Dorfman in his Come, and Back Again. Ian Douglas, Courtesy Dorfman
I hate asking for money. I am tired of feeling like we, as dance practitioners, are constantly begging for every morsel of sustenance. We are often seen as the poor stepchildren of the arts, usually thought of as having nothing tangible to sell.
Why do I dance? I have to—I need to. To heal. To feel.
My mom was ill (MS). I danced, at times frantically, to encourage her to take a step. Once after seeing me dance, she walked a few relatively pain-free paces before her body remembered she couldn’t. I love those moments of inspiring others to do what they didn’t think they could. I’ve also danced so many times for my dad, who was secretly a performance artist at heart. I dance for loss with joy. I dance until I can’t. I am alive. I feel lucky.
When I told my mom at age 8 that I wanted to open a dance studio, James Brown was my idol, Soul Train, my visual bible. But the courage to enroll in formal training eluded me until I was a college junior. Two years later, I was introduced to Martha Myers and the late Daniel Nagrin, my “dance parents,” through Connecticut College and the American Dance Festival. Thanks to Martha’s wild directives and Daniel’s bold knee drops in performance at age 63, I propelled myself through an MFA at CC and then on to New York City.
I have always been interested in grassroots movements and the rights of the disenfranchised. If I hadn’t become a dancer, I think I would have been a social worker or therapist. I believe in the healing power of art—and dance in particular. I see the body as a political and emotional force. I love using mine as an expressive power. There is too much normalcy and puritanism in our culture; dance artists need to shake things up and enable people to see other possibilities for their bodies and lives.
Much of what I do artistically has the intent of being somewhat subversive or underground or alternative. It’s a dissenting voice that I’m interested in. I believe that we need to see the world in different ways. We can’t get stale—that is death. I want to pleasantly challenge an audience to leave the theater changed in some way. “Invite and indict,” I say. My company does this by being fluid, honest, muscular, funny, risky and frisky, using my motto of “sweet non-irony.” Courage has now found me; we can dance our lives out loud!
I love people. In the last year alone, my company has led workshops from Tennessee to Tajikistan, Alabama to Armenia, with folks in mental health facilities and senior homes, with young dance professionals and sublimely mundane dance doubters. To get the whole world dancing is my form of kinetic diplomacy. A Soul Train line is one incredible universal language!