Side notes on a common place

[Editor’s note: Jessica Hale, currently an MFA candidate in dance at Texas Women’s University, was Dance Exchange’s media work/study for our 2013 Summer Institute. She shares her reflections and learnings in this blog post. –S.L.]

I have spent all my life looking at one body of water, wishing it were another. –Shula Strassfeld

Jessica rehearses before the Summer Institute performance at ADI

I had the opportunity of spending eleven days working as the media work/study for Dance Exchange during their Summer Institute. Those eleven days were some of the most exhausting days I have ever encountered during my dance career thus far. However, I would not change one minute of my experience because of the opportunities that have opened me up to new ways of living and making art. Learning about the Anacostia’s polluted river in relation to my own societal and polluted body has led me to reanalyze some of my life choices in regards to our earth. When we visited the Anacostia River, I was able to physically see many of the trash and waste products that we put into our streams and rivers and how these precious bodies of water are involuntarily being contaminated, drained and abused. I understand that it’s not enough for us to just recognize the problem, but that we must dive in, to ourselves and to others, in order to figure out how we can help sustain our surrounding environment.

“Common place” is the idea that we are part of this earth, just as much as the Anacostia and the Pacific ocean.  The only difference is that we have accustomed ourselves to treating our environment, and our physical bodies, as landfills. We have lost our alliance with the earth by living cheap and fast. As a result, taking care of the earth becomes less and less important; something I’ve not thought much of, until now.

It’s always been there, though. It remains, mobile and static. It was the seal around me when I was born; the slick layer that we carry from the first place we know to the next. That seal, it reminds me that I didn’t just come into the world from nowhere, that I didn’t come into existence from a place of non-being. See, the world birthed me: I rolled right out with my fists up and ready to use. I can fight to provide for the world, just like it provided and still provides for me.  I got my seventy percent of water from the world’s seventy percent of water, and I am my own microhabitat. Miraculously functioning, but not without the input of every other personal world around me. Like it or not, all these bodies of water drain to the same place. They connect, we connect, all to the source, and the source pours through us.

Jessica (R) and Amanda at the Summer Institute post-show party

The institute helped me solidify my interest in working with dance artists from different mediums in order to create a positive statement to the public about changing some of our most dangerous habits: littering, our current waste systems, etc. Through learning about my body as water, I realized how many connections I have through meeting new people: A brilliant PhD student. A neuroscience enthusiast.  A fellow TWU graduate, who is now my mentor. A sixteen year old with a bright future. An Epik dance director. A wonderful and heart-warming actress. I worked with a beautiful artistic director, a talented production coordinator, a woman who has traveled the world, and a tiny Shirley Temple genius that I aspire to work with in the future. An Aussie and a fellow Arkansan. A stand-in ukulele player and a great duet partner who always has her hair in an up do. I enjoyed learning from a longtime DX kid, a woman who believes in making peace and not war and someone who finally got her hair wet. And lastly, I have left this experience with life long friendships.

All I can say is, I feel like we’re Sandlot kids; the underdogs, straining to stay afloat. But, as we’ve learnt, if we do not find the richness that already surrounds us and sustains us, we will all end up in the watershed.

This common place holds me accountable for how I currently treat my own body of water in relation to being apart of this physical world. And now, I can see the richness in what it means to sustain our earth. Not only for ourselves but for one another to be able to come together and ignite new possibilities for living a healthier life. Through this experience, I have learned that dance making is not about counting to 8. The Dance Exchange has helped make me aware that making art can be a tool for promoting environmental awareness and what better way to start than with a common place.

Side note: You may not know what to make of this, but eventually we will relate.


See photos from the Institute on Dance Exchange’s Facebook page, watch video highlights here, and check out work/study Bimbola Akinbola’s daily reflections here.

About Guest Blogger

Dance Exchange intern and/or guest blogger.