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.
Photos by Brian Mengini, a trio of dancers wearing sunrise colors and against a drenched backdrop of purples, pinks and oranges creates a series of connected shapes with each other.
My name is Dawn States and I am a third year MFA student in dance at Temple University. I am happy to announce that I just passed my thesis defense and that I was also able to complete my thesis concert before these difficult times. My thesis project focused on dance and disability, particularly the exploration of ballet and physical disability. I also implemented progressive pedagogy into my approach of creating the dances for the thesis concert.
Throughout this experience I was mostly concerned with the burden of representation. I know that as a person with a disability, we often are not portrayed in the world in a flattering way. I also had to consider the other dancers in my work and make sure that their needs were being met and that they were being represented fairly and accurately. Most of the time people with disabilities are used to inspire, teach a lesson or make people feel better about their lives. These tropes and stereotypes were something that I wanted to avoid.
I worked through that by entering a process of progressive pedagogy with my dancers. Part of progressive pedagogy is having complete trust in the people you are working with. Another part is asking them to take ownership and participate in the creation. By allowing my work to be informed by the dancers, it also opened the space for better representation and for the dancers to add their personal imprint on the work.
Two dancers explore balletic lines together against a deep vibrant blue background. The dancers Share a Connection in their movements and bits of sparkle emanate from the pants of one dancer and from the cherry red of the other dancer’s scooter.
From this experience, I learned the power of community and vulnerability. I was open with my story in this process and found support in being open and sharing. All the worry, stress and isolation I felt before this process was held and witnessed by the dancers I worked with and my community. My dancers and I talked to each other, breathed together, worked through things with each other and assisted each other throughout this process. I was honored to work with them all and included their feedback in every stage of this process, even the end thesis defense.
Four dancers wearing white leotards and white ghostly tutus. They execute linked and graceful ballet positions while looking serious. The background is a black box theater.
I think the biggest thing I took out of this whole experience was the possibility of creation leading to transformation. Some tangible ways I saw this take place were in having accessibility information added to every postcard and flyer that the dance department at Temple University produces starting with my concert and moving forward. Having audio description and ASL at the concert was also another change. My dancers and I even altered how we entered the space, which was from the front of the house in a procession because the traditional method of entering from the back of the theater is inaccessible. I think having the people dancing in my thesis that I did was also a tangible transformation and I hope causes more change in the way people with disabilities, especially in dance, are viewed.
Creating a thesis concert can be a consuming experience and I would just like to share a few considerations for those moving into this phase of their creative process. Firstly, remember you are human and you are working with other humans to make your vision on the stage. Be kind. Take moments to pause and breath where possible throughout this experience. Notice the experience and be present for it. Reach out to your community. It is alright to ask for help. When I was uncertain how to achieve particular things or missing a resource, my community was available to support me. Conversely, this connection with your community will strengthen and inform your work.
Shadowed dancer image projected onto the cyc of the black box theater. Dancer is making a balanced balletic shape where the left toe is touching the knee of the right leg with the left knee pointed out to the side. Downstage right of the projected image, is an ASL interpreter for the performance.
Lastly, I urge you to consider making your space more inclusive and accessible. Many people with disabilities would love to access or be part of artistic endeavors, but are often not thought of or included. Please consider having an ASL interpreter, audio description, closed captions and accessibility information as part of your next performance. The Temple Institute on Disabilities is a wonderful resource for connecting with these services. Being a movement artist is a unique responsibility. Take the time to determine what kind of impact you want to have and follow that connection through in your work, for as dancers and artists I believe we occupy an integral space in the world to create social transformation.
Before social distancing was implemented, I went to a Breaking workshop hosted by the Temple Breakers on campus. This week-long event had many movement sessions and lectures by leaders in the breaking field. The Temple Breakers is a student organization on campus that meet in Mitten Hall to build community together through the learning of Breaking technique. You can find the Temple Breakers on Owl Connect: https://temple.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/templebreakers
One of the speakers at this event, Kwikstep, challenged me to think about the lineage of the dance. He spoke about how we as dancers need to orient ourselves within the lineage and history of the dancers and dance form before us, instead of just trying to learn the tricks in the movement. The lessons need to be learned with a respect for the development of the form and the meanings behind it all. Hip Hop was not meant to just be a movement independent from the music but an integrated pairing that, at its start, was a voice of social protest. In this, the aesthetics of cool in Breaking can be examined and understood by the lineage. This gives respect to the history and meaning beyond the perceived aesthetic. Lineage seems to be a powerful value of Breaking that the dancers in this club hold onto. This is one of the reasons they dance this form of movement, because they connect to it in a deeper historical and meaningful context beyond that “it looks cool” or “it’s fun”. Granted, Breaking does look cool and is fun; but the people who really invest in this technique and go far in the field are the ones who take the time to care about the lineage. It is the placing of their own identities within that lineage that carry forth the future of Breaking.
During one of their movement workshops I was able to observe the technique and community environment of the organization. There were various students and local professionals in attendance, and even our very own Dr. Sherril Dodds, who is the faculty advisor to the Temple Breakers, participated in the workshop! The class started off with a group warm up follow-the-leader style around the room, doing various cardio and non-static stretches. The class had various levels, so there were moments in learning the beginner Top Rocks and Side Steps one-on-one while the intermediate/advanced students were in the middle doing an introductory Cypher.
It seems to be an inclusive and inviting atmosphere for people in their movement journey to grow together. After this they learn to Stack, focusing on the proper placement of the body to build up to a Freeze that can be performed in the final Cypher practice. Three groups form of Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, and they take turns practicing their Stack in a half-circle format where the dancer can be encouraged from the dancers around them. After the buildup of the Freeze, they take a moment to shake it all out as a group while the President of the organization, Renaissance Ray, tells a story of the Iron T-Shirt. Renaissance Ray leads everyone in a slapping massage of their limbs to “break out the damage from walking all day” and then encourages all to wipe the tension all off, leaving them renewed. Finally, everyone comes together in a circle to take turns in the center performing their newfound skills while the group energetically cheers them on.
In speaking with one of the dancers during the class, he said that he had been training in breaking since he was fifteen. He keeps coming back to these sessions because of the community and understands that it is more than just the initial strength and shapes but about the people he is here to grow with.
Some words of advice from Renaissance Ray, the club president, to beginners in Hip Hop and Breaking is: Know what you are getting into, it is high impact, but you grow more as a person than just in body. It is a self-exploration beyond physical boundaries as you invest in the lineage and history of the dance as a form of communication and community. You may find your identity as part of the rewards you reap through the blood, sweat, and tears that you and the people before you have shed. It is an “Each one, Teach one” mentality that passes the knowledge and lineage to the next dancer, but first, you must Reach one (Kwikstep’s words).
To advanced dancers Renaissance Ray says: “Know what your goals are, who you are, and what role you play. Not everyone can be the superstar”. This reminds me that all parts in this community are valuable in building and carrying that movement history to the next generation.
So, if you want to go to the Temple Breakers to dance with them in the new academic year, let me know and I will go with you!! Together we can embark on this community journey and find new strength within it. I don’t know about you, but after this season of isolation, I will need some positive community to grow with! Why not let it be with the Temple Breakers?
Ciao! I’m José Raúl. My majors and concentrations have changed several times
during my studies at Temple, from Musical Theater to Acting to BFA in Musical Theater to now,
a BA in Theater with an Acting concentration and a Dance Minor. In my time at Temple, I am
grateful to have twice performed with Koresh Dance Company, and have been a company
member of Nora Gibson Contemporary Ballet (NGCB) since Spring of 2017, while working
professionally with theaters and theater companies throughout Philadelphia.
José as Hervé in Fabulation by Lynn Nottage at Temple University (featuring Satchel Williams as Undine)
This semester, my dance classes include Contemporary Ballet II with Kip Martin, Movement
Improvisation II with Megan Bridge, Flamenco with Elba Hevia y Vaca, and Hip-Hop with Kyle
Singularity and community are two things which ignite my curiosity and artistry. I love acting
because “the human mind”, an innately common anatomy amongst people, will lead an individual to function in a way that no one else on earth does, because no two people’s life circumstances are exactly the same. And yet, there are patterns and consistencies in the ways we function. The fractal goes deeper and deeper to the point that an actor, with their own singular humanity, can truthfully inhabit the essence of a character, another human experience, the byproduct of a singular life. It’s magic, to me.
José as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet at Temple University
Then we take the human body. Generally, we have the same numbers of bones, same types of organs with the same functions. But the proportions are different. Further, my life before I entered this studio is different than yours before you did the same. History is in our bodies. Social constructs suggest what ways we should move and not move. Clothing, family dynamics, values, labor, nutrition, love, neglect, everything shapes the comforts and discomforts of our bodies.
In Movement Improv II, I am learning to evolve the way I dance. My primary method of learning anything has always been mimicry. This class presents opportunities to explore the terrain of my body and expression with new technologies, every day. Instead of following (mimicking) steps, we are handed tools. With these tools, I investigate my singular terrain.
José as Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night at Shakespeare in Clark Park
Dance is personally most magical to watch when the biped vehicle of the standard human body toes the crest of its primary function of doing things, and enters a realm of things being done to it, of riding some unseen wavelength. I think of Tess Voelker’s (dancer with Nederlands Dans Theater II) videos on Instagram, and choreographer Marco Goecke’s works, as well as some of choreographer Juliano Nunes’ works.
This April, NGCB will be performing at the Performance Garage Twentieth Anniversary Gala. The piece we will be presenting is a 10+ minute duet, featuring original video projections designed by Nora Gibson herself. Working with Nora is a tremendous opportunity. She welcomes every bit of who I am to rehearsals and performances, so I very much look forward to what revisiting our choreography for this gala will produce, now that I have had such a wonderfully diverse exploration of different dance styles and vocabularies.
José Raúl, Temple Dance Minor, BA in Theater, Concentration in Acting
Thank you for taking the time to read. If you wish to follow up, you can reach me at:
www.eljoseraul.com | @josrul (instagram) | email@example.com
This semester I am experiencing a great deal of interdisciplinary work through my Studio Research (dance choreography) class and my Graduate Projects Fibers (art, fibers and material studies) class. The classes are both intended for graduate students to create individual work in their given fields and use the art form to research a question or an idea of our own choosing. Ultimately, creating a visual work or choreographic piece presented as the final project. By choosing to combine my fibers project and my choreography into one performative art experience, I have found many new valuable insights that are carrying me forward in my creative practice, research, and movement artistry.
Photo by Brian Mengini of “Pattern Of Mesh”
I have always considered myself a dancer first and a knitter, sewer, crocheter, weaver, or crafter second. Crafting has been my hobby for years as a stress release from working in the Dance field. When I came to Temple to pursue an MFA in dance, I never expected that I would find myself exploring movement with large skeins of yarn. I needed to create a piece for studio research and wasn’t sure what to research; I was making dream catchers with yarn at the time and felt that I had a connection to it. So, it became my research subject. I was questioning what patterns and spatial arrangements could be made with my body and the yarn, which grew into a choreographic work of six dancers and the yarn in Spring 2019 that I was proud of. Over the summer, I explored movement and yarn again for a dance artist showcase at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach that was more concise and tailored to the community that I was working in. I noticed that there were endless possibilities that I could explore within this mode of movement and craft, and I also observed that the themes of yarn dance and community kept reoccurring in my creative practice. This, I was finding, was the beginning of crafting my thesis ideas and movement base.
Photo of “Unravel Me” choreography
First Iteration of WaterScape
This semester, I decided to learn more about the fibers part of the art. I enrolled in the graduate projects fibers course in the Tyler School of Art to learn from, gain critical feedback from, and discover with amazing and strong artists in this field. One of the main inquiries I have during my time in this class is how to create my “yarn voice” to have equal weight as my “choreography voice”. I want to move away from just manipulating the yarn, and toward creating a powerful pairing that invokes the spirit of the creation itself. This equal presence is important to me as I don’t wish for one element to be lost as a prop or as an embellishment to the other. My fibers classmates and I discuss how fibers and material installments have their own presence that speaks or invokes a response from the audience. This is similar to dance choreography as we create atmosphere or narrative through movement to carry the audience toward our meaning, intention, feeling, or maybe even a reaction. I have learned from this class that fibers have movement of their own to begin with. Many of the fibers are moved by the human body by weaving, sewing, or knitted to become integrated to the “body” of the work. Fibers and materials, once made into their structure, have textures that are stiff, loose, soft, fluffy, light, hard, stretchy, etc. that interacts with the world on its own through the air, gravity, space, time, heat, liquid, and even nature. Once that is established and recognized, many of the artists begin to place themselves with interaction into the material.
I can relate to the artists in this class when many of them physically place themselves into their art projects. There are cocoon-like garments, bright furry ball and chains, seating elements, glowing lights with filters begging to be touched around them, floor placement of sculptures that create pathways for the human body to experience them, and even tree leaf pillows to be pet. These are all experiences that are felt with the human body, not just at a distance from a visual perspective. I am discovering that the performance of these material sculptures are performances just like my world of choreography, we are both trying to convey and evoke something from the audience in a way that we can tangibly hold.
Now, as I work with both elements of my craft, I am creating a production for World Water Day on March 20th in the Conwell Theater, where I will display my fibers project that I call Waterscape. The installment will dangle across the stage and the dancers will move through it. The choreography is specifically made to interact with the yarn and material to create an underwater atmosphere of sea-life. I am also sewing the costumes for my dancers to fit the theme and textures that go into the fibers project itself, so that the dancers resemble the fish they portray. Right down to the stage-makeup, the entire project is crafted to be unified and build this fantasy sea-life experience for the audience. It is one of the biggest projects that I have ever endeavored on, but it is one of the most fun and addicting projects I have ever done as I keep wanting to add more layers to it (whether it be choreographic, material, or meaning).
From this whole year of research so far, I have been developing a movement workshop of my very own called Yarn Dance. It is my way of researching and connecting with the world as I process the themes that arrive from each creative practice and experience through it. With human and yarn dancing together it becomes a duet, but the pairing can also be a tool for expressing and creating community. There are moments when I have seen people completely entangled in yarn together but not fearful; they find it comforting and uniting in a way. Even the untangling of the yarn after dancing with it has been shared to me as soothing, and relaxing problem solving.
The workshop I have in-process, is based in modern movement with individual “duets” with the yarn, group improvisation making a mess of the yarn, modern choreographic phrase dancing with the rolled skein, and then a group braiding activity that I call “The Friendship Bracelet” as we create a singular rope from all our strands of yarn leaving evidence of our crafted community experience that we have shared. At the regional American College Dance Association conference this spring break, I have the opportunity to share this workshop with fellow dance students and faculty. I hope it gives them a connection with life and movement in a new way as it has done for me.
I am writing about my senior piece “The Sun’s in my Eyes” performed by the fabulous Janice Argo, Emme Gentile, Camryn Mentzer, Elizabeth Siani, and lastly, myself. Creating my first choreographic work was a roller coaster of a journey. The ups and downs, the satisfaction and doubts. Choreographing forced me to become someone I barely recognized, which I loved.
Photo by Brian Mengini
I never felt good at communicating what I want. Even as a small child I would sit and think things over, rather than speak up about what I wanted. I realized after a few rehearsals, that is all choreographing is! It’s to clarify your vision for others, to grasp hold of, and transcend an idea by shaping it into the real world. I asked myself questions like “How do my dancers react to my movement?” “what do I value?” and “what can I do to make the audience feel a certain way?” The answers to these questions would guide me through the process. Picking music before the choreography hinders my process, and to be completely honest, I didn’t even have a general idea for the piece, only questions and answers.
I knew for my piece, I wanted to go beyond my inner circle of friends and work with new faces so I hung posters up in the studios for people to see. Everyone who auditioned I worked with, and I am extremely grateful for the dancers that I worked with. At first, it was hard for me to understand why these phrases that would spew out of me weren’t saying anything. Since I was out of practice in communicating what I want, working through the confusion that came with this would be tough for all of us, but in the end it would be extremely rewarding. During rehearsals, I found that my mind raced faster than usual. This would affect the communication between me and my dancers. It was harsh realizing that I wasn’t being understood because in my head I was already ten times ahead of myself, but patience and articulation in different ways went a long way. I had to remember I was not working with four “Olivia’s”, but four individuals all of different backgrounds and training. I also learned how freeing trial and error could be. There were so many phrases of different movement and sometimes even just walking phrases that I choreographed, and even though none of that was in the piece, it did help my dancers understand more of my movement style for themselves. More importantly, I saw joy and excitement in my dancers which was super essential to how the choreography would read on stage.
Photo by Brian Mengini
I value music a lot in my life but movement being interpreted for what-it-is, rather than being paired with a sound score is important to me too. This became a battle for me; “To music, or not to music?” The more time I spent sifting through tracks, the more I became dissatisfied with the mood the music would “hand” the audience. Using a metronome was a way for me to have a simple pulse in the air with meaning that could be wildly imagined by the audience. Also, even though I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a control freak. So being the one controlling the metronome, faster or slower, sound or silence, I felt really free doing what I pleased in terms of messing with the metronome.
Eventually, music won my heart and I decided to use Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead” to ease the audience in the beginning of the piece. I wanted to start with music so the space sounded even emptier with the metronome and even more so with silence. For example, getting into a lukewarm pool is rather uncomfortable and seems cold. But if you’re in a hot tub before you get into the pool, the water feels just about freezing. The Aretha Franklin song was the hot tub before the lukewarm water in the pool. This added contrast. The quietness of the space was quite jarring after the smooth melody of the song faded away.
I learned that I value unexpected behavior and welcome boredom. I almost wanted the audience to find moments of boredom so they could question “why am I bored right now?” If not this, the low stimuli boredom brings would make the “non-boring” moments even more exciting. Boredom I believe can be natural in life and actually really rare in a world with technology at our fingertips. So why not emphasize it with simple movement and silence. Many who saw the piece, remember the most unexpected moment being my introduction to the stage. I walked on during the final song, then there was a pause in the music followed by my voice singing a very loud and incoherent yell all in one breathe. The music then continued and I used improvisation. This was a way for me to use voice, often something I struggle using at times, to make an authentic sound. Voice is powerful.
For the future, I want to work towards creating more and working with different artists that stay true to themselves.
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.