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  • How Can I Make You Notice Me?

    You ever have one of those moments that is so bizarre you think you are being filmed? Like the only way to give context to what you are experiencing is that someone is behind a camera orchestrating the insanity. You look around at the people witnessing the lunacy, and wonder if they too are perplexed, or if you the one who is mad for noticing the madness.

    I had one of those moments last weekend when I took a modern dance workshop about the art of performance. The teacher was a dancer whose career started in the 1960’s in New York City, and every stereotype you would assign to a dance teacher from 1960’s New York applied. She wasn’t a person as much as a character out of fiction, but at the same time, she was also a genius.

    Her hair traveled down to her knees as did her breasts in a hot pink leotard, but her beauty shone through any signs of aging. She would make sweeping statements like “the light of the stage supports the aura inside” and then face the window and lose herself in the moment for five whole minutes – oblivious to the passing of time. Then she would have us leave the room so we couldn’t see each other to perform for each other – which was as crazy as it was brilliant. This exercise was followed by another where each one of us would strike a pose in the center of the room while everyone else put their faces inches from your body to stare. We were asked to grab a pedestrian prop and oscillate between performing with it, and interacting with it as if no one was watching – but still while everyone was watching. Everything she did made no sense at all, and yet was totally profound.

    The question she asked that I can’t get out of my head is “what makes you look at one person and not another?” What draws you to someone when they are performing? What makes you notice them more than others?

    I think her inquiry was much more philosophical than practical. Although I will never have an exact answer, just asking the question is meaningful. My initial reaction was intention. The performer has to be really clear with their intention regarding what they want the audience to feel. Having good technique is of course important when it comes to any art form; yet it is not the totality of what makes something great. There has to be passion, substance, and belief behind what you are doing to truly stand out.

    I see a lot of talented mechanical dancers who can do things with their body that are unimaginable, yet they don’t project out into the audience. You are watching them dance, but it is as if they don’t care if you are there. Their energy is too internal, and they are not externalizing emotion. Sure there are times when someone could shut me out as the spectator of their work, but there has to be purpose behind it. Like they want me to feel left out for a reason. The person creating the art has to have vision behind what they are doing in order for me to connect to them.

    When I think to back to my own relationship to dance, I started really late, but my trajectory has taught me more about art than any class ever could. When I was 19 years old, I was in a state of rebellion and did not want to go to college. Considering both my parents were professors, very liberal, and gave me a lot of freedom – this was the best “fuck you” I could think of. Yet my not getting a higher education was a non-option unless I wanted to be disowned, so I filled out the common application and told my mom to send me wherever she wanted.

    I got into this school called Sarah Lawrence that was very artsy fartsy. When I arrived the first day I took one look around and was like “holy fuck get me out of here.” I called my mom and asked her why she sent me to The Lilith Fair for college, but she told me to stop being so ridiculous. I had gone to a really preppy high school where I had played sports all my life, and my artistic self had been only been expressed through doodling pictures of hearts with boy’s names inside. I had no idea how to fit in to this new environment. Everyone was supposed to take an art elective, and I had no artistic talent that I knew of.

    I started taking dance because there was no soccer team. I liked to go out dancing at the club and drink vodka, so I figured this was the next best thing. Forget the fact that I was surrounded by girls who had been doing plies their whole life, and felt like a fool. It was really humbling to suck, but I had to commit myself to something, and figured at least dance would help me avoid the Freshman 15.

    What I lacked in experience I made up for in enthusiasm. I would take extra classes in New York city every weekend, I would do summer programs, I would get to class early and leave late just so I could stretch more. I knew I wasn’t the best, but I was going to be the most dedicated.

    The dance teachers at my school probably were amused by my perseverance, but I don’t think they thought I had any real future in dance. I started too late, and that was that. My best dance friend Mika was another girl who also wasn’t a bun-head since birth, but who shared my undying dedication. Her and I spend all our time dancing, and even though we were not taken as seriously as the other girls who had the history we lacked, we still took each other and ourselves seriously.

    Fast forward 15 years and I saw Mika for the fist time in a decade at a hippy conference where I was teaching belly dance. Do you know what she is doing with her life and career? Dancing! She performs all the time, is a dance teacher, owned a studio, travels the world to do field work, got her masters in dance, and is now getting her PHD at UCLA in dance theory. Her love for dance made dance her life!

    From that first class that I took, I have been dancing 5 days a week since. I teach dance, perform, choreograph, and own a dance studio. The irony of this aspect of my life is that dance was something I always considered a hobby. I never expected it to be anything more than a creative outlet, so it was always fun, and life affirming. Yet it has become a really stable part of my current career. But as with my writing, which is what I WANT as my career more than anything in the whole fucking world, I am still struggling.

    I guess I have to admit that there something about the fact that I never had any specific agenda with dance beyond a devotional practice that has made it the most consistent part of my life.

    (My darling Mika…)

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    July 23, 2014 • Musings, Old School Stories, Working Mommy • Views: 1638

  • Clap for Me and I Will Clap for You

    Over the weekend I had a dance performance at my studio.  It was a hippy pagan fertility love fest celebrating the birth of spring set to the music of Led Zeppelin.  Yeah I know.  Kind of the best idea I ever had.

    Even though we had made the show 18+ because there was nudity, I thought this was something The Munch had so see.  I want to share art with The Munch because I feel like learning to appreciate the idea of someone pouring their hearts out for you to observe is an important practice.  Going to performances and participating in that energetic exchange are meaningful life experiences.  I feel like the earlier she gets exposed to creativity, the more likely she will honor and want to partake in the artistic process.  I am not saying I need The Munch to be an esoteric abstract artist who uses bat wings to paint herself in sparrow blood while chanting Rumi backwards to the sounds of humpback whales humping as an expression against materialism – but I want her to at least be able to appreciate those who do.

    I also thought it would be cool for The Munch to see my performance so it could contextualize why I spend all this time dancing.  I was a little nervous about how she would behave, so I thought I would explain to her what was going on before hand just to make sure we were on the same page.

    Toni: “Okay Munch, so tonight not only are you going to watch all of Mamma’s friends dance, but you are going to watch Mamma dance too.”

    Munch: “I wanna dance with you!”

    Toni: “Okay! You can! But today you have to watch Mamma dance and clap for her okay?”

    Munch: “And then when you are done I am going to dance and you clap for me.”

    Toni: “That sounds really fair.”

    As I was waiting to go on back stage, the announcer of the show was saying our names and our bios before each performance.  Now, when my partner Cyndal had emailed the other dancer and me asking for our information for the show, I had assumed Cyndal knew my bio and didn’t really need one from me.  So as a JOKE I said “oh and my bio is Toni Nagy once went on a plane and farted really loud.”  You know TO MAKE HER LAUGH.  As I was waiting in the wings to go on stage I hear “blah blah blah Erink Lovett Sherman yadda yadda director of Arts Fest… and Toni Nagy, who once went on a plane and farted really loud.”

    Toni: “Cyndal!! I was fucking joking about that!!!”

    Cyndal: “Ohhhhhhh it totally seemed like something you would say!”

    Toni: “Touché….

    When I went on stage I couldn’t stop giggling thinking how the audience must be wondering if I would once again would fart really loud, and if they would be able to hear it over the song.

    After my dance I went to sit with Munch for the last performance.  My friend Elise was doing a piece to “In the Light.” She came out draped in brown robes like a monk and honored the four corners north, south, east and west, with candles.  Then she disrobed and entered into a kiddie pool full of mud.  While Elise danced naked in the soil, the audience was invited to embed these seeds with hopes, dreams, wishes and love for mother earth and themselves, then blow the seeds onto Elise and into the pool.  I thought this was a really beautiful concept and The Munch and I sent up together to blow our seeds in.

    Munch: “Mamma, she is getting all dirty.”

    Toni: “Yeah, you are right.”

    Munch: “Her hair is getting dirty.”

    Toni: “It is.”

    Munch: “Is she going to wash it in the shower later?”

    Toni: “Yes Munch I am sure she is.”

    Munch: “But we don’t get to watch her get clean in the shower.  We only get to watch her get dirty.”

    After the performances we had a dance party and of course The Munch didn’t want to leave because it was her turn to dance and my turn to clap for her.

     

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