Finding Room to Dance

An Introduction to the Where Dance Is Series


I didn’t move to Santa Fe to dance, though I knew I wasn’t finished dancing. I didn’t know what I was going to find, but the last thing I expected to find was room.

In my big city days, I felt in constant competition for room. I mean that quite literally. From housing and parking to room on the bus and room in the studio, I was constantly competing for space.

Don’t get me wrong – I am incredibly grateful for my time in the San Francisco. In many ways, it made me the person I am today. But I felt more and more like I was shrinking in that context. I found a niche as a dance writer and that started to become my identity. I was NOT a choreographer; there seemed enough creative people trying to innovate on the stage. I was NOT a teacher; there seemed enough brilliant people with wisdom to impart and enough great classes to take. I was NOT a company dancer; God knows I wasn’t good enough or competitive enough or whatever “not enough” excuse I want to give myself for not measuring up to an arbitrary capitalistic paradigm of success [insert rest of THAT rant here].

Instead, I increasingly saw my efficacy and value to the community as a dance writer. I saw myself taking open classes less avidly, seeking out performance opportunities less ambitiously, getting published in this magazine or that paper more often, and this trend continuing for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, I could barely afford my shared falling apart flat but in an extreme gentrified climate like the Bay Area you get locked into rent control and pray your landlord never dies or sells. My health insurance seemed to go up every few months. The odd jobs I took to make ends meet kept mounting. I felt in many ways like a buoy at sea finding it more and more difficult to stay afloat.

So eventually I moved to Santa Fe. First I found the local “advanced” adult ballet class; once a week I keep my chops reasonably choppy by out-dancing older ladies and bunhead teenagers. Then I joined a weekly contact improv group where we get up close and personal – a fast way to make friends. Then I started doing African dance, shaking and quaking to raucous drums. Then I started taking flamenco, and gees those coordinations are tough but the music is ever so sexy, and then I started renting studio space with another dancer and busting a move/groove, and then I was invited to be part of a performance, and then I did a little ten minute solo I choreographed, and then I was asked to teach at a small local ballet school, and then and then and then…

You see what’s happening? I didn’t plan it. I didn’t go into this dance scene with any grandiose ideas beyond relishing in my enduring love of dance and finding a community around it.

Damn it’s a roomy little community.

And then the strangest thing started happening, not just in the way of opportunities, but in my body. It feels softer. Not flabby. But not so hard and muscular. There’s no barometer of good here, so “trying” starts to take on new dimensions. “Good” is up to me to decide, and if there’s no one to draw comparisons (either in the way of receiving compliments or resources), then who the hell cares whether I’m trying hard to be good? You see – trying “hard.” It’s built into the lexicon.

I’m trying soft now.

I guess I had to move to Santa Fe and not Dance with a capital D to find that Dance is actually the biggest, softest, roundest, craziest, sweetest thing I want it to be. But there you have it. My little memoir tale. I’ve only been here half a year, but for the first time in a long time I don’t feel like I’m trying not to sink. Hell no, I’m actively swimming!

All of this is a roundabout way of saying I recently was inspired to interview six dance artists living and working in out of the way places who are pursuing the craft of dance outside the big city paradigm. I interviewed Steve Paxton in the hills of New England, Hallie Hunt Armato on the shores of Hawaii, Rebecca Salzer in the Deep South, Nir Ben Gal in the Israeli desert, Vincent Lacoste in the French countryside and Jane Hawley on the Midwestern plains. They are all making work and making it work in places few think of as dance destinations. I have so enjoyed their insights, and I hope as their interviews are published over the coming month you do too.

In the meantime, I’ll be here in the Southwest, finding more room by the minute. I can’t wait.


3 Responses to “Finding Room to Dance”

  1. Dan

    NO you can’t turn into a dance teacher. You are still a dancer!

    Emmaly this piece is very good. One of your best.

    But don’t forget you need to do the choreograph White Christmas! 🙂

  2. Nina Haft

    Thank you for this Emmaly! I totally relate – as a native New Yorker, I came out to the Bay Area as my ‘smaller, less competitive’ dance place many years ago. It’s so inspiring to read what you share here, the trying softer (shades of Feldenkrais?!) most of all……I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures in Santa Fe, and to read your interviews with others. Have you contacted anyone in Marfa?

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