Resilience: Doing What You Love No Matter What

8/2/20 3 minute read

Hi everyone. This week I completed my JUNTOS Ambassador Project, which has been almost 10 months in the making. My Ambassadors and I have navigated numerous challengers, making space for adjustments, new ideas, roadblocks, and then of course the pandemic. I can’t say enough how much I admire the resilience of my teammates as we grew from each new challenge together.

Now that I am on the other side of my project, I can’t believe it’s done. There are exit interviews and a few loose ends, but as far as teaching goes, I’m finished. Genuinely I never thought this day would come. I want to take some time to share what I’ve learned and discovered not in the last 10 months (there is still some processing and reflecting to be done), but more specifically the last two weeks. Last week was Session B at Uptown Arts Summer Camp, which meant that I had the pleasure of teaching 6 rambunctious 7 and 8 year olds for two weeks.

One thing I immediately remembered on my first day of teaching is that 7 and 8-year-olds have an unlimited source of energy, even at 10am. We only had 4 classes, so I wanted to make the most of our time together. Everyone was so excited about learning, enthusiastically showing off plies and leg swings, playing up the difficulty of poses so they would dramatically fall over and make everyone laugh. One of the main goals of the class was to help students understand how they can create a movement to share, a truncated version of my goals with the 13-year-olds. We did this mostly through the imagery of animals and natural elements. I’ve been casually watching Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix, so I’m not going to lie and say that didn’t have some influence on my decision. Luckily, a few of the kids love Avatar, so the word association worked in our favor. As we moved along in classes, we began memorizing the movement we created and teaching it to the other students.

Like last time, it was great to take a step back and watch each student’s creativity shine. One student decided to combine “earth” with “zombie” to make a single movement centered around zombies coming out of the ground. Another combined “water” and “fish,” while others went in the more abstract direction and combined “air” and “puppy.” Whatever the combination was, the students always surprised me by thinking outside the box in their interpretation of these keywords.

As I mentioned before, I really wasn’t sure how my Ambassador Project was going to play out. I knew I would finish the project and accomplish my goals (to use dance as a tool for collaboration and self-expression), but up until I got the call from People’s Theatre Project asking me to teach classes over Zoom, I had no idea how I would reach that goal. Part of me figured that because of the pandemic, no kid would want to spend time on Zoom dancing. What I quickly discovered was of course the complete opposite. All of the students dove head first into the material and were all genuinely excited to be there, always ready to start dancing around and going the extra mile with my prompts and exercises. It was really exciting to see this joy, and it points to the resilience we all have in difficult times. We can still find things we love and be around people we love, even if it’s through a computer screen. While I cannot minimize the devastating toll of the pandemic or the sense of urgency for social and climate justice, we all nonetheless deserve to do things that we love. In my mind, that is what resilience is. It’s fighting for what we believe in and taking each obstacle in stride, but it’s also not letting anyone or anything take away the things that bring us joy and make us connected.

I believe that the dance community is resilient by nature. A field as unstable and underfunded as ours requires members who are willing to fight back and stand up for what is right on a daily basis. In the same way, we are resilient because we do what we love every single day, and we don’t let anyone tell us that we can’t. We may not be in studios, we may not be on stage, we may not even have a countertop that effectively doubles as a barre. But we do have our artistry, and we have our community, and we have the internet. I believe that we’re going to be okay eventually, so long as we keep building each other up and supporting each other in any way that we can.

It takes a lot of work to be resilient, but as the kids at Uptown Arts Summer Camp have shown me, sometimes the work is as simple as turning on some music and moving like the wind for a bit.

Thanks for hearing what I have to say today. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please, comment, reply, DM, whatever, with your thoughts on resilience as is pertains to your world, industry, or life. I’d love to get a conversation going! Come back next week for my next post, and follow me on social media to stay up to date on new projects and collaborations!

Collaboration: Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

Last week I finished up working with my 13 year olds at Uptown Arts Summer Camp. This week I started working with my 7 and 8 year olds, but I want to talk about how incredible this group of kids were. We only knew each other for two weeks, but I feel so lucky to have gotten to know them all.

When I last posted, the students I was working with were just starting to explore improvisation and choreography with me. Some of them had danced before and all of them were artistically inclined, but often when we danced some of them would turn off the camera. I’ve been in a dance class and wanted to turn off my camera as well, so I didn’t press anyone who chose to do so. By the end of the week, every student had blossomed and opened up to me and their classmates. Every day they would have two to three other art classes, finishing off the day with our dance class. After our daily warmup and technique, we’d move into choreography where we were building a two-minute piece together. We started by thinking of words related to action words like “stretch, shrink, throw, gather.” Then we moved into working with objects around our room. My favorite exercise was based on poems. Each student came to class one day with a poem they liked and read it to the class. Some were from their favorite poem book (most notably, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”), and some even wrote the poem themselves. Each student went away after we shared and came up with one movement that represented the feeling the poem gave them. It was incredible to see what the students came up with. By this time most of them were comfortable sharing their creation and also giving suggestions, so they were the ones who found the transitions between steps and adding turns, level changes, and extra gestures. It was great to take a step back and let them teach their step to the rest of the class, answering questions, and giving detailed clarifications.

The time we spent together getting to know each other and building trust was imperative for creating a strong group that could work together towards a common goal. In opening the creative process to everyone, each student was able to shine and express themselves in their own ways.

I used to always dislike group projects. In my mind, I could do the work better than everyone combined. But in recent years and especially now, I realize how flawed that type of thinking is. The overarching program of Uptown Arts Summer Camp is a collaboration, and I am working with People’s Theatre Project as a collaboration between myself, JUNTOS, and Fordham. When we combine resources and work together, our outcomes are more inclusive, more definitive, better executed, and more successful.

At the end of my time with the 13-year-olds at camp, we had successfully created a two-minute piece complete with staging, musicality, and dynamics. Right now when every person, school, and industry is struggling, we have to combine resources instead of hoarding them, open ourselves up to discussion instead of thinking we can do things on our own. Maybe we can, but that doesn’t mean we need to try to accomplish everything on our own.

Click below if you would like to watch the final product, and be sure to follow myself and JUNTOSCollective on social media to stay up to date on the project!

Pivoting: Knowing How and When to Shift

My first week at Uptown Arts Summer Camp has been an incredible exploration and I am so excited to be working with these awesome kids. I went into the first day of classes not sure what to expect, and the talent and enthusiasm I was met with blew me away. My class of six students is comprised of intelligent, thoughtful, and engaged learners who are willing to jump into the unknown with me as we build our classes together. My dance classes are centered around self expression and collaboration, and already I can see every student bringing something to the table, whether it be a reflection, a poem, or a suggestion. On the first day we talked about our goals and how we are feeling at the beginning of this exploration. A few of the students were apprehensive, and a few were really excited to learn a new skill. A few were on the fence, but everyone was willing to try out what I had to offer, and as they grew more comfortable we started sharing what parts of technique and choreography make us feel strong and which parts make us feel apprehensive.

Each student has time during our checkins at the beginning and end of our classes to talk about what is working and what is not. This helps me understand where they are at instead of just guessing. Especially with the absence of being in one room together, I can’t guess how everyone is feeling based on their body language, so having open discussions is vital. I am able to adapt to what the class needed and they were willing to adapt my instruction to fit their circumstances (whether it be not having enough room to do a step full out or not being able to turn the video on).

The dance community has proven its ability to adapt to difficult circumstances for survival. Musicals are being produced over TikTok. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had an online gala and graduation event. Jacob’s Pillow has an online summer program open to the public. Hamilton is on Disney+. While we are struggling to make it work, we are learning how to share and create art in new ways. One way JUNTOS is adapting is by holding a virtual weekend of classes, workshops, and talks. I am excited to be teaching at Adleas Infantiles, a foster center in Guatemala City. We will be using online video platforms to teach, and I am so excited to meet everyone there. You can find more information about the upcoming weekend here!

This first week of classes proved once again how learning and adapting while listening to others is the most important thing we can do for each other, especially during times of change. It feels so important to listen to and validate others. It makes our world better, and being open to change is one of the most valuable skills I have learned during my time with JUNTOS.

Turning on a Dime

When I joined JUNTOS and went to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2019, I had no idea how impactful the trip would be. The week in Oaxaca dancing and performing for communities around the city changed the way I view concert dance and teamwork, and forced me far outside my comfort zone. I firmly believe that I would not be the dancer, student, or coworker I am today if it was not for those nine days in Oaxaca. A year and a half later, I carry with pride the JUNTOS mission to cultivate unity through dance. While on my journey as a JUNTOS Ambassador I am so grateful for everyone who has supported me, whether it be through mentoring, guidance, financial support, or emotional support. So first of all, thank you thank you thank you!

In early March with the reality of COVId-19 setting in, my fellow Ambassadors and I found our projects on-hold indefinitely. The organization I was supposed to work with in New York City had to cancel their in-person summer programing, and many ideas were bounced around. Should we hold Zoom dance classes? Will I be able to teach in the fall? What if students (rightfully so) feel uncomfortable dancing on screen? How do we teach dance technique without in person connection, especially when everyone has about 5 square feet of space to dance in. As every aspect of our daily life is called into question, it often feels that more questions are being asked than answered. I am inspired and in awe of the resilience my teammates have displayed in the face of all this change. Amy, our leader, helped us find backup plans almost immediately, and no one missed a beat in figuring out how we can reach our goals in a rapidly changing world.

I am excited to announce that starting this week I will be documenting my experience with People’s Theatre Project and Uptown Arts Summer Camp, a collaboration made possible in part by generous donors and Fordham University’s Summer Research Grant program.

Without my experience in JUNTOS, I don’t think I would have been able to transition my plan as smoothly as I did. The entire dance community has adjusted almost at once to online platforms, offering donation based classes and presenting work to keep people inspired and artistically charged. It is vital to note that when the world seemed to be collapsing, people turned to creativity and entertainment for comfort and stability. We as artists bring comfort and meaning to those who need it. We listen to each other, mourn together, and then heal together. It is vital to listen to each other now more than ever, to share and really hear the other person. My hope is that by documenting this collaborative experience and sharing my past JUNTOS experiences, people will be empowered to look at their own interactions, both within and beyond the dance world, and reflect on their worldview. My worldview, although by all intents and purposes, is liberal, is also tainted with implicit biases. I work every day to challenge those biases, and encourage anyone reading this post to resolve to do the same every chance they get.

For the next six weeks I will be uploading a post highlighting a quality I have explored during my time with JUNTOS and reflect on how it affects our world in a time of such radical change and uncertainty in the hopes of encouraging others to reflect on their own experiences and be inspired to bring about change.

I hope you join me on this journey and consider sharing this post with someone you feel it would resonate with. Keep an eye on your inbox for my next post!