Dance Company Care-Package

I’ve been thinking about all of the things that I wish I had known when I decided to start a dance company nearly a decade ago.  Some of the things are hard earned life lessons about patience, persistence, and peer pressure.  But some of the things are simple material goods.  Herein I will share the things I didn’t know that I would need when making dances and producing dance concerts.  No sponsored product placements, just good old fashioned advice :)

1. Roll-On Body Adhesive.  Here at the Leopold Group, we refer to this essential as “butt glue.” It is wedgy-proofing for leotards and briefs and it’s water soluble. (So, # 1.5 would be baby wipes to remove said “butt glue” post performance, that is if you don’t want to affix yourself to your jeans.)  My favorite brand is Jobst It-Stays.

2. Banana-Savers. No surprise that rehearsal snacks are an essential.  While bananas are the perfect choice, they get smushed in your bag amongst shoes, sweaty sports bras, and laptops.  The solution is cheap and brilliant, the banana-saver, a banana shaped Tupperware of the gods!

3. Square Reader.  While this didn’t even exist when I started making dances as the Leopold Group, a square credit card reader (and corresponding Register app) is essential for box office ease and merchandise sales.  Buy the app and they will send you the square reader for free.  The future is here and being cash only is a sure fire way to scare away millennials.

4. A Legit Camera. This one is an investment, but dance is a visual art form and capturing high quality photo/video is vital.  Even most phones will take relatively high quality photo/video (as long as you take an oath to never post vertical video).  But I would recommend a basic DSLR camera to start understanding aperture, shutter speed, lighting, etc.  You can upgrade lenses as you get more experience and more funds.  It’s an incredibly important skill to cultivate, as content marketing is the way of the world.

5. 8th inch stereo cable. I carry this with me to every rehearsal and every performance and every class.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to a space and realized that there was no way to play my  music.  It’s cheap and small and lives in my backpack.

6. Thank You Cards. This is so simple, yet so integral in building and sustaining networks.  I try to send handwritten thank you notes to our collaborators whenever I can.  If it puts a smile on someone’s face and expresses gratitude, then I’m all for it. Plus, our cards are baby dance photos and that’s double the fun. BabyPhotoPostcardFront

7. Clothing Steamer. If you plan to do any traveling (even if it’s just from your house to the theater) get a steamer for costumes.  I am constantly surprised by how many domestic skills are required to run a dance company – sewing, laundering, and steaming costumes.

8. Amazon Prime Membership.  It costs $99/year and is worth every penny in 2-day shipping.  Amazon supplies me with most of the things on this list, plus gaffe tape, costume pieces, office supplies, and any number of odd show needs (including Christmas lights, red carpet runners, and extension cords).  And as an excellent procrastinator, the 2-day shipping has saved me countless times.

9. Elastikon. Elastikon is the answer to floor burns, under-foot rips, and blisters.  You hold the tape to a lighter to melt the adhesive slightly and then affix it right to the bottom of your foot (of course, do a thorough cleaning first).  The heat does burn for a quick second, but in a “hurts so good” kind of way.  This will allow you to dance barefoot without grimacing in pain and turning on open wounds.

10. Stamps.com. It’s like a post office, but from home!  You get a scale and you can print postage from home, without waiting in those awfully slow lines.  I use this for returning costume pieces (exchanging for other sizes), sending out LG shirts, and all sorts of fundraising mailers. It’s a huge time saver.

*BONUS ITEM* Pocket Projector. I must admit, I don’t actually own this one yet but it is next on my acquisition list.  This small, travel-able, high quality projector will help us review footage during rehearsal (without crowding around a computer screen or an iPhone, as we often use video to remember choreography).  In the future, it could even help us workshop choreography/videography collaborations (as opposed to creating the two separately and then integrating elements once we’re already in the theater).

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Towards an Ethics of the Digital Dance Company

It happened again today.  I was getting ready to post a link to an upcoming performance and I stopped myself.  Or, I was stopped.  My newsfeed was filled, as am I, with concern for and anger about Sandra Bland, a young black women found dead in her jail cell after being pulled over for a traffic violation.  As I scrolled through #JusticeforSandy, my impending dance company promotional post would be inflicting a violence all its own.  And so I remained silent, a silence made of privilege, concern, and confusion.

It is the very nature of many social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) that your feed is a disconcerting mixture of personal information from friends and family, political opinions, news of the day, viral videos, pop culture, and the ever-present cat meme.  With all of these disparate voices, how does a dance company live online responsibly?  How can I possibly promote a modern dance concert in a moment of crisis?  In those moments, can I ethically and sensitively share a ticket link and proclaim (exclamation points and all), “Come to my show!”  Am I naive to think that there are moments outside of this chaos, more appropriate for abstract (I’ll say it, elitist) modern dance sharing?  And then, when I really go down the rabbit hole, why dance now?

_MG_6898While there is no clear, succinct answer to these questions, I wanted to propose some initial do’s and don’t’s for the contemporary digital life of a dance company.  My hope is that this is an ongoing conversation.  My hope is that we can continue dancing through the chaos, while acknowledging it, and participating in change and advocacy (both online and in person) when and if possible.  My hope is to foster more sensitivity and awareness between my digital dance company and the current moment.  Content marketing is often lauded for its two-way directionality – not pushing information at the public, but rather engaging the public in a back and forth conversation.  Likewise, the digital dance company is a conversational platform and should respond to the world around it.  As ethical human beings, integrating online organizational imperatives like performance promotion, ticket sales, fundraising, etc. with the current socio-political moment should be on all of our minds.  With that said, here goes my first draft:

Read. While we all have different self-inflicted boundaries about expressing ourselves in public, the least you can do is read a lot.  Be aware of breaking news and trending topics. Don’t “post” into a vacuum.  The first step is knowledge, and then we work towards understanding.  My favorite mantra to this end:

“Listen, until listening is like breathing.  Then move.” – Dr. Jasmine Johnson

Be Flexible and Responsive. While many dance companies plan their social media posts for weeks ahead of time  (i.e. ticket link on Monday, rehearsal video on Tuesday, #tbt on Thursday, etc.), do your best to be flexible about changing the content and the timing if necessary. Automated posts are dangerous to this end.  Timing can be everything when sensitivity is the goal.

A Hashtag is Not A Solution. Posting your rehearsal photo and then adding in a socially relevant hashtag that has nothing to do with the rest of your post is a bad idea.  Don’t do it.

Dance is Made up of Dancers. Be sensitive to the online lives and lived experiences of your company members.  Be knowledgable about their personal, digital profiles when including them in your digital dance company.  Ask questions about how, when, and if they are willing to be included (tagged in photos, posts, writing blogs, etc.) in your digital dance company.

Don’t Only Show Up When You Need Something. If you only post when you have tickets for sale or are running a Kickstarter, you are abusing your online community.  Participate as a giver and a taker.  Comment, like, and share at will.  Understand the different modes of “urgency” that operate online.  Only 2 hours left to raise $2,000 is a privileged urgency.  Be ethical in tone, timing, and reach.  Give of dance (photos, videos, written thoughts) when you need nothing in return.

Silence is an Action.  Just as stillness is a dance, silence is a statement.  Be conscious of your quietude, as it is a choice.  As a private person, I struggle with this one on a daily basis.  But I know the internet is our primary communication tool, for better or worse, and we can all think about when, where, and how to speak up.

Don’t Fool Yourself that Dance is Apolitical. I could write a dissertation on this one (in fact, I know a ton of people who are).  In other words, we are all implicated in the systems that we operate within.  It is a life-long task to figure out how to participate tactically, but most of my favorite art is made from some level of conscious investment in the world around it.  Not sure how this point translates into utility, but this is only a draft after all so I’m allotted some level of incompleteness….

(Send me a message with edits and additions.  I have written and deleted blog posts like this many times, afraid of the triteness of the question, when there are always more pressing issues than the digital life of a dance company.  I publish this version, this time, because I have come to accept one simple thing. I make dances and write about dance for a living so it is worthwhile to ask how I can do this more responsibly and ethically. Please understand this blog as step 1.)

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Blood, Sweat, and Leotards

Emblazoned with our company crest, Leopold Group t-shirts have arrived!  Buy one. Wear one. Send us a picture.  You can look great and support our dance making all at once!Canvas_3413_Purple Triblend

Order them here:

SIZE: S, M, L, XL, XXL



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Silence

Please don’t mistake my digital silence for apathy. I’m not sure what Facebook is for. I thought I could get away, in life, with keeping my online life apolitical. With only posting about dance shows and rehearsals.

I know my “silence” is a privilege that I can no longer defend.

I know that I’m immersed in a system that silences minority voices and my chosen silence is oppressive and violent.

I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m not sure how to live online.

But I am trying to speak up – and not just when I need you to come to a dance show…

I am here. I am listening. I am learning how to speak.

We can’t breath.

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Whole and Full of Holes

We met visual artist Zoe Nelson at Peep Show in May of 2014.  She saw us dance and dreamed up the collaboration that we have just embarked upon.  Moral of that story – do lots of community cross-pollinating events!  I can’t tell you how many wonderful collaborators we have met at informal showings, works-in-progress events, and open rehearsals.  And on that note – this Sunday Nov. 9th at 2:30pm we have an open rehearsal and we can’t promise that there won’t be tears…

We will be sharing the space with Winifred Haun and Amanda Lower of Striding Lion Performance Group AND we will be introducing our new project with Zoe Nelson – an installation of art and dance asking questions about absence.

 photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

Zoe’s incredible paintings begin whole and end full of holes.  She creates these incredible, door-sized, colored, cut-outs.  Dreaming up a performative conversation between her pieces and our dancing, I had to create a choreographic structure that mirrored Zoe’s works, works that found completion in the poetics of their missing parts.  The negative space of these cut-outs left space for our dancing bodies, but how would our dancing bodies also leave space for Zoe’s pieces?

We have just begun, but the solution thus far has been beautiful, stressful, striking, and terrifying.  I have made a dance phrase and encouraged its demise.  Usually when we create a dance we do everything in our power to remember it – we videotape, take notes, help one another with forgotten steps.  This time, the phrase has holes and is still whole.  I taught it too quickly and won’t let the dancers review.  We perform it as it falls apart.  For the dancers of the Leopold Group today’s rehearsal was a breaking point – frustrating, exhausting, and confusing.  We like to call it ‘brain soup’ – when your mind can no longer retain choreography and you can’t keep up with your moving body.  Well, Cara announced today mid-rehearsal that her brain was a nice Minestrone and Amanda responded that all she had left was some broth and a few noodles.  I moved too quickly.  I taught steps out of order. I refused to answer questions.

There are indeed choreographic holes.  What’s left to-do is to convince these professional dancers that their performance is still whole.  The subjective memory slips – standing frozen because you don’t remember the next step or repeating the same jump three times hoping the subsequent step will magically reveal itself through muscle memory – feel like failures to my dancers.  The stutters and pauses, the stressed faces intensely, internally searching for the next move, the sudden and prolonged stillness is (in a sense) choreographed into the dance phrase.  It is not a failed performance to forget the steps.  But the feeling of failure was overwhelming.  Today it became clear that the cutting away at a canvas is less plagued by ego than the chipping away at memory.

We had to end rehearsal with a group hug, or rather cuddle.  We had to wipe away the tears (yes, tears) and remember that we are whole because of the holes.  Visibility and absence.  Identity and ego.  Like I often say, “dancing is hard.”  Today, not dancing was even harder.

 end of rehearsal catharsis

end of rehearsal catharsis

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The Technique of Technique

CaraBanner

In an email conversation a year ago with my good friend and fellow choreographer Winifred Haun, I made-up a modern dance class description.  Wini and I share a love for dance real-talk and were lamenting (or, rather, mocking) the endless class descriptions we read and were unable to explain – filled with flowery language that makes dance technique sound like an out-of-body cloud floating adventure, filled with academic jargon, rainbows, and across the floor combinations.  We were at a loss.  I wrote:

“Join Lizzie Leopold for dance class, wherein she will warm you up and then make-up movements that you will learn. It will likely be sweaty. Most of the time Lizzie will demonstrate badly, although musically, as she expects you to improve upon her ideas with your own physical expertise. Although Lizzie has studied lots of different dance techniques, her class is filled with her own personal preferences for no other reason than she likes them best – big plies, quick changes of direction, fifth position, falling over, and port-de-bras reminiscent of the back stroke. She would be lying if she didn’t admit that her class directly served her own choreography.”

It was a joke.  It is a joke.  But sitting down to write an actual description of my modern dance technique class (as I prepare to teach my fall classes at Northwestern University and open company class with the Leopold Group), I am plagued by the task.  Justifying the exercises I choose and the movements I string together is daunting, and forces me to think about what I am actually trying to teach. Steps? Ideas? Ideas through steps? Ideas about steps? Embodied ideas through steps?  Ideas about bodies doing steps?  This list could go on forever.

The goal is not for you to dance a certain way. The goal is for you to take control of your moving body.  Dance technique is an exploratory language. We are practicing together in order to make our bodies more legible and versatile, not to master individual steps or poses. It is about preparedness.

I am still slaving away at an actual class description.  There is so much context, historical and biological, to account for.  But in the meantime, here’s my favorite “class description” to date.  I think I will include it in my syllabus…

Written by Sister Corita Kent, a student of John Cage

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

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Don’t Mind the Man Behind the Curtain

I give you the newest Leopold Group set piece.    Can you guess what this is for and how it works?  This will be the wizard in the wings for our newest dance, Enter Elizabeth. 

Well, the real wizard is Rightech Fabrications who dreamed this up.  Adding this to the list of dance company collaborators – industrial designer/engineer.

Carpet Roller-3 copy

Design by Rightech Fabrications

Who wants a giant toilet paper roller?!  But really, can you figure out how this will work?  Stumped??  Better buy you tickets for the Harvest Dance Festival on Friday Sept. 26th and find out!

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Shark Week

DHS76_771_0

In honor of shark week, I wanted to answer the age old question – “What is your dissertation about?”  Well, in fact, it’s about a shark – a very specific two ton shark.

In 2004, British artist Damien Hirst sold a work entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991, pictured above) for $12 million. The work is a fifteen-foot tiger shark taxidermy, mounted as triptych in an enormous glass vitrine.  The shark sculpture floats in a greenish solution of formaldehyde, mouth wide open as if caught in mid-swim and mid-meal.

Actually, my dissertation is about contemporary dance licensing practices (hehe) and intersections of art-making and business structures. But it turns out the Hirst shark is my favorite referent for the entire conversation.

The shark fell apart, literally.  The solution got murky and the shark’s skin got wrinkled and green, and then a fin fell completely off.  The curators tried to help by pouring bleach into the tank, but..welp…that was not a great idea.  Eventually, the entire shark had to be skinned and the skin was stretched over a weighted fiberglass shark sculpture.   This didn’t look quite right so there was an entirely new shark caught and displayed (twice, at least).  Hirst, not trained in taxidermy, never touched any shark.  He directed its display.  Also, the shark is hard to move.  It’s big and heavy, as you can probably imagine.

So, dance licensing.  Dance is in a constant state of decay, steps lost through failures in memory and incomplete preservation technologies.  New bodies are constantly needed to keep the work visible.  The choreographer directs stagers and rehearsal assistants, but often never sees remountings first hand.  (It may not be taxidermy, but dance repeteurs certainly have a technical skill different from those who make the dances.)  And well, $12 MILLION DOLLARS FOR A SHARK, A GREEN MOLDY SHARK! To put it simply, ascribing monetary value to art can be bizarre.

I spend my days thinking about how the lessons of a $12 million stuffed shark help me understand the worth of choreographic commodities.  This is, of course, the short/simple answer, but…hey…you asked! Happy Shark Week!

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AOL INSTANT MESSAGE, APRIL FOOLS!

hat_logo_aim

Before she was Laura Vinci de Vanegas she was ‘phattyinatutu.’

The screen names that you thought the world had forgotten have resurfaced.  AIM handles instead of names today. Check out the artists’ page to see who named themself  ‘QTwitDaFlyyBootie.’

What was your AIM name?

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Stages of Staging

There are five stages of grief, ten stages of death, three stages of labor, and (I will argue) six stages of choreography.

1. The Conceptual Stage: Most of this stage occurs in the shower or the car.  In this stage I’m full of exciting ideas about colors, themes, titles – big overarching concepts.  This stage has no concern for budgets, schedules, or even gravity.  Wonderfully impossible things happen here.

2. The Sweaty Stage: This is the stage wherein I start making steps with my dancers.  At this point I have most likely lost sight of my conceptual day-dreaming and am just making movements.  It is at this point that I get preoccupied with innovation (trying to make a ‘cool’ step).  It’s a sweaty time but not always an artistically-driven one.  In its best iteration, this stage creates the language through which the work will be communicated.

3. The Crafting Stage: I now take the ‘steps’ and set them to music and in relation to one another.  At this point I’m usually feeling pretty good about what has emerged.  The dancers are beginning to take on the movement as their own, meanings begin to bubble to the surface, and all of that shower thinking starts to pay off.  It seems that Borat might explain this one best. “King of the castle. I have a chair. Go do this. Go do this.”

4. The Cleaning/Editing/Panicking/Polishing Stage: In this stage all of those fuzzy feelings disappear, making way for some hefty self-doubt.  You are too far along to go back; after all, the show must go on. The dancers have mastered the tasks you have given them and any short comings are wholly your own, as choreographer.  You make small changes, add costumes, add set pieces.  In this stage, I usually long for the simplicity of sweaty rehearsal clothes and dance studio settings.  The theatrical elements (lights, stages, make-up) always surprise me, even after a decade of this.  They always start out feeling false, artificial, creating an unnaturally distancing between me and my dance.  They feel vain… There is usually more shower-thinking in this stage.  For me, this is the scariest stage – and when successful, the most rewarding one.

5. The Performance Stage: Like Adele Dazeem tells us, this stage is about letting go.  In this stage, the dance is no longer solely yours.  Be selfless and let the dancers and the audience have their gift.  Step back and hope that all your hard work has manifest something worth thinking about.  And if it hasn’t, be grateful that you tried and then try again.  To the best of your ability, be honest with yourself about what worked and what didn’t work.  This stage is about watching, appreciating, and flowers.  Bring your dancers flowers.  But also this: you can point and laugh at a flower, but it will still bloom and grow and be beautiful.

6. The Recovery Stage: Nap. Read books. Go see other shows (dance and otherwise). Be a part of the community at large.  Make coffee dates with interesting people. Goto yoga. More naps. And pretty soon, without much thought, your morning shower will again be fully of ideas.

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