Upon returning to New York after the Dance Exchange Summer Institute, I ventured to the East Greenbush Community Library in an attempt to synthesize some of the resonant ideas from my week in D.C. Dance Exchange is an organization often described as the intersection between dancemaking and community engagement, and because I was sitting in a community library, my mind wandered in the direction of the word “community”.
Community is defined as either “a group of people who live in the same geographic area” or “a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.” I am not an actual resident of East Greenbush, but I love to study in rooms lined with towering stacks of soundless books. And even though I don’t live in that particular city, I was part of the community that the library unifies, and perhaps even part of a few different sub-communities around me, unified by our similar interests, desires, or positions in our lives. Considering this, I realized how many overlapping communities we are simultaneously a part of, and how much we might have in common with the strangers standing right next to us.
If, for some reason, I was commissioned to make a dance in the East Greenbush Community Library, I firmly believe that I would have all the tools I could possibly desire to make an evening-length work. Through the games and tools that the Dance Exchange artists shared at the Institute, I learned how to utilize all of my surrounding resources, from an individual’s spontaneous gesture to the words they continuously repeat. What I gained at Dance Exchange is how to illuminate the details of the people, structures, and history around me in the dancemaking process. Every person has their own story and perception of the world around them. During each class session and discussion, the DX artists and facilitators asked the participants and I to actively listen and watch whoever was speaking. Sometimes we were asked to create movement based on what we had just seen, but you can’t embody someone’s story if you don’t listen, and you can’t reenact their spontaneous gestures if you don’t truly see them. I realized how much better I can understand a person once I’ve tried to transform their words into my own physicality. Maybe it’s because I could feel the actual weight of their words, how the heaviness would swing and pull on my appendages, or how their smile might prompt me to expand my sternum and tip my head back toward the sky.
I can’t help but think about how our country might look if every child had access to the kind of education and investigation that I got to explore at Dance Exchange. When I think about the way dance both empowers and challenges my mind, I think about how wonderful it would be if young students were encouraged to use their bodies in classrooms, to try and embody new information that they receive. And knowing that this kind of participation won’t look the same on every body, I wonder how this might help enforce the idea that diversity is beautiful and important.
While looking back through the pages of the notebook I used at the institute, I found something that Liz said on our Friday morning session. While sharing some of Dance Exchange’s history, she explained how it is an organization that is open to influence because it employs constant investigation of the artistic process. This constant inquiry is essential because it will serve artists and collaborators when they want to make works in times of change. The outcome of constantly questioning my creative process and the origins of my ideas is that I’m forced to examine the more dusty, untouched corners of my imagination. This constant inquiry and receptivity to change is why Dance Exchange is celebrating 40 years of connecting people through creative practice.
It felt like a fairly sizable challenge to try and write something conclusive about my experience at the institute because there are so many different things still buzzing around in my mind, from my own choreographic projects to my thoughts about how to be a decent person in the world. I arrived in D.C. feeling curious about Dance Exchange as an organization, and I left feeling curious about every person and building I walked by. The incredibly inspiring artists that I had the great fortune of working with gave me tools to mobilize my creativity, but more than that, they gave me a new way of seeing and hearing the world around me.