A reflection on the 2017 Winter Institute from the eyes of a participant, Sarah Mininsohn.
As I entered the studio for Takoma Park Moves class with Matthew Cumbie on Saturday, Jan. 7, I was immediately greeted several four-year-olds dashing past my knees. I felt disoriented—this was not a contemporary dance environment I recognized. How would this work? How could I take a satisfying dance class with little kids running around every which way? More kids entered the studio, as old as ten, and as young as one. As I watched them enter in growing numbers, I began to notice how their youthful curiosity shaped their movement. They dived, twisted, and tumbled in and out of the floor with peculiar grace. I developed an urge to move with them. I wanted to adopt their playful magic, to exercise their courage. I wanted to fall as though my legs were less than two feet tall. For the rest of class, I determined to move with and let myself be moved by four-year olds.
This enlivening morning class laid the groundwork for thinking about dance research across generations throughout the second day of Winter Institute.
The session following class was introduced by Matthew asking how we learn about bodies and body histories, particularly queer bodies. I considered the distinct history of my own body, influenced by generations directly before and after me. I also considered the broader History of queer bodies, influenced by generations for hundreds of years. In order to imagine the possibilities of a queer future, as is done in Matthew’s research with Growing Our Own Gardens, it is necessary to dig into these histories and Histories. This interaction with queer worldmaking as an intergenerational research project expanded my understanding of dance as research, causing me to reconsider the generations that have shaped how I exist in and move through the world.
After lunch, I had the opportunity to further research my movement and its imaginative possibility for change by delving into pleasure. What moments turn me on, make me go mmm? What possibilities are mobilized in these moments?
Choreographer Gesel Mason’s afternoon session focused on erotic pleasure as a source of creativity. Gesel bases her research on Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic,” which at how the erotic has been coopted by the pornographic and used against female bodies, bodies of color, and queer bodies. This text inspires us to think about the erotic as something for the self rather than for others; the erotic as a yes. When I went home and read it, I was particularly drawn to this quote in relation to our earlier conversations about imagining a queer future:
“I find more and more women identified women brave enough to risk sharing the erotic’s electrical charge without having to look away, and without distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange. Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world” (Lorde 1984).
The erotic, then, does not need to be pornographic and inappropriate, as it has been coopted to be. How can erotic instead serve as a queer way of imagining? In one of Gesel’s exercises, I was encouraged to release my weight into another body. My torso rolled onto the thighs of another participant. This release felt scary at first. I was tempted to stop, give less, back away. What if, instead of stifling the pleasure I felt when I gave my weight, I gave it even further? What if I sunk deeper into the yes of that moment, however murky, scary, and queer? As I sunk into my own queer yes, I re-experienced the erotic as the “electrical charge,” described by Lorde, as “enormously powerful and creative.”
Throughout the rest of the day and the weekend, I reminded myself to live in my yes, which allowed me to explore and queer my practice.
Sarah 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.