El Paso has found itself transformed into a nursery for the performing arts. Several new dance companies have been christened over the course of the last three years. Across the city, dance events are being held on a nearly weekly basis. Spotlight on Dance focuses on these new companies, individual artists, their local productions and touring events.
In July, dance instructors, dance scientists, choreographers and performers from around the world converged at New Mexico State University to gather for the Bill Evans Teachers and Dancers Institute and the International Dance Science and Pedagogy Conference.
Hosted by NMSU’s Department of kinesiology and dance and modern dance pioneer William “Bill” Evans, the two-part workshop and conference included intensive instruction and presentations in Evans’ technique, Laban-Bartenieff-based movement fundamentals (LMA/BF), somatics and pedagogy.
Instructors and keynote speakers included LMA/BF practitioner and theorist Peggy Hackney, dance scientist Karen Clippinger, ballet instructor and dance scientist Kitty Daniels, Feldenkrais practitioner Suzie Lundgren, pedagogist Melissa Hauschild-Mork and technician Heather Acomb. Choreographers, including Evans, presented their work as part of the Desert Dance Festival, which ran at the same time as the conference.
The workshop and conference offered two tracks: one focused on pre-professional dancers (BEDI) and one for instructors (BETI). As an NMSU graduate student, I attended the BETI classes. The BETI classes included instruction in Evans’ “Etudes,” exercises meant to engage the full-range of the body, step-by-step – a class devoted to LMA/BF taught by the effervescent and energetic Hackney – and in-depth classes in dance science.
Each day began with the fundamentals of BETI pedagogy, a system of teaching Evans’ technique and technique in general. Taught by Hauschild-Mork, each lesson was guided by one of Evans’ five principles: embracing change, honoring personal uniqueness, unifying body, mind, and spirit, clarity and cultivating community.
Execution of these principles is meant to provide a backdrop for how we approach our students and teaching dance, as well as the big take-away: how we approach life.
Guess what? Nothing is static. Life isn’t like the movie “Groundhog Day” (thank goodness!). But, that means that you need to accept and be prepared for change. Live in this moment. This is today. What are you going to do with what you have today? In the words of Evans, “We cannot erase, but we can replace.”
Honoring personal uniqueness
You do not have the same body or same abilities as the person next to you. You have a lived experience that is totally different from everyone else around you. It’s not productive to compare yourself with any one else and get bummed-out by these comparisons. What is it about you that you can share with others?
Unifying body, mind and spirit
Everything in your life is interconnected. The way that you feel on the inside can determine how you feel on the outside, or the other way around. Do you feel disconnected right now, like those three ingredients are separate of each other? How can you integrate the three? How can you use that knowledge?
Be clear. Be specific. What is your intention? In the words of Daniels, “Intention and purpose are different.” Intention is what you’re trying to do, and purpose is where you’re trying to go. The unifying concept is “how”.
You are not alone on an island. In the context of a technique class, even if you are doing an exercise “alone” you are doing it with a large group of people, in some kind of synchronicity. Evans says it is a communal event, where dancers are, “moving together for a shared purpose.” How do we build communal relationships and trust? How does it change your self-image when you feel that you are part of a communal group?
I barely scratched the surface of the information I learned at this conference. Due to space, I was not able to include some of the amazing interviews I had with dance pioneers Bill Evans, Peggy Hackney and Kitty Daniels, but I want to thank them for their generosity and time. I hope that I was able to share with you – dancers and non-dancers alike – something valuable for your daily lives.