Beyond Taboos: What Dancing In Tunisia Taught Me
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
The country stole my heart: It's beautiful. Sitting right on the Mediterranean, Tunisia is 99 percent Muslim and was the birthplace of the Arab Spring six years ago. Since the revolution (in which many of the people we met had participated), there has been a big opening for cultural advancements, including dance.
I was intrigued. I knew I had to return one day.
So I did. I was able to quickly secure support from the US Embassy in Tunis, DanceMotion USA, American Dance Abroad and our local community for my own troupe, Schoen Movement Company, to work in Tunis for just over two weeks in October. We taught public classes in the morning and rehearsed in the afternoons on a new piece with three women from my company, one Tunisian woman and four Tunisian men.
I met these five Tunisians during the Keigwin + Company workshop. Interestingly, the men primarily identify as hip hop dancers—it was through hip hop that they discovered a love of movement, and then went on to study contemporary.
The diversity in training presented both a challenge and an opportunity. These men had a unique skillset to pull from, but didn't have the same instinct for contemporary, so we were teaching each other throughout the process. Our piece felt like a good blend of our distinct voices. So far, people from 39 countries have viewed DanceMotion USA's livestream video of our final performance.
The connection we made with the Tunisian dancers went way beyond dancing. Not only did we get to work together in the studio, but we got to really know them. We had them over to our apartment for pizza, they took us to a hip hop party with their crew "The Illest Looserz."
Monam Khemis "Big Smile" said very little but danced very big. Mohamed Ali Cherif "Legz" was always cracking jokes and serving drama in his dancing. Houcem Bouakroucha "Coach" was the self-appointed director of the Tunisians, making smart choreographic tweaks on the side, and Kais Harbaoui's eagerness for learning was a reflection of the goodness of his being. Our main girl Cyrinne Douss, was our shepherd throughout the residency and was our Tunisian contemporary anchor from a dance perspective.
(L to R) Britney Kerr, Cyrinne Douss, Houcem Bouakroucha, Kacie Boblitt, Emily Schoen, Kais Harbaoui, Mohamed Ali Cherif, Monam Khemis
At no point did I ever feel uncomfortable being an American woman and being the director in this culture. After two intense weeks together, I consider these five people close friends. And what a joy it is to be deeply connected to individuals across the world! It's grounding, and makes the world feel more understandable.
I hope one day to bring my Tunisian cast to the U.S. I think this particular international mix is unique: It's a collaboration between the dance epicenter New York City and the dance unknown Tunis, and a partnership with American women in a Muslim country. These types of international alliances have a taboo feeling right now. But the amount of interest this exchange has generated tells me that we are all hungry for this type of experience.
We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.
But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?
"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."
For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.
There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.
Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.
The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.
You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.
1. Master the Basics
When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.
Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.
You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.
In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.
I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?
—Injured Rockette, New York, NY
Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."
But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.
Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.