Reflections on the Winter Institute: Part I

A reflection on the first full day of the 2017 Winter Institute from the eyes of a participant, Sarah Mininsohn.

At the start of class today, Sam Horning asked us to arrange ourselves in a tight circle, each body standing on one foot, for two minutes. He described this configuration as a container, its walls shifting as we problem-solve and rearrange ourselves. As latecomers entered the studio, the walls of this amoeba-like container opened, closed, swayed, and fidgeted in order to welcome others in. By the end of the two minutes, the container had transformed from its original version. We broke apart, ready to begin a day of shifting and disorienting our own permeable containers.

After Sam’s improvisation-based class, my body felt open to change and tingling with warmth. Excited to embrace whatever came my way, I sat down for the Critical Response Process (CRP) session with Elizabeth Johnson and Cassie Meador. E.J. opened the session by asking us to think about when we have received feedback and when we have given feedback. E.J. pointed out the social narrative that artists should “toughen up and take it” when it comes to feedback and critique, the widespread belief that artists need to have thick skin to “make it” in the tough dance world. Liz Lerman resisted this narrative by instead striving for a thin skin, skin that’s open to outside influence, a bodily container constantly in flux. Her desire to allow herself to be influenced, especially in community-based artmaking, led Liz to teach CRP. This feedback device, which is the focus of today’s Winter Institute sessions, is especially helpful for the inquiry-driven work of Dance Exchange artists.

In one day, the word “feedback” went from a simple concept that I had perfectly understood, to a multifaceted, complex, and interactive process to be practiced and workshopped.

In one day, the word “feedback” went from a simple concept that I had perfectly understood, to a multifaceted, complex, and interactive process to be practiced and workshopped. We used CRP to develop and reconceptualize movement phrases, the stories of others, and personal stories. An exercise that particularly resonated with me was “co-coaching,” which involved another participant providing feedback on a short movement phrase that I had choreographed earlier. In following the feedback format, I first expressed to my partner what I would like to develop in my work (I aimed to make the phrase less repetitive, opening it up to variation). After watching my phrase, she offered her suggestion (she gave me the helpful imagery of my movement expanding upon vertical and horizontal axes). Her suggestion immediately allowed me to open up my movement, multiplying the possibilities of the phrase.

Reflecting upon this feedback experience, I am amazed by how quickly I felt my movement develop when approaching the process with generosity and a willingness to shift. I look forward to seeing how my body-container and its movement possibilities will continue to unfold, shift, and allow for outside influence in the next two days of the Winter Institute.

FullSizeRender.jpg-2Sarah Mininsohn is the Communications Work/Study for Dance Exchange’s 2017 Winter Institute. She is from the Baltimore area, and currently studies dance and sociology at Wesleyan University. She plans to continue moving and choreographing after she graduates in May 2017.

About Alison Waldman

Alison Waldman is Dance Exchange's Marketing & Communications Manager and a D.C.-based “entrepren-artist” consultant, performer, photographer, and collaborator.