Why I Dance: Bill Evans
When Bill Evans dances, he fills the space with pleasure, release, and complex rhythms. His choreography embraces both tap and modern, and is open to other influences like classical Indian dance as well. He founded the Bill Evans Dance Company in 1975 in Salt Lake City, moved it to Seattle in 1976 and to Albuquerque in 1988, and it’s now based in western New York. The company has performed at the American Dance Festival, the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, and in all 50 states. He has choreographed more than 200 works, including 55 for his own company and 18 for Salt Lake City’s Repertory Dance Theatre. Known on the American College Dance Festival circuit as a wise and witty adjudicator, Evans is now distinguished professor of dance emeritus at the University of New Mexico and has been a visiting professor/guest artist at the College at Brockport since 2004. For his excellence in teaching, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from NDEO in 2005. He is currently preparing to celebrate, with his life and dance partner of 25 years Don Halquist, his 70th birthday at the College at Brockport in April, and in June at the North Fourth Art Center in Albuquerque.
I grew up in a small Utah farming town in the 1940s.When I was 3, I saw a Fred Astaire film at the Mormon ward house. Immediately, I started inventing my own dance steps. My parents refused to buy me tap shoes, so I held my older brother’s marbles under my toes to make noise. They finally relented and let me put taps on my Sunday shoes. When I was 8, my father enrolled me in a combination tap/ballet class taught by Charles Purrington, a retired vaudevillian hoofer. I spent hours a week making up dances to 78 rpm recordings by such artists as Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters and teaching them to my younger sister. We performed at church socials, weddings, every possible school function and on local television programs. The bullying I endured from redneck schoolmates was relentless and excruciating, but I knew that dance was my calling, and nothing could make me stop.
My spirit soared when I danced. I developed a vivid imagination and a profound love of motion and rhythm. I had been a lost little boy who didn’t fit in, but I was transformed by the process of creating and sharing sounds and movement. I became a fledgling artist able to connect to the universe through the infectious rhythms on those 78s and the approval I received from imaginary audiences. I discovered my way of being fully alive. I started teaching my own classes at age 13, choreographed my first evening-length production at 14, and opened my own studio at age 17.
I escaped to Salt Lake City (where I danced in many different capacities at the University of Utah), and then to New York, Chicago, Seattle, Albuquerque and the many other cities of the world where I have spent my life dancing. In my most recent physical, my doctor told me that I have the body of a 55-year old, even though I’ll turn 70 in April. I still dance every day and perform many times a year in solo concerts, company concerts or in productions at The College at Brockport, where I am a permanent guest artist. Through a multi-faceted career, I have experienced a healthy, diverse, and full existence that has allowed me to travel through all 50 states and to 22 other countries to share my work with people from all walks of life.
I still feel alive when performing to a degree I rarely experience at other times: I am fully present in body-mind and the moment; I feel vibrant in each cell of my body, every second of time; my senses of hearing and movement are exquisitely intense. I am transported to a compellingly harmonious world, and the endless and challenging work (teaching, directing, coaching, scheduling, selecting costumes, designing lights, coordinating with managers and technicians, marketing, raising money, watching my diet, staying in shape) seems well worth it.
For me, dance is primarily an activity of the human spirit. My personal regeneration practice is centered in daily sessions of Laban/Bartenieff–inspired modern dance and rhythm tap improvisations. I am nearly always in rehearsal for my next series of performances. Making dances and sharing them is a demanding but uplifting process. I find it wholly positive and life affirming. In these unsettling times, when media, corporations and politicians are manipulating us with appalling distortions of the truth, I value the absolute truth I find in the body moving more profoundly than ever. I do not regret a single day I spent dancing.
Photo by Jim Dusen, courtesy Evans