The Language of Dance

Andrea Daniel
By Andrea Daniel

I have been a dance lover since childhood — making sure to attend performances by major troupes during their annual stops in Detroit and often writing about dance as a freelance writer. But that has been the extent of my dance involvement since participating in Advanced Dance Class in college. And then I received an invitation to the free ArtLabJ event “Moving with Detroit,” supported by CultureSource and IXITI.com.

Now, some events you attend knowing what will greet you. You know your agenda, and you have your game plan going in, particularly if you’re to write about it.

Then there are the other events, those you walk into knowing you must have an open mind; you don’t quite know what you’ll get out of it. The “Moving with Detroit” description was pretty clear and set my expectations. The invite said:

The goal is to promote dance and movement events and encourage people to see, talk about and experience dance in Detroit. … The 90-minutes session is jam-packed with a mix of networking activities, panel discussions, artists’ talks, performances, and dialogues. It will be a space for networking, connecting and talking about dance and movement in Detroit and will include a performance by Harge Dance Stories.

But that was only the surface.

The program at hand

“Moving with DancIMG_1621e” wasn’t just an event, it was a working session. We learned about the inner workings of ArtLab J, the brainchild of president and founder Joori Jung; we networked; we brainstormed about the summer release of the “Moving with Detroit” Dance Magazine. And we  benefited from the presence of 90-year-old former dancer Harriet Berg, the lady known as Detroit’s preeminent dance historian.

Left-right: Nannette Mazich, executive director of Eisenhower Dance; Cheryl McIlhon, Eisenhower Dance board member and Detroit Opera House Dance council chair; and dance historian Harriet Berg.
Left-right: Nannette Mazich, executive director of Eisenhower Dance; Cheryl McIlhon, Eisenhower Dance board member and Detroit Opera House Dance council chair; and dance historian Harriet Berg.

In her own attempt to bridge the Detroit dance gap, Berg published “The Body Electric Detroit,” the 2012 guide to all things dance.

She praises Jung’s efforts: “I think that is the unique quality of Joori that she doesn’t just think about her own work and her own company, but about how she can get other artists, and other choreographers and people involved, and give them an opportunity to show their work.

 

“That is what we’ve been lacking in Detroit,” she continues. “We have the dancers that have the training but there are not enough opportunities to perform. And we have so much talent here in Detroit that Detroiters never get to see because they have to go away. So our dancers are dancing all over the Harriet Bergs dance guideUnited States and we don’t know about their work here. I think that’s one of our serious drawbacks for a young dancer. You know, ‘I’m trained. I’m ready to go… Where do I go?’ It’s about having regular opportunities to perform here.”

 

Below the surface

What would an event dedicated to dance be without… dance? And there was that, presented by the newly formed Harge Dance Stories, a mobile collective of artists working on various projects.

In following my favorite dancers and covering dance over the years, I have learned the artistry has a language all its own. The trick is to be able to read between the lines or movements to discover the message therein. No other time was this more apparent than watching an excerpt from  “Line Between Heaven and Here.”

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Two solitary women, Jennifer Harge, Harge Dance Stories’ founder, and Erika Stowall took to the floor, while a somber vocal ensemble piece — no lyrics, just some vocalizing — by Michael Hall called “Choir Only” filled the room. From them came the story (at least by my interpretation) of women, of supporting one another, of sadness, and of anguish.

“It’s about what living looks like when death plays a big part in our lives,” Harge says. “Women are our children’s keeper as forces come at us as we try to maintain our foundation.”

I found it interesting that she named her dance collective Harge Dance Stories rather than using the traditional “dance company.”

“I see dances most clearly as a story. The things I choose as dance have a diversity, an arc.”

 

~ Choreographer Jennifer Harge

Harge and Stowall, founder of three-year-old Big Red Wall Dance Company, met 10 years ago in a dance program at the University of Michigan and often serve as guest artists for each other’s companies.

The “why” of it all

ArtLab J president and founder Joori Jung
ArtLab J president and founder Joori Jung

 

A Seoul, Korea, native Jung moved to Detroit from New York three years ago to open a dance studio. In her attempt to get to know the city and surrounding communities, she noticed something missing, opportunities for dancers to regularly showcase their work. Her initial response was to fill the gap.

What began as a bi-monthly showcase for dancers’ completed or works in progress at her Eastern Market ArtLab J studio expanded into the Detroit Dance City Festival, which is moving into its third year and has developed international ties.

“Moving with Detroit” is her latest labor of love.

“We want to build up a relationship with all people,” says Jung. “So we want more networking. Like, design and music has a lot of networking going on, but with dance is harder to find that space, so that’s why we made the program.”

One of the things I enjoy when talking with dancers is hearing them describe why they are dancers. Their answers are precise, thoughtful and seem to come from a tender place inside.

“It’s one of the only things that’s consistently made sense in my life,” says Harge. “I always lean on dance to process life.”

Stowall cites catharsis: “It’s the best way to express myself without judgment or ridicule.”

“Dance is my therapist, and she’s free. We have a one hour session everyday.”

 

~ Erika Stowall 

When it comes to dancers, where words fail, dance completes the sentence.

____

Andrea Daniel is a poet, publicist, freelance writer, voice-over artist, BMI registered songwriter, founder of AND Communications and co-owner/operator of Dakota Avenue West Publishing. Andrea produces and hosts the Michigan Literary Network’s Internet radio show, and is co-producer and co-host of Literature, Lyrics & Lines on Detroit Public Schools WRCJ-FM 90.9. She lives in Detroit, Mich., with her son and Terrier-Poodle-mix, Dot.

Read more from Andrea Daniel on this site or on her blog.

© Copyright Wildemere Publishing LLC. 2015.

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