[Editor’s Note: Belle Alvarez was the Administrative Work/Study for Dance Exchange’s Winter Institute 2015, so we invited her to share her thoughts and reflections on her time here at DX. Belle is a dance artist working, making, and teaching in Philadelphia whose interest in dance making and community engagement brought her back to DX for a second Institute experience. Learn more about Belle by visiting her website, bellealvarez.com. To read other reflections on the 2015 Winter Institute, click here and here To learn more about Dance Exchange institutes, click here. — A.N.]
What is the role of artists in building community?
This question prompted a weekend full of thinking and moving. It catalyzed several layers of new questions, more than any of us could have anticipated as we began the 2015 Winter Institute at Dance Exchange.
Imagine the image of a tributary: A river has a starting point and eventually it leads to the ocean but the course that it takes is contingent upon the twists and bends of the landscape and its nuances. At the Institute we starting with introductions, closed with a circle of possibilities, and the entire experience was informed by the questions and ideas that directed our course.
The studio was full of curious participants with an eclectic range of artistic backgrounds. All generously put forth their fullest dancing selves. Dance Exchange fosters an environment where movers are invited to take full agency of their movement choices and to learn, think, and understand with the body. It’s a place that I love to come back to.
We had the opportunity to put the Toolbox into practice with the visit to the Takoma Park Recreation Center. We interacted with local residents through movement and storytelling. This was a process informed by the latest work in progress: New Hampshire Ave: This Is a Place To…
The next day, Dance Exchange Founder Liz Lerman facilitated a session that opened up our thinking and movement pathways. As a group we examined our processes for imagining. We dissected the ways we observe, make decisions, and name things. We discussed the spectrum of categorizing words and ideas in a network versus a hierarchy. As a dance artist, this example resonated with me: Liz Lerman pointed out that modern dance is built on choreographers borrowing movement and that we need to borrow each other’s thinking-advocating for a multiplicity of categories and looking for the connections. And the only way we can borrow each other’s thinking is if we surface it.
I arrived with questions related to project and engagement design in dance making and I left with better focused strategies for what reciprocity can look like moving forward. I appreciated the group’s sensitivity to being a responsible mediator, a careful listener, and rising to the challenge of distilling the many ideas that unfold.
My participation in the work of Dance Exchange began during the Summer Institute of 2012. At the time, I was the youngest participant. We performed Language of the Land, I got to learn about the Toolbox in real time, and I left knowing that the growth I experienced was something I would seek again. I remember feeling affirmed that integrating all my interests and responding to the world around me through dance was absolutely viable.
I left Takoma Park almost a week ago and since then I have proposed the use of Critical Response Process in a creative research project, I taught 1-10 to my Pre K ballet class, and I’m continuing to process the ways in which all the ideas and inspiration apply to my artistic life.
I’m so grateful to the DX team for welcoming me back with open arms, Thomas Dwyer’s life advice, and to have connected with artists from the US and abroad who are taking the role of artists in building community forward.