Dancing out of your comfort zone

There are many aspect of freelance dancing that involve dancing out of your comfort zone. From being in new environments to dancing with new groups of people to accepting the challenge of very different styles. As a part of my search for work, I decided to take a risk and send my information to Momix. The company self-describes itself as being "known internationally for presenting work of exceptional inventiveness and physical beauty, MOMIX is a company of dancer-illusionists." It is not uncommon for me to send my information to a company with absolutely no expectation of receiving a response. But to my surprise, I received an email from the company two days ago asking if I would be interested in taking a master class to be seen and considered for the company while they were in Philly performing. Well, this blog is pretty fresh, as I just got home from taking the master class. It was definitely an interesting experience that threw me way out of my "safe" place.
Momix in action
I was actually pretty nervous to take this master class with Momix. When I take master, open, or company classes with ballet companies, I have a good idea of what to expect. I have never taken class with a company like Momix and, honestly, I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. Were we going to start with a ballet class? Would the class be completely based on modern technique? Were they going to see if I could stand on my head and do back flips? I am much more unnerved by the unknown. If I have the knowledge that something is going to be out of my comfort zone, then it is a lot easier for me to cope with my own thoughts. Awareness of expectation is the biggest comfort for me. I debated whether it was worth my time to go and take this class. I decided that it was more important for me to be open to a new experience, then it was for me to dismiss an opportunity to learn about something that I was unfamiliar with. Not only that, but this was a free opportunity to take class for the day. This saves me the cost of my daily maintenance class. Snaps to that!

At about 12:20 pm, I ventured through Center City towards the University of the Arts. I am familiar with Uarts because I have rehearsed there before. If I could find comfort in anything it was that. As I walked down the streets of Philadelphia towards the studios, I felt a little flutter in my chest. I don't like to admit nervousness, but it was clearly there. I was wondering how big the class was going to be and whether I was going to have to fight my way around the studio. My biggest concern, though, was still if I would be lost with the material and make a fool of myself. This is a huge issue for dancers that have made it to a professional level. As a student, you are allowed to fail. As a professional, you are expected to hold up well in any situation. This is a common issue that many dancers are faced with.

I finally made it to Uarts and made my way upstairs to change and warm up. When I arrived in the lobby of the studios, I found that I was the only dancer there. I thought to myself, "maybe Im in the wrong building" (given that there are multiple venues that Uarts rehearses in). After I determined that I was in the right place, I anxiously waited for a rush of dancers to show up. Well, that never happened. By the time the company dancer who would be conducting the master class showed up, there were 5 dancers present. A full class can be difficult because it can be hard to find your space and the varied level of dancers often leads to instances where your neighbor has no concept of spatial awareness. The opposite can also be a challenge. With fewer dancers, there is less energy to bounce off of and there is also no opportunity to hide when you need a rest or can't pick up a step. Well, we were on the small side for a class. And not only that, the age and experience of the group was wildly varied. One dancer was a Uarts Junior, three of the other dancers were between the age of 55 and 65, and then there was me.

The teacher handled this smaller, eccentric group pretty well. Instead of running us into the ground for an hour and a half, he sat us down for the first half hour and gave us a history of Momix and the concepts that are used behind their work. The company is directed by Moses Pendleton, who is not a dancer. He took a movement class in university and created a visual piece with a couple of friends for his final project. It was so interesting that it got picked up to tour. This was the birth of Momix. The dancers take a ballet class every morning followed by about an hour of open improv. These improv sessions take steps that are eventually cultivated to become the choreography that becomes a show.  Our class was based off of these improv sessions. We warmed up with a short improv session, which was followed by some stretching in the center of the studio. After that, we performed some more improv that was only mildly guided. I have improv'ed before, but I would hardly say that I am an expert at it. I have a moderate amount of experience with it, but at a certain point I prefer more direction.

After we completed our first few improvs across the floor, the teacher took two of the dancer's themes and turned them into a creature. This is where it really started to get interesting. One of the 60-something women had to jump up onto my shoulders (where I had to hold her for nearly 5 minutes) and did a pump with her chest and upper body, while one of the other older ladies did her foot-stomping improv in front of us. My job was to hide myself behind the stomping lady. Essentially we created a stomping, chest pumping giant. I wasn't too thrilled about having to maintain a sexagenarians weight for such a long period of time, but I convinced myself that this experience will be worth it at some point. And if not, at least it will be a good story. As we really started to get into the pumping, I was relieved that my shoulder-sitting partner had to leave to feed the parking meter with her stomping friend. At this point, the only people left dancing were myself and the Uarts student, as the other dancer could barely walk across the floor, let alone move her body to the music due to aging joints and bones. I did appreciate her will to try and remain active through her old years, though.

So, the final segment of this class was 2 open 2-minute improvs that emphasized who we were as dancers. We danced to a slow piece of music, followed by a tribal, high-speed selection. I feel that my slow improv was stellar, but once I got to the fast-paced music I started to lose my groove. I started to run out of material and was wishing that I would have been given a bit more direction to guide my improv. What I enjoyed most about this part of the class was watching the Uarts student really excel in her improv. She was very talented and very interesting to watch.

In the end, I was not as out of my comfort zone as I had expected to be, but I was still pretty far from comfortable. I'm learning throughout my career that I don't always have to impress people when Im dancing. Sometimes, I just have to do what I need to for myself, so that I can learn from these experiences. Even though this master class was really an audition for me, it wasn't so much about me solidifying a job as it was a chance to continue the expansion of my improv knowledge. It took me a while of dancing professionally to understand and respect improv. As I gain more experience with it, I'm learning the complexities behind it and am growing to respect how difficult it can be to create on the spot. It is truly a skill that is hard for many highly-trained dancers to master. So, in the end, was I comfortable and content with this experience? Absolutely not! But did I gain something from this master class, I sure did. And by that, I mean more than just a damn good story.

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