“Make Mistakes Beautifully”

By Tori Sexsmith,

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.

 

Tori Sexsmith

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

Dancing into Identity

by CUDJOE EMMANUEL

I grew up asking myself a question that would evolve in different shades throughout my life until now. I asked my mom at the village dance square…what are you doing moving like that? Her response, you will grow up to meet this! Boom! That was my first critical encounter with dance by observing my mother’s body moving to traditional music.

Now the question I asked and the answer that came were not new. On the contrary it has been asked by many curious kids since our first ancestors danced. It is a deep question with an equally deep answer. Unknown to me, I was asking the body I came out from how it came to know itself enough and be confident enough to move like that among a people who did likewise to the same music. I would later come to understand that movement systems, embodied, loved, respected over years of evolution, would be my very IDENTITY!

I analyse my personal dance experience from childhood in such a reflective manner that it helped me conceptualize the transient body in varied social cultural, and political positions among my ethnic group in my beloved home country Ghana. My father was a sub-chief of that rural town and during ascension to his stool/throne, I was required, by virtue of my father’s political and genealogical position what I term as my “transition into a status and validation as a royal, through dance movement”. I recount how the selected dance and its movements transformed and influenced my understanding of the Akan linguistic patterning and its power in affirming individual identity creation. I started receiving my official training as a dancer at the age of 6 and I was taught specific movement patterns which were different in execution from some other movement patterns I had seen outside my father’s palace. In my training process I was instructed to walk as a royal in the dance arena, taught a specific salutation concept and then eventually when to start performing on a specific drum rhythmical cue. Prior to that, my training in other things like sitting, eating, drinking from a cup, posture, gait was similar to my fathers who, from time to time before his enstoolment would join me in dance practice and perform the same movement patterns with me. He would often shout phrases like “a royal does not sweat on the dance floor”, “you are the son of great ancestors”, “wisdom and dancing abilities are in your blood”, “you will dance with me, your father, in glory”, “go on my son, the stool and the music are yours alone to take after I am gone”. These statements in addition to specific hand and feet movement patterns validated my understanding of who I was at the time and it came through dancing.

Reflecting on my childhood learning process and my political affiliation leads me to conclude that I was ‘curated’ and subsequently put on ‘display’ to the outside world through dancing.

Prior to my PhD at Temple dance department, I was exposed to dance studies/scholarship beginning from my undergraduate studies at the school of performing Arts University of Ghana focusing on Dance studies and Theatre arts. As my passion in dance intensified, I proceeded to pursue a masters at the Institute of African studies-University of Ghana with concentration on African dance and music analysis. My thesis was on Dance Aesthetics and Performance Contexts of a royal dance among the Asantes of Ghana known as KETE.

My exposure within African studies re-invigorated my interest to pursue more knowledge in dance scholarship due to the rate at which the proliferation of our dance forms offered research possibilities to ascertain the evolution of dancing as human requirement within contemporary African settings. As such I applied to pursue second masters in Europe which led me to pursuing the Erasmus-Mundus Choreomundus International Masters in Dance Knowledge, practice and heritage degree  from a consortium of four universities namely; University of Roehampton-London, Université Blaise Pascal-France, Norwegian University of Science and Technology- Norway, and the University of Szeged, Hungary. The aim was to learn about emerging concepts in safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. My journey to Temple University began when I first met Dr. Sherril Dodds who was a visiting lecture at University Blaise Pascal in France 2017. She encouraged all of us to pursue high education and offered to help if any of us were interested. I was not initially interested as my immediate goal after my 2nd master was to go back home to my Alma mater to support dance research and scholarship. However, the opportunity to study at the prestigious Temple University was too alluring to ignore. Here I am!

 

……the journey continues…..

Emmanuel Cudjoe, PhD in Dance student

MFA Thesis Concert I-Victorious

By Princess Tanagna Payne

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.

Princess Tanagna Payne MFA in Dance

Ziying Cui’s Ballet Journey

By Ziying Cui

When I was a child, I remember I begged my mother to take me to every Swan Lake performance in my hometown. I was fascinated by the dancers’ virtuosity, the orderliness of the corps de ballet, the romantic love story, and the gorgeous costumes and stage settings. My early experience of watching ballet motivated me to study this Western dance genre. Within more than twenty years’ ballet training in China and the US, my curiosity of ballet expanded beyond idealizing my body alignment and mastering dance movements. I was intrigued by the rapid development of Chinese ballet and how this Western art found avid audiences and practitioners in China.

Ziying Cui

 

In 2016, I began to study a PhD in dance at Temple University. This allowed me to shift my position from a dance practitioner to a dance researcher. The first two-year’s course works not only broadened my view of the English dance scholarship, but also provided me a large amount of theoretical and methodological knowledge of conducting doctoral research in dance. I have had the honor to learn with some of the most celebrated scholars around the world, and observed diverse research projects. Beyond the coursework, my endeavors out of class in the past three years, including exams preparation, attending dance colloquiums, and dance conference presentations, helped to prepare my own research in Chinese ballet. In addition, adequate ballet classes and teachers at Temple allow me to keep practicing ballet while doing research.

As a non-native English speaker, I had to work harder in and out of class to catch up the academic works. While the first year was the most challenging, my professors and colleagues helped me through the difficult time. At Temple, faculty members are always there to help students, but most importantly we have to work hard to make progress through our own efforts.

Ziying Cui, PhD in Dance Student

Reflection Response: kNots & Nests

Photo by Matthew Altea

 

By Mijkalena Smith

My time performing and creating in the Reflection:Response Commission, kNots & Nests, by Marion Ramirez was undoubtedly one of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had. kNots & Nests is a multi-disciplinary creative project celebrating the duet as the smallest unit of community (https://www.knots-nests.org/gallery). This project’s artistic collaborations include Marion Ramirez (project’s director/ dance department, Boyer) Adam Vidiskis (music department, Boyer School of Music and Dance), Kris Rumman (visual art, Tyler School of Art and Architecture), and Jungwoong Kim (dance, Boyer School of Music and Dance). Student Participants included artists from Temple dance, music, journalism, film, and visual art departments.  Never before have I been surrounded by such a diverse, creative, and genuine group of people.

I think sometimes at Temple we become stuck inside our own departments, constantly working and improvising with the same people day after day. Having the opportunity to work with artists from different Music department and Tyler school of Art brought a fresh, new atmosphere of creativity that allowed for the success of this project across various art mediums. Apprehensive about working with improvisation for the first time, Marion Ramirez facilitated a connection among us artists that helped me learn that this work was more about our relationship to each other and the concepts surrounding the piece, rather than exact movements or choreography.

 

Photo by Matthew Altea

 

An emotionally raw and vulnerable experience; I learned that pushing past one’s comfort zone with other artists creates the purest art. I learned how to reach out and express myself to people in a way I never would have imagined. It was a rich experience I am eternally grateful for and will certainly never forget.

 

Mijka Smith BFA Dance Student

Tapping into Confidence

Photo by Brian Mengini.

By Kaitlyn Miller

Dance has always been a passion, from the stage to the classroom to my home, it always generates so many emotions for me. I have participated in many styles including ballet, jazz, modern, tap, ballroom dance, but there was something about tap that draws me closer. At a very young age, I knew tap would take me somewhere, if I continued to work hard at it.

Tap is the style of dance to which I feel the strongest connection too and I was able to continue that connection during my time at Temple with a Studio Research piece in the Spring semester of 2019. I decided to create a piece, set for two dancers using portable wooden floors. I created the piece to embody a machine, with the natural wooden floors, rusty orange lights, and simple costumes- jeans and a black t-shirt. The style of tap I was working with concentrated on the intricate, rhythmic patterns and phrasing of the footwork. This is an unfamiliar form to me, but my time in the studio and creating this piece allowed me to become more accustomed with it.

With my confidence boosted, I decided to audition for the Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, a Philadelphia-based, all-women ensemble which “produces original works of choreography while preserving the tradition of improvisation in American rhythm tap” (http://www.ladyhoofers.org/). After the audition process, I was pleased to learn I was an apprentice company member for the 2019-2020 season. We are currently working on pieces for our Tapcracker performance in December, and I am learning more and more about the percussive side of tap. Even after tapping for twenty years, I am learning so much each rehearsal, because I come from a musical theatre/broadway style tap background.

I am looking forward to my time with the company as we continue to learn choreography, improvisational skills and take class. Within my future Studio Research choreography at Temple and in my Thesis, I plan to apply these newfound skills.

 

Kaitlyn Miller MFA Student

Carpentry and Dance Collide

Dr. Onye Ozuzu, Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida.

By Muriel Peterson, MFA Student

Dr. Onye Ozuzu; is the Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida; in Gainesville, Florida. She came to Temple University for the “Dance Studies Colloquium” lecture on September 10th and is known as a performing artist, choreographer, administrator, educator, and researcher. Her most recent work, “Project Tool,” unites the world of construction with the world of dance. The result, several hexagon shaped floors that can be easily transported and performed on, as well as an examination of “the inter-relationships between body, task, and tool” (http:// ozuzudances.com/).

Project Tool image courtesy of http:// ozuzudances.com.

Ozuzu explained the process of building the floors and choreographing based on that experience. She describes it as arduous, meticulous work, yet satisfying and humbling. However, the most interesting aspect of this project, in my opinion, is the appreciation it elicits from the performers/builders for the floor itself. Dividing each rehearsal between construction and choreography, Ozuzu and her dancers are able to develop a relationship with each floor they build. Although at times the performers do not enjoy the tediousness of the building, a sense of gratitude and protectiveness emerges for the floors regardless.

As a practitioner of both break dancing and tap, I find it surprising that it took the actual construction of the floors to elicit appreciation for them. More often than not, dancers like myself have to fight for the floors of our choice and in many cases settle for less. With tap, I remember my teacher explaining the importance of the floor and how it connects to the music we make as we dance; in order to hear it at its best, it must be played on a wood surface because it generates a high quality sound and it is not too harsh on the dancer’s body. Similarly, break dancers appreciate its smooth surface and gentleness on the body as well.

All-in-all, “Project Tool,” is an intriguing piece of art. It combines real life carpentry with the art of dance. In addition, it challenges both the audience and the dancers to recognize the value in ordinary things; in this case the value lies in the floors themselves.

Muriel Peterson

Capturing CADD

Inline image 1

 

From February 16-19, 2018, the third bi-annual Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) conference will convene at Duke University in Durham, NC. This year’s conference, themed Dance Black Joy: Global Affirmations and Defiance, will feature Drs. Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Melissa Blanco Borelli and Marianna Francisca Martins Monteiro as keynote speakers and a variety of breakout sessions, movement workshops and film screenings. There will also be a remembrance of the late Baba Chuck Davis and a performance of CANE, a responsive environment dancework by Thomas DeFrantz, SLIPPAGE: Performance/Culture/Technology and Wideman/Davis Dance (DeFrantz 2018).

 

Founded by a powerhouse of artist-scholars in the field of African diaspora dance studies, the conference is committed to “exploring, promoting and engaging African diaspora dance as a resource and method of aesthetic identity” (Duke University  2016). Since its inception in 2012 as the African Diaspora Dance Research Group at Duke University, the conference aims to facilitate interdisciplinary inquiry that challenges and expands the field of Black Dance Studies.  

 

I attended CADD in 2016, where I presented a lecture-demonstration on corporeal memory and Germaine Acogny’s Modern African Dance Technique. I enjoyed the networking and stimulating academic discourse one would typically expect at an academic conference. Even the dance workshops in which I participated blended an unusually high level of theoretical discourse with kinesthetic engagement. However, there was one aspect of the experience that I found unique to CADD. Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, one of the founding members of CADD, summed it up during her opening speech:

 

Welcome back home.

 

As Dr. Amin explained to the room of rapt listeners, who nodded and clapped in agreement, CADD is more than place of ideological exchange. It is a meeting ground for a unique group of thinkers and movers—those of us whose research centers on the methods, aestheticism and theories of African and diaspora dance practices. As a first-year PhD Dance student, I found myself in a safe space where my ideas had room to stretch and breathe. Before offering my theories on Acogny Technique, I did not feel the need to first qualify WHY Acogny Technique should be taken seriously as a contemporary dance practice “despite” its African aesthetics. There was a shared acknowledgement in the room that movement forms of Africa run the gamut from traditional-based social dances to urban dances to neotraditional and contemporary dance forms (that’s what makes them so cool). The idea that a dance practice can be simultaneously of African origin and expressed within a Euro-American paradigm is a common understanding we have here at Temple (we have Umfundalai, after all). But, as many CADD attendees could surely tell you, our work is sometimes met with resistance by well-intentioned (and sometimes not) but misinformed academics who believe otherwise.

 

This is not the case at CADD.

 

I was at home, amongst pioneering scholars and scholars-to-be who supported my work. The questions my audience proposed and suggestions they offered me were critical but not antagonistic—they were seemingly interested not only in the success of my work but with our collective forward movement as African Diaspora (and Black) dance scholars.

 

This year I’ll attend the conference, not as a presenter, but as a lowly, overwhelmed (and possibly underwhelming?) third-year PhD student who desperately hopes she won’t mess up her elevator pitch while donning a thinly veiled facade of nonchalance to hide her newbie excitement at being in the room with some of the most groundbreaking scholars in the field but worried that she will talk too fast or say too much like she always does when discussing her research that unfortunately spins her around in circles that never produce enough AH-HA! moments.

 

So back to CADD I go. Because in the process of babbling nonstop with kindly indulgent artist-scholar-strangers and sharing war stories with other Dance PhD students, somehow clarity descends and I realize that I’m on the right track after all.

 

 

Omi Davis, M.F.A.

Third Year PhD Dance Student
Boyer College of Music and Dance
Temple University

 

“Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) Conference, February 19-21, 2016: Call for Proposals.” Duke University. Last modified 2016. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://danceprogram.duke.edu/news/collegium-african-diaspora-dance-cadd-conference-february-19-21-2016-call-proposals

 

“Dance Black Joy: Global Affirmations and Defiance.” Collegium for African Diaspora Dance. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://www.cadd-online.org/2018-conference.html

 

DeFrantz, Thomas F. “African Diaspora Dance conference focuses on themes of joy and defiance.” (press release) Facebook. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://www.facebook.com/thomas.defrantz/posts/2014733948767498

2017 Reflection:Response Commission

May 2, 2017 

Temple University Department of Dance

The Temple University Department of Dance, Institute for Dance Scholarship, is delighted to announce the sixth Reflection:Response Choreographic Commission has been awarded to

Lela Aisha Jones | FlyGround 

Building on her current series of episodic works, Plight Release & the Diasporic Body, Lela Aisha Jones will create Everyday SaturdayThis work traverses, through the body and movement, what a diasporic orientation offers us as a guide towards individual and collective restoration. The choreography remembers, archives, and excavates black/African descendent cultural retentions. The purpose is to sustain the practices of togetherness and solidatiry by centering lived experiences and movement as fertile resources. Jones is asking, “What if we continue to bring into consciousness that we, as people on this earth, remain and become tapestries grounded in histories and our own discoveries that collide, merge, diverge, and converge?  What if the body and artistry are the most ripe locations for these processes?”

Everyday Saturday works to capture the gestural, common, and less visible locations of black/African diasporic movement in the U.S. It is inspired by the Saturday morning clean up ritual that took place weekly in the Southern U.S., North Florida city of Tallahassee, in the Jones home. Dancing while cleaning makes work feel like family. Cleaning becomes a metaphor for bringing up the dirt and the stories only the body can tell—acknowledging them and making room for the new. Students of the Temple University Department of Dance will join Jones and her company in Everyday Saturday.  

In addition Lela Aisha Jones | FlyGround will perform the critically acclaimed trio Jesus & Egun (2016) a deemed by NYC Reviewer Eva Yaa Asantawaa as a choreographic world she would never want to leave.

Performances will take place in Temple University’s Conwell Dance Theater, on Friday and Saturday, September 22 and 23, at 7:30 PM.  Additional public programming includes a public Diasporic Movement Practice workshop on Sunday led by Lela Aisha Jones,  Sept 24, from  2-5PM and a roundtable forum titled Integrity and Imagination While Dancing Diaspora on Sunday Oct 1, from 2-5pm.

The Reflection/Response Choreographic Commission includes a cash award of $5,000 and access to rehearsal space at Temple University throughout summer 2017.  Past commission recipients include Laura Peterson, Charles O. Anderson, Tatyana Tennenbaum, Jennifer Weber, and Kathy Westwater.

Lela Aisha Jones is a native of Tallahassee, FL who resides in Philadelphia, PA.  She is a  movement performance artist that has come to understand dance as an “archival practice” and her body “as an artistic archive—a creative storage space for movement and culture derived from the individual and collective lived experiences of blackness.” Lela is the founder of FlyGround, her creative home, where she cultivates her artistry that intertwines personal history, diasporic movement, social commentary, and interdisciplinary methods.  Lela earned a Master of Fine Arts in Dance at Florida State University and is a current doctoral candidate at Texas Woman’s University.  She is a 2013 Dance USA Philadelphia Rocky Awardee, a 2015 Leeway Foundation Transformation Awardee and a member of the inaugural 2015 Innovative Cultural Advocacy Fellows designed by leaders at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in NYC. Lela is also a 2017 New York Dance and Performance Award – Bessie nominated choreographer and a 2016 Pew Fellow in the Arts.

Title: Dancing with Ishmael Houston-Jones

I recently performed in the Temple University faculty concert.  I was performing an improv piece that noted New York artist, Ishmael Houston-Jones created on a group of Temple students during his January residency at the school (the group included BFA’s, MFA’s, and a PhD).  During the week that we worked together we did our best to understand his vision, but because it was an improv piece the vision remained nebulous.  When reflecting on the performances there was no yard-stick against which the performance could be compared.  A successful performance wasn’t measured against mistakes.  The difference between good and great wasn’t an accounting of mistakes but whether we had embodied his vision and created magic in the process.

 

Unlike with set choreography where I had a better sense of the piece when I was on stage, I had a better sense of the piece when I was off-stage.  Standing in the wings was no longer a passive act, waiting for the proper time for one’s next entrance.  Standing in the wings was instead an active act of watching and thinking.

 

I had the freedom to be onstage or off.  This meant that while watching from the wings I was constantly asking myself the question of whether my presence would add to the piece.  I was constantly asking myself the questions of composition.  Questions regarding positive/negative space, dynamics of energy, diversity of movement.  I asked these questions of myself continuously, whether onstage or off, but was able to get a better sense of the whole piece, and therefore make a more informed answer when I was watching from the wings.

 

Watching in the wings is a different experience from watching from the audience, because of the different perspective; from the wings I am usually watching at an angle perpendicular to that of the audience.  This means I only have an approximation of what it looks like from the audience, but my dance and choreography training means that I can fairly accurately transform the side view into the front view in my head.  Even still, standing in the wings gives me the distance to allow that transformation to occur.  That meant that when a friend asked me how the performance went my answer was “all I can tell you is that the parts I wasn’t in went really well”.  There was a reason I had decided to stay in the wings, and that’s because magic was already being made.

 

All in all I learned a lot from this special opportunity to work with an established New York choreographer.  The piece itself was co-created during a one-week residency at Temple during the winter break.  Temple dance students of all levels were invited to audition for the residency.  The opportunity was then provided for free.  We had the opportunity to taking the residency for credit, but it wasn’t required.

-Alissa Elegant

M.F.A. student