Modern Monday: The First Class

I was lucky enough to grow up in the land of Pilobilus, so I first encountered modern dance (and a pretty innovative form, at that) as a little kid.

My only real experience with Modern dance as a dancer, however, took the form of two years in high school during which I took modern as a non-major at my arts magnet. I enjoyed it, but at the time I was taking a veritable pharmacopia of drugs for bipolar, which was, to say the least, discouraging.

Since then, the first two years (have I missed my own danciversary, you guys?! OMG, I need to check…) of my return to dance have been entirely devoted to ballet.

I’ve waffled about adding modern into the mix: although I always seem to be kind of a generalist in life, some inner part of me wants to be a specialist — no, not even just a specialist, but a purist.

Sometimes, though, life shoves shoves you off the board while you’re dithering about which dive to try.

Hm. I just realized that I need to update my system for abbreviating dance teachers — there’s already a Ms. T and a Ms. B, which accounts for all of my modern teacher’s initials, and somehow I can’t bring myself to call her Ms. TB!

So we’ll call her “Modern T.”

Modern T is the founder of our local professional/semi-professional modern company, Moving Collective, a beautiful dancer, and (as I’ve discovered today) an excellent teacher. She also often takes Hard Mode Ballet class on Wednesday.

Anyway, a convergence of forces led me to try her modern class today — and I’m forced to admit that I loved it.

This may not be true for everyone, but for me, modern infuses fresh doses of freedom and expression into my dancing.

(Oh, and as several of my fellow dance bloggers have pointed out, bruises! Ha. I should have remembered that from high school ^—^ I now have a giant chain of bruises right down my spine from a somewhat-excessively-enthusiastic roll-downy thing.)

Modern uses the body differently, which is also great — an antidote, in a way, to over-expressing ballet technique (you know: that thing where you focus so hard on the placement of your shoulders that you wind up misplacing them anyway, for example — over-correction).

It’s also quite new to me, so I’m not getting hung up on being RIGHT. I’m just, like, following along, trying to do things, feeling it out. Dancing more, thinking less. It works!

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to manage this class because of my relative paucity of modern experience — it’s an intermediate/advanced class — but the ballet training translates well. Enough of the basic terminology is the same, and ultimately you’re still moving the same body.

The funny part was I’d just read an article criticising the excess of modern pieces (in Australia, anyway) that basically involve dancers rolling around on the floor … And now, having spent the first quarter of the class doing exactly that, I feel like I kind of get it a bit.

Yes, the floor is your friend, but it’s a rigid, unyielding friend — so figuring out how to work with it in that way is a challenge!

I think the criticism is still valid — if we want audiences of people who aren’t all dancers, we need to include elements in performances that you can readily appreciate without having done them (which, by the way, Moving Collective does really, really well!).

But I think that as a dancer-choreographer, it’s very much like stuffing your ballet full of promenades. To a dancer, a promenade is a display of strength, grace, control and technique. To the non-dancers in the audience, though, it often just looks weird.

So that’s something I’ll try to think about as a choreographer, even though as a dancer I really enjoyed the puzzle of figuring out how to use the floor and my body together in new and challenging ways.

Our work at center, meanwhile, is going to seriously help my ballet technique in ways that I totally didn’t expect. Modern T has an amazing gift for imparting lessons in placement.

I also really liked our final combination, which went something like:
Pas de Basque x2
Saut de Basque
Pique arabesque-y thing with circly arms in second, lower heel to plié
Stag leap
Sauté Développé front*
A kind of star-shaped tour jeté to lunge

*On first pass, I did this with the “ballet” knob turned all the way up. It was kind of funny.

The music was really cool, and I really enjoyed playing with the feeling of it.

There were only two of us today, so I tried to both maintain spacing (instead of wandering off upstage or what have you) and evoke a feeling that meshed with what my fellow dancer, A., was performing.

If my Friday mornings continue to be free, I might take Friday class with Modern T as well. If not, I’ll definitely be making the most of Modern Mondays.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2016/03/07, in modern and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Welcome to modern.

    Yes, the floor will be your friend, but there are a few bruises to go. Yust relax, yes really relax. Be able to sleep plain down on the floor. I did’nt believed, but it works.

    I don’t get them now (usually), but abraisions on top of my feet and on the knee.

    On style – before I did modern, I found all this rolling on the floor thing strange, too. But now I feel it’s natural. In choreography, if you want to stand up you have to fall first. Or it’s a sign of power going directly from the floor into a jump (yes it works). In most choreos it’s just a short trip, you’ll get up very soon.

    I loose normally double the sweat in a modern choreo than in ballet.

    And now to the important question: How much stuff do the girls wear 😉 ?

    By the way – it’s an all girls dance company?? I don’t have seen a man in the Videos.

    • Helpful thoughts and good questions! (Also, being able to sleep on the floor sounds awesome.) I can totally see where top-of-the-foot abrasions could happen; we did a sequence that would definitely have led to some if I had taken my socks off.

      You’re dead on about sweat, too — the only ballet class that makes me sweat as much as Monday’s modern class did is Ms. B’s Wednesday class (which is both revered and dreaded by essentially the entire local dance community :D).

      There have been guys in Modern T’s company from time to time, but I don’t think there have been any in a while. I wonder if they’d like one… Hmmmmmm…

      The other student in Monday’s class, a girl, came in with one layer fewer than I did (no leg warmers) 😀 It will be interesting to see what the bigger classes look like!

  2. Thanks for the callout. Meanwhile, I missed class for a side trip to Paris, where I saw part of an Anne-Terese van Keersmaker piece and realised only on the way out I’d missed the opportunity to take open class with her dancers by about an hour (the class started an hour earlier while I was looking at Anselm Kiefer paintings; I didn’t know about it until then). So this week we will be concentrating on exactly how to kick yourself in the arse.

    Interesting thought, though; this was the first performance I’ve seen since I’ve been dancing. The big idea was that they’d expanded one of their works to fit into the museum environment as an exhibit*, over a period of nine days. It showed; I saw a very familiar, Cunningham-y sequence, and then a whole lot of not much.

    Which made me think how weird it is that when you mark something complicated it feels like it will take a week to get through all that stuff. When you dance it, it feels timeless…hold on…that’s bullshit. Rather, time is mostly relevant as to whether you’re falling behind the count or running ahead of it. When you watch it, it’s over in a flash. You can burn through material way faster than you can describe it, learn it, or think it.

    *this is the modern equivalent of those preposterous 19th century plots bun heads love, right? here’s a unconvincing and frankly unreadable 10,000 word essay to explain why we’re standing stock still in this fucking *art gallery* in our smalls, getting cold. hey, it’s a grant application, a thesis, and you can shove it down your pants for warmth…or set it on fire.

    • You’re most welcome! FWIW, that note is getting a ton(ne) of mileage in my locale right now. I keep passing it along to everyone, and everyone keeps going, “OH! OMG! Yes, of course!” and making their tour-jetes a thousand times better.

      Next, this whole comment is awesome, and deserves its own blog entry and much more intelligent responses than I’m probably going to manage right now, but … yes! This! All of this!

      I have seen a couple of performances that had been similarly modified to fit a novel space, once or twice to excellent effects, more often to the same kind of end that you’ve described. That’s unfortunate, as you’d think we could manage to actually do something effective (OTOH, I suppose having or not having sufficient time to work in the space in question could be a critical factor).

      Sadly, the first formal piece of choreography I put together for two people had a similar problem — I choreographed it in pieces in my tiny living room, re-assembled it in the biggest studio at my ballet school, and was like, “WTF, why is everything so … spacey? Oh. Right.”

      But this!

      “When you dance it, it feels timeless…hold on…that’s bullshit. Rather, time is mostly relevant as to whether you’re falling behind the count or running ahead of it.”

      Yes! Yes! This, exactly. The experience of learning choreography is so often, “1, 2, pas-de-bourre, failli, shit, better catch up, shitshitshit! Damn! Now I’m ahead!” Without sufficient time to get the timings down, I suspect performing is much the same thing, only (one hopes) prettier.

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