Dancing with the Place of Dance
Research project with Doug LeCours (Middlebury College ’15)
Where do we dance? Since dancing is both ordinary and extraordinary, any landscape/placescape can inspire. Images combining person and place can capture the process of dropping—even momentarily—into the integrative magic of connection. Timeliness and timelessness are present—reflecting both sequence and simultaneity, the threshold of entering, engaging, and leaving each moment.
It is one process to write a book, and another to bring it forth into the world. This blog invites moving and being moved, wherever you are, any time of day within the context of shared community. Intimacy is enhanced, as embodied movement—dancing—offers a portal to knowing ourselves and the world, which is available, effective, and free.
You can create your own blog entry, combining images and words, edited to fit a page. Include name, specifics of place, and the dancing date. Enjoy.
Nature inside, nature outside in the landscape of now.
Dancing in Wild Places: Seaweed and Ocean Health (ongoing blog)
My passion this year is oceans—following seaweed to various coastal beaches and dancing. In this case, we’ve traveled to the wild west coast of Cape Breton Island for the Celtic Colours Festival. Described as a “jewel” in tourist literature, Cape Breton in October is an eye-opening, shimmering mass of color (and I’m from Vermont, familiar with the oranges and reds of fall foliage). The surrounding mountains are part of the long Appalachian chain from Key West through Scotland. Through many geologic occurrences, they were contoured in their current fashion around 350 million years ago, like the Green Mountains of Vermont, then slowly traveled to present locations around 65 mya. The sign posting says the base granite is so hard that not much has changed since the last upthrust, even with glaciers.
In Whale Cove where we are staying, I dance with four nearby harbor seals. Square faced with noses pointed to the sky, they seem unconcerned by my presence as I traipse up and down the sandy beach touching various types of seaweed. With both wrack and kelp, all the colors are present: bright greens, reds, and browns. Just the sloughed-off blades or stipes from long-stemmed kelp are present, blown in from deeper waters. Amid the various types of wrack, a few have holdfasts still clinging to rocky footholds. Scale: if you get up-close and friendly, each one is a mountainscape.
Our cabin is just across the two-lane road, so we sleep with waves. Sound is pervasive in this landscape; ears become attuned. Hearing is amplified and detailed by the nightly music and dance gatherings for Celtic Colours, a jam-packed festival celebrating the music/dance heritage of this land. Performances last three to four hours and just get better as the night goes on. We arrive home at 1 a.m. for three nights in a row, with lengthy drives to and from various fire halls, native heritage museums, and convention centers that host events in various communities, large and small. Each venue serves home-made tea biscuits, oatcakes, and tea at intermission, or hot dogs and beer, or a mix of all possibilities including poutine—French fries with gravy, depending on audience size and proclivity of volunteers. As someone who has hosted performances and events for several decades, I notice a refreshing/pervasive tone of generosity and excitement. Artists are important here. So are the audiences who gather.
What strikes me from a performative standpoint: fiddlers and pianists leave their instruments and move center stage for step dancing; women and men are interchangeably present on all the instruments (except bagpipes, it seems), and there’s friendly competition and humor throughout—jokes and good stories are woven into each performer’s presentation, indicating that audience rapport is essential. “Are we going to be okay?” one twin of the Wrigley sisters from the Orkney Islands of Scotland asks as she begins her set. Then, after a stunning first series of fiddle tunes, she says: “We’re okay now…” I like the living-room feeling of being brought along—we’re in this together! The Cajun group Les Amis Creole, from Louisiana, makes it more specific by telling us that their tunes were saved through house gatherings in small sharecropper shacks, where invited participants made music with whatever they had: spoons, washboards, voice, fiddle, or accordion. These three defining qualities stay with me now: shared humor, interchangeability of dance and music, and a mélange of strength, endurance, and emotional range regardless of gender.
Most of the songs we heard were instrumental; musicians like Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain from Scotland are so talented they don’t need words to convey heartfelt subtlety within the musical journey. Stories were part of the spoken introduction of the tunes, but then the music carries beyond. Closing their eyes, breathing in the heritage, they begin. It’s hard to capture the infectious quality of live performance on recordings or in words. It’s the same for dance.
I stand in the back so I can wriggle with the sound; it’s hard to keep still. (Feet are listed as an instrument on the CDs.) I notice in the step-dancing (present in each concert) that the energy moves from feet to head with no interruption or side journey through the curvatures of pelvis or expressivity of arms. This must create a central channel (like flamenco), cleared for energy flow and creating an endocrine high. Verticality also allows dancing side by side with others in small performance halls or home gatherings. Two dancers, Mac Morin (Cape Breton) and Nic Gareiss (USA), are the Artists in Residence for the 10-day event. Mac Morin is also a pianist, and Nic is likely trained in a variety of dance styles (including modern?), as there’s more curvilinear space and full-bodied range. Both are captivating artists; choices are made to fit the context.
Back on the beach, the sound and visual detail lingers, informing and infectious. Movement and sound grow from this landscape and seascape. Although the festival is international (artists from Scandinavia, Scotland, Africa, all parts of Canada and the US, and beyond), with global artists, there’s a Celtic thread. Amid the scenic landscape, the Gaelic heritage informs. Both my husband (Scottish Keiths) and myself (Welsh/Danish) have Celtic ancestry. My mother was also a violinist, and now my great-nephew Lucas is taking up the fiddle. Every child should play music and dance—no question. Rant…
Dancing in this land, this context, with the nearby Margaree River, still transporting Atlantic salmon to their spawning beds and back, revives a sense of continuity and connectivity. (Just as fear of the ebola epidemic escalates in the news, these rivers, oceans, the very air and water supporting life on the planet create a global field.) We are one with the world. As I seek ways to bring embodied perspectives on intercultural communication to my courses at the Monterey Institute, I feel the power of music and dance. Below words, they support what’s shared in human species: our need for passionate expression and connection (inward and outward). Lifeblood. Like the oceans and all their rich aquatic life, which are to be nurtured, cared for, appreciated, and protected, music and dance feed the spirit. Tapping our feet together on the wooden floor, we share the same ground. Hearts pulsing, we entrain toward the ephemeral rhythms of the universe, what’s universal.
Dancing with seaweed in Cape Breton is dancing with soul. Not just food, fertilizer, or fuel for human needs, mystery is present. Way down deep we know when we feel it. We are better people than when we came in the door. Senses permeated. I can’t grasp the words, but I’ve bet my life on the mystical dimensions of music and dance to keep us sane and connect us to our best selves and the wonders of the universe, like the dance of seaweed in our ocean depths.
Inland Connections: Dancing with Apples
Grand Lake Stream, Maine
October 4, 2014
It’s my first apple harvest in Maine. Although the deer have trimmed the lower branches (including the ripening trio of fruit I’d been tracking from my writing studio), the apples are large and tasty.
Three trees were planted in 1991 when we purchased Frieda and Timmy Bacon’s property, with canoe barn and winterized small house (he was a boatbuilder; it’s a tight ship). When we asked a local shopkeeper where to buy apple trees to plant, she looked at us askance: “Just go dig one up somewhere, they’re everywhere.” We purchased two and nurtured one scraggly wild sprout, and twenty-five years later, those trees are ready. . .
Today I’m balancing on a weathered Adirondack chair, harvesting the middle branches. It feels like a dance, moving eye to eye with apples, stretching up through the branches on tiptoe to grasp the next red enticer, just out of reach. Soon we will bring out the ladder for the bright red globes at the top. (Note: This is why farmers prune the center bud, to make the branches spread wide as side shoots rather than up.)
And in Maine, they used to put seaweed under the drip line of the canopy as “best fertilizer.” So dancing with apples is remembering seaweed, two of my lifelong companions in place. Tonight I’ll dig out Challys Olsen’s apple butter recipe and begin: chop, chop, chop…
Dancing with a seasonal thrust in this place begs specific vocabulary: harvesting potatoes (digging on hands and knees), apples (stretching and twisting), and transplanting daylily bulbs (pulling and pushing). When we began our Body and Earth trainings in Wales in 2008, hosts Eeva-Maria Mutka and Andy Paget hoped to combine functional, farm movements with dance. (One summer our group “beat the bracken,” clearing a hillside.) Working dancing is an ongoing theme.
And there’s more. Last spring Steve planted four “heirloom varieties” of apples. Maine apple guru John Bunker is spearheading a renaissance of heirloom apple trees in Maine, identifying hundreds of old varieties out of an estimated 10,000 that once were common before the USDA encouraged commercial apple growers to reduce diversity in the 1920s. We’re supporting his efforts by helping recover old strains. Let’s hope the next owners like dancing with trees, stretching, twisting, balancing—finding just the right timing for harvest.
Photo: Spákonufel, Skagaströnd, Iceland
After the northern lights, I can only go inside. The vibrating sky still pulses inside me. Sacred is akin to scared, not just in olden times, but in the deep psyche of now. After a two-hour artist feedback session indoors, our group hooted and howled in the Nordic dark, watching the twirling, twisting ceiling of green light. This magnetic display is not yet reduce-able to fact in my mind, although I’m curious how to describe mystery in that language. But for this night, my word is AWE.
The next morning I dance in a “studio” in BioPol, a scientific research center that features a top-floor conference room with a parquet wood floor. For my daily practice in Iceland, “81 movements in a new place,” Spákonufel, the dominant mountain named after the fortuneteller (prophetess), “Þórdís.” Described in the local museum as “the first named inhabitant of Skagaströnd in the late 10th century,” her presence hovers over the land, informing my movement. Fortune, I am fortunate to be here, in this time, with sun, land, people.
Dancing along the coastal intertidal zone in the sunny afternoon, there’s a desire to press my forehead to rock and weed. Meeting the bladderwrack eye-to-eye, light-sensitive parts are attracted. I’ve just met with BioPol’s resident microalgae scientist, Bettina Scholz, who focuses at the level of diatoms. She has told me that communication between diatoms and seaweed is chemical. I imagine it is so. Skin to skin, we know each other as relatives, familiar.
ICELAND #1: Body-to-Body
NES Artist Residency
Skagaströnd, by Spákonufel (mountain) in northwest Iceland.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Sjávargróður (Seaweed in Icelandic)
I am standing between the jut and thrust of volcanic rock and the fluidity of seaweed, facing a half moon and the elegance of shorebirds—arctic terns, fulmars, and the giant black-backed gull.
Age seems irrelevant. These shores have seen the handiwork of Earth’s forces and human desires. All fear words apply. But I’m dancing here, rolling on black basalt and granite rocks amid the familiar browns of bladderwrack. Scanning the horizon for signs of whales, I remember that herring were once so plentiful here in the 1940s that a factory was built to process the fish. But the herring were depleted before it was even finished.
Now that building houses the NES Artists’ Residency. This month, the group includes seven young artists (visual arts, music, video) from Germany, Australia, and the U.S., plus myself, with the charge/invitation to take in the present moment and foreign landscape and make something of it—for themselves in a month or three, or possibly to share with others. “They reflect us back to ourselves,” Board Director Halldór tells me. And I wonder, do the artists see themselves in a new way—receive reflection as well? I begin by dancing in the “freezer room,” made for storing fish. Their blood still stains the ceiling. Padded walls give resilience and resistance, something to push against. It’s exhilarating after a travel day with the two buses, two planes, and two cabs it took to arrive here from Ireland.
Dancing with seaweed in Iceland is dancing with wind. Moving outside along the Wild Atlantic Coastal trail, I wear four coats, Icelandic wool socks and hat, and my favorite: X-on Extreme Gloves. I lie down on the rocks, inverted, eyes closed, and head sliding toward the sea. My hair meets wrack and kelp, saying an intimate hello: body to body.
#2 Leaving Connemara
Gurteen Bay and Dogs Bay, adjacent to Errisbeg Lodge, Roundstone
Connemara, County Galway, Ireland
September 13, 2014
I feel a walk should be undertaken with the respect for its own timescale and structures and ceremonies of mood one brings to the hearing of a piece of music.
—Tim Robinson, Connemara: Listening to the Wind
Dancing on these beaches is as close as I get to ecstatic dance. Wet sand underfoot, I remember the red sails (once coated with tar to keep them water resistant) of a forty-foot Galway Hooker, which I rode yesterday out into the bay, feeling the freedom of wind, wake, and weed.
After a day lying belly-down on this ancient sand, I rise slowly. And find myself standing tall, taller than I remember, spacious. And as cartographer Tim Robinson describes in his eloquent description of his seaside house in Roundstone, my body experiences “the freshening winds of futurity blowing through it, wafting away the spider webs of anxiety.”
I am an artist dancer and educator who WAS . . . (past tense). A new phrase, phase, and identity enters my body-mind, leaving me expansive yet rooted. Feeling the wind 360 degrees, my childhood Illinois landscape and Florida Atlantic seascape awaken, quickened inside me.
I stand and stand. Shawl-skirt over bare legs. Feeling one with Isadora Duncan and all those dancing women who have claimed dance over fear, ignoring molestations and beatings (present in the Irish stories I’ve been reading), childbearing beyond capacity, and imposed ignorance along with the fear imposed by church (“Irish Catholic miserabilism” in Tim Robinson’s words). Standing. Standing for dancing, the right to be one with water and wind.
I leave the beach just as two others arrive. In Authentic Movement, I always know when someone is approaching, even when my conscious mind asks me, “Why not stay a bit longer?” I photograph my ocean-washed face as I did in art school, painting self-portraits over a mirror, trying to understand identity, sexuality, and creativity through brushstroke and color. There’s a glow in my face, fewer wrinkles—less concern and more room for joy. Knowing that I am not retiring, I am returning to full-time art making. Just these few descriptive words, found on the beach, make all the difference. Leaving Connemara, even the place-name sounds like music.
Wrack and foot
Gurteen Bay and Dogs Bay, adjacent to Errisbeg Lodge, Roundstone
Connemara, County Galway, Ireland
September 13, 2014
An Fheamaina (seaweed in Gaelic)
. . . the sound of the past and the moment of writing…
—Preface, Tim Robinson, Connemara: Listening to the Wind
There are two beaches with spacious vistas, which I visited for seven days, getting to know the ways of sand, waves, and seaweed in Connemara. The chill of the Atlantic triggers an adrenaline rush as I dip bare skin into the ocean’s salty brine, entering the underwater world of scallops, cuttlefish, and sea stars.
Nearby, Atlantic salmon smolts (adolescents) still run down the rivers into the sea, returning to this same place as adults to spawn. But these waters are now less healthy for wild salmon, with salmon farming (fish too tightly packed) and chemicals (used to prevent sea lice from forming on their scales) diminishing the endurance of native species. Too much, too much.
Seaweed is also threatened. It’s public knowledge that the local processing company has been bought by a foreign firm, demanding the seaweed rights for all the nearby beaches. Traditional rights to harvest seaweed were passed down orally through families; no written record. Speaking Irish Gaelic doesn’t help in negotiating with global markets. Good luck!
Seaweed has been harvested for hundreds of years in Ireland, to sell and use for fertilizer, to burn for vegetable ash—producing many chemicals such as iodine (an antiseptic, invaluable in WWI) and alkalis (for making gunpowder, linen, soap, processed food, and cosmetics), to spread on barren rock and create soil, to eat, and as treatment for coughs and colds. They would raft seaweed bundles behind their wooden currachs (boats made of larch and oak), or gather it in woven baskets, hauled by men and women up the beach.
Soil in Connemara is about two inches deep, my host Jackie tells me. In some places it’s up to a foot, where residents have piled kelp and wrack on infertile rock, year after year, “making land.” Marine algae are named “weed,” but they are essential. Local residents have risked their lives to harvest this bounty year round—including the icy waters of winter.
Dancing with seaweed in this land, which has counted on these ocean gardens and life forms as a mainstay for a subsistence (and sustainable) economy, broadens my view.
La Chrysalide, near Auray in Brittany, France
Embodied Writing Retreat, co-taught with Mandoline Whittesay
Sept. 5, 2014
Goëmon (seaweed in French]
Arriving in this place, I don’t know what will happen here with Ria d’Etel— an estuary where freshwater and seawater meet every six hours, filling and emptying. This landscape holds a serious history, with German troops on this side of the river and American on the other at the end of World War II. Now oysters are grown in the space between shorelines, and rockweed drapes all exposed rock surfaces as the salty bath recedes.
We eat our meals outdoors, facing the rhythm of tides. Eight German, American, English, French, and Swedish women sit around the table, while fish jump, gulping for oxygen and dragonflies in the early autumn heat. Pears, apples, and legumes biologique are served with regional cheeses. My favorites, Le Cado and Tone de les Dunes, are thick on the tongue, reflecting the passion of making.
Midweek we travel to la plage du Magouëro, a long stretch of sandy beach. Voilà! Furbelows (Laminaria bulbosa), the local giants of ocean kelp, are strewn along the frontier of salty edge—their boot-sized holdfasts, frilly stipes (named for women’s ruffled petticoats), and broad-fingered blades identify them in my British field guide. Sloughed-off from sea depths, they offer new life on shore—becoming one with air, merging with sand, and knowing the beaks of birds.
I watch a young woman dancing on a sea-born pile of rounded stones—slapping, thrashing, pounding her body-flesh to beach-flesh. Drenching her creature self once again in primal wetness, I imagine release of the weight of sorrow mixed with the possibilities of next steps, knowing that even if the world were ending someone would plant a seed.
Once buoyant in the incoming tide, the drying kelp now trails behind me as I dance, leaving its mark in sand. With holdfast gripped in sweaty palm, my extended arm measures the weight and length of the kelp’s feet, body, and flesh. This before, present, and after of yielding to change, creates a doorway or portail, between what was and what is to be: La moment present et l’histoire que nous entoure.
Our Bodies Remember
March 27, 2014
Seaweed. There’s a lot to know. We can start by naming the parts: holdfast, stipe, bladder, and blade. There are over 700 kinds of seaweed along the coast of California, 10,000 worldwide—reds, greens, browns. Long ago they captured color, cohabiting with the unusual.
They often look dead, dried up, useless—come back to life when the tide returns to cover. Some are over 200 feet tall, every part photosynthetic: feet, body, and leafy top. They are not plants, but share the same relatives as trees, Bengal tigers, us. Marine algae are the origin of all life on the planet—thanks!
I had walked for four months, three hours each day along the shoreline of Monterey, California, looking at whales, sea otters and their pups, red-shouldered hawks with their piercing gaze. Then visual artist Josie Iselin called from San Francisco, saying, Let’s go look at seaweed: early morning, low tide, bring your rubber boots.
At first I did not want to touch. The seaweed was bumpy, slimy, so slick I lost my footing. But once we met skin-to-skin, things changed. My love affairs often start with resistance.
Josie pointed, saying the genus names: Coralline, Laminaria, Ulva. Of the 700 kinds of seaweed along the Pacific Coast of California, I chose three to begin a relationship with the common names: sea lettuce, Turkish towel, bull kelp. There’s power in language.
This summer in Maine, people came and harvested all the rockweed along whole stretches of beach—to sell as food, fertilizer, and magic medicine. So there was no food for fish, periwinkles, and migrating birds. Ocean health is a delicate balance.
Dancing with bull kelp along the southern shores of Devon, England, momentum is constant. Weight is real on land. And wearing seaweed as a mask, long fronds dangling and stipe to umbilicus, myth informs.
When dancing, I love mixing things up: words and movement, science and art, you and I. Cultivating the gap between knowing and not knowing, the ecotone of uncertainty. Sometimes you have to go a long way down in yourself to find an authentic voice, to take the next step.
Seaweed, there’s a lot we don’t know about our kin, yet we share somatic resonance. Every quality found underwater is found in us. Our bodies remember.
Josie Iselin image of Porphyra from her new book, An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed
Dances May – August
Dance 1 Tar
Coal Oil Point Reserve Sands Beach, UC Santa Barbara, California
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Dancing with seaweed in Santa Barbara: I’m remembering the names, holding them in my hands, walking along the suspiciously-frothy edge of the ocean with an oil rig in the distance. Host David Hurwith says, “You can smell the oil,” and I do. At Coal Oil Point, a nature reserve, part of UC Santa Barbara, I gather strands of feather boa, pieces of bright green sea lettuce, pink and white choraline; and giant kelp with their hold fasts—to take to the class I am teaching later today.
There is a warning on eating mussels, and I remember as I move through the traces of bubbles lingering along the wrack line, that I should wash my hands. Seaweed artist Josie Iselin taught me about watching for high bacteria count on certain beaches. I notice a few student surfers in bathing suits immerse themselves along with wet-suit clad companions. This is my dance: between joy (“yes” to southern California warmth) and despair (“no” to sacrificing healthy ecosystems for oil). I choose joy, recognizing impermanence.
I pick up a golf ball from a tide pool, wonder at the black splotches on white surface. My fingers stick in the tar. Now the packets in my cottage bathroom make sense: tar remover. Later I meet a science group at an overlook doing a whale count. It is day 97 of 98 and 1009 gray whales have been counted, with 212 calves. They tell me it isn’t the oil rig that is creating tar; this is the second largest natural tar seep in the world. The native peoples—the Chumash—who were here as early as 13,000 years ago, used the tar to seal their woven baskets and canoes—called tamals.
I remember a discussion about the distinction between correlation and causality. Two things are happening concurrently, but are not necessarily cause and effect. Oil and tar have their own characteristics and effects. There’s a lot to know about a new place.
In tide pools I see sunburst anemone, red and purple sea urchins, and fluted black abalone–or sea snails with probing antennae and soft bodies. Devereux Slough is nearby. Bird song is everywhere, with the tidal background. This is dance one, dancing with the place of dance.
Dance 2 Exit/House
Friday, June 6, 2014
After 22 years on Halpin Road, we are emptying out. Also my two offices at Middlebury College, one at Hillcrest Environmental Center and one in the Center for the Arts—with boxes still unpacked from our arrival there in l992. School files, videos of performances, cassette tapes of music, original photocopied editions of manuscripts, course packs, and images for a triad of books: Bodystories, Body and Earth and The Place of Dance. Plus forty years of handwritten journals, which I have been burning, recycling, and sending to the landfill as trash all year. Alumnus and friend, Joseph Schine, helped with the last boxes and photos in this process of deconstructing a life. Sabbatical begins, 2014!
Dance 3 BMC Dancing
Integrating the Two Halves of the Brain – A New Paradigm with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Amherst, MA June 21-22;
29th Annual BMCA Conference, Saratoga, NY June 26-29
Bonnie and I met in l977 when she moved to Amherst, MA from NYC. I was teaching at Mount Holyoke College and brought a student with an injured knee to her studio. We’ve shared work for many years; this year the dialogue was about the brain.
Kate Trammel performing Namely Muscles by Clare Porter.
Photo: Richard Finkelstein
Dance 4 Water Dance
Barton Springs with Susan Prins
July 4, 2014
Susan Prins and I met in l982, my first year of teaching at Middlebury, and a good reason to be there. She danced in four Dance Company of Middlebury tours (two in New England, plus Washington D.C. and San Francisco) as well as disappearing for a year and a half in Taiwan to do a research project with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. This was my first thesis with the East Asian Studies Department, and I learned much about research/grading and the dialogue between embodied experience and language. Our connection has been fundamental to my growth as a teacher, my understanding as an artist, and my life as a woman among women and the choices to be made in a life. Later Susan performed with Ushio Amagatsu (see Place of Dance p. 186) in Japan, and developed an arts center in Chiapas, Mexico with Alonso Mendez. There’s too much history to relate, but here we are again—dancing together with her son Maxam at Barton Springs in central Austin, Texas and refreshing our connections. Susan now works as a massage therapist, holds deep knowledge about intercultural communication, and supports the magic, mystery, and edge of living/dancing ethically. What a treat! Dancing in her place, in water, and in the lovely studio of her colleague Beverly Bajema. They are hosting a weekly Place of Dance study group in Austin throughout the next year!
Dance 5 Dancing with Rockweed
Moose Cove, Lubec, Maine
With Stephen Keith
July 4, 2014
Rockweed is draped over most of the exposed granite rocks at low tide, along this section of Maine. It seems dried up, dead, not very appealing on arrival. After a long beach nap, I begin a dance. Forehead to rock, the dried outer layer exposes bright green pods and blades. Imagined as a mane of hair, I feel its fullness along with the rootedness to the rocky surface. Whil the tide moves in and the ocean revives the outer reaches, the rockweed lifts up, blades rotating to catch the sun for maximum photosynthetic juice. Dancing with rockweed—try it! (It’s not what you expect.)
Photo: Stephen Keith
Dance 6 Whales
St. Andrews, New Brunswick
Friday, August 1, 2014
Really, this dance is just watching, moving from side to side of the catamaran, feel-seeing the falcated (curved) dorsal fin of two Minke whale backs as they arc and dive. Appreciating the sleek gray-black mammal bodies, the blast of air from blowholes, and the undulations of accompanying Harbour Porpoises moving at the speed of delight, amid the dazzle and sparkle of light reflecting off the ocean’s surface film. Sea birds are ever-present and one fierce and commanding mature eagle overlooks the scene from atop a shoreline spruce tree. It’s a dance of the imagination—body responding to body.
The Bay of Fundy, with the highest tides in the world creating one of the most productive wildlife ecosystems, once filled with herring and cod, and fish of all sorts along with twelve species of whales. The last two years are “off” the guide tells us, with larger Finback whales staying further out in the deeper trench off Grand Manan Island. Not many herring or krill. And my husband remarks that there aren’t many Atlantic salmon returning to spawn in coastal rivers this year either. But the dance is here: magic, mysterious, a day with mammals—kin.
Minkes are white-bellied, weigh approximately ten-tons, and average about thirty feet in length, inhabiting all oceans. They have a long tapered upper jaw (rostrum), containing around 300 baleen plates on each side. A large tongue pushes the water out of the mouth cavity, leaving shrimp-like krill and small fish trapped inside to be swallowed. A whale tongue, now that’s something to imagine.
In the June workshop with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, we explored the tongue. It has a large representation in the somatic/motor cortex of the brain and impacts our movement and coordination in ways we don’t even know. Primary patterns are stored from early months of development, as the baby’s tongue investigates the world, probing for food and connection.
Heading home we drive to Calais Maine, across the border, where Steve and I sit in a parking lot waiting for the Irish band, Socks in the Frying Pan from County Clare to assemble for a concert. These three guys from Inverness are a performer’s delight. They play the audience, not just with their highly skilled musicianship and well-tuned instruments —fiddle/banjo, acoustic guitar and accordion, but through the knowledge of timing, body language, and empathy across oceans and time. This has been a day with the sea, Atlantic as the link: one coastal shoreline to the other.
Dance 7 Island
Kolekill Island, West Grand Lake
Grand Lake Stream, Maine
Monday, August 4, 2014
Kole Kill Island is a favorite place on our home lake—a boat ride from town. Tall red pines sweep over deep silence, not in the way of humans—so the water, birds wind all have a voice. There’s something ancient about moving with wind and water, getting off vertical, slashing into spiraling torso and legs, air swirling—supporting the body, front back under and around with such a tenuous connection to the ground. My bipedal stance feels even less stable than the shallow rooted trees clinging to minimal soil on this granite bedrock outcropping, scraped clean by retreating glaciers. As I swing head to foot, I see trees that have tumbled over, upended in the recent hurricane Hugo, roots exposing intertwined rocks, tendrils clinging to any scrap of Earth. Impermanence, transience, suspension—not unlike the dancing we practice daily—cultivating uncertainty. Kole Kill.
I have an island heritage, Samsø Island off the mainland of Denmark and a peninsula in Northern Germany. Even in the flatlands and fields of Illinois where I grew up, surrounded by a waving expanse of corn and soybeans with a 360-degree view of the horizon, was like an ocean. And there’s the coming and going, arriving and departing inherent in island life. In this case it’s with our wood-and-canvas canoe, slipping onto the sandy beach, slipping off.
Dance 8 Visit
Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston, Maine
August 5-6, 2014
Driving with my car full—too full—from emptying our house in Vermont and arriving to our Maine home, which is tiny, no place to put things. Now the car is my mobile home. Stopping at the Bates Dance Festival for two nights, my dancing bodies place. Seeing dancing, remembering dancing, arriving in the place of committing to that level of body intelligence (deepening body intelligence) for the full span of a life/
Watching Dancing in the Moment, an improvisation concert scored by Angie Hauser and Chris Aiken, with the festival musicians in full force. Watching dress rehearsal of Different Voices, with alumnus Paul Matteson with partner Jennifer Nugent perform a duet by Wendy Woodson, and alumna Ellen Smith Ahern (full-bodied pregnant) with Lida Winfield in their co-created duet. They are all intelligent, inspiring movers. Watching David Dorfman challenge the students with off-center technique: “The play between vertical and not,” and Chris Aiken guide improvisation, encouraging sustaining a “local and global view” of the moving moment. Yin Mei and I converse about contemplative dance and plot future connections, and then I have an early morning departure, with Jennifer willing to engage a quick chair improvisation for a photo.
Photos: Morning, with Jennifer Nugent on the porch
Dance 9 BE-ing Dancing
Body and Earth Intensive at White Oak Pond, Holderness, New Hampshire
August 8-16, 2014
Caryn McHose and I just finished a three-day intensive introductory Body and Earth course and a six-day retreat. The weather was New England stunning with one dynamic rain/thunder/lightening storm to clear the palette—summer turning fall. Trees were hanging with fruit: apple, pear, and plum. Blueberries and blackberries were ready to pick amid our spacious gathering: sixteen participants for the short course, and ten for the retreat gathered at Resources in Movement studio with an outdoor dancing deck, created by Caryn with husband Kevin Frank.
Caryn introduced people and place with a walk on the land: rock, fire, water, air, and of course, the composting pile. The workshops shaped opportunities for somatic investigation and dancing around ten Body and Earth portals or modes of investigation. Each day was an alchemy of combined elements from ten years of creative research, beginning at Pen Pynfarch, Wales and continued with dedicated participants. Now, there is a body of information to share. Such a pleasure.
Susanna Recchia and Fabiano Culora came from Italy and London to assist. They are forming Body and Earth International, a website to communicate and develop this work. It will offer a virtual meeting place or hub for ideas from those engaged and for those who would like to begin a relationship. Fabiano graduated from the Body and Earth training program this summer, launching his own investigations. Former participants Rosalyn Maynard journeyed from Devon England, and Annie Dwyer from North Carolina.
Four Middlebury College “folks” joined in: Shruthi Mahalingaiah ‘98, Sonia Hsieh ‘11, Chelsea Colby ‘18, and Tzveta Kassabova, spanning three decades. Chelsea is a first year student/second semester; Tzveta begins her tenure-track position teaching both Anatomy and Body and Earth in future years, taking over my role as well as contributing her own dimensions to the curriculum. I begin a year-long sabbatical and three-year half-time associate status position, with one semester remaining at Middlebury fall 2015, and three at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California 2016-18, bringing embodiment skills to that global educational community.
My fascination grows round intercultural/interpersonal communication, based on the Body and Earth work developed over the last decade with Caryn, applicable in so many fields of inquiry at the Institute: languages, policy, environment, and non-proliferation studies. In my view, communication requires an embodied perspective.
Next spring I’ll be teaching one experiential anatomy course (my first love!) at Mount Holyoke College. It’s the first place I taught after graduate studies and teaching at the U. of Utah—returning full circle to l975. It’s a bit of a mix, this plan for the future, open doors without a clear trajectory or home base. Dancing in Wild Places: Seaweed and Ocean Health is my sabbatical theme.
The Body and Earth intensive culminates/concludes the summer investigation of Dancing In Place with research assistant Doug LeCours ’15 doing his own project in Europe. Doug returns to Middlebury to create his senior work in dance and creative writing, and I head to France, Ireland, and Iceland with my projects. In November, my husband Steve and I will travel down the Atlantic coast to my old home/my parents trailer in Briny Breezes Florida, where I spent half the academic year from first grade through junior high, while my dad painted watercolors and my mother enjoyed parenting within community. We returned to Illinois each spring to plant, farm our 200-acre farm and tend crops through the fall harvest. I was raised with migration as a natural part of the yearly cycle, and continue that trajectory. Stay tuned!
Body and Earth 2014