Juliette, Elena, Aren, Amymarie, Derek, Jenny and Katie are some of the only people in my life that I first got to know in a nonverbal way. We didn’t meet at a stuffy cocktail party, or in a class, or at a sports competition, or in the library, or at Walgreens. We met in the studio, and we learned to communicate our insecurities and fears and share our triumphs and idiosyncrasies through movement, grunts, panting, laughter and sweat.
The eight of us shared something irreplicable and utterly unique, much like every manifestation of Eight Jelly Rolls itself: our attempts to march, and at times slog, through the choreography bonded us in a way specific to our personalities and quirks. During the rehearsal process, we grew together as a community of people not only invested in learning and embodying dance, but also invested in each other.
And so, I recognize that my technique – that of someone having jumped headfirst into Eight Jelly Rolls without any dance experience– is far from perfect. I recognize that I’m still getting used to using the floor, associating movements with French words, being aware of my body and engaging my entire being in expressing intent through movement.
But I also recognize that, if there is one thing Tharp dance is about, it certainly is not perfect technique. A mistake can become inspiration for a brilliant hand gesture or a choreographed moment – a mentality that lends the work being created a sense of authenticity and rawness that a rigid sense of right and wrong cannot.
Of course, there is a right and a wrong to be had in learning Eight Jelly Rolls, but the process of divining just what qualifies as right versus wrong entails an elaborate, time-consuming and exhilarating search through videos, interviews, tapes and pictures, and even direct training with the primary sources. But one week after our performance, what I am left with is not the memory of whether my knees were bent for that part of the phrase in #8, or whether my rondejambes in #3 looked good. Instead, I’m left with a very real and very present sense of the community we built and the journey we shared. That journey still continues on, but our storyline has split back into eight individual threads – each unique, but forever changed by the experience we shared in adding a bit to dance history. I now consider myself a dancer, not because I’ve learned the basics or because I own a pair of jazz shoes, but because I am part of a community of dancers that, upon hearing Jelly Roll Morton’s music, will always react a little differently than the general population. And who knows? I might be in a particularly nostalgic mood one day and, while walking down the sidewalk, start marking the drill phrase. 1, 2, da duh, da duh…