In July, I spent ten days in Dayton, Ohio, at Regional Dance America’s National Choreography Intensive (NCI) as an emerging choreographer. This annual intensive is catered to the creative development and practice of emerging and established choreographers, while it offers a stream for dancers to train and learn movement from the choreographers. I enjoyed lectures covering the foundations of music history and workshops in choreography and how to create and play with movement.
A great portion of the program was Pablo, director of music, teaching us about music and how that relates to dance. I learned random history tidbits, a few musical terms that kind of sound funny to me (polyphony for one), and communal speculations of what it really means to be an artist who creates art.
Every day, we had a specific assignment, commonly associated with the musical era we had covered that morning. Some days there were restrictions of the movement (e.g. only standing, only gesture phrases), others had specific goals (use of cannons, choosing a theme, partner work), and some gave us specific music pieces/genres to use. Afterward, we’d have about an hour and a half with a new group of dancers each day to create. At the end of each day, the dancers showcased all the choreographers’ pieces and then we sat down with the directors to speak about how the process went.
I think one of the greatest elements of the intensive was that we were just there to play. And I don’t mean that in a lazy, not doing any work kind of way, I mean it in a curious, freeing, creative type of way! There was no weight of perfection on creations. They weren’t expected to be finished nor cleaned from top to bottom. The purpose was to try things and to experiment. And it truly was a laboratory for us choreographers. Even when there was a dance I’d choreographed that I thought happened to be lackluster or wasn’t anything like my other work, I still felt satisfied that I did something new… either out of my element, out of my comfort zone, or something I never thought that I would do myself. I think that’s super cool.
There were twelve emerging choreographers (including myself) and I have never felt so connected to a group of humans in such a short amount of time. Many of them I felt as if I’d known my whole life. Perhaps it had something to do with being in a room of like-minded individuals, all very different people when you look at our personalities, likes and dislikes, but our passion and our creativity is what brought us together. Not a moment was boring with my fellow choreographers; when we had spare time, we created random phrases, improvised for hours, gave each other little improv tasks, and one day we made our own t-shirts just for the fun of it.
Penny, the director of choreographer, highly encouraged us to come into each dance rehearsal with little to no material pre-made. That was hard for me. Coming in, not unprepared, but not already set in exactly what was going to happen in the studio. She spoke about choreographing and the magic of creation happening in the studio with the dancers, not just assigning the steps and counts you wrote in your notebook to them. It was about trusting your creativity and leadership skills, trusting that you knew what you were doing and didn’t have to rely on over preparation. And then, allowing the dancers to influence the movement. One thing Penny said that specifically stuck with me was, “You’ve spent your entire life training to dance the way you do. You can’t expect someone else, who has been training their entire lives to dance the way they do, to be able to move like you.” Which is to say, utilize the dancers and their bodies, talents, and styles to your advantage… give them your vision and leadership, while allowing their own interpretation. As a choreographer, I learned that it’s not about connecting steps together in an eight count but directing bodies in space to create my own story. And to trust my ability as a choreographer along with trusting my dancers’ abilities.
I learned a lot from my peers. Which, I believe, is a unique experience. I feel special to have had such amazing dancers alongside me at the NCI. One of the most educational parts was conversing about our choreographic processes. I’ve never been in a room full of choreographers before, and I’ve always been so curious about how other people create. It’s truly something that cannot be taught. Sure, creativity can be practiced, honed, guided even. But I don’t think you can teach someone to be creative. It was interesting talking to others who struggled with aspects of choreography I felt comfortable with and vice versa. And it was amazing to see the growth and changes that occurred in each of us in only a week and a half.
Overall, my experience heightened my interest in choreography, and solidified my heart’s need to create art – specifically in dance. A big thank you to NSTT for supporting my choreographic studies this summer!