Every human being has a very personal relationship with their body.
Most of us rely on our body to be present in space for our careers: however, “presence” in the acting world has a slightly different meaning. When actors address their presence in a scene, we are discussing our “presence” holistically: Were we in character? Were we listening to our scene partner? Did we feel connected to our environment? How about our character’s emotional life.
These questions are essential in acting because if we are not feeling connected to our circumstances, we cannot perform from a place of truth. Unfortunately, for a long time, I neglected the physical extension of “presence”: movement. Before my acting training at the University of Texas at Austin, I would always get notes from my directors for my physicality on stage. I remember getting a reminder that my arms were extremely stiff during a scene where my character was experiencing emotional turmoil. As a result, I spent the first year of college speaking with acting faculty about a resolution. I would always tell them, “I don’t know what to do with my arms” This was technically true. However, I found this to be less than an accurate explanation of what I was experiencing. In reality, I was not truly connected to my circumstances. Therefore, my body wasn’t connected either. You’ve heard of “mind, body, and soul” which can be visually represented as a Venn diagram that formulates a person. This applies to acting also.
During college, I started taking movement courses. We studied multiple techniques including Pilates, Yoga, Clown, improvisation, and mask work. Most, if not all of these techniques, encourage you to lead on your impulses; to let your body speak for you. In these courses, I learned that our physical vessels are simply a continuation of our emotional expression as actors.
Furthermore, I have always been surrounded by dance. My work with Dance Waterloo and observing training dancers at UT makes this so. I have come to admire how a dancer’s brain and body collaborate seemingly effortlessly. There is an evident impulse in each and every dancer that I have seen work.
The impulse comes naturally to us from a young age. When we are children, we jump, scream, cry, speak our minds, and run when we want to. It is not until we are socialized by external influences such as our parents and environments that we are trained to no longer behave from impulse. This is often useful in specific settings– might it be professional or academic. However, it can hurt us in communication and everyday life. When you sit down on a bus, move if you think you’d be more comfortable at a window seat. If you want to take a picture of the skyline in public, do so. If your friend makes a hurtful joke, explain to them you’d prefer they didn’t again.
These ideologies apply to all performers and artists. However, they are useful for all backgrounds and bodies of work. When it is helpful to bludgeon our impulses and when is it not?
https://i1.wp.com/dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Screen-Shot-2019-07-31-at-8.03.03-PM.png?fit=826%2C459&ssl=1459826DanceWaterloohttps://dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/dance-waterloo-austin-logo.pngDanceWaterloo2019-08-01 01:23:182019-08-01 01:30:39Body of Work: An Actor’s Relationship to Movement
Site-specific art is artwork created to exist in a certain place. Typically, the artist takes the location into account while planning and creating the artwork.
Ok, now that we’ve got the literal definition covered, let’s dive into the “why” we do it for Dance Waterloo.
Our founder, Morgan Teel, discovered her love for site-specific dance out of the necessity for space during her final years at the University of Southern Mississippi. A tornado had destroyed their performing arts building. There was no longer a conventional stage space, but that didn’t mean art and movement couldn’t still be produced. It was merely another piece to the puzzle, another opportunity to discover, explore and push boundaries of where dance can and should be. It was this pushing of conventional boundaries that eventually led to Dance Waterloo.
“Off the Wall” was performed at the Heath Eiland & Morgan Moss BMX Skate Park in 2017
When Teel moved to Austin, one of her goals was to integrate bringing art and movement to the hands and feet of her new community. So it was, Dance Waterloo was created with a focus on Community, Collaboration, Education, all taking place in Public Space. This meant coming to places where people were already living their lives, and probably not searching for art; i.e., your local park, the deck of your favorite coffee shop, or under an overpass in your neighborhood.
Sometimes, but not always, the location includes a piece of visual art. The art might be permanent, temporary, or placed their specifically for our project. Whatever the case may be, it is never just a background element, but a crucial component to the performance as a whole, as is the location.
This typically means that the site of production is the first decision we make, with every creative decision following and being influenced by the advantages and challenges unique to that specific place.
A rehearsal for “Rule of Three” (2018) held at Mueller Lake Park. The art pictured is called “Geoscape” by local artist, Yareth Fernández
Personally, I have found that the challenges of site-specific work are what make it exciting. It encourages us to really open our eyes, and draw inspiration from the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the moment and draw upon it to create a movement within that moment. This leads to something so extraordinarily ordinary that it causes people to pause for a moment, or longer, and look at a familiar space with a new lens, and hopefully a greater appreciation.
The question that haunts (probably) every college senior. I was stuck between grad school and picking up everything and moving somewhere to dance professionally.
In February, I received my acceptance letter to graduate school. It was an amazing opportunity, but I didn’t feel excited. After trying to figure out why I felt this way, I resolved that it was just nerves and that I should go to grad school when I graduate. A week later, my senior class received a forwarded email from one of our professors. The email came from Morgan, “a department alum who has her own company in Austin, TX” (I had previously met Morgan over the phone for a project, and, of course our professors loved her and always used her as an example of success from our program). The email informed us of auditions Morgan would be holding for the company, Dance Waterloo.
She wanted to reach out to our senior class so we could have it on our radars. It was a paid gig, a year-long contract, with a legitimate non-profit professional modern dance company. WOW. I got a sinking feeling in my gut, similar to the one I felt when I was accepted to grad school, and I immediately started to question my decision. I knew I loved ATX already, and I knew I wasn’t 100% sure about grad school… so what do I do????
Four months later, I walked into my new apartment in Austin, TX. I knew no one, I had no job, and I had less than $2000 of scholarship money saved up. Luckily, I moved with one of my best friends, and I was now geographically closer to my parents than I had been in a few years.
Within one week, we had driven to Austin, looked at apartments, and then moved. There were days where I sat on the couch searching and applying for every single job on every single job site. I felt so anxious, thinking, “What if I can’t get a job? Would I have to live with my parents?” (I love them, but NO THANKS.) But within a month, I had a retail job.
Then I thought, “Am I ever going to be able to find a dance job here?” Within two months, I had a teaching job at a studio. And finally, I thought, “What if I don’t get into the company that is basically the reason I decided to move here?” But within three months, I did. Now, I am a manager at my retail job, I teach almost twenty dance classes a week, and I perform and teach for a professional dance company.
I was struggling to choose between comfort by going to graduate school or discomfort by moving to a new city where I knew no one and had no job prospects. The hope of auditioning and then maybe dancing for a professional company pushed me to choose the latter. I wanted to perform while I could… I can go back to school later, but it sure was scary picking up and moving so quickly with no ideas of what to do.
The thing is, none of this would have been possible without a community. In the beginning, it was my graduating class and our professors. They encouraged me to go with my gut and move to a new city. They believed in me and knew that I’d figure it all out. From there, I found comfort in my parents and now roommate, Katie, who dealt with my nerves and uncertainty with what I wanted and what I should do to make it happen. I then found a community within the studio where I teach.
The teachers, parents, and especially the kids embraced me wholeheartedly, and I feel like I’ve grown up there alongside these people. And finally, I found so much joy in the family that is Dance Waterloo. The women within this company are not only immensely talented, but they are kind, funny, and a blast to dance and create with. These people have helped me feel at home in this brand new and unfamiliar city.
I tell everyone that I think there’s some weird connection between all dancers, and it makes it easier for us to become friends. There’s something that we share that makes it feel like, no matter who you’re dancing with, you’ve danced with them your whole life, and from there you’re simply bonded. I’m still learning and figuring out this place, who I want to be, and what I want to do, but one thing’s for sure, and it’s that I know I have love and support from these people who have only known me for a few months.
It’s been about six months since I first walked into my new apartment in Austin, Texas. I wish I could tell college Noelle that there was never any reason to be nervous to move here like I did. It was just the beginning of an adventure.
https://i2.wp.com/dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Untitled-design-6.jpg?fit=1334%2C889&ssl=18891334DanceWaterloohttps://dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/dance-waterloo-austin-logo.pngDanceWaterloo2018-12-03 23:37:352018-12-04 18:06:00Now What with Noelle
I was supposed to write this post a month ago. I gave myself a deadline of April 9th, 2018. I am late because I am juggling a lot. As Artistic Director, I manage communications, grant writing, artistic projects, internship program and the dance education programming. I also work full-time in the College of Fine Arts at UT-Austin and part-time at Dancers Shape. I am also President of Emerging Arts Leaders of Austin. To top the cake, I begin obtaining my MFA in Dance in less than two months at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In between all of that, I fly home to Florida every two months to hug my family, volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas once a week, and try to maintain a social life. I love bubble baths while binge watching Forensic Files, working out, cooking, baking, hammocking, hiking and basically staying outside 24/7 when the temps are 75 degrees plus.
In the past month, I forgot to pick up thank you cards for Amplify Austin donors and I obviously have delayed writing this blog post. I have bailed on a couple of professional development events I should have been at but decided to take a nap instead. I have a load of laundry sitting on my bedroom floor that needs to be folded and put away but instead it is blending into the dirty clothes pile and I am starting to be unsure of which is which. I don’t have it all together all the time – or rather, any of the time but I do think I have set guidelines for myself to find work/life balance as a practicing artist and arts administrator that have worked well for me. Why is this a priority to me? I want to set myself up for a sustainable arts career and thriving life – one free of burn out in both areas.
If you are looking to find better ways to juggle work and life and/or avoid burnout, I hope you can find the guidelines I use helpful.
People over projects
I strongly offer this advice: Make time for people over your projects. Your projects will come and go but the people in your life will be with you forever. I am not saying all people – your stylist, cashier, or girl scout cookie dealer. I am saying YOUR people – the people that you need quality time or communication with in order to thrive as a person and as an arts professional. For me, that is my immediate family and about three close friends. I can promise you that you will feel more fulfilled and energized in your creative work when you make quality time for your people. Your relationships will feel richer as well.
Know how your personal needs affect your professional needs. Your personal needs will be entirely different than mine and they may even affect your creative practice differently than me. I will share mine as an example.
I need to communicate with and/or see my closest family and friends frequently. I find myself more focused in my artistic work when I am able to flush out my day and ask for advice when needed from my closest family and friends.
I need time outdoors (hiking, hammocking, being at the pool, etc.). I am able to approach my artistic work rejuvenated when I have been under the sun.
I need drive time. I have always found that I am able to think, process, reflect, and create better when I am behind the wheel than anywhere else. I purposefully live about 25 minutes away from work so I can have this time.
I need to cook/bake. It’s therapeutic to me. I also feel healthier. I also save money by cooking myself and therefore, can outsource expenses elsewhere for things that I do not have time to do.
If I am lacking in any of these areas, I find my artistic work suffers for it. I am less creative, less motivated, and actually feel more drained. Either way, we both need to acknowledge our personal needs and the effect they can have on our creative practice.
We often think that people are going to get hurt if we say no to them, but I find more often people are actually understanding and appreciate your honesty – in fact, they might even look up to you for it.
If you feel you need to say no to a potential obligation, that is enough of a reason. You do not have to reserve “no’s” for when you have other commitments solely. Saying no to an obligation can mean yes to yourself, your relationships, or your personal creative practice if you have been spending your time elsewhere.
Unless it is an emergency, I generally do not respond to emails after 5 PM (from any of my works) OR I read them but respond the next day. I also try to refrain from responding on the weekends if possible.
If I have company in town or if I am planning a trip, I notify everyone that I am “out-of-office” – even if I plan on working a bit so that no one is expecting anything from me.
Have many hats but only wear one at a time. I am the daughter of two real estate owners. I grew up around dinners of not just casual “here’s how my day went” talk, but actual work meetings. If boundaries are not set and met, at least within moderation, it can lead to burnout of either work or relationships – sometimes even both. When hanging socially with Dance Waterloo colleagues, I generally try to not bring up business. Small talk about DW is bound to happen, but if any of us needs to start pulling out a notepad and pen, that’s when it is time to save it for a meeting.
I hope you find these guidelines helpful in your quest to practice work/life balance in the arts. If you are an arts leader, I hope you will also encourage your employees to implement modes of work/life balance. We are not art making machines. We are humans with souls, desires, and goals both within our craft and out – both must be fostered. Dance Waterloo experiences a higher retention rate among hired artists when they are free and encouraged to communicate and implement modes of work/life balance.
Most importantly, keep in mind that your work/life balance will not always be a true equal balance of all your time – and it shouldn’t be! But setting boundaries, saying no when needed, prioritizing personal needs, and remembering to make time for your people over your projects can help you determine where your time should be spent and when.
https://i0.wp.com/dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Rehearsal.jpg?fit=1334%2C889&ssl=18891334Morganhttps://dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/dance-waterloo-austin-logo.pngMorgan2018-05-04 18:15:572018-05-04 18:49:10Finding Work/Life Balance as an Artist
I absolutely love how the arts community embraces “Talkback Sessions” and “Q&As.” Instead of keeping their process shrouded in mystery, many artists of all disciplines open the floor to questions from their patrons. And while this can be a great opportunity to get new insight into the work you just witnessed, as an audience member, asking questions can be daunting! It can be difficult to know where to begin, especially with regard to a work you’ve only just seen for the first time. In preparation for Dance Waterloo’s upcoming performance “THEREFORE,” in which there will be a Q & A after each performance, I am here to arm you with four different types of questions you can ask at any Q&A to sound like a pro and engage with the work in a deeper way!
This is your chance to learn a little bit more about the choreographer, artist, director, dancer, designer, musician, etc. You can very simply ask each of the artists present to talk about their background and how they got into this artistic field. In some cases, it can offer some insight into the work, but most importantly it helps you, the audience member, connect to the creators of the work you love so much!
Another simple question you can ask is in regards to the artist’s inspiration. When you see a piece of choreography, theater or another type of art, there is always some impetus that inspired its creation. Sometimes this will be briefly mentioned in the program, but more often than not, there is more there than meets the eye. Ask an artist what inspired the piece as a whole, or maybe even just one small part of it that you found particularly intriguing.
You could also ask what other artists past/present inspire them. Their answer may turn you onto new artists you hadn’t discovered on your own yet!
Some of the most interesting questions you can ask pertain to the artistic process. If you are reading this and feel totally lost by the phrase “artistic process,” don’t worry – you’re not alone! It’s easy to imagine that, for example, a choreographer just thinks up a piece in their heads and then tells the dancers what to do. And in some cases, that’s exactly what happens. But more often than not, developing choreography is a much more intricate process involving various choreographic tools and games. And that’s not just true for dance, but for all art forms. Everyone artist’s process is different and knowing how they got to the final product is enlightening to say the least. Below, I’ve listed some basic questions to get you started.
[To the creator (choreographer, writer, director, composer, etc.)] What was your process for developing this work? Is this how you always develop your work or was this a new process for you?
[To the performers] What was it like for you to be a part of that process? Have you done that before or was this a new experience?
[In regards to collaborations] Did one element of the show (lighting, music, movement, prose, etc.) come first or were they created simultaneously? How did that work?
How do you know when your work is finished?
What types of challenges did you encounter during your creative process? How did you handle those?
Are there specific challenges you face in live performance? How do you respond to those?
How long did it take to create this work? How does that compare to timelines for previous work?
[In regards to work that gets shown over and over again] How do the performers keep the work from feeling stale?
What is the most rewarding part of the process for you?
What do you do if you feel creatively blocked?
Nothing is more flattering to an artist than your interest in seeing more of their work! If you really loved what you saw, make sure you know where to catch them again. Ask the artist what upcoming projects they are working on. And then make sure to follow your favorite artists on social media/sign up for their newsletters so you can stay up-to-date on ticket sales, etc.
Keep in mind, these are all suggestions to get your started, not strict guidelines to follow without deviation. Just like any type of dialogue, an artist’s answer to one question may bring to mind a new question you couldn’t have anticipated! Just know that if an artist is hosting a Q&A, they WANT to talk about their work. THEREFORE(no pun intended – HA!), the only bad questions are the ones that go unasked!
I hope this gives you confidence to participate in the next Q&A you encounter, whether it’s with Dance Waterloo or another artist. Stay forever curious! 🙂
https://i2.wp.com/dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/DSC_0092-3.jpg?fit=6000%2C4000&ssl=140006000Morganhttps://dancewaterloo.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/dance-waterloo-austin-logo.pngMorgan2018-04-16 19:01:522018-04-16 19:25:02What To Ask At An Artist Q&A
The mission of Dance Waterloo is to cultivate, create and perform interdisciplinary methods of dance for the community through education, collaboration and the use of public space.
Dance Waterloo is a sponsored project of the Austin Creative Alliance. Visit Austin at NowPlayingAustin.com This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.