what does it mean to be a woman? what does it mean to be a woman in America?
how do we create an alternative geography that follows the existing map but develops from a logic other than the dominant logic of the nation state?
In the american / woman project, I am traveling around the country to collaborate with a woman dance artist in each state. My mission: to create a solo for each artist based on her interests and personal history.
Rehearsal footage, notes, interview transcripts, and other artifacts from the collaborative processes will be shared below as they emerge:
Laquimah VanDunk (Georgia)
What drives you as an artist? Why do you dance?
L: I need it to be a part of my life and I need the interactions, I need the community…. I need students, I need colleagues, I need all those things just to be – like I don’t think I’m an artist, I think I’m Kima, I’m Laquimah, I’m Kiki, and that’s just part of it, but I don’t think I’m an artist.
What does dance do for you?
L: It makes me feel like a badass. I kind of cringe a little bit when people are like “ I just wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t dance.” No… I would still be alive if I didn’t dance, BUT it is my most confident self, because it’s the one thing I’ve acknowledged that I can do right.”
Jamie Arnold (Montana)
We made a solo for live performance AND a short dance film! (Click here to watch the film)
How would you describe yourself, as an American?
J: I’m not a believer in all of the traditional American values, like gun rights and things like that. Also, I’m not… not that I don’t believe in God… but I just feel that the whole American value system and how it’s founded on religion and God- it doesn’t really speak to me nowadays- I’m more of a believer in the Universe. And some of those things- if you don’t believe in those- that particular thing- it makes you kinda feel like you don’t fit in, in a way. I’m not really a believer in Capitalism either- I don’t feel like the best “American,” in a way.
Natalie Desch (Utah)
What drives you as an artist? Why do you dance?
N: At the end of the day, I feel really strongly about what dance can be for society- like I just feel that it’s this profound, untapped, un-understood, ephemeral… giant. And, I think whenever I see a lightbulb go off, or somebody has some kind of emotional connection, or I just see fun happening- I see people enjoying their community together, and their bodies, and all the connection that is made somatically, I just feel that I’m part of something really great.
What are some aspects of being a woman that you treasure?
N: I love that I’m an emotional person- I love that. I think that’s a huge strength, for me, because it just means that I’m listening to that part of me- I’m not holding it in or back. It is important- I listen to it- it might tie in a little bit to a great sense of instinct that I believe in- that I trust in myself, so that the emotional sensibility is maybe woven in there
. It’s hard, too- because I don’t want people to be uncomfortable by my strong emotions sometimes…. But I love it. I like feeling… I like feeling. It’s a range of our humanity that I don’t think we need to run away from.
Meredith Lyons (Colorado)
(click here for a glimpse)
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
M: A dancer.
If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?
M: There’s a big part of me that enjoys service. So I would like to be involved in humanitarian efforts where I could apply my skills in verbal and nonverbal communication/ sign language and somatics. Or work for Michelle Obama. Or Ellen.
You currently live in Colorado but you’ve lived in other parts of the country and traveled to other parts of the world. From your perspective, living in Grand Junction, what makes Colorado unique?
M: That it’s a land-locked state. It’s in the west, and it’s a stake-your-claim state, and people take pride in their land differently than in the east as well as the west coast. It’s a tough state. People work hard. It’s not easy to work in the state of Colorado, whatever the occupations is. Much of the excitement about Colorado is landscape-based, whether you enjoy the outdoors or not. Part of that is variety of climates and altitudes so people have to adapt to said conditions and there is a sense of tough grit.
Jessie Jeanne Stinnett (New Hampshire)
J: I actually love being underestimated, by men in particular. This has happened, and continues to happen, a lot, whether it be by male choreographers, directors, colleagues, businessmen, etc etc etc. I really enjoy the moment of surprise when I, a woman, accomplish whatever it was that he/they thought that he/they would be more capable of doing.
How do you typically start making a new work when you choreograph?
Rachel Boggia (Connecticut)
Considering this culture, and your own personal history… what are aspects of being a woman that have presented tension in your life?
R: Well I didn’t like being sexually assaulted.
I didn’t like being sexually harassed.
I didn’t like being treated by my AP Chemistry teacher like I couldn’t pass the AP Chemistry Exam, even though I had the highest grade in the class.
You know, I didn’t like turning a certain age and having all of my Italian uncles assume that I had nothing good to say anymore, even though when I was a college student, they would all sit down and ask me what I thought about things, and then when I became a real woman they didn’t want to talk to me anymore.
I don’t like having stuff mansplained to me at my job, which happens a lot. I don’t like my male students questioning my expertise, which happens a lot.
I don’t like that in my dance training, my female body was not acceptable and needed to be changed…. especially because I kind of discovered that I have a beautiful body not very long ago, but for most of my life I thought it was a really unfortunate body, and too everything – too big, too curvy, too strong, too inflexible, too brown, you know, name it.
So I think it’s hard. I think there’s a lot of sadness inside of being a woman. But I feel like at this point in my life, none of that is existing as a storm in me anymore- they’re all kind of known quantities and they’re kind of sitting around the dinner table with me all the time, and mostly I know what they’re going to say and I don’t have to respond.
But for many years I think those difficult things ruled me from within …. and made me feel very disquieted, and you know, part of it— I think— is about wanting to prove my intelligence and my and get acceptance into what really still felt like a man’s world.
Kellie Lynch (Connecticut)
Why do you dance? Why do you make dance?
K: I feel like all at once I get to do and experience all of the things that really excite me— that really rev my engine— and also terrify me, simultaneously.
….Also it’s the only space I feel like I can be my most fully-realized self. In dance, everything is “YES,” everything is welcomed – your baggage, your greatest strengths, your mediocrity… everything is on the table.
What are some elements that make for positive dance-making experiences for you? What’s going on in the room when it feels healthy, positive, and makes you want to be there?
K: At the risk of sounding too simplistic— support. I think when you feel that there’s support for you to fail, or what you perceive as failing, and make mistakes, or not live up to the choreographer’s expectations, or your own. Having some spaciousness around that, I find that to be… not to dive into the sort of darker side of a rehearsal process, but you know, rehearsals can be really hard… and I think having space around those times when you feel like you aren’t living up to the expectations of the people in the room, but that’s ok, makes for a positive and healthy rehearsal experience for me.
Shura Baryshnikov (Rhode Island)
S: I do really think that there’s something about being a woman- an American woman – we do have a certain need to prove ourselves that maybe I don’t see as much in even European women dancers. I both value that- like there’s something kind of gritty in the way that I dance (especially contact improvisation) that I know comes from my culture…. but there’s also tension around that: Why can’t there be more ease? Why can’t there be more flow? Why can’t there be more energetic openness, or comfort, or laxity in some ways? Do we need to be so on guard?
But we live in an environment where a young man this afternoon was just shot and killed outside of my daughter’s school. So yes, I think there’s a kind of grittiness in the way we bite into any physical practice that we are involved in because of the hostility of the world around us and that makes us strong and resilient. But it also is painful, and that trauma is stored in the body in some way. Those tensions are held. All those moments that we spend worrying or grieving over something are moments that our bodies are not at ease or at rest.
What are some words that describe you: (click here for video)
….as an artist?
Instinctual. Messy. Rigorous. Stubborn. Changeable. Easily influenced. Watery. Playful.
….as a human?
Probably almost all of the same things: hardworking, solitary, introverted, emotional, passionate, confused, deceptive, self-critical, sensual, sad.
….as an American?
Angry. Heartbroken. Confused. Distant.
….as a woman?
Maternal. Lonely. Sexual. Strong. Chameleon. Quiet. Processing.
Alexandra James (Maine)
What are some aspects of being a woman that you treasure? (click here for video)
A: There’s power. There’s an inherent power in being a woman.
And sometimes that feels very uplifting to me, and sometimes feels very intimidating to me.
Sometimes I embrace it. Sometimes, I shy away from it.
I immediately go into biology and physiology and having the experience of having been a mother. That is very informative to me. I genuinely feel like there is nothing more powerful than going through the birthing process, and having done that, I feel confident that I could bust down a lot of doors if I really needed to.
There’s something about knowing how to exist successfully in exhaustion that I feel like is something a woman knows really well and it’s frustrating sometimes to know that that’s normalized, and also empowering at the same time, because I think about our capacity if we weren’t so fucking tired all of the time.
IMAGINE what the fuck I could do, or we could do, and what we do in spite of it.
What are some aspects of being a woman/ a woman in this culture that present significant tension points in your life?
A: I feel tension in the expectation to perform in a certain way for people- the expectation about how I am supposed to be or who I’m supposed to be, and what it means if I deny somebody of that expectation, or satisfy that expectation, and the power that lies in either one of those things… I all at once want to live up to those things, and also smash them into a million pieces.
…there is something about the burden that a woman of color carries about this … satisfying a stereotype about the strength that that is supposed to have- how much work and how much trauma that also means you carry, in spite of everything.
And again… reveling in that.
And also being so burdened by it at the same time, and just being so exhausted of it.
Lida Winfield (Vermont)
What drives you as an artist? Why do you dance/make dance? (click here for audio version)
L: Sometimes I think I have a really clear answer to that, and sometimes I don’t. What I return to is a couple of parts… One, I think that we have wisdom and knowledge that is not linear and that is not exclusively in our brains, so I think there’s knowledge deep inside me and deep inside you and deep inside us that we can only access through our physicality.
So that’s one. The other is: I actually do not care about dance at all.
I think…obviously I do… right, like I care about dance, I’ve dedicated my life to it, but… dance is just the tool that I happen to know to do something bigger. And, so it it’s a vehicle to care deeply about the world and our humanity, and courage and fear, sadness, joy, bravery, community, connection, and I only know how to do that through dance. So that’s what I’m trying to do.
Ali Kenner Brodsky (Massachusetts)
What drives you as an artist? Why do you dance/make dance?
A: i feel compelled to make work. i have this need to be making-to be expressing. when i am in the studio creating i feel calm…it is where things make sense for me. i have always had a difficult time expressing myself with words. i use dance and creating dance to get out what’s inside.
What are some things that make for a good / positive / enjoyable / fulfilling creative process for you?
A: making work with people that understand me….where we leave our egos at the door. where we have fun and are able to bounce ideas off of the other to make something better…to push the process forward. …a process where no one has to be top chicken!
(Click here for a clip of what we’re working on)