Where Are You With Dance Right Now?

By Emmaly Wiederholt

I keep journals. It’s been, and will hopefully continue to be, a lifelong habit. I do it not so much as a way of pouring my heart out on a page, but as a way of documenting my life for myself. I often go back to read and reflect: what did I feel at this or that point? What does the benefit of experience teach me that I didn’t know then? It’s my personal way of building a larger context for the present moment beyond my murky memory.

Because documenting feelings via writing can create a powerful point of reference, I am setting out on a new project that I hope will continue and grow for several years. I have asked eleven pre-professional teenage dancers to take the time to answer: “Where are you with dance right now?”

I will ask these eleven dancers this question once a year every year for as long as they continue to respond. I don’t know if any of them will go on to become professional dancers, but for me that is irrelevant. I want to document the journey. How does one’s relationship to dance change with age? When do some make the decision to lead a life in dance while others decide to make it an enjoyable hobby or even to stop dancing altogether? Scientists do studies like these all the time, where there is a constant and a variable, and they seek to better understand the constant by noting its relationship to the variable. Why can’t this type of study be applied to dance? Here the constant is the eleven dancers I’ve asked to participate. The variable is their futures.

These eleven dancers primarily went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance summer intensive, but a few came from ODC’s teen dance program. This is because I had access to the dancers in these two programs, and of the many dancers I asked to be a part, these were the ones who took the time to respond. Of the dancers who went to the Conservatory summer intensive, they come from different parts of the country and have trained in different schools and techniques. I have no bias about the training or background of the dancers who participate; my only stipulation is that they be pre-professional dancers.

In the future I want to try and start a new group each year. In this way I want to build a chronicle of what it means to go from passionate amateur to wherever these students go. Over the next week I will publish their responses here on Stance On Dance, and hopefully in the years to come the project will grow.

But first, I would be a bit of a hypocrite if I asked these dancers to reflect on where they are with dance but be remiss in adding my own reflection, so this is where I was with dance this summer when I asked the students the same question:

I’m working on how to be effectual. I’m overwhelmingly busy. I just got back from Ghana. I’m moving to LA in less than a month to start grad school. I’m finishing up my performances with Project Thrust. I’m running and growing Stance On Dance. I’m working on this interview project with dancers over 50. I feel like I’m running full out, and as soon as I catch my breath I have to run again. The ironic thing is I asked for all this, so it’s all welcome work. Really though, I can barely keep up with what I’ve asked myself to do.

Balancing this workload with my physical practice has become an interesting juxtaposition. I can try to quickly finish a draft, edit a paper, or transcribe an interview, but nothing is gained by rushing in a physical practice. I need to remind myself to take time to stretch, get warm, work out, feel my body, etc. Rushing through a barre is silly.

Lastly, I’ve often found myself this past year on the precipice of either being in shape or out of shape, and I’ve crossed this line back and forth repeatedly. It’s an interesting thing to watch, my body build in muscle mass or slightly begin to atrophy. I think my physical practice is somehow more enriched by walking this line, instead of always having all systems firing.

I hope in the next week you enjoy the perspective of where these young dancers are coming from, and I invite dancers everywhere to regularly take the time to reflect and note where they are with dance right now. It is a rich practice in itself, and as the journal of cumulative reflections grows, those insights grow even richer and more meaningful.

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