Some notes on hips


Something that I have been working on in rehearsals as we warm up on the floor is opening up the front of my hips, deep in the hip flexors and in between my bones and my stomach. I often either collapse there (when I’m being lazy) or tighten too much there (all other cases) but I can reach a longer line when that part of my body opens up. I think that this might be the key to telling a deeper story, but I’m still struggling with escaping my habits.

An old ballet teacher used to talk about the “deep, deep transversus muscles” which you felt low in your abdomen when you did a cough, but I always preferred the idea of a vacuum right on the inside of my hipbones rather than muscles, a long space that gets pulled and stretched like caramel. It feels comfortable and soothing to touch my fingers on that spot, curled over the spiked front of the curved plate of bone that makes up my pelvis, as I fall asleep.  

            In the Symposium the other week, Renée Robinson said, “you need to be strong to be vulnerable,” but I can’t often do that. I can’t escape the guards I put up as I dance. I straighten my spine and hold my neck still and stiffen my stomach muscles and tighten my hips. Maybe this comes from years of being the largest girl in the class in different dimensions: tallest as a gangly kid, wider as I became a woman. Maybe I’m trying to make myself compact and quick and sprightly, but I’m not any of those things. I like to dance calmly and luxuriously, and to do that fully I need to open my joints and let the soft inside of my hips remain unprotected. 

A truthful blog post


I haven’t been posting much on the blog. For a long time this semester, I felt frustrated and disconnected with the choreography. I love dance and expression, but I couldn’t find the motivation for our rehearsal process. I started to lose energy after only half of the three-hour rehearsals. I felt exasperated by repeating one movement over and over. I stood and watched the rest of the company a lot during these rehearsals because I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do with my own body, what I should practice, and what I needed to listen to. I felt inadequate and unhappy, because everybody else seemed to get it. They were practicing small parts over and over and asking questions while I just swam in and out of a dance I couldn’t feel for.


I also had a hard time connecting to the movement. It seemed so arbitrary to me: why would it be important to hold my hand in this particular angle? If we moved slightly differently, the dance didn’t seem like it would be substantially changed. Why did Trisha Brown choose these movements? What made them important? I was so frustrated I nearly stopped taking part in the project. The only thing keeping me involved was that I loved Iréne and since she loved the dancing so much I knew I didn’t want to let her down and I didn’t want to give up looking for a reason for me to like it too.


I started to feel excited when we switched our focus to the Early Works for the YUAG showing. Moving my head down a stick was something I could understand. I had a goal, and I had rules. I worked until I felt comfortable with it. I liked the Spanish dance. I was excited about performing in the Art Gallery, and on the day of the performance I felt inspired by the beauty around me. I felt suddenly like I was truly part of the company, instead of the girl who didn’t have a dancer’s body, who didn’t love dance as much as she should, who didn’t work hard enough, standing in the back of the studio watching other dancers flow in Trisha Brown’s choreography.


After the YUAG showing, I started thinking about my judgment that the choreography was arbitrary. What made the steps in this more progressive style of dance more arbitrary than, say, the choreography of a ballet variation? Why did I spend so much time worrying about copying the other dancers and practicing the way they did? I already know that I learn best by watching and analyzing for a long time before placing the dance on my body. I realized I knew the dance just as well as the rest of the company. I realized nobody cared if I wasn’t the size of a ballerina. I realized I could perform the choreography from the inside out, enjoying and admiring how my limbs move and my muscles pull instead of trying to shove my body into the images I had seen of the teachers and dancers in the Newark video.


After a semester of weariness and dissatisfaction, I was most happy to find that I was proud of this performance. I have a close friend who loves modern dance, and as I danced I knew she was in the audience loving what we were doing, and I knew I connected to the dance because I connected to the other dancers and to myself. The movement finally clicked the week before the performance, and tonight as I started Cranwell with Naomi I felt wonderful and strong. 

Bullet Points on Trisha Brown


What feels nice

  • I’m not supposed to think of “poses” or “steps” in this choreography because everything is a continuous chain reaction and nothing really is a still image. However, when I memorize the sequences some motions seem more like “rest” to me than “go,” and therefore please forgive me when I characterize this as a pose. We’re not static for this.
    One figure feels very nice. We have our legs apart in a large second position, one leg is bent, and our arms are spread out in a diagonal, perpendicular to our straight leg and our torso. It comes up several times in the phrases we do, and it feels like home.
  • I like the pony step where we step on bent legs and half toe as if we have hooves.
  • Several times we are on our knees and elbows on the ground, and usually our head is down. This is a great position because I am a little bit upside down, but I don’t feel like I’m falling. Which brings me to…

What doesn’t feel nice

  • Falling
  • Having a straight back while bent over is difficult to feel, especially without mirrors. My spine is twisted in several different directions despite years of wearing a brace, and usually what I feel and how my spine looks are quite different.
  • Similarly, rolling through my spine to lift my legs up in the air has given me a large bruise on one side of my spine. Is it better to roll off-center along the side of my spine, or fall on my back in a big block? Experiments continue.
  • Oh, also falling.
  • Did I mention falling?

What is confusing

  • What is the best technique for balancing on your shoulder? It is a precarious spot.
  • Do I point my foot in any spots?
  • Can I stop holding my head in a stiff position?

Analogies and images we’ve used

  • Furniture
  • Graham
  • Goats and ponies
  • Country dance girls
  • Sheets of metal moving past each other
  • Running men!
  • Boats 
  • Orbits 

Dusting off an interest in dance


            1. Rhythms.

            In high school, I choreographed a dance to a metronome. The dancers’ stomps pounded out the rhythm of the dance, and at the end one dancer suddenly turned the metronome off. In college I joined the Step Team, and in YDT’s Cunningham project we stepped out meters in tandem as we danced to Jennifer’s snapping fingers. In Reggie’s work we learned a bit of African gumboot dancing and timed our movements to an ill-defined rhythm dependent on our own shifts of weight, the other dancers’ pelvises, and sporadic instructions shouted out during the course of the excerpt. And in the Akram Khan project, we stomped out kathak rhythms and meticulously pounded out seven-counts in our heads, using syllables and breath and “shh…TAK!” to stay in sync. Rhythms are fun because they remind us of a heartbeat. Rhythms are universal. 

            2. Dust

            The dancers in Vertical Road were covered in dust. We all wanted to be coated in dust, some of us even joked about buying a bag of flour at Stop&Shop and rolling around in it. It is so rare in serious dance study that one gets to be truly theatrical, which is odd since dance is inherently a visual, performing art meant, for the most part, to entertain. The severe beats, the huge triangle formation, and the fierce movements of Vertical Road made for an incredibly exciting experience both for the dancers and the audience. This sort of unbridled excitement is what is often missing in today’s dance that takes itself too seriously, and it is why, I believe, it is difficult to appreciate and enjoy watching modern dancing, especially without a dance background.

            3. Learning

            I kept thinking about studying dance. Why is this project so groundbreaking? Dance combines music, visual arts, and theatrics. Yalies overwhelmingly flock to music, art history, and theater classes. They watch movies and TV shows regularly, constantly listen to music, and attend concerts out of genuine interest. The two large art museums on campus are some of the best in the country. Why, then, is dance such a niche? Why is the academic study of dance almost inherently linked with the practice of dance, and why do my friends come see me dance to be supportive, not because of an outside interest in dance?  Anybody on the street could name dozens of musical artists and at least name a few famous painters throughout history, but would have trouble placing the name Margot Fonteyn. What is different?

            I think it’s because the practice of dance today lacks the theatricality, excitement, and accessibility that music and art provide. Choreographers like Akram Khan, paired with growing access to video material through the internet, can change this reality. Akram Khan uses props and stimulating music to actively engage both the audience and dancers. His collaborations (or attempts: see video) with various artists (from Kylie Minogue to the National Ballet of China) show an interest in dance as a universal human practice, not as part of an elite cultural knowledge.

           This is what the dust can do. Whenever I started Vertical Road I never thought about the pretentious meaning I sometimes felt like I had to stuff into my movement, or the lengthy and circular discussions we often had throughout the project. I thought of the verse “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” and thought of the terra cotta warriors, and how the music sounded like a heartbeat. I thought about being powerful, hoped I would remember the steps, and then threw myself into a lunge. 

2 + 3 = ?


            On the first day of rehearsal, Reggie taught us a segment inspired by South African gumboot dancing. He quietly showed us a segment, counted down, and watched calmly as we produced a cacophony of unsynchronized sound. He showed us the segment again, and we slowly progressed toward coordination as a class. I grew extremely frustrated. I am on the Step team here at school, and when we are not together we all start shouting out the downbeats and the claps “BA DA DA PAUSE PAUSE BUM!” Reggie’s way of learning was so much more organic. I ended up making up a strict rhythm to shout in my own head, and I convinced myself I had mastered the combination.

            This is what has always been natural for me. I analyze and count first in dance, and then find ways to stretch the movements and pull time. Along with nearly everybody else here, I’m an overthinker and I get worried and nervous when I don’t have ideas nicely organized in my mind. This is what has made me a dedicated student- but it did not help with Reggie’s movement. I wasn’t sure what to think, especially when he started quipping and making fun of us know-it-all Yalies, overanalyzing and practicing with him as he demonstrated a pattern. I felt the same sense of shame I do when people ask me where I go to school. My firmly organized sense of being has always helped me: why not now?

            I started to realize what the problem was during a warmup. We were walking and I briefly thought about my math homework for the night. One of the hardest problems was as follows:

            Prove 2+3=5.

            I have to use several steps to prove this, and the answer draws upon Set Theory and the Peano Axioms.  Similarly, in ballet, walking is usually as a deconstructed, complicated step. Do you pull your foot through coupé? How do you roll through your foot? How are your arms held?

            It is so unnatural for us to just do. When Reggie says “go down,” we ask “how?” Our questions are scholarly and academic, not physical. We focus on shapes rather than movement. We want counts and rules. We are good at following rules. We are not good at just going down.

            But the best moment was when Reggie told us to “throw away the judge.” I had been caught in a circle! I was berating myself for thinking analytically, and trying to accurately identify a way to bypass that mental tendency. I think that this transition to a more organic mind process will be difficult and I will look like a crazy lady a lot this semester, but maybe it will help me find a different side of myself.

            If Reggie wanted to prove 2+3=5, while I sat there leafing through my textbook and muttering to myself, he would simply hold up all the fingers on one hand.  “This is five.” 



We’re talking about how Merce Cunningham’s work is “storyless.” What? Does that mean “dance like a robot?”

Of course not. The dance is storyless, not emotionless. You can be totally immersed in the movement and how strong your leg feels under you and how you’re skimming across the floor and how your hands might soon start shooting out rays of energy from being so elongated without thinking, “I’m a warrior. I’m a bird. I’m a firework.” Holding hands with a partner or having your body wrapped around another dancer’s doesn’t mean you have to act like lovers on stage. You’re simply connected. There’s joy and passion and determination contained in every movement without relying on a mind trick.

Merce Cunningham, or: How I Learned to Stop Counting and Love the Snap.


I’m in an a cappella group at Yale, so I know my snaps. I am no stranger to the snap. In fact, if I do say so myself, I was the designated snapper in one concert. But singing to snaps is one thing. Dancing for three hours to snaps is quite another.

Warming up to snaps was alarming at first; then it became repetitive and boring. I always would rely on the music during warm-up to raise my energy and enthusiasm for the class. It also helped me get in the dancing mindset, away from the chaos of school life. Thus, my first class was difficult in many facets. I didn’t know the movement style. I had just come back from break and was getting into the rhythm of school. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. There was no music.

After two classes, I began to love it, although I didn’t realize it. I wanted to repeat exercises and I’d get “snaps” stuck in my head (up-up-DOWN up-up-DOWN up-up-DOWN). I’d look in the mirror and see, to my surprise, that the clock reported an hour and a half of warmups had flown by in a flash.

Then one Saturday a pianist came.

Don’t get me wrong: this guy was great. I walked in and he was playing ridiculously complicated arpeggios. He improvised haunting, abstract harmonies to Ms. Goggans’ snaps and counts at the drop of a hat. He paid attention to the quality of our movement and mimicked it with his playing. He was, by all means, fantastic.

The moment I realized that I felt “off” dancing to music was the moment I realized I was gettin’ the hang of this stuff. The music threw me off an infinitestimal bit, and I remembered problems I had always ignored with dancing to music, like the little adjustment you made to fit your movement to the tempo of the music, or the moment of panic when you think you’re off a count, or the little lurches dancers do when they’re not sure when to start dancing. They threw me off.

I think that the core problem here is, again, the fact that music is an intermediary between how two dancers count, or how the movement feels on a dancer’s body. It obviously has its redeeming qualities. It was great to have music. The drastic change made me focus on my own dancing and the bad habits I had fallen into. It also provided a welcome deviation from the ordinary. I breathed a sigh of relief, though, to go back to the swishing of feet and of fabric.

From a former ballet dancer


In these rehearsals, we’re dancing without music, which is odd and irritating and difficult to a girl who has done ballet all her life. I didn’t think it would be difficult. I prided myself in being able to “dance through the beat,” or however ballet teachers usually phrased it; I could stretch out a waltz and pull an adagio like taffy. I was a master at waiting a breath and using all four darn counts to do a grand plié.

However, dancing without music is a whole different beast. Nobody has “musicality,” being different means they’re just not meshing with the group. Nobody has ready-made dancing inspiration, pre-packaged by Chopin and a handy CD pianist. You have to actually concentrate on yourself and the people around you.

Crazy, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve danced my share of modern dances and interpretive dances and improvised dances and musicless dances. Taking a very structured technique class without music, though, is interesting.

I think I’m still getting used to it. Some of the more upbeat combinations we’ve learned have a definite rhythm, and when performing them in tandem with fellow dancers the lack of music almost helps us stay together- we’ve cut out the middleman and we’re dancing to each other instead of wrestling two separate interpretations of music. The slower parts, though, are a completely new adventure. It’s an eye-opening experience to realize how much you depend on others or on the music, and it’s amazing once you find that perfect balance between individuality and synchronism.