25 Prompts to Liberate Your Choreographic Practice

I’m a white choreographer based on the ancestral lands of the Ramaytush Ohlone people, otherwise known as San Francisco. My recent book, Shifting Cultural Power: Questions and Case Studies in Performance, imagines equity-based models in dance that decenter whiteness.

Writing about anti-racism work is a fraught endeavor because, as a white person, I’ll always have blind spots. For example, the book includes a list of “25 Practices for Decolonizing Dance (and finding your Poetic Nerve).” In retrospect, I should have used different language.

“Decolonize” has become a ubiquitous term because colonialism is everywhere. Colonial legacies exist not only outside of us, in sociopolitical power dynamics, but also in our bodies. Colonial legacies pervade dominant cultural notions of time, value, space and language.

But Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article “Decolonization is not a metaphor” criticizes use of the term in contexts other than the repatriation of Indigenous land, saying that decolonization “is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies.” Holding Tuck and Yang’s article in mind, I want to be more specific with my language when I talk about reorganizing the field to resist complicity with legacies of oppression. We can ask many questions that interrogate power and privilege in the field: How can we compose bodies in space and time without asserting power over those bodies? How can we resist monolithic meaning in dance? How do we disentangle authority from authorship? How can dancemaking be liberatory for everyone involved? How can we anchor dancemaking in authentic community and in trust? How can we dismantle white supremacy in the field? These questions are related to the important economic and political work of decolonization, but not synonymous with it.

“There’s value in putting ourselves in a destabilized space and listening for what comes next.”

Hope Mohr

Courtesy Mohr.

I want to talk about aligning choreographic practice with commitments to mutual liberation. This is necessarily both structural and personal work. We must reorganize the underpinnings of art practice: our organizations, agreements with collaborators and relationships in the studio. We must democratize arts leadership, demand equitable contracting, train arts workers in cultural competency, add Indigenous representation to boards and staff, center BIPOC artists in programming, honor Indigenous protocol by acknowledging Native land, and advocate for reparations for the displacement of Indigenous peoples.

And politics don’t stop at the studio door. How can we integrate political commitments into our dances, our bodies?

With this context in mind, I offer this revised list of prompts from Shifting Cultural Power: “25 Practices for Aligning Choreographic Practice with a Commitment to Mutual Liberation.”

  1. The space should not be white-dominated. Indigenous people and people of color should be fully integrated, engaged, empowered, acknowledged and respected in the cast, crew and artistic staff.
  2. Practice sustained listening.
  3. Encourage imperfection and doubt (yours and others).
  4. Slow down. Value pause. Waste time. Wander.
  5. Value pleasure.
  6. Invite excess, kitsch, camp, sentimentality and overmuchness.
  7. Orient the dance and its systems outward. Make in relationship. Make dance in the mess of the world.
  8. Allow the dancing to be invisible, ambiguous and illegible.
  9. There is no original, truest version of movement. Movement material is collectively owned and authored.
  10. Allow edges to be a part of the landscape of the dance. Refuse a fixed front.
  11. Be transparent about your needs and your fallibility as an artist. Be clear about the terms of the work with yourself and your collaborators. Name collaborative periods of work. Name when you need to author or edit.
  12. Acknowledge and credit sources of movement, both in the studio (“This is a phrase that Jane made.” “I pulled this idea off of YouTube.”) and in promotional materials (“This dance was co-created by…”).
  13. Allow for multiplicity: multiple voices, multiple variables, multiple vocabularies. Develop a vocabulary of inclusion sourced from multiple bodies. What does it mean to express authorship amidst multiplicity?
  14. Acknowledge and pay attention to how everyone in the room works at different processing speeds. Orient the process to different people’s sense of time.
  15. Explore what it might mean for the dance to be porous. What can you let into the space of the dance?
  16. Practice making without a show in mind. Hold the creative process lightly while still staying engaged,
    accountable and supportive of others in the space.
  17. Allow improvisation to take over the process. Maintain a state of radical uncertainty about what the dance might become.
  18. Allow for sustained movement research outside of the task of making. Find creative modes beyond composition and mimicry.
  19. Collaborate with people and places that destabilize and challenge authorship.
  20. Question your choices. Question instinctual preferences. Work with a palette you despise. Stay with an idea much longer than you think is appropriate.
  21. Invite other people’s emotional lives into the work.
  22. Invite other people to hijack the process.
  23. Practice financial transparency about artist pay, project budget and funding sources.
  24. Show up with no agenda. Work with what and who is in the room.
  25. Be vulnerable.

If I were to implement all of the above prompts, I might not end up making a dance at all. But there’s value in putting ourselves in a destabilized space and listening for what comes next. These are prompts for locating your political and poetic nerve. Poetic nerve does not necessarily mean surrendering authorship. It means going beyond yourself, and then back within again, and then again out past yourself, and so on, in a constant conversation between the dance and the world.

Doing the Work

These ideas are not mine. Throughout the vast and violent span of colonial history, dance artists, especially Native artists and artists of color, have been doing and continue to do this work. There’s Sydnie L. Mosley, advocating for liberation of dance pedagogy through practices such as acknowledging that “all dance forms are specific cultural practice and should be acknowledged and specifically named as such”; Mar Parrilla’s cultural exchange projects with Puerto Rico–based artists and members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe to explore colonial legacies; Emily Johnson, whose decolonization rider calls on presenter partners to commit to the “living process” of decolonization, including compliance with Indigenous Protocol, acknowledgment­ of host Nations in all press, and engagement with the Indigenous community. There are countless other examples.

Why am I, as a white person, even trying to talk about decolonization? Because for too long, Indigenous people and people of color have shouldered this work. In the words of feminist writer Judit Moschkovich, “it is not the duty of the oppressed to educate the oppressor.” White people must do this work too.

Q&A: What tools or tactics are you using in the studio to liberate your choreographic practice?

Randy Basso, Courtesy Herrera.

David Herrera, artistic director and choreographer for David Herrera Performance Company:

“I channel movement through emotional recall and muscle memory to return to a time when studio teachings did not dictate how I performed or danced. I swayed, gyrated, stomped, shook my hips, pranced and spun before I ever stepped into a modern dance class. Through this approach, I am actively shedding the heavily calloused, conditioned layers of white modern dance technique. It’s a slow and arduous process; a relearning of feeling, instinct and physicality. I aim to liberate myself from the burden of aesthetics that were not inherent to my cultural upbringing or my brown body.”

Deeksha Prakash, Courtesy Kambara.

Yayoi Kambara, dancer, choreographer, teacher and director of KAMBARA+:
“I dismantle systems of oppression, colonization and power by creating space to liberate our imaginations. I build artistic teams that value curiosity and mistakes. I confront my intentions behind each movement. Ballet is associated with whiteness, but it’s part of my training. When I’m making movement that twists, curves, quirks and springs, something from ballet often appears. I love a good à la seconde. But à la seconde has no inherent value. When à la seconde shows up in my choreography, it can be anything: honest, strong, vulnerable. No two bodies do it identically. Often I pause inside a ballet position and then fall out of it. Just as I consider the values behind my movement, my dances invite audiences to consider their own values.” —As told to Hope Mohr

The post 25 Prompts to Liberate Your Choreographic Practice appeared first on Dance Magazine.

Austin Goodwin Uses Humor to Tell It Like It Is

You caught us. We’re undeniably hooked on Austin Goodwin’s flair for hilarious honesty about the dance industry. In one of his wittiest Instagram videos, he asks his landlord if he can pay rent with “exposure,” since that’s the form of payment he often accepts from freelance jobs. “How many times have we heard ‘Look, there’s no money in this, but it’s going to be great exposure,’” he told Dance Magazine in a recent interview. “I mean, come on, no one’s going to watch this muffin commercial and want to book me for a Broadway show or a European tour. I need to pay my bills.”

We’ve all had those same hushed thoughts before, but this past year, Goodwin has brought them out into the open. Through short videos on his Instagram account—usually a close-up of him acting out two sides of an awkward conversation—he riffs on real-life dance situations and uses humor to offer relatable takes on auditions, creative processes and more. With a career spanning from Sleep No More to Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof and Netflix’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, the Juilliard-trained dancer certainly knows the ins and outs of the industry. And thousands of likes, shares and comments later, the laughs he provides have sparked important conversations and united the community in a much deeper purpose.

What was your personal inspiration to make these videos?

I think we’re in such a strange, wonderful and sometimes kind of awful industry that people don’t really understand. And I thought a way to help people understand, and also to help other dancers connect about the personal things we hold on to, was to make everyone laugh at it.

But there’s a larger conversation happening too, and I think the pandemic has allowed dancers to sit back and really look at their experiences and see the way we’re often treated. A lot of us have had our jobs literally ripped away from us, and if we’re freelancers, we’re left with no protection. I don’t always want to be hypercritical of the dance industry because I’m obviously a part of that community and it’s a community I love and have great respect for. But I think we’ve had an opportunity to look at the systems that are not working. And to look at our experiences with choreographers, with schools, with bodies…to see the way we fit ourselves into this mold that really is not healthy in some ways. It can be a relief to feel like “Oh, my god. I’ve done that. I’ve been there. That’s happened to me or that’s happened to someone that I know.”

In your ideal world, what changes do you hope these videos could bring about?

I hope people can start asking for things that would allow someone who pursues dance as a career to really have a livelihood without holding multiple jobs at the same time. We want to be able to start families and buy homes and pay off our student loans. I hope to have more support from the government, from each other. I want dancers to not be afraid to ask for what they deserve. What they really deserve. I think we so often dismiss it all because we really want the job. But you can want the job and also ask for the things you deserve as a human being.

For example, I hope to have a dialogue about dancers generating material and recognizing the creative contributions that they’re not given credit for. How can companies look at that process and pay their dancers accordingly? And if those pieces are then remounted elsewhere, how can royalties be implemented? Even if it’s just a small royalty. It’s still the act of doing it that shows care and respect.

Whenever I watch your videos, I can’t help but wonder what else is going on in the room around you at that moment.

It’s usually just my partner, Paul, sitting in the kitchen, watching me go off on a tangent.

But sometimes he’s the cameraman, and we often have to start over because he’ll just laugh hysterically to the point where we both end up in fits, unable to move on.

But that must be so therapeutic for you!

Oh, that’s a huge part of why I do it. Some of the videos are based on things I’ve really been through, and being able to find humor in them has been fun but also incredibly healing.

So how can humor help us stay grounded during difficult times?

Right now it’s scary. It’s emotional. Everyone is carrying around a lot of anxiety. There’s political turmoil, environmental distress. And everyone is having their own personal awakening, whether they’re talking about it or not. In this pandemic, we’ve been forced to look at ourselves straight on, and I think humor allows us to do that and to unite with other people in the process. Everything is funny in some way. It helps. It keeps us in check. Humor brings empathy. And at the end of the day, if you can find a way to laugh at it, you can get through it.

Check out a few of Austin’s greatest hits:

Dance process

Dance Auditions

Dance Auditions pt.2

When a dancer sees a doctor for a cold

Dancer interviews for a tech job

The post Austin Goodwin Uses Humor to Tell It Like It Is appeared first on Dance Magazine.

Find Your New Year’s Dance Resolution!

The new year is here, and that means it’s time for New Year’s resolutions, promises, and challenges to sweep across the world, and then be promptly forgotten by next month. At Fred Astaire Dance Studios, we believe in setting realistic, achievable goals that help you better yourself. To this end, we’ve compiled a short list of dance resolutions for you to try out in the New Year!


Try a new dance style!

Whether you are a fitness dance enthusiast coming off a history of hardcore Zumba classes, a new student just getting comfortable with the ballroom basics, or an experienced ballroom dance veteran with years of competition under your belt, there’s no better way to start the year off right than trying something new! Those salsa classes you’ve been unsure of? Sign up and give it a try! Did you see something cool online that inspired you? Ask your teacher about it! Even if the novelty fades quickly, the experience and perspective you can gain from stepping outside your comfort zone cannot be understated!


Meet new dance partner(s)!

In the spirit of new beginnings, connections, and ventures, try expanding your horizons by dancing with a new partner! Attending a social dance party at Fred Astaire Dance Studios is the perfect opportunity: Look for an acquaintance or new face, and ask if they’d like to give it a try! You just might find a new friend, partner, teacher, or student in that new face you extend a welcome arm to. Grow your dance family in 2022!


Take part in a performance or competition!

While we believe that dance is a worthwhile activity even when alone, it can become truly magical when you perform for an audience! The pressure of performance and competition drives dancers to perform at their peak, and helps the most dedicated find purpose and motivation through many hours of hard work and practice. Even if you are a new or shy dancer, it can be a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and truly experience the visceral experience 


Start a dance journal!

If you’re already a practiced, experienced dancer, try starting a dance journal! You can document things like progress and notes you’ve made during lessons, reflections on your current routines and steps, and even fun notes and reminders you get from other dancers about new steps to try or songs to check out! You’ll be amazed at the virtues of journaling your dance journey, and eventually you’ll have a treasured record of your growth as a dancer.


Hopefully, we’ve given you some ideas and inspiration to seize the new year and start dancing! We can’t wait to continue dancing with you in 2022, so make sure to schedule your lessons, eat well and take care of yourself, and come ready to make the world a more beautiful place!