This past summer I scored my first professional contract. Yes, that is right, I (finally) got paid! And it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Temple is one of the reasons for that.
As a freshman, I had the pleasure of auditioning for my first winter residency. I was thrilled when I found out that I had been selected to perform the work of Atlanta based choreographer, T. Lang. I had no previous knowledge of her but once the program started, I fell in love with her movement, ideologies, and process. She was unlike anything that I had ever seen before.
At the end of our week together, we had constructed not just a piece but an experience. An emotional ride through the stages and challenges of loss. She taught me about intention and why it was important to create a story for your movement. She told me that “If you don’t believe it, no one will”. As the residency concluded, I realized that I needed more. More of T. Lang, more warm ups to Erykah Badu, and phrases featuring Al Green. Come to find out T. Lang, along B-Girl Teena Marie Custer, hosted a summer intensive.
So, I saved my money to attend the program in Atlanta. I went to the week-long intensive and grew in more ways than one. One thing that was really enforced was the concept of community. T. and Teena fostered an environment that was safe, lacked traditional judgement, and emphasized working together. It was a very different experience from intensives that I had attended in the past.
This awesome program culminated with an audition to perform with T. Lang ATL at the Atlanta High Museum of Art’s Summer Kick Off Party. I decided at the last minute to audition and I got it! Within the hour I was signing a contract committing to 3 weeks of rehearsals, a show, and agreeing to pay rates. I couldn’t believe that it happened so fast. We all wait for the day to say that we have “gone pro”. It was a strangely satisfying feeling.
I lived in Atlanta for a month. I spent time with family, made friends, rehearsed extensively, and got to close it out with a fun-filled show. This job really made everything come full circle for me; it reinforced that I picked the right program. Without Temple and our faculty’s dedication to our success, I probably wouldn’t have come into contact with T. Lang. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
If you are interested in seeing what T. Lang is all about click here. I highly recommend her summer intensive. Go and experience T. and all her wonder.
Over the winter break, I participated in the January Residency with Kyle and Dinita Clark. The husband and wife team have their own company called Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company. Both Kyle and Dinita are extremely passionate about the history and culture of Hip-Hop dance. One of their major goals is to teach the next generation the true roots of the art form. Throughout the week they taught us about different the aspects of creating and running your own company. We learned a lot about the obstacle that they had to go through to get to where they are now.
The program consisted of both B.F.A and M.F.A students. we explored the fundamentals of hip hop; Studying styles like house, whacking, popping, locking, and breaking. Kyle and Dinita taught us the history of each style through fun new routines. Each day they taught a new style. We learned about different eras, the music, and the people who created a popular style of hip hop dance during that time.
We also got to experience being a part of one of Kyle and Dinita’s piece’s for the Faculty Dance Concert. We learned a 12-minute piece in less than two days. It was a lot of choreography that required a lot stamina. We would run the piece multiple times a day so that every time we did it, the movement would feel more comfortable in our bodies. By the end of the residency, the steps were already inside of us and we got to dance, feel the music and have fun.
Overall, it was one of the most inspiring dance experiences I have ever had. It was a week filled with hard work, a lot of sweat, and many inspirational quotes from Kyle. Their love of dance exudes out of them so much that it allows you to grow in your own artistry.
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.
Congratulations to Professor Merìan Soto for being awarded the 2016 Leeway Transformation Award and for her feature in Contact Quarterly! Read about Soto’s commitment to the Philadelphia dance community and her recent artistic explorations HERE!
Soto’s work Todos Mis Muertos (1996) is inspired by life, death, and memories of her treasured Mamita. The piece was recently reconstructed and performed for the Fleisher Art Memorial. Read more about Soto’s choreographic process and spiritual endeavors HERE!
Rudolf Nureyev is quoted stating, “my feet are dogs”. It got me to think about what this means in terms of play in dance, more specifically improvisation. In one study, scientists in Sweden tested over 15,000 dogs to determine personality traits. Dog’s personalities can be broken down into five categories: Playfulness, Curiosity/fearlessness, Chase-proneness, Sociability and Aggressiveness.
In looking at the body as the feet being the “leader” or “initiator”, what does this mean in terms of what Nureyev is saying, that our feet are like dogs? In Merian Soto’s Corporeal Improvisation class, we are always challenged to find new ways of moving through various exercises, modes and entry points. If we are to play around with this idea of the feet being dogs within class, what could it in fact produce?
I played around with this concept in class and this is what I in fact found. Playfulness and curiosity, for me, are quite fruitful. Taking something so simple as the feet being the initiator to movement, can actually lend itself to be quite complex. I started off really small and built from there. I tried to move an inch at a time. I kept coming back to the same questions: what can the body say that isn’t “technique” focused? What does the body want to release and let go of?
Perhaps man’s best friend can teach us a lot in dance through the lens of Nureyev’s quote. Dogs are creatures that are very much in the moment and present in that. In improvisation, my most fruitful explorations have been when I have been so immersed within the moment; I lost sense of time and even space. Like a dog frolicking through a field, we can find much of that same curiosity and fearlessness found in this study. So I leave you with this question to answer through your exploration: How can your dancing change in an instant by taking off your tired worn out lens and putting on that of another?
Your body is your instrument. You need it for your career, so you need to respect it and take care of it. If you are injured or sick, which will most likely occur at some point with all of the new changes in your life, allow yourself time to rest and heal so that you can get better and get back on your feet.
Sleep. SLEEP. I cannot emphasize this enough. I know that college is exciting and you will have major fears of missing out on everyone’s 3am activities, but when you have 8am ballet the next morning, those 5 hours are just not going to cut it. One night of that is bad enough, but trying to do that week after week? You’ll crash. Get into a healthy sleeping pattern ASAP.
Your food is your fuel. Say it with me. Your food is your fuel. You need it to dance, to perform, and to live. Don’t get caught up on what’s “good” and what’s “bad.” It is all doing the same thing: powering your body. Yes, some things are better for you than others, but that is where balance comes in. Foster a healthy relationship with food and stop feeling guilty for fueling your body.
People always tell you how important “networking” and “building your network” is, but they don’t always tell you what that means. What you will come to realize is that your network is everyone you come into contact with, especially your friends. That’s why you should…
Make friends of all shapes, sizes, ages, levels, techniques, and backgrounds. The person next to you at the bar could be choreographing on Broadway someday. Even if you’re not best friends for life, make sure they know you for your friendly face and positive attitude.
Perform in class. No matter if it’s tendus in ballet, fortifications in modern, or 40 straight minutes of jacking in hip hop. STAY PRESENT and make people want to watch you, even if no one is watching. The people who are always performing are the ones that get noticed.
You cannot attain perfection, so let go of that concept before you even step into your first class. You can work towards perfection, but just know that there are always new ways to improve and to explore in your own body and in the field of dance.
Understand that when your teacher gives you a correction, or seems to “pick on” you, it does not mean you are always doing something wrong or they have something against you. In fact, it means two very different things. 1) Your teacher is watching and paying attention to you, and 2) He or she believes in you and knows you can do even better.
Strive to never receive the same correction twice. Once you are given a correction, apply it and get ready to work on the next one.
The only way to fail is to stop trying. No matter how many times you mess up, if you keep trying, you will get the results you’re looking for.
Go to every possible audition for every possible thing within the dance department. If you hear about an audition that same day and are completely unprepared, go anyway. Show them your talent and passion and drive and who knows, you might be exactly what they were looking for.
On that same note, don’t be afraid to show your heart. That is what really makes a dancer. Anyone can learn to do 15 pirouettes (ok, not everyone) but if those 15 pirouettes don’t make the audience feel something, then you’ve lost the point of dance entirely. Show them what you have inside of you and let it shine, so that by the time the audience walks out, they’re changed from when they walked in.
Don’t ever let fear keep you from trying new things and expanding your horizons. If you’ve never taken African and the idea terrifies you, take it. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
You define what “success” is for yourself. If you always give it everything you’ve got, mentally and physically, you will always be succeeding, even if it’s just in small ways. Acknowledge those moments and give yourself credit for each and every one.
The only person you should ever try to be “better than” is the dancer you were yesterday.
Find your voice as a dancer. It may not happen in your first semester, or year, or even your entire time at college, but always continue to explore yourself and your body and how you can give your gift to the world. That, my friend, is what dance is all about.
As the first modern class of the semester finally took its course, I paraded in with great anticipation to move to adrenaline-pumping music. Three months of summer had staved off the very interaction of movement with music and the class was brimming with anticipation. As our teacher gave the 5,6,7,8 cadence to commence all movement, we were greeted with a loud, repetitive BANG. I stood in slight shock for a moment as I came to the realization that modern class would only be accompanied by a series of “booms” and “bangs” in a rhythmic formation solicited by two bongos. It took a few classes to adjust to the seemingly monotonous “noise” guiding me through class; however, this “noise” molded a new relationship with dance, music, and a deeper understanding between the two.
Over the course of various classes, I’ve come to the realization that dance is not always accompanied by radio hits but rather music in “real time” and even silence. With every strike of the bongo or every breath, there is an internal melody that comes alive through the dancer’s movement. In fact, some of the most compelling moments in a performance are achieved when there is no sound at all. This apparent “silence” allows for both the freedom of expression on the dancer’s part as well as the freedom of explanation on the audience’s part. When paired with a specific tune, there is less subjectivity and therefore less connection between the audience and dancer. The dancer is no longer restricted in their interpretation of the dance.
Though I and many other freshman dancers have initially found difficulty in relating to these “noises” from instruments, we have found an internal “noise” that beats at its own pace and is filled with the breath of a real life in real time. This invisible melody has revealed a deeper level of understanding and appreciation to my dance education. While it’s always exciting to move to the newest chart toppers, dancing to one’s internal rhythm truly exposes the beauty of dance and its connection between dancer, musician, and audience. Now as we enter the room and stand in preparation for the drilled warm-up, the first strike of the bongo becomes the entryway to the world of “me” and the world of my surrounding dancers.
My name is Shannon O’Hara, I am a native of New Jersey and am currently working towards my Master of Arts in Dance. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree I felt that graduate school would be an integral part of my growth and development as a professional in the field of dance. After graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in Dance Education I felt that I was equipped with a solid foundation of information and experience but sensed that my research and participation in academia was just beginning. During my time at Temple I hope to continue my research in dance education while also exploring and developing my voice as a creator and scholar. As I continue through my own education I am presently most interested in developing ways to utilize multiple roles of dance to better educate and influence how I approach all experiences I have with this fine art form. Research topics I am also interested in investigating during my time at Temple are the representation of pedagogical courses in higher education as well as the content of dance teacher preparation programs in the academy. Thanks to Temple’s graduate school programs, I am able to continue my own education while working to contribute to the dance community as a whole.
Temple Dance Professor Merián Soto is collaborating with South Korean Artist Jungwoong Kim in SaltSoul, an exploration, through dance, voice, traditional music, and experimental video, of experiencing sudden loss of a loved one, and how art evokes human capacity to address tragedy. It is inspired by three tragic events: the death of Jungwoong Kim’s father in an auto accident when he was 10, the 6 deaths and additional catastrophic injuries caused by the collapse of a Salvation Army store in Philadelphia in 2013, and the deaths of more than 300 people- most of them high school students on a school trip- when an overcrowded ferry capsized off the coast of Jungwoong’s native South Korea.
The piece merges traditional and improvisational movement and music, voice, and experimental video. You can see photos and videos of the public artistic explorations the artists have done on this topic leading up to this performance.
The performance begins outside Asian Arts Initiative in the Pearl Street corridor with an invocation that is free and open to the public. From there, ticketed audience members enter inside to move with the dancers and musicians among the centers three floors, through imagined environments evoked by sound, light, and video. Tickets can be purchased by clicking the link below.
After graduating Temple’s Dance Program with a B.F.A. in dance, I was fortunate enough to tour with Kariamu and Company. I will always be grateful for this experience because it is often hard for performers to get gigs straight away out of college, and sometimes dancers end up falling into a job that they do not enjoy. Kariamu and Company kept me grounded in what I wanted my life to be while I had a job that was the total opposite. Being able to tour gave me the chance to receive a glimpse into the life I am starting to journey on. I have terrible fear of heights and airplanes, but touring with Kariamu and Company made me suck it up. As a person of the arts, you will do anything for your craft because you know it is what makes you truly happy. From flights to hotel rooms to rehearsals and actual performances, I had a chance to really connect with other dancers who are in the same position I am or have been there and are now figuring out their next chapters in their dance career. It was great to learn from other dancers and have a genuine connection with other people who are just as hungry for this life as I am. What I also took away from this experience is that I have accomplished one thing outside of my college career that I am proud of. I have toured nationally for a play starring a five time Grammy nominated jazz singer, performed pieces by a choreographer who has developed her own dance technique called Umfundalai, and worked with an award-winning visual artist. I never really had the time to sit down and think about it. Being able to work with such a passionate family who started a story from scratch and turn it into a multifaceted show has been such a blessing. There will be times, as a performer, where you will question if this is the life for you, but always remember you have this beautiful spirit that can’t be confined to a 9-5 so let it flourish and just watch what magnificent things start to appear more and more each day because of it.
To learn more about Kariamu and Company and the Clothesline Muse, click here