BY EMMALY WIEDERHOLT; PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREGORY BARTNING
“Do you want me to dance?” Josie asked. But before she had reached the end of her sentence, she had literally jumped into a combination. She emoted, expressed, whirled and twirled in her long black swirling coat. One might describe her as regal or relentless, or even rampant in her movement. She danced like a careful flood, aware of its power and measured in its distribution.
When did you start dancing and what have been some highlights along the journey?
I was introduced to modern dance in Hackensack, New Jersey through a church that had a studio. It was run by a woman named Shirley Ubell. She asked me to take a class because I had good feet. She taught me a solo of hers called On Being a Woman. I started dancing at 15, which was older than most of the other girls and, as a result, I didn’t have a familiarity with dance steps like they had. It was difficult for me to ascertain material as quickly as the others. In working with Shirley on the solo, I had the benefits of working one on one. That was my hook into dance.
In class I flailed – I struggled with the terminology and language, but my teachers were really generous. They told me how to do something energetically, with a sense of emotion – things that every human being can tap into it. I feel fortunate this was my jumping off place. It included me in dance in a way that made me invest very deeply instead of judging myself for what I couldn’t do.
When I moved out west, I was part of a collective called Dancers’ Workshop. We were eight independent artists who were all trying to create our own work, find our own voice and all extremely different, and yet there was a sense of finding a common language that could teach us how to understand ourselves. Dance opened up a door that allowed me to walk down a lot of different aisles of experience. It made me not turn away from things that were dark, but rather to walk in farther to shed light on my questions.
I also did a lot of solo work. There was a lot of alone time spent in space. It was about digging deep into something that had to come out, and when it did come out it was true.
What does your current dance practice look like?
It’s changed because I’ve changed and my body has changed. I was one of those dancers who needed to be in the studio every day. There wasn’t really a right or wrong, just being present in the moment and knowing that moment inside out, feeling how it informed me. It was like getting on a bike and being informed by riding it.
Because I used to perform a lot, I took class every day and did a lot of yoga as well. Now, I have a family, and I’m 57. My body can’t do the same things. I used to be able to go forever. I’ve shifted, though dance continues to be a part of my life every single day. It informs me. It’s a really profound teacher in that everything I think I’ve figured out shifts and turns.
I relay information much differently than I used to. I teach in the way I was taught – everybody has something extraordinary to give away. The question is: how do you create a space and environment for that to happen?
I love architecture, music, momentum and detail. When I look at dance, I like to see there’s an investment that happens.
How has your motivation to dance evolved over time?
I’m a storyteller. I don’t do mime or story ballets, but I’m interested in energetically conveying something. I think that comes from watching older people dance, where it’s not about cutting through the air but about changing the air around you. It’s like catching a laugh or watching someone start to lose it, and soon you do too. For me, dance is about catching the ride of somebody feeling something.
For a long period of time, I was able to focus only on dance, but having children changed that. The priorities had to shift, and I had to learn how to not get upset when shifts occur.
What does the idea of success mean to you? Do you feel you’ve achieved some measure of success?
Success to me is that I’m as in love with dance as I was when I first discovered it. How good is that? It’s like a beacon or a compass that sits in a drawer right on top of my heart. Dance allows me to explore myself singularly. That is such a gift.
What do you perceive is your legacy?
My legacy is to have faith, be brave, and listen to what my heart, mind and creative impulses tell me. It’s always interesting to trailblaze, plant dreams deeply and see what happens. As dancers, it’s not just about going from A to B to C to D. It’s about looking at a total picture.
Are there a set of circumstances that would cause you to stop dancing?
If there are, I haven’t felt them. I’ve always identified as a dancer-teacher-choreographer, and even if I couldn’t do it, I can enjoy it through what other people have to say. I think the key to staying interested is by making adjustments.
Dance is something to which people feel they have to surrender. It’s more like dance chose me. Lucas Hoving used to say, “Dance is like a jealous lover. Just as soon as you thought you could let it go, it’s grabbing onto you and holding you closer.”
Dance is a process; there’s no syllabus to follow and no right or wrong way. That’s what I really love about dance. It’s a cornucopia. You never settle and experience the same thing twice. It takes a curious mind to venture into the unknown. You can’t walk into it with any assurances. You have to walk into it with blind faith.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
I don’t have any. Things that were difficult for me taught me just as much as things that came easily.
I trust dance. I just do. It isn’t about the moment; it’s about the cumulative experience that makes you raw or impenetrable. It’s so unlike any other pursuit, and people experience it in so many different ways… so I don’t have any words of wisdom.
Josie Moseley has captivated audiences for over 25 years with her solo performances and group pieces set on various artists and companies worldwide. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.