The closure of Temple University’s campus in light of the worldwide pandemic shifted my life tremendously. From finishing my senior year online, taking virtual dance classes and not having the opportunity to walk across the stage- I never imagined I would be where I am now. I was forced to rethink, adjust and transform my original post-graduation plans. I always dreamed of starting my own dance company, but later on in life. With everything becoming virtual, I realized I could take advantage of this time and begin navigating the professional dance world as a choreographer and dancer. And thus, my company Monét Movement Productions: The Collective was founded in May 2020.
The Collective cultivates artistry through innovative choreography and intentional movement. With works that generate meaningful connections, we provide captivating images and experiences for both the dancers and audience members. By sharing stories that are personal, social and/or cultural in nature we represent the collective and the world around us. After solidifying a name, I began applying to a plethora of opportunities to share my choreographic works. I received my first acceptance to present as a New Artist in the 11th Annual Making Moves Dance Festival- ‘Switchin’ It Up’ curated by the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.
Two dancer’s silhouetted shadows against a cloudy sunset of a city skyline and water. They have one foot flexed in front of the body, while the other knee is bent. Their arms are bent close to the body in a state of suspended transition.
The work featured was titled ‘Rebirth’, a restaging of a piece I created and performed at Temple University’s Student Dance Concert (Spring 2019). The original creation was reflective of my interpretation of the quote ‘Be you. Love you. Always, all ways’, by Alex Elle. It embodied a journey of self-reflection in opposition to the beauty standards held in society. This new version expanded and evolved in meaning and length. ‘Rebirth’ now exemplifies a journey of self-reflection, discovery, realization and love to understand that you are not defined by society and external conditions.
With the world shifting to virtual platforms to accommodate the “new normal”, our entire rehearsal process occurred through Zoom. This approach challenged me as I assumed the role of both artistic director and choreographer. We engaged in copious amounts of dancer/choreographer collaboration thus giving the dancers more artistic freedom. We focused more on storytelling, connecting to the music and reworking the original piece to fit a digital space. We successfully learned a 12-minute piece in 5 rehearsals which culminated in a dance on film production.
Two dancers stand in blue dresses against a nature background of green trees where the trees’ shadows stretch along the ground, engulfing the dancers own shadows. Their blue dresses are swayed from a quick movement and their arms are outstretched in front of their bodies, crossed at the forearms.
Presenting ‘Rebirth’ at the Making Moves Dance Festival was a gratifying experience that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I stepped into the role of director/video producer. I expanded my capabilities as an artistic director and have fallen in love with creating dance films. Family, friends and Temple faculty who supported me thoroughly enjoyed the work making my heart swell with immense joy and gratitude. ‘Rebirth’ will always have a special place in my life as it was my company debut. I look forward to displaying the film at other choreographic showcases as I begin my company’s second project, a restaging of my senior thesis ‘868 Irving Street’!
Makayla Peterson Temple BFA in Dance, A smiling Makayla in white button down shirt and black shorts against the background of a window of a city building, stretches her arms fully in line with her shoulders while gazing toward her right hand. Her legs are bent at a 90 degree angle, parallel with her arms, and balancing on the balls of her feet with raised heels.
Surya Swilley MFA in Dance, Adjunct Professor at Temple University
Crash, boom, rewind! My head was spinning, heart was racing, and I felt my adrenaline rushing at warp speed. Rehearse, rewrite, polish, go back, and repeat!
What is the intention? What did you mean by that? Let’s revise. Repeat.
I experienced a whirlwind of emotions, and wasn’t exactly sure of the extent of the labor that would go into producing an evening length concert.
I remember in the spring semester of this year, (January 2019) I began rehearsals and had no idea what I was doing. I was forcing myself to enter the studio with this idea of using a table as a prop, but had no idea how to be in collaboration with the table to get my point across. I experienced a significant amount of frustration while trying to verbalize to my dancers what my vision was, but the reality is, I wasn’t sure. The only thing I did know was that I needed to get moving towards generating a show. It was arduous.
I was influenced by several vignettes inside of black history and protest in the United States to develop “Between the Intervene”. Not that I interpreted these events as dramatized episodes towards freedom, but I recognized the choreographic protest inside of historical spaces such as lunch counter sit-ins, how black children navigate what can be an anxiety provoking experience while sitting at school desks, and the trauma inflicted onto black consciousness and black body while sitting behind the wheel in a vehicle. All of this, while knowing that one’s hands need to be placed on the dashboard to be visible in the face of police. These are the historical and contemporary notions that influenced the work, but the lens through which I decided to share the choreography was through honesty, and that was rooted in my truth inside of being a queer black woman.
While developing this work, I came out. I reckoned with my truth inside of my gender expression and sexuality, and it freed me to embark on a more truthful journey inside of other things. It is interesting how the development of this work, and my coming out contain a parallel inside of the timing. I was influenced by the freedom of transparency as I deepened inside of the work, and what emerged from this was a very fervent connection to telling my truth and working with my dancers so that they would be empowered to dance from an authentic place. I think adding my personal anecdote/truth inside of the mix not only help to bring the show to a cohesive understanding for me and the audience, but perhaps it allowed people to see that sharing one’s truth as an individual on stage, while working in collaboration with a group of dancers can be done, and can be done without any burden. I hope to showcase freedom on a variety of levels. My intention in everything I do is to liberate and empower.
My goal after graduation is to fly. I am harnessing my wings as a dance entrepreneur, and artist activist. Some tangible ways to see that are through my work as new adjunct professor at Temple University, through my partnership with the Center for Racial Justice and Education, and as I launch my own dance company in the summer of 2020.
It feels good to be done with the thesis concert, even though I know there’s so much more for me to dive into. I am ready for the challenge, and I am excited to see what comes next. What a rewarding experience this work came out to be. It’s my hope that even more reward will come, as I know that the next phase of life and career is filled with nothing but infinite possibilities.
My work at Temple has been important in my self-reflections. I recently premiered, “Project: Assata || Conscious States of Rage”, on October 25-26, 2019, a culminating thesis performance and a gathering of three years of research. I’m realizing that this third iteration, at the Conwell Dance Theater is the catalyst to some of my artistic transformations. This work focuses on Assata Shakur former black panther member. To create various phrase work and gesture phrases I extracted poems from Shakur’s autobiography, “The Autobiography of Assata Shakur” to create a map of small vignettes.
Photo Credit: Shanel Edwards
After the second iteration I sat with the work and I discovered rage. Recognizing that black femme bodies rarely yield rage justly. It is viewed as an inflated response from “angry black” women. I linked rage to Shakur because she was able to navigate with rage beautifully. Her circumstances were very different, but she did not hold back her anger. I admire her ability to express freely, something I sought for myself.
This work challenges who can justly express rage and explores modes of anger. When working collaboratively with my movement artist I discovered that rage goes beyond anger, that it can function in passion, love and belief. I allowed freedom for the work to develop organically often shifting things to suit the collective. Sitting in the audience during show week was both fulfilling and frightening. Giving myself space to reflect makes me feel gracious.
Photo Credit: Shanel Edwards
Having the space and a budget provided by Temple is a blessing as finding funding outside of the university is difficult. As I look at the process now, I am grateful for the experience. It taught me a lot about myself as a dance maker. Challenged my choreographic structure and perspectives. I was able to locate myself in my work. I will always be in process. Emergent, emerging, emergence. These are the lessons I’ve taken with me and the work feels like a gracious testimony to time, exploration and healing.
Ama Gora MFA in Dance, Photo Credit: Shanel Edwards
When I came to Temple in 2017, I was 25 and knew that it was the right time for me to continue an education that I had started in 2011 at a different university. Temple spoke to me as a program for their value of both the academic side of dance as well as the techniques, opportunities for choreography, and the fact that within one department there are BFA, MA, MFA and PhD students all there to continue their studies and build on their passion of dance. Coming to Temple as a nontraditional student as well as a transfer student was one of the best choices I made. I was able to diversify my knowledge of different techniques, while working with teachers who were prominent in the Philadelphia dance community. The staff at Temple are willing to work with you, provide excellent feedback and help ensure that you are getting what you want out of your dance education.
What I learned at Temple…It is okay to start again, to say “I don’t know” and build yourself up from there. As dancers and artists, it is easy to feel like you need to know everything all of the time to justify and back up the choices you are making and the techniques you study. Not realizing that through study, hours of rehearsals, talking with your peers and teachers, attending guest workshops and performances that all of this will inform your answers and build character. I can say with certainty that I am not the same dancer I was before starting at Temple and I am glad. During my time, my main technical focus was in African Diasporic techniques, most of which I had not heard of nor studied before attending Temple. I started off uncomfortable with being new, with not understanding how to get my body to achieve the actions and spent much of my class time moving slow to figure it out. Through this experience of relearning my body and asking it change and unlearn prior habits I grew, not just physically but mentally. Dance once again became a broad and sweeping term that was more than I had known before.
I had the good fortune of being able to work with the late Dr. Teresa Benzwie before her passing and study Early Childhood Dance Education. My studies with Dr. B further affirmed my passion for education, and through her kindness and compassion she helped nourish the teacher in me. Her guidance and expertise in the field was a priceless gift from my time at Temple.
What I took away from Temple, was that it is important to take every opportunity that comes your way with the awareness that it might not be exactly what was expected or planned for…because there is something for you to learn. The teachers, your peers, the guests, and the administration all want you to succeed but success is not something that is easy or simply built. I hope to pass this information on to my students. There is a lot of value in being a lifelong learner, to take chances, and to make mistakes beautifully.
This fall, I started a new position as the dance teacher for the Capital Area School for the Arts Charter School (CASA) in Harrisburg, PA. CASA was a school that I attended in high school. I am living one of my dreams to teach in this school and continue to build a program that trains intelligent, well rounded dancers, and artistic collaborators. As I move forward, I would like to continue to explore dance by taking classes when possible and enjoying every opportunity I have to dance and do what I love.
Tori Sexsmith BFA in Dance 2019 Alumnus and Dance Teacher for CASA
My piece for my Thesis Concert on September 27th and 28th 2019, was about sexual abuse and the traumas that can occur after an attack. Often times, victims are afraid to speak up not because the abuser may get punished, but because there nothing seems to be in it for them. I wanted to focus on healing and where that could possibly begin for someone, which led me to group therapy, one-on-one therapy with a licensed therapist or simply sharing with a loved one. In the piece, I chose to focus on group therapy and the idea of how abusers can also be victims too. In the beginning of the piece, there is a small visual to give an idea of the aftermath of the rape that leads into the first group therapy section where victims are invited to share their stories, but it can be difficult. Following therapy, the abuser knew that his actions were wrong and was tormenting himself. In the next group section, the victims are working to move from victim to victor where they are learning to build confidence and rely on their group members for support. The duet follows, and this is where the abusers and his victim are communicating about their tragedies, the last scene is where they invite the abuser to come to therapy, although his actions are not excused, they understand that he too needs help.
There were many changes to my piece last minute due to cast members leaving and the challenge was to present the same idea with a new framework. The challenge was a scary one, having to alter things four weeks before the show, but it was something that brought the cast members together and it made our relationship stronger. We trusted that each person would commit to their role and come in each day ready to work. We kept an open line of communication and shared things that worked and did not work. No one took anything personal and there was always positivity in the room.
For anyone presenting work soon, I say to stay committed to your idea and use your advisor to the best of your ability. Trust that your dancers will bring your vision to life and allow them to feel like they are also a part of the creative process. There will be things that you love one day, that you may not like the following week and that is okay. Scrap it and move on. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable with your cast members, it will only make the process easier. They can offer insight that you may not have thought about. Remember to take a break every now and then, sometimes your mind just needs a moment to shut down for a few hours. Do not be afraid to go for what you want, the only way you will know if it is achievable, is if you try.
2013 M.F.A. Alumna Shaness Kemp performed with Deeply Rooted in the Fall of 2016!
2015 B.F.A. alums Julian Darden, Sophiann Moore and Danzel Thompson-Stout choreographed and danced for Black Nativity at the Freedom Theatre in December 2016! Read a review about their performance here.
The trio also recently collaborated with the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia in the production of Honegger: King David at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. The dancers collaborated with Professor Jillian Harris to create the work.
2015 alumna Nia Shand is a freelance artist who collaborates with Ness White to tell stories of relationships and identity through spoken word and dance. Check out their Facebook page for more information!
At three years of age I fell in love with ballet. My story is not particularly unique except that I was enrolled based on a podiatrist’s suggestion to my mother that it would help my flat feet. Well, that’s not a great asset in our field is it!!!
Also unique, I suppose, was my desire to be a dance teacher very early on – age 11. The best part of every day was dancing and I continued in this ‘dance is essential in my life’ mode all the way through my doctoral program. I had to think about, watch, and learn about dance, and most importantly, dance my whole life. It was and continues to be both my work and my play. There was no choice – no discussion – it just was a part of me – like breathing.
What a surprise I had when a very well respected dance educator revealed to me that she believed that in reality (and said very covertly), not all children must dance to have a full life. Really?! REALLY?! Until this point I believed it WAS imperative – this unsettled me to the core. Soccer, swim team, baseball – sure these activities have movement, teach cooperation, teamwork, but, where’s expression, exploring the human condition, and celebrating life with one’s ‘everything’ (aka, spirit, mind, and body)?!
Being a deep thinker, I considered this new perspective and had a few years of questioning my life’s efforts and convictions. Despite this partially burst bubble, I have never wavered in my personal passion to everything dance. How can I help but stay connected to my initial impulse about dance when I see my students using every spare minute of their school day in the studio creating dances, practicing their dancing and shining bright on the stage? My heart is stirred when I see three year olds, teens, professionals, and seniors dance – it still moves me. I have come full circle. Dance is not optional – just as food is fuel for our body, dance is fuel for our living fully.
It’s not enough to fill our physiological needs – we have to dance – yes, everyone – really!!!