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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
Sweep

*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.

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