Reflecting on the work we’ve done this summer, both in creating A Sense of Place, as an event and the piece EveryBody Dances (and of course all of the works in the concert, and other work that I (Cindi) have been doing since I don’t know when) reminds me of the challenges and opportunities presented when we work together. A Sense of Place is a practice in community building. It is an event designed to bring the community together, to share in the creative capital available to all of us and to remind audiences that they are more than passive observers, but instead, they are the lifeblood of the work that artists do. EveryBody Dances is a completely collaborative work. Jessica Howard and myself have worked together to create a structure and theme for the piece, and to find ways to assist the community dancers in creating movement and learning to express themselves through dance. It is remarkable to watch the dancers (many of whom are “non” dancers) work together to create movement based on our cues and suggestions. The piece does not exist and could not exist without collaboration and improvisation.

In May, I created a work called Strings Attached (you can see info about that on this page and at The piece was an exploration of interactive performance, and in the process of creating the work, I reflected on the nature of improvisation, collaboration and the role of the audience vs. artist. In my research, I came back (and was directed by my mentor Cathy Nicoli) to the book Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch, especially the chapter called “Playing Together”.  There are many insights in this work, but I wanted to share one that seemed especially apropos of A Sense of Place and EveryBody Dances (and hopefully when you attend the event on July 24th, this rings true for you):

The separate beings of audience and performers can disappear, and at such moments there is a kind of secret complicity between us. We catch glances in each other’s eyes and see ourselves as one. Our minds and hearts move together to the rolling of the rhythm. This is more likely to happen at informal performances where there is no stage and no fixed seating to impose a dualistic split between active performers and passive audience. Through subtle but powerful entrainments, the audience, the environment, and the players link into a self-organizing whole. Even the dogs int he room are entrained. We discover together and at the same time the rhythmic and emotional scene as it unfolds. The skin-boundaries become semipermeable, then irrelevant; performers, audience, instruments, the room, the night outside, space, become one being, pulsing.

Baltimore Performance of Strings Attached in August 2009

On Monday, June 14th we began rehearsals for EveryBody Dances (there’s a tab for that, so I won’t bother with a link!).  Because this is a community process, I wanted to share it with the rest of the community, through this blog, and hopefully (subsequently) on Cheshire TV.

Our first rehearsal included 6 members of the Keene Community. Note: you can still join in the next rehearsal (Tuesday, June 22 at 4:30pm at the Heberton Hall on West St. Keene, next to the Keene Public Library), but after that the process will be closed to new dancers, so that we can be performance-ready by July 24th!

After a warm-up and introductions between dancers, we began by learning a phrase that I (Cindi) had choreographed earlier to fit with phrases made by Jess in a trio. The dancers (some “dancers” and some “non-dancers”) learned the phrase beautifully and had a lot of questions about performance details, which is pretty exciting, because it speaks to their engagement in the learning process.

After that, the rehearsal switched to a more creative process. EveryBody Dances explores ideas of space, place and home in  multi-dimensional way (for example: in exploring space, I can focus on abstract dance concepts (negative space, positive space, planes), the performance space (an outdoor amphitheater), or my favorite space to sit and read a book.). I gave the dancers several prompts to lead them to create their own phrases. Initially we visualized the building of a personal shelter and then the dancers (with cues from me) began to “move” that shelter, thinking about the task of building it, the negative and positive space and what they felt (physically) if they placed themselves inside of it. We used a free-writing (except it was free-dancing) process to create that movement (no editing, keep moving etc.) and then within that the dancers found sections of the movement that they remembered and repeated. These sections became the basis of a new phrase.

The second exercise I gave was to have each dancer think about his/her earliest memory and let that image or feeling sink in. They then took the movement they had found in the “shelter” improvisation and created a phrase (clear beginning, middle and end) that used the “shelter” movement, but was “about” the earliest memory. This kind of open-ended work is very difficult–clearly there are no wrong answers and many ways to interpret the assignment, and the dancers rose to the choreographic challenge, which was exciting.

The third exercise was one that focused on negative and positive space and shapes. It is a common exercise (one dancer makes a shape and the other fills in the negative space), however I manipulated it thematically. My instructions: “Make a shelter out of your partner and then inhabit that shelter.”

Finally, I divided the dancers into two trios and they created small trio dances during which each dancer performed his/her solo phrase while the other two worked with “shelter” structures. These two small “pieces” may later become part of the final work (highly likely, unless the dancers object!).

The goal of EveryBody Dances is to collaborate with the community, so the choreography and the performance should come from community members. Please click on the EveryBody Dances tab above to find more ways to participate, because we want your help in creating this work, even if you are not performing.

The core muscles (the muscles of the low-back, abdominals and hips) provide stability for the entire torso as well as assisting the ability of lower body muscles to perform in most positions and movements.  There is some evidence showing that exercises that improve the strength and stability of the core musculature prevent and heal low-back pain and can actually prevent knee injuries in athletes. In addition, training the core is  linked to increased balance and improved posture.

Many people focus on the six-pack or the rectus abdominis when training the core (think of the classic “crunch” exercise). The role of these muscles is to pull the sternum closer to the pubic bone (spinal flexion). Over-training these muscles can  lead to a postural imbalance, over-stretching of the low-back muscles and slouching! Not exactly the hot washboard abs you might be looking for. Balanced core training includes a wide variety of movements targeting all the core muscles (in the abdominal region the obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and psoas) including the muscles of the hips and back. This type of training allows the entire core to work in synthesis, creating a pillar of strength in movements that require stability, protecting the low back and increasing the function of the leg muscles.

In addition, a full core-training regimen should include dynamic balance training to strengthen small intrinsic core muscles that allow balance in motion, and flexibility training so that the core can be strong, but also supple.

It might be intimidating to create your own program with many different core exercises for a well-balanced workout in conjunction with the rest of your strength, flexibility and cardiovascular exercise, but keeping variety in mind is the key to making it work.

Trying a fitness or movement class like ballet, pilates or yoga can help you find new and fun ways to keep your core in shape. Or you can combine the three with some modern dance based cardio and try Jessica Howard’s Core Conditioning class…it starts tonight! 

CLICK to see the schedule and description of all of Dilettante Dance’s classes!