If I told you…

[Editor’s note: Amanda Newman, a BFA student in dance at the University of Utah, is Dance Exchange’s work/study for our first ever Winter Institute 2014. Among many other things, Amanda has been documenting her experience over the long weekend through blogs. To read her first one, click here. Be sure to catch her last one after this. — M.C.]

Amanda and Winter Institute participants work on some material while Liz and Cassie check in. Photo by Matthew Cumbie

If I told you all that I have to say, you wouldn’t believe me. You might wonder what world I stepped into today in which my hands were rubbed and warmed by a Korean woman before I joined the voices of thirty strangers in song. You might question how, in one moment, I learned that the eyes of Nefertiti connect to yours when you pass her in the museum, and in the next, I was focused only on the fingertips of a woman from Cambodia.

I cannot take you to this world, but I can tell you a little about how we got there. I cannot recreate it for you, but I can encourage you to go forth and create your own spaces of welcoming and honoring, of giving and accepting.

I’ll start by explaining that on Saturday afternoon the participants in the 2014 Winter Institute had the remarkable opportunity to travel to Arcola Towers, a senior residential community in Silver Spring, to collaboratively facilitate a workshop which we had planned together. Our participants would include not only Arcola Towers residents and staff but also a few students from the Identity program, a youth-focused organization based in Montgomery County. In the day and a half that led up to our workshop, Cassie, Matthew, Shula, and artist-in-residence Kevin Ormsby guided us through the Toolbox and the Critical Response Process, and we experimented with a variety of prompts, frames, and conversations. We reveled in the diversity of bodies, thoughts, and values which were present during this planning process. After rigorous dialogue and tireless testing, we settled on a plan which included tools like Mirroring and an interview-based Build-A-Phrase. We chose as our thematic anchor the concept of home and the prompt “I carry with me…”

During this preparation, the Dance Exchange artists, all of whom had previous experience at Arcola Towers, had done their best to prepare us for the wide range of the challenges we would face and the curveballs we might encounter. How much English would our participants speak? What would their physical capacities be? Would they be comfortable sharing their stories? What if it wasn’t working?

What they didn’t prepare us for was how rich the experience would be. Rich with moments of challenge, yes, but also moments of joy, of wonder, and of intuitive connection. They didn’t tell me I would experience my body in ways I hadn’t before: I felt my very cells utterly alive to the ways in which I could honor, illuminate, and grow with the residents. Other participants were similarly awestruck by the physical, linguistic, and even spiritual capacities that had surfaced during their experience. And I wasn’t prepared for the immediacy of our impact: barely halfway through the workshop, a vibrant Egyptian man turned with shining eyes to tell me, “We have new community now.”

Residents at Arcola Towers, youth from Identity, and DX Winter Institute participants gather to move and make with Dance Exchange. Photo by Matthew Cumbie

I could never tell you the fullest and deepest truths of our experience today because that is a story my voice cannot carry alone. But I can tell you this: do not underestimate the ways in which a handshake can wake up an entire body. Do not make small a circle that can include so many. Do not truncate the tree that might grow from a single seed.

— A.N.

About Guest Blogger

Dance Exchange intern and/or guest blogger.