Well, now that I've been back for a couple of weeks it is high time to write about the NDEO conference, my first in three years. I was especially excited to attend this conference because the theme this year was "Collaborations: Many Cultures — Strength Through Diversity," so it promised many sessions on the intersection of traditional cultural dance forms, creative work, and dance education.
I spent most of a day in transit, since I took the train down to LA — I never fly at all unless it's a true emergency (something that hasn't happened yet, and I don't anticipate), since it's one of the most environmentally destructive things an individual can do… and the bonus is that the train is sooo nice and relaxing! No hassles with security, just hop on at the station and then sit down and read a book for the next 8 hours or so… a lovely way to prepare for a full weekend.
The first full day, I started out taking a workshop on "Jean Erdman and Hula". After a lifetime of modern dance, I knew very little about Jean Erdman -- I learned that she was born in Honolulu and grew up dancing traditional hula, but then took up modern dance and became a principal dancer for Martha Graham before breaking away to form her own company. She was also married to Joseph Campbell and had an intense interest in mythology, which infused her choreography. The workshop was given by a longtime member of Erdman's dance company, and it was fascinating to me as someone who has also tried to successfully fuse traditional forms with modern dance technique. We learned one traditional hula, then she talked about layering — traditional hula uses three layers of movement: the lele or weight-shifting pattern; the core isolations (mostly hips, in hula); and the hand and arm gestures. She then asked us to create our own short dance phrase, using those layers — beginning with the weight-shifting / stepping pattern, adding hip, shoulder, and torso articulations, and then adding arms and hand gestures. When we were finished, our phrases were based in modern technique, but had a little of the spirit of hula within them… This one was a very good start to the weekend!
My next session was with Mme. Wakana Hamayagi, a master of Japanese classical dance, or nihon buyo — a priceless presentation from a true master artist. Later that afternoon, I attended a workshop on "Exploring the Arab World through Dance and Music." This was an excellent historical presentation, with lots of information on the real history of Middle Eastern dance… how raqs sharki, the traditional women's dance form, was brought to the west, fed through circus and stage elements, and turned into what is now thought of as "belly dance"… fascinating and very complete for one hour!
I also attended a session on "Why Are There So Many White Women Here? Addressing Whiteness in Dance Education," which as you might imagine led to some rich conversations among the participants. The "aha" for me in this one had to do with that question I wrote about not long ago, on how much of an expert do you need to be to teach any particular form… One of the the teachers in my discussion group said that with each new dance form she teaches, she tells her students that "I am not an expert in this, I did not grow up with this dance form, but I learned some of it and would like to share it with you." That seemed like a good message, and I hope I remember it next time I teach a form that I am not as confident with as I would like to be.
The second day, I started with a session called "Ordinary Objects" taught by Maya and Ruth, a couple of participants from Luna's Summer Institute. What a great lesson! It was all about recycling — we used recycled objects (mostly colorful butcher paper left over from an elementary classroom) to create imaginative duets. This one included a big "aha!" moment — the workshop began with a discussion of recycling, how we take one object and turn it into something else useful… then as we explored movements, we were reminded to "feel free to be inspired by any movement you see around you, recycle it into your own…" and I realized that recycling is a wonderful way to approach the perennial complaint of "she's copying me!" I have always tried to stress that no movement is truly unique, we all take movement we learn or see and create our own movement from it… but the idea of taking movement and "recycling" it into your own, new movement seems like a great angle into that conversation.
Next I took a workshop on Balkan folk dance rhythms from Elissaveta Iordanova, a folk and modern dancer originally from Bulgaria. We learned (or re-learned, for an old folk dancer like me) some traditional dances in meters ranging from 2/4 to 7/8 and 11/16, then improvised on those rhythms… For me, it was a rare treat just to be able to do a Paidushko, Rachenitsa, and Kopanitsa at an NDEO conference! I then got to another great workshop on traditional jazz dance from Karen Hubbard, a mentee of one of the original Savoy Ballroom dancers — this one was so timely for me, as I was in the middle of the Big Apple historical dance unit with my Aspire class…
On Saturday I got to take a workshop from Anne Green Gilbert. She is one of the founding mothers of creative dance education, and an endless source of ideas for explorations — her books are among those I most depend on when planning my creative-work classes. This one was on "Folk Dancing in Brain-Based Dance Classes," and used some simple folk dance structures as frames for elements in a creative dance class. It was a thrill to finally take a workshop from Anne — and folk-dance oriented, to boot!
In general, the conference was wonderful for me because I had the chance to work on adding to my dance teaching skills and curriculum, while thoroughly indulging my love for folk and traditional dance forms… My one regret was that I brought along my camera, but never actually found the time to get it out and take pictures! I highly recommend Jakey Toor's blog, as she took lots of pictures as well as lots of notes, and also wrote about many of the workshops I didn't get a chance to attend.