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Reflections on Why Dancers Should Take Dance Class


by Chrysta Brown for The Dance Journal

Because I can always find something “important” to do when I’ve got a deadline breathing over my shoulder, it can be no surprise that though I intended to do work, color-coding my calendar was something I needed to do first.  I chose red for school assignments, orange for the dance classes I teach, yellow for the classes I could take, and so on.  When I finished, my calendar looked like a rainbow, but since blue, indigo, and violet are similar, I swapped the latter for an ironic shade of gray that made my day-to-day life look like a rainbow during a storm.  I thought about how tired I would be over the next few months.   During some of my college rehearsals, the choreographer, Donald McKayle, would have us say, “I ain’t got no time for tired.”  He was right.  I look at my calendar again.  He was so right.

One of the colored blocks in my schedule belongs to a Graham class at Take the Lead Dance Studio.   Except for a few yoga classes where I was told not to worry about pointing my feet, a correction that still makes my eye twitch, I hadn’t taken a class, Graham or otherwise, in a while.  Nervous and self-conscious, I sat in the back of the studio and crossed my legs.  The instructor walked to my corner and told me her name was Evelien Schut.  “Have you ever taken Graham before?” she asked.

“A little in college,” I shrugged, afraid to own up to the four years I’d spent obsessing over the technique.  College seemed like decades away, and I wasn’t confident that I remembered how to be a Graham dancer.

She walked to the front of the studio and sat so the bottoms of her feet touched.  She opened her legs into a straddle, and brought them in front of her. “We’re going to do the bounces in all three positions,” she said. She motioned towards the other students in the class, a barefoot group of calm and focused adult dancers in t-shirts and yoga pants. “You can follow these guys if you need to.”  Truthfully, I wouldn’t know what I needed to do until the “and” count before the “one.”  I brought the soles of my feet together like hands preparing to pray, and waited.

As anyone who loves dancing enough to make a career of it knows, dance is an addiction, and a demanding one. Working as a dancer often requires multiple jobs, some side projects, and a lot of ideas. I am busy, sometimes blissfully so, and sometimes not so much, but busy regardless.  That just seems like an efficient way of saying that I’m stressed, behind schedule, sore, full of self-doubt, and tired.  Sometimes I think about those feelings more than I think about dancing.

“Five, and six, and ready to go,” Evelien counted.  Something magical happened then.  It was something like a rainbow on a rainy day, which is the best time to see rainbows.    Only then can they remind you that storms are no match for color, light, and beauty.  My spine lifted, and the top of the musical measure manifested itself into the contraction I was so certain I had forgotten.

In her autobiography, Blood Memory, Martha Graham introduces herself by saying, “I am a dancer.”   It felt good to get lost in her technique, the spirals, contractions, the intimate conversations between music and movement, and to be reminded of why I do any of the other stuff.  Sure, I have to pay rent, and build my resume, and network, and all of that, but mostly I just love dancing.  Once my body remembered that, so did I.

I’ll probably need that reminder again soon, but that is part of what a dancer accomplishes in class, and why we, as hustling professionals, should make time to take them.  We have responsibilities and obligations to our friends, families, employers, and to ourselves.   We are busy, but more importantly, we are dancers, and it does us well to be reminded of that.

Graham Technique based Contemporary Class with Evelien Schut
Mondays from 7:30pm – 9:00pm
Take The Lead Dance Studio, 4701 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19143

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- Chrysta Brown

Pennsylvania native, Chrysta Brown, is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts where she studied dance and writing. She graduated with honors from Southern Methodist University where she earned a BFA in Dance Performance, and a minor in Human Rights Education. She has worked professionally as a dancer, choreographer, and writer in Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, and Philadelphia, PA. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing, and working as a children’s ballet instructor.

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