Notes on Dancing

By Katie Gaydos

I sat down to write a clear and cohesive argument about dance in the Bay Area. I thought that the process of writing would force me to formulate a clear understanding of what it means to me to be a dance artist in 2012 and what kinds of artistic endeavors feel the most satisfying to engage in. But, unsurprisingly, writing only confirmed my existing
confusion. It became clear that all of my spastic thoughts, observations and opinions about the Bay Area dance community didn’t add up to any kind of argument, which isn’t to say they aren’t valuable—just that they aren’t definitive. In her “Notes on Camp” the writer Susan Sontag asserts that, “To snare a sensibility in words, especially one that is alive and powerful, one must be tentative and nimble. The form of jottings, rather than an essay (with its claim to a linear, consecutive argument), seemed more appropriate for getting down something of this particular fugitive sensibility.” Thus, using Sontag as inspiration, I’ll attempt to be nimble with some notes on dancing (in no particular order).

1. Writing notes (or employing “the form of jottings”) feels synchronous to the freelance dance career I’m currently pursuing. Un-linear and unpredictable, both notes and pursuing dance from one project to the next, often feels scattered, sparse and disorienting. Yet notes, as fleeting glimpses of partial thoughts, often gesture to a level of multiplicity and complexity that full-fleshed ideas aren’t always conducive to. Likewise, the frightening freedom and perpetual state of transition that accompanies a freelance dance career feels (for me at least) conducive to the continual and complex investigation (and evaluation) of what kinds of artistic endeavors feel the most satisfying at any given point.

2. Obvious cliché’s that I forget and need to be reminded of on a daily basis:
A. What’s the point of making art if you’re not willing to take risks?
B. Quality is more important than quantity.
C. There is no such thing as a “big break.” Rather, there is only ever a series of small breaks.
D. I dance because it makes me feel alive.

3. Fill in the blank: You couldn’t pay me to _____ but I’ll do _____ for free.

4. I’m currently reading Liz Lerman’s “Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from Choreographer” and am drawn to her approach of questioning as an engine for creating and sustaining art. She suggests that by transforming our observations and opinions (and even complaints) into questions we can foster rich and constructive ways of approaching our own art: “They all started as complaints, opinions, awareness of discomfort, internal monologues looping around in an obsessive brain. It took awhile to figure out that by changing the tone and letting my sentence end with an upward tilt, I could actually get back to the material at hand and go to work. Inquiry became liberating”(7).

5. What would your ideal dancing (or artistic) career look like? How can you create that ideal in less than ideal environments/contexts?

6. The nice thing about notes is you can pick up and engage with the ones you like and disregard the ones you don’t like.

7. I remember once in college dancing bits of Balanchine’s Serenade with reckless abandon in the rain and feeling complete joy that for once my dancer and non-dancer identities were dancing together.

8. How do we discern quality in dance? Are there objective standards we should abide by or is taste highly subjective? If it’s subjective, how then do we allocate financial resources? Who gets what and why?

9. What kinds of dance performances are the most satisfying to watch/engage with? Is satisfaction the same as entertainment? If not, are there times when it could/should be?

10. I was recently skimming through a Glamour magazine when what I thought was a New York City Ballet ad caught my attention. I thought, “Since when does New York City Ballet have ads in Glamour magazine?” It took me a second to register the tiny Opi Nail Polish “Barre My Soul” featured below the pretty tutu wearing Janie Taylor and realize that the page was actually an ad for the new Opi Nail Polish NYCB collection. I stand by my initial confusion.

11. I stopped dancing after high school because at the time I thought that if you weren’t the best (or in a top full time dance company) there wasn’t a point in pursuing anything else. Luckily, taking a step back allowed me to rediscover dance on my own terms and I was able to return to it with a new perspective and appreciation. I like the musician Lykke Li’s take on being the best: “I can cry myself to sleep because I’m not as great as Leonard Cohen, but who cares? Maybe you can’t be as great as some people, but it’s a tragedy when you don’t follow your dreams. So should I just shut the fuck up because I’m not great? Or should I just do it because I must? It’s a complicated situation.”

12. For me the process of dancing, like writing, is deeply revealing. I like that both words and movement can only ever gesture towards meaning.

 Photo credit: Weidong Yang at Kunst-Stoff Arts

One Response to “Notes on Dancing”

  1. Sandi Walker

    The questions that Liz poses reminds me of Life Coaching questions. Keep up the questions. It helps to only make your career richer for taking the time to know what you want and what you can make of your art. Have fun in Bay area. I have a friend named Cherie Carson there. She is a yoga teacher, and arielist performer and director. I think she can also sell you a house.

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