jazz have left me with a different set of movement histories to inform me daily.

I also got to be a part of some historic moments this past year. OSU faculty member Bebe Miller will be retiring after fall semester 2016, and I was lucky to have been a student in her final contemporary technique course this past spring. I will always remember our final class together, where we played music to commemorate the recent loss of Prince, and danced. As we pounded on the floor, hooted and hollered, and clapped for our amazing teacher to signify the end of our final class, she said to us, “You’ve just got to do it, figure it out, and pass it on.” From Bebe, I learned loads. She, with lessons paralleling those from my ballet professor Karen Eliot, helped me to understand that ballet and contemporary dance have the same alignment challenges. Bebe got me to consider the ephemeral nature of dance and movement. And through her advice, I now turn to watching Trisha Brown’s Water Motor when I need a splash of dance inspiration.

Some of my greatest moments of growth, both the growth that is physically marked as well as the mental growth that occurs when you once again realize that you know basically nothing, came from studying under Eddie Taketa. As a new faculty member at OSU after his recent retirement from Doug Varone and Dancers, I had the pleasure of taking his contemporary technique and participating in a new work he created. One of my most memorable moments in Eddie’s technique class came when he demonstrated a complicated combination quickly, and the students including myself stood there with troubled looks, thinking too hard about what we just saw and how we would possibly learn it. Eddie paused and said to us relax, “Your body knows technique. You’ve been training in dance for years. You no longer have to think about the steps. You can just trust that your body knows them.” This absolutely connects to my Dr. Kosstrin lesson. The body is way smarter than we realize and I have an entire history of learning movement to inform my dancing. So with this advice from Eddie, I learned to relax and ride the wave of information that my body soaks up when the mind is at ease. Another Eddie lesson states that you essentially can plan nothing; you can only allow yourself to remain open for experience to happen to you. For my Type A, organized and controlling personality, this has been a hard pill to swallow, but I cannot deny the truth in that statement. Living in the past or the future is nothing compared to existing in the moment, and if I can’t plan future experience, then why not enjoy what’s going on in the present?

Eddie Taketa brought the Doug Varone and Dancers Summer Workshop to my attention, so a couple of my classmates and I went to Skidmore College this summer to work with the company. I just recently got home from the workshop, and I am still taking time to process all of the aspects of this amazing experience. What I can say is that I honed more movement skills, and my body got the chance to soak up and archive more teacher histories. But maybe most importantly, I was reminded of all the lessons I had learned over the past school year in patience, living in the current moment, trust, celebrating difference, and letting go. I was reminded that the smart mover is sought out and appreciated.

My summer is not yet over; my dance journey has just begun. Rounding out my summer of dance, on July 5th I began the Hubbard Street Summer Intensive in Chicago. I will follow up that with the week-long Gaga workshop in NYC, then return to school early to work with MFA candidate Josh Manculich on his upcoming thesis work. Moving forward into the coming school year, I remain aware that dance is the art of trying to be perfect in a world where there is no such thing. There will always be room for growth, and I can’t wait to experience that journey.

Erin Yen 2016 - resized and colored

2015: age 19

I just finished my first year at the Ohio State University where I am studying to receive a BFA in Dance. I had a lovely first year. Ohio State has a program that is as physically demanding as it is academically challenging. It is a small program; my year has a class of 17, but the BFAs share space with the MFAs or PhDs in dance. I am very fortunate to gain knowledge from my fellow BFA students, but I am especially grateful for the grad students (MFA and PhD students) who share their experiences with me, as most of them have danced professionally and are now coming back to school. From them I have, time and time again, learned that dance is a versatile and expansive field that can extend into any aspect I choose. I feel stronger as an artist and more experienced as a person having gone through year one of college. But dance, what used to be my hobby, is now my job. That change is striking, as I am now finding that I have both more and less time to extend my passions into other areas of interest (cooking, for example). But I love my job, and I am fortunate to have decided at a young age that dance was something I found worth the commitment. In the coming school year, I will be performing a lot, creating some, and learning more about my field than I’m sure I know exists right now. I can’t wait.

Erin Yen

2014: age 18

As of right now, I have just finished a Giordano jazz summer workshop, and in a couple of weeks I will be attending the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. This fall I will be entering college at Ohio State University as a BFA dance major. My interest in dance as a performing art, as well as a lifestyle choice, continues to drive my work in the field, and I am excited to be moving on to a new chapter in my study of dance.

Erin_Yen_2014

2013: age 17

I just got home from the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and will venture to Cornish College of the Arts’ summer intensive this coming Saturday. Dance is a large part of my life right now as I experiment with what my interests are and how those interests may play out in the future. This coming school year, I will be a senior in high school, so I need to consider possible plans for after high school and how dance can fit into them. After training with SFCD, I feel as if I approach dance with a different perspective and have gained a more effective work ethic. I plan to bring this more refined attitude towards dance and dance training to my studies over the next year. I know I have a lot to learn as far as dance is concerned, but I am willing to get as much as I can out of each lesson because I’d like dance to be a part of my life for a long time. That is where I stand with dance right now.

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