Energy shifting


I have been thinking about and noticing energy a lot lately.  I have been rehearsing with a company that I have been working with for several years, but for the first time, with a smaller group of us.  The difference in time and space with three (versus seven) is really so amazing – I think also particularly, because it is the same studio space that I am familiar and comfortable with.  I have to admit that, at first, I was nervous that working with fewer people would somehow make some moments more awkward or make time drag by. However, what I have found, is that the energy in the room is free, it moves well, time passes promptly, and negative tension in rarely ever present.  So, just as I had thought about this ‘great energy’ that the small group of us had found, the choreographer made the artistic decision that she needed a fourth dancer to complete her vision– and it needed to be a male; another huge change in the studio, since I have only worked with females within this  group.  Today was the first day with the ‘new’ dancer, and although there was a new energy brought into the room, it really amazed me that the energy we had established remained strong and I think slowly instilled into the ‘new’ member.  To me, it was such an interesting concept– that an existing energy can sustain even with a change in environment.

Outside of the rehearsal process, I think that teaching dance has also made me hyper-aware of energy.  Students constantly depend on their teachers as their feed of energy.  I would even say that it is one of my responsibilities and a priority to give out a positive energy.  That being said, I have to make my energy appropriate to the group I am with, based on age, ability, location, etc.  Because of this, I think that I have found ways to transform my energy to the place it needs to be- no matter where I am coming from or what happens/is happening before or after I am teaching.  This change happens subconsciously for me, but as I think about energy, I am more attuned to the shift.

What creates energy?  For me it’s:  moving, dancing, fresh air, people, yoga, water, light, color, smiles, music, eyes, breath, grass, cats, shoes… for everyone it’s different- but it’s nice to identify at times.

Energy is different from attitude… energy can shape attitude, but they are not the same. For me, energy has a deeper root… I can feel it from the core – but this may also be different from person to person.

Are dancers more aware of energy?  Are teachers more aware of energy?  Are some people more aware of energy?  We all have different energy… and there are ways for energy to shift, through both external and internal causes and motivations.

– Amy


So, I just watched “The Cove.”  You know, the documentary about the dolphin slaughter going on in Japan, and how it is sustained by the lucrative business of show dolphins, and also what a few very ballsy folks have been doing to stop it.   My brother asked me why I was watching it, and said that all it would do would be to make me mad and upset.  And of course this comment made me mad and upset, because it made me think of the implications of avoiding educating oneself about the atrocities going on in the world because they are “unpleasant.”   Of course the movie was disturbing, but it didn’t make me angry-  it had the opposite affect, actually.

There are some reasons why watching documentaries like “The Cove” and “Food, Inc.” and reading about global warming, drug cartel violence, genocide, and other horrendous things that humans are doing to the planet and to one another, is worth the unpleasantness.  First, and most obviously, it is a call to action.  I might not go out and take a job with Greenpeace tomorrow, but I sure as heck am renewed in my commitment to be a more conscious and less harmful consumer, a civically active individual, and, when at all possible, to donate to organizations that help put an end to these atrocities.   Another good reason is that it puts things in perspective.  Suddenly, the very minor annoyances of my day, which had been the cause of so much stress for me earlier, are put into place.

What does this have to do with dance? I’m sure if you’ve read this far (and holy cow, thanks!) you are wondering.  I’m wondering the same thing.  As I work on the second in a series of three comprehensive exam papers required for my MFA degree— a paper that focuses rather myopically on one historical and rarely-performed ballet and how I’m going to go about creating a new version— a BIG question keeps coming to mind: Does it matter?   Does my work matter?  When our planet is sick, and injustice is everywhere, most dance works (and theoretical inquiry) can feel like a public act of masturbation (sort of like …well… blogging).

Art, in the broad scheme of things, definitely matters.  I could back that up but I know I’m preaching to the choir.  Art challenges us, opens us up, magnifies our humanity.  It entertains us, and we need entertainment.

I am wondering how I can make work that matters.   Apart from the obvious: making a piece that is “about” dolphin slaughter (which could turn out either cheesy or just plain awful), how do I make dance works that make the world a better place?  Is it possible to make a compelling, intelligent work that moves people to change the world? Even in small ways? (I initially think of Joos’ The Green Table as a good example, or perhaps, more controversially, Bill T.’s Still/Here) Or is dance for dance’s sake enough? I ask this not just out of my own guilt that I am not out there  cleaning oil off of pelicans or empowering journalists in Rwanda like some of my friends, but because I want the dance world (particularly the world of dance academia) to do a little less navel-gazing and a little more to shake people up, one way or another. ..

– Betsy

p.s. in the spirit of making a difference, here are some links I recommend (they are also embedded in the text above):

The Tiziano Project:

Oceanic Preservation Society:

Farm Forward:

“An intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein

There was recently an op-ed blog post in the NY Times that argued that creative science courses in education will achieve the same results in young learners that exposure to the performing and visual arts will help them to achieve ( I say, of course they will! Creative problem solving is creative problem solving, no matter the framework for teaching it. But why are we making a vehement argument against the integration of arts into our educational system? It’s not as though the arts are directly responsible for a suffering state of science affairs in our country’s public schools (though perhaps the arts and science are duking it out in the race for  funding). Anyhow, I wonder, is it useful for everyone in a society to be a scientist? Or for everyone to be an artist? No, in my opinion, these single-minded solutions will only turn out to be as useful as valuing the pursuit of money above all else and churning out a culture of corporate assholes. I think the fundamental issue being expressed on the Times blog, is a desire to address an educational system that is not geared to nurture creative thinkers (innovators, inventors, even dissenters, etc), and beyond this, to question a society and culture that does not value creative thinking. The fear of the arts that comes across in the maelstrom though, to me, is frightening.

I expect this probably has to do with discomfort and fear of things that aren’t concrete and cannot be controlled. Scientific experiments are typically dreamed up in a controlled environment and are ultimately bound by the laws of nature (though of course human ingenuity and technological evolution have stretched these boundaries far beyond our wildest imaginations). Art, by definition (if it has one), belongs to an abstract plane. It doesn’t have to be graspable or tangible. It sometimes cannot be defined by just one characterization; it is open to multiple interpretations and therefore, can never truly be pinned down. It’s also difficult to determine arts’ monetary value since it’s not, by nature, a commodity (see Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift,” for more on this train of thought). Art (including dance) belongs to the people; those who create it, the ones who dance it, the public who sees it, and of course, those individuals who inspire it. Art enriches the community that brings it forth and helps set a tone for the times. It gives a public voice to its creators and those they are representing.  Art is powerful.

With all this said, I’m thinking, what can I do to demystify the merits of exposing students to the arts? Well, I can relay the very specific gains I observed in young learners (ages 12-23), following their participation in Dancing to Connect 2010 (DTC). DTC is a cultural exchange project (7 intensive days long) that engages international youth in creativity and team-building through the American art form of modern dance. I am one of the teaching artists who lead annual DTC workshops in Germany. Following are some clear, non-emotional, DTC deliverables reported by DTC teaching artists (from Aviva Geismar’s Drastic Action and the Battery Dance Company), participating German students and their school teachers who observed (and sometimes partook) in the activities.

  • A spike in confidence
  • Heightened imaginative activity and abstract reasoning skills
  • Improved ability to work comfortably and cooperate with peers
  • Growth in appreciation and respect for the ideas of others and the unfamiliar
  • A recognition that there is no single “right” way to do things
  • Increased ability to brainstorm
  • MUSKELKATER: muscle soreness 🙂
  • Improved ability to concentrate and to work on one’s own
  • Increased interest in viewing or participating in creative projects in school and in the future
  • Improved audience behavior and listening skills

Teachers have told us that for students, the experience of working through a medium of non-verbal expression (even just for a week), has often boosted underachieving students’ classroom participation, sometimes improved their level of academic accomplishment, and most impactfully, extended to them a renewed invitation into an academic process that they may have felt detached from or not smart enough to bother participating in. What’s more, many school teachers have relayed (often emotionally) that the experience of watching their students realize themselves (physically, creatively, imaginatively) has inspired them to see potential where they may have dismissed it.

These kinds of deliverables are easily transferred to other areas in school and/or life. For example, an ability to envision multiple ways forward increases the chance that a student will have an optimistic outlook regarding his/her future. That student then has a better chance of imagining different possibilities for him/herself and is therefore less likely to get stuck in a personal or professional rut. That’s just one oversimplified example from my humble perspective, and of course I must state, it is not scientifically proven.

Maybe this, in and of itself, is exactly what’s so scary about integrating creative thought into our public school curriculum; An educational system that produces thinkers and innovators might also create an abundance of poets, painters, philosophers and scientific tinkerers; a culture prone to reverie with lucid imaginative lives; an uncooperative workforce that is more concerned with process than production; people who want to enjoy their lives rather than squeeze them for every penny they’re worth, toiling in offices 60+ hours a week rather than investing in relationships, and seeking connections through social networks instead of “seeing” each other and the world around them, the way the Navi people do in Avatar. Well this might be the case, but we’d be hard pressed to ignore the clear cut and practical achievements of creative minds: Edison’s light bulb, the Doric columns of the Athenian Parthenon, Gutenberg’s original printing press, and even modern day Dyson vacuum cleaners… a narrow sampling of an epic historical laundry list.

My point: I support an educational system that cultivates innovation, promotes ongoing reflective contemplation, and encourages the process of trial and error. I also firmly believe that as well as other, more scientifically geared avenues, exposure to the arts (visual and performing) is capable of achieving these effects.

To learn more about DTC check out and search Dancing to Connect 2010 on youtube.


Photo Credit, Ina Debald

Well, summer is finally here.  The past couple of months have been wonderfully full of dancing and dance-making. In May,  I premiered two new works, Cloudburst and El Otro Lado/ The Other Side. Below you can watch video of El Otro Lado.  I hope you will leave some comments for me on your impressions of the work.

One aspect of that project I particularly enjoyed was designing and creating the costumes.  I am fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of great resources here at OSU, including the Department of Dance’s in-house Costume Designer, Mary McMullen.  Mary patiently mentored me throughout the challenging process in a year-long independent study project.  I certainly have a new-found respect for costume designers— the hours and hard work they put into the design and manufacture of costumes, and the particular demands for dance (durability, movement, etc) make them truly unsung heroes.

For the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of participating in the Doug Varone and Dancers Summer Workshop.  Varone’s fluid and resilient style have always attracted me as dancer, and I attended the Company’s summer workshops in 2004 and 2005.   I was particularly interested in approaching this year’s workshop with a pedagogical focus: how can I pass on information given to me as a student to my own students about this stylistic approach to movement which I find so satisfying, both on a kinesthetic and aesthetic level.  In addition to being phenomenal dancers and performers, members of Varone’s company are fantastic teachers.  Each class was a wonderful challenge for both the mind and body.  I have also had the opportunity to see the Company in open rehearsals.  As a choreographer, it’s so informative to watch choreographers who you admire amidst their own processes.  Doug Varone and Dancers will be performing this weekend in Akron, Ohio a a free summer dance concert series. If you are in the area, make sure you check it out: They’ll be performing Castles and Lux, which are two of Varone’s enchanting and powerful full-company works.  They will leave you in awe.

Next week, I travel to the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine, for some more wonderful dancing and dance-viewing. The Varone Company will also be in residence, so it looks to be a summer full of satisfying movement experiences.


I have recently realized that I have developed an internal list of life goals– or actually two lists.  I guess the first list is more generic- involving love, money, family, lifestyle, etc.  But it has occurred to me that my priorities have been directed highly to my secondary list- including such things as trying Karate, owning a chase lounge chair, swimming with dolphins,  living alone, having a cat, having a real leather coat, and growing a tomato garden (to mention a few).   It seems that in recent years I have been trying to knock things off my list one at a time and it is very exciting!  I notice that even as my commitments, my job, and my relationships have remained relatively stable, it is this list of mine that allows me to have new beginnings within my stability.  I am able to appreciate the things I have and am familiar with more when I have or try something new.

A few weeks ago  I decided to take some Martial Arts lessons- something I’ve been longing to do for awhile, but never really had the time or the nerve to.  I found it such a challenge to walk into a class as a complete beginner.  I realized the rituals within a dance class that I had become so accustomed to and how these rituals could seem so foreign to a newcomer.  In Martial Arts I was a clear newcomer, quickly trying to adhere to new patterns and teach my body a new way of moving– it was great to feel so new!

I used to think that to be a dancer I should take as many classes as possible and focus on dance and solely dance.  However, I have realized that having other interests and ‘time away’ also give a refreshing outlook.  I am sure that my secondary list of goals will continue to grow, and I am happy to welcome the challenges and freshness that it brings my way.


There’s been a lot going on lately.  Last time I joined the blog world we were finishing up rehearsals for Moves She in preparation for our performances at Newsteps.  They were great!  Thanks so much to Chen Dance for making dance happen, for my dancers for making dance happen, and all our friends and family that came out to support!  They make dance happen too!
Since then I’ve started working with Naomi Goldberg Hass/Dances for a Variable Population.  The company incorporates an “older” population, working with dancers that are in their sixties, seventies and eighties.  Check out a write-up from our last show at LaMama: is such a thrill to work with these very talented women (few of which come from a performance background).  They are so engaged and invested, it feels good to be in rehearsals next to such devoted energy.  This past year, having been primarily involved in dance as a choreographer and less as a dancer, and now returning to that role with Naomi, I’ve thought a lot about rehearsal conduct.  How attentive must we be? energetic? willing? positive?  I’ve decided that as long as we stay positive, anything is possible because we are willing to try.  Energy is contagious; it spreads to the other dancers and the choreographer.  I felt how helpful my dancers were and how that aided me in my choreography and now I am sharing that energy with a new group of women.
I have been so happy in the last year in all my dancing escapades: choreographing Moves She, making dance for teenagers in Connecticut, taking hip-hop classes (whoa, right!), supporting my peers, dancing for Naomi, etc.  I’m participating in things that make me smile, participating in dance and art that I believe in.  And they keep me positive so I can keep that cycle going!

Cara Liguori in Aviva Geismar's, "Draw Breath," 2009.

I recently participated in a really intense, Grotowski-based physical theater workshop. The work we were doing each day had to do with opening up in order to respond to impulses.  Now, this is something I feel fairly comfortable with in terms of dance improvisation and authentic movement practice; listening and moving according to the flow of my breath or moving based on a set improvisational score or simply what my body feels like doing, or to music, or even based on going against my body’s patterns and impulses.  But this was different…. rather than tuning into internal, physical impulses, I was being asked to OPEN, to engage and externalize with all of the energy in the room and all of the people, and to react authentically while maintaining an awareness and a connection with everything and everyone in the space.  It was exhausting, completely out of my comfort zone, and incredibly frustrating.  It made me aware that a lot of my personal movement and improvisational practice is actually a process of tuning out, diving deep into myself to disconnect from all that surrounds me. This realization threw me for a loop. Part of the reason I’d wanted to take this workshop was to make an effort to better integrate my singing/speaking self with my moving/dancing self; and even more specifically, to improve my ability to tell a story while singing and speaking by connecting emotions and meaning to words. I guess I went into this experience expecting to find the meaning of the words somewhere deep inside me, something I could tune into by tuning out and self-connecting. I think to an extent, this is true, in terms of finding personal experiences to relate to the words, but words feel so much more needy than movement. You can’t just feel them out, let them resound in the space, I mean you can, but to me it felt like they needed to be directed somewhere, spoken to someone. They needed to land, to be received. Words are a tool for communication after all.  So I learned something about words that is super useful in terms of distinguishing what words can do and what dance can do and how I choose to use them in my work in the future.

At the same time as I was participating in this workshop, I was performing a movement-work, “Learning to Fall,” created by Kathy Wasik. For this piece, I was to convey a completely internal journey (the total opposite of what I was being asked to do in the workshop), while slowly opening different parts of my body and then closing them again. In the dance I kept my focus completely internal establishing a clear disconnect from the audience, until the final moment, when I confronted, looked into and walked towards members of the audience. As a performer, this was like a purely energetic experiment in terms of communicating with an audience, like, “can I affect their energy without even looking at them, and without exerting a ton of physical energy/movement, just by “being” in the space; completing a simple, clear movement task, and by keeping an internal dialogue alive over time.” Actually, Kathy barely even used words to direct me for this dance. I learned the improvisational structure from having watched her do it, and with a few simple suggestions, it then became mine to try on and perform.

After the final evening’s performance, an audience member approached me and told me that for him, the dance was a totally disturbing and intense experience. He said, the entire time he watched it, (about 25 minutes) he was reminded of his brother who is partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He said that the movements were identical to his brother’s and that at the end of the dance, when I stood up, it was bone-chilling. Hearing his experience was an incredible gift for me as a performer. It felt like the perfect validation of pure dance/movement as a medium of art, I’m talking dance that doesn’t purport to be theater or have elements of mixed-media. This idea of physical paralysis which Kathy never brought up, and which I never entertained as part of my internal performance dialogue (at least in a literal sense), was communicated with intense clarity to this audience member. For him the piece had a distinct subject matter, for the person sitting next to him, it could have been a completely different story, and now that the dance is over….they can’t go back and check themselves, all they have is the ephemeral experience of what they witnessed onstage and how they perceived it in the moment.

Dance is not words and for that, I am grateful. -Cara

Frozen Diva

Although I am now living and working outside of the dance mecca of New York City, where we sort of take for granted that dance work is everywhere, I am finding that here in Columbus, I am saturated in rich dance experience, as a viewer, teacher, and maker.  Last weekend I attended Ten Tiny Dances on the OSU campus, which was comprised of 10 short works in a 4’x4′ space. The works ranged from heart-wrenchingly poignant to laugh-till-you-snort hysterical, and all were created and performed by Columbus-based dance artists, including Karl Rogers, Noelle Chun, Shawn Hove, Meghan Durham, Coco Loupe, and Paige Phillips. In February, I enjoyed teaching open modern technique classes for members of the local professional dance community at Columbus Dance Theatre. I also got to see the Merce Cunningham’s first performance of their legacy tour here at the Wexner Center. Last month, I premiered a new solo, Frozen Diva, at CDT’s “Dancing Alone” event, and created a solo for fellow graduate student Lindsay Caddle LaPointe’s MFA thesis project, which she performed in an arts gallery downtown as the live component of a videodance installation. I am currently working on two other pieces, El Otro Lado/The Other Side, which I previously blogged about, and which will finally be performed this May at OSU, as well as a sextet called Cloudburst, a choreographic collaboration with Erik Abbot-Main that will be performed in May with a 55-member collegiate winds ensemble!  To top it all off, I have begun research for my MFA project, a contemporary re-contextualization of the 1917 ballet, Parade. The research will culminate in a performance in February 2011. More to come on that later!  In short, we are dancing up a storm here in the Midwest.


Well, unlike some of of other fellow Propel-hers, I am currently not making any new work right now.  For the time being, my focus has been more towards dance and performance for other choreographers, outside of the collective.  I am currently about to wrap up a three week-long engagement with Regina Nejman & Co. at Dixon Place– that’s right, an unheard of 3 weeks for a modern dance performance!!  This longer run has really got me thinking about how much a piece develops during the (long or short) performance period.

As dancers, we spend countless hours in rehearsal learning movement, creating phrases, deconstructing content, and playing with ideas.  We work to develop muscle memory and consistency of patterns, sound, and relationships.  However, it seems that no matter how many rehearsals take place, the biggest moment of change and development is always on the stage!!  For me, I guess its part of the ‘whole picture’- the surrounding of the lights and amplified music allow me to fall into the mood of the piece and my ‘story’ can fall into place: it is almost as if I am no longer reading the book, but have finally jumped inside.  And, with an audience, I feel like an extra energy surges through the space.

I think this incredible burst of development is thrilling, but often wasted, as many pieces are performed just a few times and then dropped..(not always because that is what id desired, but more because of time, energy, opportunity, and funding).  I love when I perform a piece, leave it, and then come back to it several months later– I feel more clarity; I feel deeper inside of it.  I also think this ‘performance development’ also relates to Ani’s “Moves She”…. she has talked quite a bit about taking time and stepping away, and has also been able to watch it performed in many venues.

I guess that there is really no way to capture the amazing essence that performance brings to a piece (or a dancer within the piece) before it actually happens… but we can continue to enjoy it and grow from it.


In Fall 2009, I made a solo work on Meghan MacAlpine called Moves She. You can view a video excerpt  if you scroll down to earlier posts. It was one of those therapeutic, self-worth, post-break-up dances for me.  For others, it’s that too.  And for others, it’s taken on many identities.
Fall 2010 felt new and improved for me.  I felt better post-post-break-up and had been thinking a bunch about the strong women that surround me.  Between friends, family and collegues, I am surrounded by women that I admire.  Each, in their own ways, exhibits grounded and tenacious behavior. Moves She could stand on its own, but I had a strong conviction to continue the story and show how strong she (me? every woman?) got in the end.  And so became Moves She: The Next Installment.  Not really though.  I’m still just calling it Moves She.  Though now there are two more solos, danced by Stephanie Lane and Cara Liguori, showing perseverance and success.
We’ll be performing the work in Newsteps at Chen Dance on May 6-8, so come check it out.  It’s a piece that moves me, literally.  I am humbled by their dancing.  I am excited to share this journey.
– Ani

What is it that I am trying to make here?  Sometimes a piece takes quite a clear direction from the start of my working process, as in Dominion(2008).  The happy collision between the sight of a briefcase being carried up a subway station stairway and a Strauss waltz instantly generated the concept– a work about competition and conformity as played out in the corporate “dance.”   In my current work-in-progress (working title El Otro Lado/The Other Side), I am discovering meaning as I create.  I was asked recently after an unsuccessful adjudication attempt what I was trying to do with this piece- the question took me completely off guard. I had a couple of initial ideas that inspired the work- I saw it foremost as an autobiographical companion piece to Feo, Fuerte, Formal (2006).  The pieces share some similar music and are both female quartets.  Both are about women, and about the dichotomy between cultural perception/depiction and humanistic reality.  Also, in this work, I was motivated to explore the tension that arises when “something doesn’t fit” — this is beginning to be teased out through counterpoint of group vs. individual, but needs development. I want to discover all these layers of meaning that reside in the movement, and then clarify, distill, develop. Also, because the piece is in vignette form, I need to dig into the transitions- what is going on in these moments? How do I account for the shifts?

The process of choreographing can be revelatory.  How satisfying to stand back, after throwing this draft on to the stage, and say, “ok- what is beginning to happen here?” and then crafting, shaping, translating, clarifying.  Choreography, for me, can feel so much like sculpture— for me the dance is there in front of me- under the surface- I just need to chisel away, trust the process, and let its true self emerge.  And THEN, how satisfying to say, at last, “hello dance, it’s nice to meet you.”


Happy Holidays! This week, we’re sharing the gift of dance with our last clip from The Balancing Act: “Swaying Quarters,” choreographed by commissioned artist Lisa Race, with music by Michael Wall.  Performers are Amy Tennant Adams, Ani Javian, Maggie Bennett, and Cara Liguori.

Video by Joe Del Senno.

Our next clip comes in videodance format.  Betsy Miller’s The Golden Hall was created at The Ohio State University and had its premiere showing at The Balancing Act.

Here is an excerpt of Catherine Miller’s Juliet Looks to The West, from The Balancing Act.  Catherine was the recipient of our first Emerging Artist Grant.

Latest in our installment of Balancing Act excerpts are two solos: Home, choreographed by Maggie Bennett and performed by Ani Javian, and Moves She, choreographed by Ani Javian and performed by Megan MacAlpine. Enjoy!


Moves She

Excerpt of Impasse. Choreographed by Cara Liguori and Amy Tennant Adams. Video by Joe Del Senno.

Stay tuned for more video clips from The Balancing Act!


Still, two months later, I’m feeling good about The Balancing Act.  We challenged ourselves by putting together a different kind of show: collaborating within Propel-her, commissioning an artist, and producing an artist.  We set the show up as a way to exhibit different definitions of the term “emerging art.” It ended up being not only that, but it also exhibited different definitions of “dance.”  This was exciting; the show (unintentionally) showed numerous styles of dance, from traditional to post-modern to video!

We produced Catherine Miller, whose Juliet Looks to the West was more traditionally contemporary than the rest; music by Philip Glass propelled the narrative duet.  Lisa Race’s commissioned Swaying Quarters set another stage; her full-bodied movement accompanied by Michael Wall’s atmospheric score created a different world.  My collaboration with Maggie Bennett, Home, was incredibly minimal by comparison.  A sparse sound score of a radio-recording, and movement that appeared more gestural than not, brought the audience into a very different space than the rest of the pieces.  Betsy sent us a dance video, The Golden Hall, she had been working on at Ohio State this year, adding yet another dimension.  Cara and Maggie did two brief solo improvisation investigations, adding more perspective.  And finally, Ani’s solo, Moves She, and Amy and Cara’s collaboration, Impasse, landed somewhere in between all the above on the spectrum.  The show was a wonderful, exciting collection of dance.  Each piece moved in a different way, created a new world for the audience and encouraged conversation on different definitions of “emerging art.”  The Balancing Act showed such diversity in what if offered.
I feel really proud of the show we put together.  The work gave “emerging art” a good name.  It was conceptually and physically demanding.  It created worlds and move the audience.  It stayed with you when you left the theater.
It truly was a “balancing act” to get this show up and running.  It was difficult at times, satisfying and rewarding at times.  I’m still on a high from what we showed, and have never had a high last so long after a performance was over.  That is quite something for me!  Now, what’s next…stay tuned!


Four Stories by Betsy Miller.  Filmed March 2009.

For Propel-her Dance Collective’s 2009 concert, The Balancing Act, we’ve turned our attention to a phenomena dominating the contemporary dance scene.  For many choreographers in the U.S., a life-long career will exist in the category “emerging artist.”  We are emerging artists, our peers are emerging artists, many of our mentors are emerging artists.  So we ask ourselves, What is emerging art? Or more specifically, what defines the “success” of an artist?  Where is the line between emerging and established, or are they the same?  Questions such as these have fueled the development of The Balancing Act, as we selected an “emerging artist,” defined as some one who has yet to professionally present her choreography in New York city, as we were in residency at Connecticut College working with Lisa Race to choreograph a piece on us, an artist who has had a full and successful performance career and has been making her own work for years, who just graduated with an MFA from Hollins University, and ourselves, young women who have had their work produced in New York several times, but are sill at the beginning of our journey.

In our inquiry to examine the phenomenon of many choreographers’ life-long existance within the realm of “Emerging Artist,” we ask, what makes one NOT an emerging artist?

We’ve turned to The Gift, for a clue into the inner-workings of American culture’s handling of and relationship to art.  Lewis Hyde names what many of us sub-consciously understand: art is a gift, not a commodity.  In order for a gift to exist and live, there must be receivers, who are ready and willing to pass the gift on as well.  A gift society understands the cycle and function of gift, and participates in the gift giving rituals without any thought of return, or desire for permanent ownership.  The value of the gift is in its existence, and the relationships around it.

Turn to American culture, capitalist to its core, whose fundamental relationships are those of business — the buying and selling of commodities — and quite quickly it becomes clear why art forms such as dance, which is temporal and ethereal, have such a hard time surviving and finding support in our culture.  Quite simply, dance as a form, is very hard to convert into a commodity.

Often when we dancers take a step outside of our arts community, one of the first questions that is put to us is, “So, what is success in the dance world?  What’s the dream job?  When are you considered a success?”  In regards to the value system of America, often choreographers are deemed a success in mainstream culture when their art has become a commodity; when it is able to be marketed and sold.  But, that has nothing to do with the artistic success of the work.  Like any good small business, it is mostly the business model that determines its success, and the product, as long as it appeals to the general public, is almost secondary.  Same can be true in dance, even though that model inherently undermines the fundamental premise of art — art is a gift.

Living in New York City, where consumerism is the main form of entertainment, a choreographer must turn these values upside down and define for oneself what “success” really is.  If staying true to ones interests and following creative impulse, regardless of the product institutions are looking to sell means remaining in the vast pool of “emerging artists,” with “emerging artist” funding, then that might be a title we’re all proud to bear.

Our hope is that The Balancing Act will help to bring to light the assumptions on which these containers are based.  To have faith in our gifts, as artists at any stage in our career, regardless of cultural approval.


The rehearsal process has officially begun for our collaborative pieces. I have to say, that it is a very interesting and different process that goes into a collaborative piece versus and individual piece– especially in this case when the collaborators are of the same facet (i.e. 2 dance choreographer vs. a dance choreographer with a composer or visual artist). So far, I definitely have noticed the amount of compromise that it takes to organize ourselves and our ideas. I also think its a great feeling to not always feel the pressure to have the solution to every question/problem- 2 minds can work together and ideas have a larger surface to bounce around between. I think it is rare to see this type of collaboration in the professional world- partly because I think its a challenge to work with someone this way. But I think that our administrative collaboration and improvisational work together will help our working relationship for this project. I am excited to see where this piece will end up….


Domestic Flight


Below you can view footage of Propel-her’s 2007 show, Domestic Flight. All video shot by Joe Del Senno.

Excerpt of Dominion by Betsy Miller

Excerpt of Reproach/Re-approach by Maggie Bennett

Excerpt of This is your welcome. by Amy Tennant Adams

Excerpt of Glue by Ani Javian

Night Passage by Betsy Miller

Excerpt of Goddess Worship by Cara Liguori


Another clip of Kristen rehearsing her solo. All choreography in both clips shown came directly from Kristen’s own improvisation.


I made this video last week. It contains excerpts of a simple improv with music by Philip Glass overlayed. – Betsy

This is a brief clip of OSU dancer Kristen Jeppsen rehearsing my work-in-progress. The piece is a quartet for women and is based on memory. Music by Michael Wall. – Betsy

Yesterday, Ani and I visited two New York community centers to talk about bringing Propel-her’s “Group Solo Project (GSP)” to their constituents. GSP is Propel-her’s premiere arts-education, outreach progam. The idea behind the workshop is to enable participants to connect with dance as an art form and as a tool for self-expression, creative decision-making, and peer communication. The overarching goal of the workshop is to promote collaboration instead of competition by exposing participants to Propel-her’s own collaborative model.

Jackie Rousseau and Antonio Caprellan of Hudson Guild Community Works along with Adia Wilson and Basyah Prabhu at Harlem Children Zone’s TRUCE Arts & Media were eager to partner with Propel-her in bringing GSP to their young girls’ groups.

Currently, Ani, Amy, Maggie and I are in Stage 2 of planning GSP. Stage 1 involved each of us developing a choreographic solo based on a female issue of personal importance. Now that the solos are complete, the four of us have started coming together in collaborative rehearsals to create a brief group dance comprised of material from each of our solos. This dance will be performed at GSP workshops to demonstrate the ability to achieve a shared goal through compromise, communication and collaboration. Our collaborative rehearsals will continue through January 2009 and we will also use the time together to further develop our goals and methodology for teaching/implementing the workshops.

Joe Del Senno, a New York City freelance videographer, is graciously videoing our rehearsals and will eventually provide Propel-her with a concise, edited video that reveals our collaborative process and Group Solo Project goals. We will post the video as soon as its available and we hope to use it to reach out to other community centers, schools, camps and youth groups in the future. Further information about GSP can be found on by clicking on the News & Press link.

We are so excited about this endeavor. More than anything, we were inspired by the enthusiasm of our prospective partners and we cannot wait to get started.

Cara Liguori, co-founder, Propel-her Dance Collective






photos by Morrigan McCarthy.

This winter, Propel-her choreographers will embark on a new exploration in choreographic process, extending our use of the collaborative model into the artistic realm. Propel-her members will work in tandem to create two new works, to be debuted in May 2009. One of these works will be a long-distance collaboration with Propel-her choreographer Betsy Miller, who is currently in the graduate program at Ohio State University. Here’s what Betsy has to say about the potential for long-distance collaborations:

“One of the great things about making work now is the plethora of technology available to us. Technological innovation allows not only for more possibility in mixed-media presentation, (i.e. video projection during a live dance piece) but also helps artists who may be separated geographically come together in a creative medium. Possibilities exist for video-conferencing between artists, ‘virtual rehearsals,’ with a choreographer in one place intereacting with dancers in another location, and even the real-time presentation of an off-site performance through streaming video. Basically, the limits of our imaginations our the only limits.”

Check back frequently to see where collaboration and technology intersect in the making of our new works.

Photos: Amelia Montgomery

Exactly what constitutes “emerging art” is a hotly contested subject in the world of dance as well as other artistic endeavor. In May 2009, Propel-her Dance Collective will present an evening of new choreography by female choreographers who represent three definitions of emerging artist.  Through the range of artists presented, Propel-her aims to engage the dance-going public in a dialogue about the concept of “emerging art,” to offer creative opportunities to females working in the field and to further its efforts in approaching dance through an innovative collaborative model.
The project will consist of three components:
The Collective will commission a new work by Lisa Race, a mid-career artist best known for her work with the David Dorfman Dance Company and Race Dance.  Four Collective members will work with Race to create the new piece while in residency at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut in January 2009.
The Collective will also produce a short work by a young female choreographer.  She will be chosen through an open application process and will receive full publicity and production at no cost.  We will produce a promising artist with no history of being presented, so as to provide a much-needed stepping-stone for further opportunities for that artist and to introduce audiences to one of the fresh faces of our field.
The third and principal component of the show will consist of two pieces choreographed by Propel-her Dance Collective members.  For the first time, the Collective will use its collaborative model as a basis for creation of the works. Although Collective members have a shared lineage in training, their creative works represent the range of aesthetics present in today’s modern dance culture: from introspection to physicality, from classicism to abstraction, and from subtlety to spectacle.  Our aim in this process is to explore decentralized aesthetics in the creative product. You can read more about our working process in our next post!