Why I Dance: ODC's Josie G. Sadan
I sat recently in the former prison library on Alcatraz Island. A man carrying a champagne flute and a smartphone walked down the adjacent corridor and called through the bars, “Are you dancing?"
I was there as part of a movement installation for the opening of an exhibit by the artist Ai Weiwei. I wasn't, in that moment, dancing. The bare room served as a backstage. Even when I moved down the long hallways, however, the environment felt at odds with dancing.
Sadan at Alcatraz, courtesy ODC
For me, dancing almost always has some thread of joy. It takes physical ideas (the foot goes here, the arm goes there) and through the prisms of dancer and choreographer, turns them into something beautifully abstract. Or, refracting in the other direction, it takes something abstract and makes it human, grounded in flesh and physics and atoms.
This structure on Alcatraz, meanwhile, was designed to block the abundant beauty that surrounds the island. It left little room for joy. And while the “rules" of dance technique are a framework to play within or interpret in new ways, this institution was intended to bring order to inmates who failed to follow rules in other prisons. It was hardly a place for prisms.
Growing up in a musical family, I gleaned from family stories the idea that dance can be a passport to experience worlds and a language to share them. One of my grandmothers traveled the world as a young woman, picking up dance techniques and traditions even as she began to go blind. When her vision faltered, she still had rhythm and music and movement.
Today, there are moments while dancing when I feel like my most complete self. The part of me that enjoys puzzles and demands logic; the part that likes to feel athletic and simply must move; the part that wants to create something larger than myself—once in a while, these parts get to work in harmony.
Of course, the day-to-day of dance is often simple labor. You have to do the thing, over and over again, to figure it out. This forces you to see your weaknesses, but it also delivers small victories. I remember one of my early ballet teachers telling a class, “You always come back to the barre." Whatever life or a choreographer throws at you, the barre is there; pliés are predictable. The form and structure offer something to map your growth against. And embedded in this discipline, in the constant, subtle choices about phrasing and physicality, is the pursuit of an essential clarity of thought, which I love.
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.