Trans Day of Visibility 2019 (many months late)

I did write this to be published a week after TDoV and then became very very busy and never did. Anyways, here it is now!

 

Tl;dr Being a trans dancer is exhausting and it makes visibility very difficult too. 

 

I didn’t write something for Trans Day of Visibility this year because I’m tired.

 

I’m super super tired.

 

I feel like this is a regular theme in my life and my blogging and everything I do, but the type of exhaustion is constantly changing.

 

And right now, that exhaustion is the kind that more or less translates into, “I don’t have time to be trans.”

 

Which gets to be very frustrating when you’re a trans artist writing a blog about being trans and making art about being trans.

 

It’s not that I am not trans, it’s more that being openly trans takes energy I don’t have and so I end up avoiding trans things because I just can’t deal with that particular part of my life right now.

 

It frustrates me to no end because most of what it means is that I’m not even giving myself the chance to connect with other trans people. I’ve been living in Boston for about a year and a half now and I have not met or been part of a trans community. And now, I’m so exhausted and drained, I’m isolating myself and don’t even have the chance to connect in with other trans folks and even try.

 

I’ve talked a lot about the loneliness and isolation of being a trans dancer, but I also want to talk about the exhaustion. Being one of few, being isolated in your own community, also means constant exhaustion.

 

I set out to try to be visible because trans people like me are not usually visible. We don’t usually get representation. We are often told we are privileged, so we need representation less. That’s true, but only to a certain extent.

 

I also wanted to be visible because I believed it would be a way to build trans community in dance. Even if other trans dancers were isolated, they could see me, we could connect, and we could start to build the community network I need (and I think others need it too?)

 

But instead, what’s happening is that there are a bunch of trans dancers, but we’re all so isolated, so all we can do is just keep chugging on at our own thing without having time to connect or support each other. We have so little energy, it all has to go into making the work we want to make because even that is hard. I see them, but I don’t connect with them.

 

I’m so angry and frustrated about this.

 

I’m angry about seeing so many queer arts things being built and curated by cis people.

 

I’m angry about how frustratingly humiliating it is to say “I’m the only one” when I know there are other people out there, just out of reach, that I can’t quite connect with. How that lack of connection feels like my fault and I still can’t do that.

 

I hate how I put so much effort into telling other people I’m trans that I stop feeling trans, I just become some empty gender vessel completely disconnected from queerness, transness, my own fucking identity.

 

I hate how, when I do interact with trans dancers, I have to push back on everything – there’s never an aroace trans dancer, never a FAAB femme nonbinary dancer, never an Irish dancer, never anyone who fully feels or experiences the complexities of what I have to manage on a daily basis. So, when I have finally found a trans dancer I want to connect with, it’s still so far from the community network I need. I still end up having to defend and justify my work instead of celebrate that I have found other trans dancers.

 

I hate how, even when there are other trans dancers, I still feel alone, disconnected, and isolated.

 

And the worst thing is that I can’t see a way out of this. Yet.

 

I am watching myself and trans artists all around me struggle and I want to build a new system, but I don’t even know where to start. We can’t build new systems without connection and that’s what I’m not finding.

 

I don’t know.

 

It’s another wake up call. I have to go back to the drawing board. I have to rework my plan. I have to start prioritizing that connection I need no matter what.

 

Because, if nothing else, I know I’m going to do it eventually and I’m going to figure it out.

 

But, in the meantime, I might miss days like TDoV because of exhaustion.

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Imagining the Future

Tl;dr imagination and fantasy is how we can build the future communities we want. Even if we don’t realize the dream, it gives us a blueprint for how to create what we want to create.

 

I’m back!!! I’ve been away for a month or so because life has been extremely busy and keeping up a blog on top of everything else was just a little too much. I do miss it, though, so I’m trying to rework a new way to do this that takes less out of. Probably less posting, but I’m not going away (for better or for worse, wheee).

 

I recently had a very uncomfortable conversation with a friend that, honestly, I’m still processing. This person is a queer person, but not part of my queer artistic communities, and so their focus was on the practicalities of survival. My focus is on how I can build the community I want to be in. Those things are at odds.

 

It took me time to realize that I had just assumed everyone understood how much of the work I do is based on imagination.

 

That’s a conscious decision.

 

Here’s the thing – society sucks. Amatonormativity, cisnormativity and cissexism, heteronormativity, racism, islamophobia, adultism (that one’s been annoying me a lot recently since I’ve been spending more time with kids), ableism…all of it. We’re not going to fix it any time soon.

 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying to survive in these systems.

 

It doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to imagine better futures for ourselves and build those futures.

 

I spend my life around allo cis people. I am constantly watching every word out of my mouth and every action because the consequences of me saying or doing the wrong thing won’t hurt me, they will hurt other aroace and trans people. That’s harm I refuse to have on my hands.

 

But, because I look cis, because my transness can be ignored and feels safer to cis people, my words and actions can start to do some good. I can infiltrate and challenge cis space.

 

But that’s really fucking tiring.

 

And honestly, is the scraps of a society that doesn’t want to embrace us really enough?

 

I want to point you towards Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and the Street Tranvestite Action Revolutionaries. I want to point you towards ballroom culture, of the house mothers taking in people who were rejected by society. I want to point you towards the Tenderloin District in San Francisco.

 

These are all examples of trans women of color, disenfranchised, rejected by society, dreaming up a better world for themselves and making it.

 

And yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s better, because they dreamed.

 

Because they didn’t settle for just making white cis society treat them nicely. They went, “we want more than that and we are going to fucking make it for ourselves if we have to.”

 

I don’t want to act like this is a perfect thing. It’s not. It shouldn’t be the job of the oppressed to do all of the work to keep each other alive while the privileged get to sit in their summer mansions. But, it speaks to the power of dreaming. It speaks to the power of dignity and integrity and community.

 

And, I am not a trans woman of color. I am white. I am middle class. I have privilege. There is no reason for me not to dream up a better world for myself and my community.

 

As I build queer dance space, I’m not doing it to survive. I’m not doing it to be practical. I’m doing it because it’s something I need, and, if I need it, it means someone else probably does too. I am talking to all the trans dancers I can, because we all need it and we need it to welcome all of us.

 

I am dreaming big. Maybe my dreams aren’t realistic. But I am putting in the work to make my dream happen.

 

And dreams are everything. I refuse to settle for whatever scraps cis people decide to allow me because I’m nice. Just because I might not make my dream come through doesn’t mean I shouldn’t dream, because that is the dream that will push me to do the work that I want to do and make the world I want to make.

Construction Zone: The old context

tl;dr The dance school I went to two years ago was pretty bad, but I am bringing back the incredible installation I made there, something which was almost worth the awfulness. I do need your support in whatever way you can, if you are able. You can learn more about the project and donate here.

Jane 4
[image is a small paper sign taped to a wall which reads: “I want to make people uncomfortable because it is easier to trust someone that’s willing to be uncomfortable.
This time two years ago, I was about to submit a formal complaint against my school for allowing a TERF to speak unchecked in a class in which there wasn’t a single staff member from the school present. I had already had a sit-down meeting with the people who had invited the TERF to come speak, heard a lot of bullshit about valuing different opinions, and had been told an apology would be made to the class. Some weeks later, I received an email informing me that the same people who had told me they would apologize had decided that it wasn’t necessary. End of Story.

 

I nearly dropped out after our Christmas break.

 

Instead I came back, dropped the class, and submitted my complaint. It was HELL. Let me tell you, not only did no one know or understand the complaint process, everyone actively attempted to convince me to have another sit-down conversation. I finally did relent and request a sit-down conversation with the same people and they refused. I felt a little vindicated, but the fact remained that information regarding what I needed to submit, when, and how, literally changed by the day.

 

It was obviously apparent that no one had ever submitted a complaint like this before and no one was quite able to admit it to me.

 

It was also obvious (including emails that literally documented and dated it), that the people I was talking to were lying to me, manipulating information, and actively avoiding transparency. I only found out halfway through the process that the original TERF speaker had, in fact, been contacted and had written a letter in response. When I asked to see both letters (to her and from her), I was granted a single paragraph from her letter, retyped.

 

In April, I received the response of my complaint – while everyone’s behavior while I was submitting the complaint was wrong and led to nominal attempts to revise the formal complaint procedure, they decided that the TERF’s language (ie. saying, “trans women aren’t women, they’re something else” and then going on to quote Germaine Greer, yuck) was not discrimination or harmful in any way, and was completely fine.

 

I asked if a trans person had reviewed the complaint. The answer was no.

 

I resubmitted the complaint on the grounds that it was not complete until a trans person had reviewed it or provided consultation.

 

In May, I was told that the complaint process had been managed perfectly without trans people that weren’t me. If I wanted to push the matter further, I would have to go to the citywide review board.

 

I chose to drop the complaint. By that point, I didn’t trust any review board to actually talk to trans people and I was submerged in work for my classes. I had an installation to put on, choreography to make, choreography to learn, and no time to continue pushing against cis people.

 

But I still live the results of that complaint every single day.

 

Now, I refuse to have Important Conversations off email unless I am recording it. I know it’s scary and invasive to be recorded and I know some people communicate better in person than in email, but I had also learned that trusting people to stay good on their word wasn’t enough. I become incredible anxious without that accountability. Without it, I am distrusting, nervous, and I definitely won’t speak my mind. This has major consequences in how I communicate and self-advocate (or don’t), and impacts my ability to be part of a work environment, because so many work and office conversations do happen in-person without recording.

 

Even now, I am scared to write something this detailed and incriminating about this complaint, even though I have never been told to keep this information confidential (and honestly, I think people should fucking know this school lets TERFs loose in their classes and then defends them). I’m writing this now because it’s now been two years (thank everything ever) and because I’m diving back into that world.

 

That’s right. I’m taking something out of my time at that school.

 

One of the results of my experience with this complaint was an installation. The installation itself wasn’t about TERFs, it was about the (im)possibility of nonbinary performance, but my anger at the school fueled me to be brave in a way that I would not have if my time there had gone smoothly. I demanded space and respect in that installation in a way that still astounds me – it was ungraceful, it was blunt, and it was blatant reclamation of my humanity. I am so proud of myself for doing it. And, facing out of the glass-walled room was a series of statements – things that had been said to silence me during the complaints process, generalized and anonymized enough to avoid incrimination.

 

Halfway through the installation, I noticed one of the people who had provided me with many of those words, settle themself outside of the room where they could read their own words back at them. It was fittingly symbolic – they only saw the outside of the problem instead of experiencing the world I had built. It’s easy to defend a TERF when you’re on the other side of a glass wall and think the side you see is objectivity.

 

This time, the installation will be a little bit different. I am thinking more about the who – who is involved, why are they involved, how can use my very tiny platform to make the biggest impact?

 

I have a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts to do this and I am so grateful to see a foundation put money towards nonbinary art.

 

But, the inevitable, I do still need money to make the installation happen. I have launched an Indiegogo Campaign. If you have a few spare moneys, please pass them my way. And, if you don’t, please share this around so we can built a stronger community.

 

And, if you’re in the Boston area, mark your calendar for the afternoon of June 15th. I am so excited to be bringing this back in a more thoughtful (ungraded) way and I want all of you there!

Where is the cis objectivity?

Tl;dr Cis people are really scared of me calling them transphobic and have adopted a number of defense mechanisms that I now have to manage. My work is actually designed to make them uncomfortable and I’m going to keep doing that and will hopefully find support systems that are comfortable with that discomfort.

 

One of the things a supervisor once send to me when I told her she was being transphobic (fact: she was being transphobic) was that I needed to look at the art project I was working on more “objectively”.

 

I had a lot of trouble not screaming in rage when she said that.

 

I was creating art about my personal experiences. I was creating art. How does one go about being objective about that?

 

I bit my tongue, nodded, and complained about her and her transphobia to my friends and then went off and made the purely subjective art I wanted to make anyways and it was good.

 

Of course, it’s pretty obvious to see that what she was saying was the same tone policing cis people try on trans people all the time: “People won’t listen to you if you get emotional and angry, how dare you have feelings” /end sarcasm.

 

But, since trying to sell my art, through grants, and applications, and conversations, all going through multiple cis people, I’m learning that it goes a lot deeper than that.

 

Most of the time, I am actually the objective one. There are lots of practical considerations in my work – I use props, I have noisy shoes, I’m doing a particular style of dance that doesn’t always fit with the environment or atmosphere of a show, I have odd music choices (Finnish pop, anyone?), I say “fuck” a lot, unless I know I’m going to be in space full of children…

 

I know this. I also know I’m a young choreographer with a limited skillset still learning how to do things. I know I don’t always have the experience.

 

It’s the cis person on the other side of the table who is being subjective, because so many people are panicked that the minute they don’t let me do what I want, I’ll scream transphobia.

 

I see the small things – the way people tiptoe around talking about my work (the way people are scared to say the word trans, the number of times cis people assure me they are allies before giving me feedback, the number of times someone says “oh, we are so supportive and really believe in what you’re doing” while rejecting me…

 

So, I just have to ask cis people – do you really think I’m so sensitive that any word you say could cause me to start screaming subjectively at you? Have you seen the world I live in? If I went screaming off the hook at every legitimately transphobic thing out there (ignoring the things that are simply disappointing or frustrating), do you think I would have time to even be talking to you about my art?

 

You are doing me a disservice. I make art. I make good art. That’s me thinking objectively about my work. And you are reducing me to the Scary Trans Person because you are scared.

 

It’s easier to say I’m being too subjective than to admit that my work makes you uncomfortable.

 

Fun fact: My work is consciously designed to make cis people uncomfortable. If you don’t like it, maybe you’re being too emotional and should look more objectively at how my art is fulfilling its purpose.

 

The real problem here is that everyone’s being so sensitive and panicky around me, so I have to be careful and manage that. I can’t point out where the actual transphobia is, even calmly, because then it proves that I’m sensitive and that everyone was right to be so hypervigilently protecting my feelings. Ouf.

 

This is what I’d like to say to that supervisor now:

 

“I am (eh…was) being objective, because I have learned that you, my cis audience, and every other cis person I interact with will not actually pay attention to my value and the value of my work if I am not. I am so objective, I might even beat Spock* in terms of logic. I walk an obstacle course of tone policing and respectability politics every day and, somehow or other, I survive it. That should tell you something about me.

If you want to tell me to be objective, that means you have to be more objective too. You have to recognize that you are inherently transphobic. You have to recognize that you are part of a system. You have to take responsibility and apologize when a trans person is hurt.

Your discomfort is not my problem and I am not going to make different art that you deem ‘objective’ because you’re uncomfortable.”

 

I guess I’m just going to keep making art and hope that I am able to build the right support systems around me – the ones that aren’t scared of my emotions and the ones who are prepared to deal with the hard stuff. That’s what I want, at the end of the day.

 

 

*I am well that Spock is actually rather poor at logic and very emotional and maybe not the best example to people that actually watch ToS, but it is in example the general population will consider and understand.

 

some February readings

February is such a funny short month – Black History Month, Valentines Day, Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, all rolled up into the shortest month of the year. Still, some reading happened and some reflecting happened and here’s a bit of what I’ve been thinking about.

 

Reparations for Black People Should Include Rest

 

“Just as sleep deprivation was used as a means to control slaves, the modern-day sleep gap continues to weigh down many Black people, like me, today. I can feel it in me: It breaks my spirit, as I exist in between half-conscious states; never fully awake or asleep, never able to distinguish between the two. This may be the true power of racism—its force encompasses everything, seeping into our dreams at night and deflating our capacity to envision a better future. How can the radical Black imagination rebel against a system that so thoroughly seeks to destroy us? What would a future look like where we are liberated, reparations are paid, and we can finally rest?”

 

You Don’t Need to Forgive Anyone to Live Your Best Life

 

“American culture loves the idea of forgiveness. Adores it. If I’ve learned one thing about being Black in this culture, it’s that you need to be suspect of anything white amerikkka loves because if white amerikkka loves it, it’s probably exploiting and killing Black people.”

 

Relationship hierarchies: Defending queer friendships, community and being single

 

“My understanding of queerness has less to do with ‘relationship status,’ and more to do with creating communities that value friendship and social movements to end oppression. I struggle with belonging to the hierarchy in queer circles that values romance over all else.”

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, me: How being single became central to my queerness

 

“I could make sense of flying witches but seeing someone actively deny love – something we’re told to follow, trust, and give absolute devotion to – and live a liberated, whole, content and happy life was an extremely foreign and thrilling idea.”

 

What Disability Leaders Want To See From 2020 Candidates

 

“Every issue is a disability issue. Disability and disabled people should be front and center in every aspect of modern political campaigns. In 2016, we saw new highs and lows in terms of what’s possible. Democrats competing in a crowded field would be wise to engage people with disability as an uncommitted, yet increasingly politically active, community.”

 

 

 

 

Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week 2019: Romance, Aromanticism, Cupioromanticism, Identity

Tl;dr Happy ASAW! I’ve been reanalyzing my guilt around my love of romance as an aromantic person and re-owning my aromanticism as something that is useful for me.

aromantic flag

I honestly struggled to write for ASAW this year. Last year, it was easy –  ASAW was tiny and I could write about that. I wrote about burn out. I wrote about how frustrating it is that aromanticism is so often a footnote to asexuality. All good, relevant stuff.

 

But this year, things are happening for ASAW! Arospecs are back with a vengeance and it’s been so wonderful to watch. I’m EXCITED!

 

I’ve also been recently reminded of how much I absolutely adore romance and it’s making me feel a bit weird about my aromanticism, but mostly it reminded me of how and why I started identifying as aromantic.

 

A while back, I was going back and forth with a friend about what romantic attraction was. I kept on talking about “friend attraction” and trying to differentiate it from romantic attraction and they kept going, “what the hell is that?” and then would describe romantic attraction in a way that felt incredibly alien to me. I realized that either the attachment I felt for my friends was romantic attraction, even if it didn’t feel at all romantic to me, or that I experienced attraction that had nothing to do with romantic attraction. I was still very unclear on the subject, but figured aromantic was probably a useful word to describe my confusion (of course, wtfromantic is probably the best fit, but sometimes it’s useful to have a word that’s a little more well-known).

 

Of course, platonic attraction is something we’ve discussed in arospec and acespec communities. While I haven’t seen discussions from aplatonic folks recently (for the record “aplatonic” pretty much is a descriptor for aro folks who don’t experience squishes (nonromantic crush) ), I have a feeling those conversations are still happening, and I think the fact that we have to have that discussion in the aro community, that there is a word for “squish” (I tend to just say crush anyways because I got sick of having to  define it), and that there was a huge focus on queerplatonic relationships for a good long time in the aro community tells me that I was probably onto something with defining “friend attraction” as different from romantic attraction. Maybe. I don’t know. At least it seems like some other people have had the same thoughts.

 

That’s a side thing. The real thought is that, back then, when I started identifying as aromantic, I still adored the concept of romance. So, then the word “cupioromantic” (aromantic, but likes romance) started showing up and I went, “WHOA! That’s totally me! Other aromantic people also want romance!” It was very exciting.

 

And then I found this post. I feel like linking this comes with a lot of caveats – most notably, the author has since abandoned the blog and states that their opinions are very different now. I think that’s great. I’m not the best at owning my changing views and opinions, so I deeply admire when someone else does.

 

That said, it does not negate the harm that reading this post did to me while I was young(er), identifying as aromantic because nothing else really made sense, and trying to figure out what that meant for my love of romance.

 

The idea of an asexual person wanting sex is more reasonable and justifiable than an aromantic person wanting romance?

Cupioromanticism comes from a misguided place of internalized amatonormativity?

Cupioromanticism invalidates queerplatonic relationships and other committed, intimate, platonic relationships?

The only thing that defines romantic relationships as romantic is attraction?

 

I never got through the whole post. I felt stupid. I felt evil. I felt like a monster for even daring to like the concept of romance. I was a an evil, dirty traitor to all aromantic people everywhere because I kind of liked the idea of cute romantic gestures that were romantic and I couldn’t tell you how I knew they were romantic and not platonic, but I could tell you I was pretty sure attraction wasn’t involved.

 

And I didn’t let myself think about it for a long time, and then I kind of stopped thinking about it. It’s only quite recently that I’m remembering that I even ever thought about it.

 

I do think there is some logic here – defining romantic attraction is hard because it’s no one act or behavior that’s attractive (not that sex is a single, monolithic act either), and much of what is defined as “romantic” does show up in non-romantic relationships (sometimes more than we want to admit). Cupioromanticism does allow arospecs to play a game of respectability politics where we can assimilate in allo folks’ definition of romance, even without the attraction. And, I have a strong feeling every arospec person in the world has a huge amount of internalized amatonormativity that they have to grapple with every fucking day and some of it may manifest in reaches towards romance.

 

But the thing that gets me as I reread this post years later is the blame and I think that’s why it hurt me so much. The post made me feel like it was my fault and a major problem that I liked romance. I was the one who was misguided, unrealistic, and invalidating queer platonic partnerships. I think some of that speaks to how young I was back then, but it also speaks to how young the author was. When I reread it, a good five years later, I still read the blame, but I also read the hurt and panic and the need to be heard.

 

With that knowledge, it’s a lot easier to forgive myself for liking romance.

 

So, this ASAW, I’m still solidly a wtfromantic who fucking adores romance. It’s taken me about six years (almost exactly) and I’ve gone a rather circuitous route, but, this time, I’m back at the beginning. My instincts were about as right as they could be and I’m thankful for it.

 

The thing is, we take identities for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, it’s because it fits perfectly, but sometimes it’s because we might as well, or because it’s the easiest option out of all the options available. That doesn’t make the identity any less of n identity. My relationship with my aromantic identity is different than with my asexual or trans identities because of that, but I am still happily aromantic, because why the fuck not?

 

It works for me.

CDA for Dance: Space, Relationships, Rhythm

tl;dr Many of the choices around space, relationships, and (movement) rhythm in the moment when the dancers remove their clothes speaks to the changes that happen when staging solo Irish step dance in groups.

And we’re back to the longterm project of analyzing this video (you can catch up on the series here). As we’ve headed into the structural model, I’m choosing to look at specific moments in more detail, as opposed to the entire piece as a whole. For this particular instance, we’re going to look at the dramatic ripping off of clothing that happens at 2:25 through that first step the dancers do in their new costumes. We’ll mostly be analyzing space, relationships, and dynamics, but keep in mind that all of these aspects of the structural model are an interconnected web – as soon as we look at one, we end up looking at all of them in some way. Additionally, remember that we are analyzing what we see, not what the dancers do. This is really important. We know what the dancers are doing, more or less, especially those that are Irish dancers, – but what is it that about what we see that creates the specific effect of the piece?

Ouf.

Space

So, we already talked about space when discussing the strands of the dance medium. That was about how the space a dancer is in impacts the dance and piece of work in its entirety. Space in the structural model looks at how movement exists in space and how we can discuss the spacial aspects of movements.

One way to look at space is the use of kinesphere, the space that a body can comfortably occupy with movement. Imagine everyone in their own little bubble (like those blow up sphere things you can sit inside). One possibility is that none of these bubbles ever touch each other. Another possibility is that they overlap and everyone is moving on top of or around each other. Another possibility is that they get very close to each other, so they squeeze and shrink down but, as the person inside adapts to that particular size, so while their kinesphere is technically larger, they are not inside each other’s bubbles because everyone is using less space.
That is what we’re looking at here – everyone is within their own personal space, not touching or overlapping with each other, even while tightly packed together.  They are not using their full kinesphere. This is an Irish dance aesthetic that can be in seen in Riverdance and many post-Riverdance Irish dance shows – a whole of dancers dancing in unison, each one in their own space is quite impressive.

In fact, the only person here who is using their whole kinesphere is the soloist, as she moves her arms, reaching up and pushing out against the edges of her bubble. Instead of accepting her role as a “chorus” dancer, shrinking her space to share evenly with everyone else, she reaches to the ends of her kinesphere, taking up all the space available to her, making it impossible for someone else to enter her bubble, and creating the illusion that the only thing keeping her from taking up more space is the limits of her kinesphere or the length of her arms and legs. This is part of how we know she’s the soloist.

However, it is interesting to note that all dancers start taking up more space once their clothes are ripped off and we’re firmly in the second part of the piece. This is most noticeable in the hair. When hair is down, it takes up more space, so the dancers take up more space simply by changing their hair. They also don’t limit their use of space as much as before when they take of the clothes. A more subtle change is how they put their hands on their hips. In the earlier section, dancers had taken the straightest, most direct path to do this. Here, they walk forward, swinging their arms (shock! blasphemy!) and then circle their arms in front of them before landing on their hips. This small stylistic detail takes up more space.

So, even while the soloist maintains the maximum amount of space, all of the dancers in the piece start claiming and using more space as the piece grows. This goes with the excitement building – more space is more exciting. As the music gets faster, and we move into edgy, sexy territory, the larger use of space helps project that growing energy out farther. Dance is a visual art form and, considering how Lord of the Dance is often performed in giant stadiums, the bigger something is, the farther it reaches. It has to be seen.

Relationships

As we kind of alluded to already, the biggest relationship here is between the soloist and the other dancers. They are mostly dancing in unison in this section, but the use of space distinguishes the soloist. Additionally, she is always slightly in front of the rest of the group.

In studying relationships, we consider two scales: affiliative (friendly) — hostile, and dominant — submissive. Here, the soloist is in the dominant position, as she takes up more space and stands in front of (leads) the group. The one other way we can see this relationship is focus (what people do with their eyes) – the dancers do look at the soloist, but she never looks back at them. This emphasizes her power and leadership in the role – she doesn’t need the dancers, but the dancers are following her lead. She holds the power.

However, many of the ways relationships, such as touch and giving or taking weight, are not visible here. While we could potentially note proximity between the dancers, the most distinguishable feature is that the distance between dancers barely changes. Without change, we cannot actually see the relationship. The lack of relationship establishes the sense that we are watching a bunch of solo dancers dancing together, with one who happens to be slightly more dominant. I feel like this speaks to the history of Irish step dancing, and particularly jig steps like these, as being solo dances. If this was an Irish dance style traditionally danced as a group, we would definitely see touch, as well as changes in proximity, the use of eye contact, and even some weight sharing. Here, the solo aspects of the dance style isolates each dancer in their own bubble, even while they dance together in unison.

Dynamics: Rhythm

And finally, we get to dynamics, particularly rhythm. For the record, this is really fucking confusing. There is no way around it. As a musician and percussive dancer, I have trouble accepting this as rhythm, but I do accept that we’ve got to call it something and Rudolf Laban used the term “rhythm”. It feels imperfect, but fine enough.

Rhythm is not about musical rhythm or the sound of the feet. Rhythm, here, is specifically about the speed of a movement in relation to itself and the other movements in a sequence. There are different rhythms, such as an impulse, which starts fast and gets slower. Regardless of starting speed or sound made, any movement that starts fast and gets slower is an impulse. Read some more about rhythm here.

The effect of different rhythms is usually considered visually – how does an impulse (starting fast and getting slower) look in comparison to an impact (starting slow and getting faster)? Where are our natural rhythms? What does it mean to change the natural (organic) rhythms of a movement?

However, there is another layer when we look at a percussive dance form, because different movement rhythms create different sounds. Functionally, I have found the cleanest sound happens if the moment my foot hits the floor is faster, so we tend to use impacts to strike the floor. In order to make a clear sound with an impulse or a swing (fastest in the middle of a motion, due to gravity), I have to lift my foot off the floor because the floor stops the motion before it’s done. This creates a very particular sound. (Nic Garreiss is a master of impulses and swings in foot percussion, if you want to give him a look and a listen, note how he gets around the difficulty of the floor getting in the way by sliding his foot on the floor, so you can hear the impulses).

A shuffle is a good example of this – when we learn a shuffle, as in the instructional video, we learn it as two swings in order to strike the floor twice. However, as we speed up, striking the floor becomes a result of the rhythm and it becomes a single rebound (fastest in the middle of a motion, due to tension) because that’s how we can bring the foot back in.

Take away: in percussive dance, movement rhythm is about both the visual and audible effect.

In the video, we see a change from a continuous movement (like the dancers going around in a circle without really changing speed) into a more accented rhythm, mostly made of impulses in the upper body. The impulses start as the dancers throw away clothes and take out their hair. These are the organic ways we do these actions (impulses tend to move away from our center).

It is interesting to note, however, that the dancers are more in unison with impacts than impulses. The disrobing and the swinging arms as they march forward are all slightly off, but the impact as their hands land on their hips is exactly at the same time. I want to argue from watching this that training functional noise-making rhythm patterns of mostly impacts means that the dancers are cleaner and more comfortable with impacts, even in their upper body. Impulses are harder for them to control and execute because the entire concept and feel of an impulse is less part of Irish dance training.

We do, however, see one very clear, unison impulse and that is the big jump they do in the step they perform after they march forward. Here, the impulse is functional. Trying jumping and getting faster as you go up. Do it. I dare you.

Yup, it’s impossible.

It’s a really interesting choreographic moment because it creates a space that hasn’t existed in the piece before. Before, most of the jumps held the intention of landing to make noise, so the impact or rebound from hitting the floor was more pronounced than the impulse going up. This upwards impulse breaks the audible and visual rhythm of the steps, and is something completely new in the choreography. Even if we hadn’t just watched the dancers take off their clothes and heard the music change, we’d know something different was happening because we have this sudden breath in the choreography with all of the dancers very clearly in the air.

Conclusion

Most of what we see here is the result of what happens when we stage Irish step dance and how Irish step training  impacts the movement in a piece. It’s putting a solo dance form onto a stage in a big group and so it has particular tendencies in how space is used, relationship are (or are not) built, and what movement rhythms we see. That said, there are some very clear choreographic choices here in terms of who does what, who holds the power and leadership within the dance, and where the visual effect of movement changes. Lots to think about. Ouf.