Special Issues » 2008 Fall Arts Preview

Dance, Dance, Revelation

Local artists tell us what it feels like

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When it comes to dance, we're all voyeurs. We love to watch. And audiences are selfish.

As we experience the pleasure of watching bodies move in time, we can easily, and naturally, forget that we're not alone in the experience. Poems, novels, and songs describe the art of dance, but usually from the viewer's perspective — what a kick symbolizes, what a sway suggests. But little is written about what it means to the artist, who dances even when you're not looking. Legendary Broadway choreographer Agnes De Mille once said, "To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful." But you're still in there somewhere, and, more likely than not, you're working your ass off. So what does it feel like?

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Ryan Becknell hip-hop dancing

It's a reaction, he says.

"When you hear a hot song, you react," says Ryan, who's been dancing for about five years.

"I find myself refining my movements in the strangest places. I'll be driving down the street, hear something, and just start popping. I'll be popping when I'm in a wheelchair."

"It seems superhuman, but it's so human," he says. "People want to move to music. People want to respond."

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Katherine Johns Argentine tango

It's a connection, she says.

The Argentine tango is most easily recognized for the two dancers pressing closely together. It's something that can leave the novice feeling a little uncomfortable. Once you're over that, it's about connection between dancers and how they respond to one another.

After falling in love with the tango, Katherine, of the Charleston Argentine Tango Society, had to do very little coaxing to get her boyfriend on the dance floor.

"He asked me what it was like," she says.

She grabbed him tightly and ran her foot up his ankle.

"He said, 'I'm in.'"

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Mary Austin belly dancing

It's a communion, she says.

When Mary is teaching at the Broadway Dance Academy, she's concentrating.

"I've got to really communicate with my body to do some things without doing other things," she says. "Having my arms moving slowly while my hips move faster — it's a real challenge."

But half of the work is on the audience.

"You're looking for that connection with the audience," she says. "That response. Not after the performance, but throughout the performance."

It's something that doesn't come naturally to western audiences.

"We learned that the hard way," Austin says. "We have to prepare the audience with the history and the culture of the particular dance."

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Kacey Douglas hoop dancing

It's an expression, she says.

"For a while you can get lost in the movement," says Kacey of Homespun Hoops.

There's nostalgia to it, but not like hula hoops from childhood.

"It's very stylistic — the circular movements up and down your body, encompassing your entire space. It's not just swinging the hoop around your waist."

It's for a good time, but it can also help release frustration.

"I'm not a runner," she says. "I don't have any other ways to de-stress.

"Hoop dancing is just the act of letting go. Just let it happen."

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Angela Agudo ballet

It's an appreciation, she says.

After about 15 years of ballet, Angela, of Robert Ivey Ballet, was injured in 2006 when her partner dropped her at a rehearsal for The Nutcracker. She wasn't able to dance for eight months.

"It made me appreciate it even more than before," she says. "I don't take anything for granted."

Ballet is a discipline that requires constant practice and relentless focus.

"When you're a dancer, that's what you do full time," she says. "You have to concentrate on what you're trying to say with your movement.

"When I'm not in the studio, I'm listening to music and thinking about how I can express the dance better."

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Sandra Wilson modern dance

It's a meditation, she says.

After a life in hip-hop, Sandra, of Sandra's Dance Production, decided she wanted to slow down a bit after the birth of her daughter.

"She came out and did this move, and I just busted out laughing," she says.

"I used to hip-hop more for the people watching. The crowd was like a natural high.

"But I'm a very private person with modern. I don't care if anyone is around."

Andy Cohen folk contra dancing

It's a computation, he says.

Andy, of Charleston Folk Contra Dance, is a problem solver in real life, so the pattern of the contra dance appeals to him.

"There's a beautiful geometry to it," he says of the lines and the movement from one partner to the next. "But it's not complicated. It's all an illusion.

"There's just a few steps repeated over and over again."

The dancer rarely does the same dance twice, so — from first-timer to seasoned veteran — everybody walks through the steps together all at once.

"And there's this wonderful feeling when you feel like you're getting the hang of it," Andy says. "Halfway through, you turn and there's a new partner you can do the dance with and get it right."

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