Art worth living for.

Editor’s note: This month on Stance on Dance, several dance artists have been asked to share a pivotal dance experience that changed their trajectory or the way they think about dance. 


SUNY Brockport, January 1985.  My first round of grad school.

I went to either exorcise dance or swallow dance whole.   It was colder there than I had ever known; I cried walking to class some mornings, the Lake Ontario wind piercing right through my layers.

That first year was a lot of fear and some rejection.  We were made to stand in line to weigh in at the beginning of technique class and our weights were each called out and recorded in a notebook.   I remember driving to Rochester in the evenings to take Garth Fagan’s class and stopping at Burger King so some of the dancers could eat and then throw up.

Somewhere in that first year, I saw Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring on video.  It saved me.  Sure, the dancers were super skinny and I knew they suffered for this art, but what a piece of art, holy hell.  Unison!  Musicality!  Dirt! Narrative!  Passion!  Wild, sweaty, detailed, abandoned, precise movement!  I saw so many gorgeous contradictions in their bodies, in that setting, that story, that dance.  This was art worth living for.

Pina Bausch Rite of Spring

Somehow I won a scholarship to ADF that summer.  While it was a struggle to stay afloat in that most intense of dancer prancer environments, there were rich experiences that have stayed with me to this day and have greatly influenced my work, though funnily, none of these experiences had to do with seeing great dance performances – we saw a performance pretty much every evening and I don’t remember any of them.  I vividly remember a repertory class learning Doris Humphrey’s Ritmo Hondo, which we both rehearsed and performed on a lawn.  The rhythms were complex; it was my first experience of a dance where movement and music were so deeply and intelligently intertwined.  I learned about inhabiting movement musically.  I learned about supplication.  I learned from a Labanotation expert who read the score from a page and gave us the movement, how pure it was learning a dance that way.  I fell in love with Doris Humphrey, who remains I think an under-appreciated artist.

I remember a class with Kenneth Rinker, who danced with Twyla Tharp.  I learned from him that one does not need to be a perfect or even authoritative teacher, that knowing yourself and your work and being humble and honest are what matter.  He would space out in the middle of a combo and look lost and we adored him and his movement so much that we learned faster and knew his stuff even better than he did.

I came back to Brockport and was chosen to dance in a piece by a faculty member who had just returned from France and was making a work about Edith Piaff.  This was my first dance-theater experience and somehow it was just the right role for me.  It was musical, theatrical, ritualistic and real.  I danced, I stripped, I got my hair washed onstage, I wore shoes, I went wild on a water-logged stage without fear; it was subtle, it was expansive.  I learned how to inhabit a character through movement.  The rehearsal drama reflected the drama in the piece.  It was art worth living for.

For more on Randee Paufve’s work, visit

One Response to “Art worth living for.”

  1. Mike Barber

    “…knowing yourself and your work and being humble and honest are what matter. ”

    I see and honor that in Randee! So interesting to hear some of where that came from.

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