Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac – some thoughts on dancing

When I was eight, my mother brought me to a dance studio at the Great Bear Center strip mall in Bloomington so I watch the dance class and decide if it was something I’d enjoy. The class looked like a lot of fun, but all the dancers were girls in pink tights (except for one child wearing black tights, whose gender I couldn’t identify). Sadly, the gender polarization was too much for my young brain – even though most of my school friends were girls – and I protested that I didn’t want to do it. My mother took me home, somewhat disappointed I’m sure, because she rightly figured that I’d like it, and because dancing was always important to her.

I became interested in theatre. And by the time I was going to college, I was passionate about the idea of ensemble-based physical theatre. I trained myself to make masks, learned some circus arts, and it seemed to me that I’d be best served by learning as much about movement as I could. So when my parents asked me what I was going to do for a minor, naturally I chose Modern Dance. With no previous dance experience, this was not exactly a sensible fall-back career.

At Mankato, when you declared a Dance Minor, they asked they you take the Advanced Modern class each semester. This was a 2-credit 90 minute class from 3:00-4:30pm every M-W-F. This was my first dance class, mostly surrounded by experienced dancers who grew up in dance studios. I felt hopelessly out of my depth. Because who declares a dance minor with no previous experience? I MEAN, WHO DOES THAT?

My days were a rotating variety of other classes (beginning modern, ballet technique, jazz, tap, theatre movement), but it was those overwhelming afternoons in Advanced Modern that fueled my desire to learn, if not my ability — because I was really really floundering there.

Halfway through my Junior year, we were learning a phrase of movement in the Intermediate Modern class, when suddenly it all clicked. Movement, steps, arms, torso, tempo, rhythm, spacing. Everything just fell into place and I could feel my brain release from conscious thought and embrace the flow of the room. That’s when I fell in love: when dancebecame more than a series of steps, but a physical conversation with space and time. It was “being in the moment” in the most pure and honest sense one could ever imagine, and I will never forget that feeling.

I stopped dance and circus training shortly after college (when I lost my health insurance), but I’ve missed it every day since. For as big a part of my life as it was for College, it’s not a big part of my current persona. As a result, it tends to prompt a surprised reaction from those who have never seen me move. Over the past decade, I’ve cultivated a reputation as a writer and director, so to be returning to performance – in a medium that only a few people have seen me perform – is a fascinating lesson in understanding other people’s perception of who I am. How many other aspects of ourselves go unseen by those around us?

When my father died in 2005, my biggest regret was that he had never seen me dance. My father and I had such different personal values, I was never sure what to say to him about dance. I think the whole thing made him uncomfortable. The gap between us felt too large, to cumbersome, and after his death, very permanent. Yet as I grow older, I keep finding aspects of myself remind me of him. Now when I look in the mirror I often see his face looking back at me. I suppose it’s easy to forget how much our parents give us without our even knowing it, and in that way, those unresolved things can sometimes become a resolution of sorts.

I love you, dad. I love you, mom. This is how I dance.


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