Thursday, March 9, 2017

Body Shift: What is a Dance Jam?

Hello, friends! Olivia O’Hare here to let you in on what to expect when attending a dance jam.

A jam session is a relatively informal event where dancers improvise solos, duets, and group dances similar to the way a group of jazz musicians might vamp on tunes, songs, and chord progressions. To "jam" is to improvise dance without extensive preparation or predetermined choreography. The Body Shift jam will be a two-hour event in which folks that have experience with improvisation come together to practice without formal instruction. There will be an opening and closing circle to share our experiences. I will offer a guided warm-up to lead us into open dancing. Some experience with theatre and/or dance improvisation is best but not required. You are welcome to observe if you are new to dancing or take part and learn from the collective knowledge of the more experienced participants.

In the on-going Elements class we generally start with a guided warm-up. We then move through a series of DanceAbility exercises that include various groupings (i.e., solo, duets, trios, small group, or whole group) and follow a theme for the day. The theme for the day may be an exploration of sensation – how can you become more aware of feeling your body as it moves?; relationship – how can you communicate with a partner without words?; time – how can you vary the speed with which you move (fast or slow) to break habitual patterns?; or design – how can you be aware of what you’re doing and what else is happening around you in order to make informed choices about the shapes you are making or where you are placing yourself in relationship to others to create a landscape or stage picture?

For those of us who have formally practiced these principles for some time, it is fun to have a day where we get to move freely with the knowledge we have gained from our previous experience dancing together. In a dance jam, people of varied abilities and skill levels are given the opportunity to play. It is meant to be a social dance. Except instead of dancing to pop music like you might at a club, we often dance in silence. This opens up the space for even more possibilities and unique ways of moving that might not otherwise happen when dictated by the lyrics or beat of a song. Instead, the rhythm comes from the sensation of our bodies breathing or from the speed at which we choose to move. We dance based on our own desire to creatively express ourselves and move in ways that feel good rather than follow prescribed movements. That is not to say, however, that there is no structure. The DanceAbility principles are essentially a succinct way of discovering choreography in the moment that makes it possible to dance in an organized way without music or direct instruction. You might think it would look like chaos. Instead, what you see is a series of lovely movement conversations taking place. People’s personalities shine through and narratives develop. People are surprised as they discover new ways of moving and being moved based on the alchemy of the group and the partners they choose to dance with. In a jam, you are welcome to come and go as you please. You can take breaks to watch or rest and move in and out of the space fluidly.

For a little more insight please read the following excerpt from the article “New Worlds Opening: A Participant's View of DanceAbility and Contact Improvisation” by Bjo Ashwill:

“DanceAbility is feeling the word ‘yes.’ It is options. It is opening new thoughts and new behaviors. It is intimate. I’ve just named some of the most difficult and frightening adventures humans can face. Opening up, being vulnerable, taking risks, making changes. These same things are also the pathway to great joy, freedom and personal growth…

We forget. We learn how to do something and it is successful so we repeat it. It becomes habit, the preferred option. We forget we have other options. Our thoughts work the same way. There is only one way to ‘break the habit.’ Do something different…

Walk in another person’s shoes. Roll in another person’s wheelchair. Dance to the rhythm of other people’s breathing. New worlds open up to you. Freedom breathes deeply. Excitement pours into your body and you dance life more freely…

We forget. In our rush to do all we must in our lives, we forget the dance. The joy and beauty of being in attunement with self and others, without judgment, without our critical thinking machine limiting and narrowing our experiences.

The DanceAbility workshop acts as a clarion call to that part of us, deep inside, that hasn’t forgotten and hungers for the balance, the contact, the creativity and the mutual responding. We come out of the woodwork, fearful, shy, rigid, creaky, walking, rolling, limping, skipping, temporarily able-bodied people, people with disabilities, and every mix in between. We come, to lean against the wall, arms folded across our shallow breathing chests, to be convinced that this is something we can do. Something we did without thinking as babies. Something other people and ourselves couldn’t believe we could do.

We come with our sneakers, our canes, our wheelchairs, our two left feet, our bodies we see as too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, too ‘something’ and we danced. By God, every sub-atomic particle of us danced in ways we could not have believed if someone had told us about it.”
Juan Munoz and Dany Casey during the 2015 DanceAbility teacher certification course here in Austin (photo courtesy of Zach Khoo)

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