Reflections on Fear and Longing…

Today’s post was sent to me by Janan Scott who is currently in her third year at Smith College. The story she is sharing comes in the form of a reflection written for a contact improvisation class. Contact Improvisation “is a dance form, originated by American choreographer Steve Paxton in 1972, based on the communication between two or more moving bodies that are in physical contact and their combined relationship to the physical laws that govern their motion—gravity, momentum, inertia”.  In other words, it is a form of dance that gets up close and personal! Janan’s words about her experience are deeply honest and heartfelt and reflects perfectly, I believe, how many of us feel when encountering a movement activity that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

Dance is challenging in that it requires us to become vulnerable with our most personal asset – our physical selves. But how much the brain, ego and psyche also play a part is unknown. (And don’t forget social conditioning…) To dance openly is to risk… and I wonder sometimes how our willing or unwillingness to enter into the dance is a reflection on our ability to really embrace all that life has to offer. Many of the conversations prompted by the creation of this blog have been on the subject of loving to dance, but fearing the perception of others.  Often times the nervousness of the mind overpowers the longing of the body. I am grateful to Janan for her honesty, her willingness to admit to the fear and uncomfortable feelings, for acknowledging the chatter of the mind and the risking of the body, and for sharing her words and experience with us all.

“My experience of the past week or so in class is characterized by a curious tension between excitement/satisfaction and anxiety, both of which have reared their heads recently, especially during last Tuesday’s Round Robin exercise.

            I left our round robbinning class feeling uncomfortable and very self-critical, for some reason I found myself completely paralyzed by the exercise and therefore only participated as an external observer. While the peripheral observer can still be an active/engaged participant, I think that in order to really benefit from the exercise one must find moments of entry into the circle and practice contact in this more performance-oriented way. However, it is precisely the performing aspect of the activity that put fear into my bones — I didn’t feel safe (even though rationally I know that we have established a relatively safe dynamic) and I actively didn’t want to leave the edge of the circle. This made me feel doubly self-conscious and uncomfortable, and for the length of the class I deliberated over whether to go in or stay on the edge. Each time I got close to going in, someone else beat me to it and I lost my nerve.

            I am sure that had I summoned the “courage” to venture out into the circle everything would have fallen into place and it would not have been the traumatic experience that I was anticipating, but I was somehow unable to make that step this time around. I felt intimidated by the seemingly effortless and fluid moments that transpired between the dancing couples, and was equally intimidated by the prospect of an audience. I hope that if we do this exercise again I will find a way to quiet the critical internal monologue that sometimes dominates my thoughts, and experience round robbinning as both observer and dancer.”

~ Janan Scott – November 2010


“So…Describe An Encounter…”

The first week of this new project/adventure has gone really well. The buzz about the project is growing, and where I have only received one “official” story in written form, I have had a lot of fabulous conversations in verbal form. (Hopefully they will end up on the blog in the near future because, believe me, there were some great stories!)  The biggest misconception that I have found so far when soliciting dance stories, is that most people think that they have to be “a dancer” in order to contribute. NOT TRUE DEAR READERS! Whereas I believe that each and every one of us ARE dancers (in one form or another), what I am truly looking for are stories of Dance Encounters.

Some of the words Webster’s uses to define ENCOUNTER are:


a : To meet (as a friend, adversary, or enemy)

b : To engage

: To come upon face-to-face

Some of the stories that I have been told this week have been about professional dance experiences, some have been about family memories, others contained moments of fear and embarrassment. But what each of them have in common are that they are moments where a dance or movement moment has been present. This is what I am interested in – that face-to-face meeting, engagement, memory, or encounter.  (In other words, ANY story that has even a small moment with dance or movement will do!) If you have a dance story or movement encounter that you would like to share, e-mail me at!

One of my favorite encounters with dance came when I had taken a job in Durham, North Carolina and was there with my mom looking for a place to live. We were exploring the beautiful gardens at Duke University and stumbled – literally – upon a performance taking place in the Japanese Pond at the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Japanese dancers Eiko and Koma were performing their site specific work River. The dance itself is like a meditation… containing long passages of movement that lull you into a trance and repeat as they slowly move downstream. This particular performance took place on a picture perfect late September evening.  So completely captivated by the beauty of the moment, the entire audience stayed seated on a hill, not wanting to leave for fear of breaking the spell into which we had all been completely drawn, until we could only see the movement in our memories – the movement and dancers having simply disappeared into the sunset…

Due to school system arts budget slashing, I never did move to Durham. But the memory of that unexpected encounter with beauty, nature, movement, and a collective state of enchantment on a warm fall evening is something I will carry with me forever.

For more about River and Eiko and Koma check out this link to their website : Eiko and Koma – River

At The Ballet…

This post (and FIRST collected dance story!) comes from my friend and neighbor Mike Ricigliano! Baltimoreans…you might know Ricig by his well known illustrations for the Baltimore Sun Paper and the Baltimore Orioles (See one of his creations at the bottom of the page…). Mike is married to a fabulous woman named Terri, and together they make one of the hippest couples in Charm City.

I have NO dancing abilities, and I try to avoid dancing whenever possible. But my wife, Terri is a fantastic dancer, and LOVES it. You can see her joy whenever shes on a dance floor….and I love WATCHING her dance. It comes so naturally to her…….

When Terri and I were first dating, I knew she enjoyed dancing. And, trying to impress her, I took her to the ballet in Buffalo  (even though, I personally, had very little interest). She loved it. But I was- lets say – bored… Until I noticed the gentleman’s head sitting directly in front of me.  It was bald…and rather large…it blocked out some of the stage. When I squinted my eyes, I noticed that the ballet dancers appeared to be dancing in one of his ears…and dancing out the other. This “shadow puppet action ” entertained me so much that I laughed out loud  (annoying those around me…), and kept me entertained throughout most of the evening. Later, I could honestly tell Terri I enjoyed the ballet!  I’ve since learned to appreciate the ballet (for real), but I’ll always remember my first ballet…and that guy’s huge head…

Mike Ricigliano

Calvin and Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do

Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do is the kind of experience that never leaves you. Ever… For one week each June, YMCA Camp Potawatami in Northern Indiana is transformed into a place where fun reigns, silliness is mandatory, and an escape from the real world is exactly what the doctor ordered – literally. Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do is no ordinary camp, and the kids who participate are no ordinary kids. They are children who have been diagnosed or treated for cancer.

I got involved through my friend and teaching partner Jeanne Imler. We had been teaching together at several other camps and were such a good team that she invited me into the CWWD family. For five years we taught dance and drama, instituted the morning music/breakfast dance jam, led spontaneous movement moments, created dramatic make believe personalities, and lived wildly without concern for the outside world. Some of my favorite dance memories came from these weeks, but the most treasured came from a boy named Calvin.

Calvin was the kind of kid that, when in his presence, you couldn’t help but laugh. He was always joking, acting silly or going out of his way to get you to crack up. It wasn’t that hard. At quite a young age he seemed to have discovered the secret to living – that it was a whole lot easier when laughing together. Most of all Calvin was a dancer. Man could he dance! His style was completely original…a mix of break dance, turning, hip hop, jogging in place, and classic jazz. As far as I know, other than his experiences with me, Calvin never had any formal dance training. He just started moving when the music started playing. And laughed the entire time. The end of class often found the entire group giggling from Calvin’s original moves and classic silly faces. I looked forward to his presence in my class each summer.

I believe that Calvin had leukemia and it had been in remission for quite some time. There was no reason to think that he wouldn’t continue on a healthy path. But sometimes good things come to an end. Calvin’s cancer returned and there wasn’t enough laughter in the world to save him. Camp came once again and I missed him the entire week. CWWD has a beautiful tradition of planting a tree in honor of those who are no longer with us and it was evident from the words and tears that I wasn’t the only one missing Calvin. Through all the years at camp I met Calvin’s family only briefly. Many times I thought about finding their address and writing them a note telling them about how much their son had touched my life. But time went by and I never followed through.

Fast forward a few years… On a snowy winter night my grandmother, who was visiting for Christmas, became very ill and needed to be admitted to the hospital. This was my Nana…and I was worried and scared. After a long wait, we were finally assigned to a curtained room where this lovely male nurse took charge. I noticed him looking at me and finally he came over and asked “Do I know you? You look so familiar.” I started going through the list – Fort Wayne Civic Theater, Fort Wayne Ballet, Historic Fort Wayne, FAME Camp, Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do. “That’s it!” he said. “Did you know my son Calvin?” I couldn’t believe it! Calvin’s Father was my Nana’s nurse. For the next half an hour we talked about Calvin, laughed about Calvin, and cried about Calvin. He told me that Calvin used to come home from camp and show him all of the new dance moves that he “learned” from me. (I take no credit…they were pure Calvin) And I finally got to tell him how much I adored his son and how Calvin taught me one of the most important lessons of all – to live, and dance, with joy.

Everybody Has A Dance Story…

So here I am…joining the blogging nation. Why you may ask? Because I am curious. Although my areas of curiosity are far and wide, there is one thing that has had me thinking for a while now. Dance. And not just ballet or modern or tap, but all forms of dance – from the traditional to the ridiculous, the playground to the performance stage, and everything in between. But more importantly, I want stories…your stories.

From 1998 to 2004, CBS news had a bi-weekly segment titled, Everybody Has a Story. Reporter Steve Hartman would travel to a randomly selected location, pick a name out of a phone book, and find out this person’s story. All because he was convinced that everybody has a story. And he wasn’t the only one. This series of television segments was based on a two decades old newspaper series in Idaho with a similar theme and process. Check out some of the CBS clips at the following link. Everybody Has A Story

So now it’s my turn… I want your dance stories. Because I am convinced that everyone has a dance story. Whether you are a viewer or a participant. Tell me about your dance experiences, your dance loves and hates, what you’ve done and what you’ve seen. How has a dance experience influenced or transformed your life? What does dance have to do with who you are – your identity? What is your dance ritual? What does dance do for you? What purpose does it serve in your life? How does the notion of dance make you feel? Scared…Intimidated…Joyful…Meditative…Spiritual… Does dance connect you to your culture? And especially memory…of a person…a place…or life experience.

For right now this adventure will live in this virtual world. I hope to share your stories with words, photos and video. I would eventually like to take to the road like Steve Hartman, but for the moment I will rely on Baltimore and the electronic road that leads to all of you. If you want to contribute, send me an e-mail at And what about my dance experiences? There will be some of those too. Let the adventure begin!