Impacting Many

An Interview with Valerie Green of Valerie Green/Dance Entropy

BY EMMALY WIEDERHOLT

Valerie Green is a dance artist in Queens, New York City, and the director of Valerie Green/Dance Entropy. Valerie shares how her choreography, teaching, and studio all come together to contribute to her mission of multicultural understanding through dance and community building. Here, she shares the backstory of some of her choreographic works, the extensive breadth of her teaching through multiple classes for varied populations, and how her studio Green Dance serves as a home for many artists in the dance community.

One dancer in white crouches down on a wood dance floor with three other dancers in white standing behind her facing various directions. They are in a bright studio with big windows.

Rehearsal shot, Photo courtesy Valerie Green/Dance Entropy

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Can you share a little about your dance history and what has shaped who you are as a dance artist, so readers get a sense of where you’re coming from?

An important part of shaping my artistic work was some of my undergrad experience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. What made it unique was that it was multidisciplinary. It integrated dance with video design, sound design, and computers. Everything I had to make as a major had a multidisciplinary component, and that’s present in my work now: working with composers, sound editing, video, visual artists. Having that exposure in the college years helped me to think on a larger scale of what could be possible.

My early years in New York City were training with Erick Hawkins Dance Company. I do come out of a classical dance background, but my work transcends that. I’m still teaching Hawkins Technique; I like to say I’ve brought it into the 21st century and found what’s most essential to any developing dancer. The specificity of the training and the technique’s use of time, dynamics, the clear intention of the movement and knowing where the body is at all moments in space definitely shaped me as a choreographer in those concepts.

I’ve always been interested in world music and dance. That’s been a part of my background for most of my life. That would be the next layer of influence. I’ve had exposure to other cultures and music that bled into my being and my soul and have a presence in my work in some way.

How would you generally describe your choreography to someone unfamiliar with it?

Bold, compelling, visceral. There are usually strong themes in my work. It often makes people feel something. There are often unexpected movements of audience interaction, use of voice, something visually theatrical or interdisciplinary. My work has a way of making one connect to themselves in some way. And the work is highly physical and very demanding.

I generally work with composers and my process is more unique in that I make the dance and then bring in the composer later. I want the dance to find its essence. I don’t want the dance to be affected by the music. I want the dance to find its full dynamic and time, and then have the composer support what’s created. This is the opposite from most choreographers. This is out of my Hawkins training as well: finding what the movement wants to say and being clear about it before it’s influenced by something else.

Dancers wearing white move around the stage lifting long tube-like structures.

Utopia at St. Mark’s Church, Photo by Stephen Delas Heras

What was the impetus for your recent piece, Rite? What was your choreographic process?

Rite was a dance that started out of nowhere. I didn’t have any idea going into it. I started working in the studio and didn’t even feel like making up movements. My process was I started doing trance dance with myself to different world and trance music. I just let my body go where it wanted to go and do what it wanted to do. I found that my body was engaged in specific movements in repetition and exploring a theme. After, I would go back and see what I could remember. Then I notated the movements and videoed them. My process was to approach this in a playful way where there was zero thought of trying to do anything.

I was teaching my dancers this odd collection of movements. I started with two male dancers. The common thing that was said was that the movements were quite hard and nuanced, even though they looked simple. I brought in another male dancer and had this feeling that it was a dance for all men. Certain things were coming up with regards to warrior, shamanism, and root chakra. I had to do an audition for more men. I continued to work on putting the movement together, but I still didn’t know what I had made. A trip to Morocco revealed that I was creating a ritual in a ceremony. I didn’t quite see what I was making. I’ve had a lot of experiences with ceremonies and rituals and worked in plant medicine. I realized I had somehow replicated a start-to-finish ceremony in a dance experience. It was about letting go and releasing something that no longer needed to be held.

Four male dancers move in different directions in front of a blue stain glass window.

Rite at The Center, Photo by Hope Youngblood Heck

Are there one or two pieces in your repertoire you’d like to share more about?

One is Utopia that premiered in 2018. It was a collaboration with Keren Anavy, a visual artist from Israel. We worked with these 10-ft. pillars that her artwork was mounted on. At first, we were just seeing what we could do with the structure. In workshopping it with students at a summer intensive, some strong themes emerged. The collaboration was about the meeting of visual art and dance coming together from the beginning. Instead of “I’m going to make a dance and put some visual artwork in the back,” Keren was interested in working with me on an integration of the art from the beginning. What I found emerging was the idea of utopia and where it resides – is it internal or external? I was creating these different environments with Keren’s structures and then destroying, dismantling, or manipulating them. The piece was a journey of finding what utopia means internally and within the container of the group. It was a beautiful collaboration because of the marriage of dance and visual art from the beginning. It had original music by Mark Katsaounis, who I’ve collaborated with many times. I also made head sculptures that lit up, and there were projections and animations of the art on the floor. That piece marked a movement toward more psychological and emotional investigations through dance.

My work Home was exploring what home means around the world in a time of so much dislocation and relocation. I started it before the pandemic. My identity as the daughter of an immigrant parent and questioning my own identity informed the piece: Where’s home? The potential of this question was a continuation of my early choreographic years exploring my identity and working a lot abroad. Meeting in the body through movement transcends ideology or beliefs. Home was a continuation of that. I commissioned choreographers from around the world to come to New York City and work with my company about what home means to them. I continued to develop those works through careful conversations. The final show was 90 minutes and had dances from six choreographers – America (me), Colombia, Sweden, Lebanon, India, and Burkina Faso. It’s important in the progression of my work because of the idea of identity and culture. I had the capacity with my own studio to do a project with this exchange component. What is important to me and is the foundation of Dance Entropy’s mission is multicultural understanding through dance. Home was a three-year project that premiered in 2022.

One dancer stands on one leg with her other extended and bent, both arms up and out. Three other dancers stand facing her with crossed arms on a blue lit stage.

Home at Gibney Dance Center, Photo by Eric Bandiero

Can you tell me more about your teaching practice?

Dance Your Frame is a technique based out of the Hawkins Technique. I’ve taken the essentials of the Hawkins Technique, putting underneath it my background in somatics, and then putting my own style on it. I found that I often have to encourage dancers to use their whole body. Sometimes dancers dance small or don’t use their whole body. I found myself saying, “Dance your frame.” So I called my class that because it uses the body to its full potential.

Enter the Body is a choreography class. I offer tools to create choreography to get out of our minds and into our bodies so we can be creative in playful and experimental constructions.

Skimming the Surface is a movement healing journey. It’s a guided process that includes the use of the body, the use of voice, writing, drawing, and music. It’s not a dance class but a movement healing journey. I do that through partner organizations, social service organizations, and non-profits that serve people in homeless shelters, halfway houses, psych wards, residential centers, and prisons. I mostly bring the healing movement workshop to the site of the partner organization.

I am a Core Energetics practitioner, so I offer one-on-one sessions in this somatic therapy modality. Somatic Healing Group is a Core Energetics process group.

Movement Playground is a catch name to work with older adults, neurodivergent communities, people with disabilities, and children. It’s more based in creative movement and using movement in playful ways to engage with different populations.

All these programs and classes are ongoing.

8 students stand and follow the teacher in a dance studio with large dark curtains over bright windows.

Valerie Green/Dance Entropy Summer Intensive at Green Space, Photo courtesy of Dance Entropy

I also want to learn more about your dance space, Green Space, in Queens, which I understand combines performance and special outreach programs to inspire communities. Can you share more?

The studio was founded in 2005. I have a background of being in the studio business ever since I moved to New York City in 1995. As lower Manhattan closed all its studios to luxury real estate, I decided to build something in Queens because there was a need. I wanted to create a space for my company, but also where other dancers could create work. When my company isn’t rehearsing there are choreographers and companies in and out renting space all day long. I call it Green Space because my last name is Green but also because I saw it as a place for dance to grow. I wanted to offer performance opportunities too, so Take Root is a split bill that is curated once a month on a Friday or Saturday. Fertile Ground is not curated and is for anybody to try out some work-in-progress. There’s a moderated discussion afterward that I lead. What is important for me in my curatorial mission is that dancers of various levels, genres, ages, and aesthetics have a place they can belong. I find that a lot of the New York dance scene is exclusive. What’s important to me and my mission is to have different voices and give people a chance to share their work. Everybody likes different things, me included, but every artist should have a right to be seen. For many people, Green Space was the first place that presented them. I’ve had the studio for over 18 years, so I know many artists in New York City. Many people tell me I gave them one of their first opportunities. It’s nice to hear.

Any other thoughts?

In growing my organization here in Queens, one of the things that has been special to me is my engagement with community and how important it is to offer movement experiences to the community. So many people might not know what dance is around them or how to find it or interact with it. It is special to bring different workshops and performances into varied spaces, trying to not just have dance in the theater but also where someone might not otherwise have access to it. It’s an important part of my nonprofit and how I think about art. The movement arts can be accessible to all, and I make every effort to connect with my community here in Queens. We never know how we can impact someone, but I know Dance Entropy has impacted many. It’s something I’m very proud of.

Valerie does an extension front and a backbend in a stairwell wearing black.

Valerie Green, Photo by Alex Lopez

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To learn more, visit www.danceentropy.org and www.greenspacestudio.org.

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