Tag Archives: Contemporary Dance

My Big Day of Giving Toolbox

ChangeTheWorld

A graphic used in the 2015 campaign.  Photo editing: XnView.  Layout & graphics: Inkscape.

I think it’s pretty clear from my blog that I’m equal parts scientist and artists.  One of the things I do on the art side is that I’m on the Board of Directors for the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre.  My job is twofold: (1) manage the social media outlets, and more recently (2) I am the Team Leader for our participation in the Big Day of Giving, which requires a lot of social media.  So, I’m doing a lot of graphic design, communications, advertising, and coordination. Big Day of Giving is a day (literally 24 hours) of donating to Sacramento-area nonprofit organizations that have profiles with Giving Edge.

Having a successful Big Day of Giving almost requires someone on your team to be able to film and edit videos and to create engaging graphics all of which can be posted online, added to blog articles, and be sent in emails… not to mention printed materials and press releases.  HOW do you do all of that?  Through my graphic editing and generating needs as a scientist (hello, figures in journal articles!), I’ve collected a set of go-to tools that are all FREE and open source.

Graphic Design: Inkscape

Photo Editing: Gimp or XnView

Video Editing: OpenShot

Why does free and open source matter?  Pamela Trokanksi Dance Theatre is a 501(c)3 education nonprofit.  Read: we have no money to spend on expensive art programs.  All of our operating costs are provided through donations and ticket sales.  Additionally, all of our board members (the board is a major source of volunteer hours) can download and use these programs without incurring costs.  Each of our board members already donates monetarily to the the organizations.  We, as board members, don’t want to have to spend money on software.

“But these are advanced tools!” I’ve heard people complain.  “It’s too much for volunteers to learn.”  Sigh.  All I can say is try.  It helps that two members of our board are die-hard Inkscape fans.  We set up Inkscape templates with the logos already added to make start-up easy for the novices.  So far, so good.

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See Spot

Spotting. It’s that seemingly magical movement of the dancer’s head that is supposed to keep the dancer from getting dizzy and stabilize a turn. It also helps a dancer know how many revolutions they have finished.

How does it work? The dancer focuses their eyes on one place in the room or theater, keeping their head still as long as possible, even though their body is rotating in the turn. When the dancer can’t keep their head still any longer, they turn their head in the same direction as their body is turning but faster, and focus their eye on that same place in the room again. The visual result is only a brief moment of spinning, rather than the sensation of spinning for the whole turn.

But is it just an illusion? Sometimes when I practice turning over and over, I start to wonder if the act of spotting is just something we do to trick ourselves. Maybe it’s just a myth.

To test if spotting is an observable phenomenon, I strapped a GoPro point of view camera to my forehead and did some turns. The footage was rather informative. First, you CAN see the effect of spotting on the footage. I suspected that you might be able to see it, but I was surprised how clear the spot was. Second, the video lets you see just how quick a turn is. A double pirouette takes about 2 seconds! In the moment, a turn feels much longer since you’re constantly making adjustments.

I used the footage to make the video you’ll find embedded here.

My conclusion is that spotting is a real, observable phenomenon. Thank goodness!


Name That Dance!

Flying

This spring, the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre will create and perform a new work based entirely on a name offered by members of the community.  The “community” could be people living in the company’s hometown of Davis, CA, or it could fans of contemporary dance from anywhere on the planet.  The company asks that suggestions for names of the new work be in the form of two nouns and a verb phrase, following the form of their fall concert title, “Dukkha, Dark Matter, and Riding on Trains”.  The titles will be narrowed down to 5 by the dancers, then the community will be asked to vote for their favorite.  The deadline for submissions is December 31st, 2012.

I think this is an amazing opportunity for people who don’t normally go see dance performances to become engaged in art.  Imagine how fun it could be to see your (perhaps wacky) suggestion be turned into an hour-long contemporary dance piece.  I especially like the idea of people offering science concepts for dance.  The fall concert dealt with dark matter, a physics concept, and the company has tackled science in the past with their concert focused on technology.  They regularly work with text on psychology as well.

Think up an interesting title, and submit it to the survey.  You might even win.

 

 


Costumes: Sheep

It’s October, so it’s time for costumes!  Last fall, I made sheep and wolf costumes for a performance of the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre that was called “Sheep/Wolves/We The People”.  I made 6 sheep costumes for the apprentice company, which they used in several numbers throughout the work.  Above, you’ll find the video of the Sheep/Wolf Rap.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any still shots of someone wearing the finished product, but a video is also helpful.  Note that these costumes took quite a bit of abuse – several dress rehearsals and three performances!

Here’s how I made them…

Loosened cotton balls glued down

For the shirt, you’ll need HEAPS of cotton balls, hot glue, and a white men’s undershirt tank.  The shirt needs to be a size or two larger than you (or the person who will wear the costume) would normally wear because once you’re done gluing on the cotton balls, the fabric won’t stretch as much.  The procedure is simple.  First, stretch out the shirt a little.  Next, I found it helpful to loosen the cotton balls.  The are made of cotton sheets wound up in a spiral, so if you loosen them up, they get bigger so you need fewer of them.  Finally, glue them on.  You’ll need to find a balance between too much glue and not enough.  An X across the cotton ball would be a good way to secure them.  Occasionally, I didn’t secure the middle of a cotton spiral, and they came out.  In the video you can see some dangling.

A finished sheep top

For the hat, you’ll need a fabric marker, snaps or velcro closures, black felt for the ears, and white felt for the hat part.  To make the shape of the hood, I traced another person’s head profile and cut it a little larger to allow for the seam and some extra room.  You can always sew the seam tighter, but it’s hard to add fabric once you’ve cut it.  I also made a tab of fabric that goes around the neck.  You’ll cut out 2 of the white hood shapes and sew them together along the top and back of the head.  Add your snap or velcro to the neck tab.  Finally, cut out 2 matching black ears and attach them, and you’re done.

The hat for reference

Sheep costumes make excellent beds for older kitties too!


Dance + Science = Fun + Learning

I realize my post title is not longer true once you rearrange the equation, but you get my point.  Science really can be fun and easy when you add an unexpected twist like dance or other forms of art.  That’s sort of the idea behind the “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest organized by Gonzo Labs.  Having just finished a dissertation and being a dancer, I really wanted to enter this competition, so I gathered up as many people as I could and made it happen.

One important theme of the dance work that I am involved in is the idea that anyone can dance at any age and even that limited physical ability shouldn’t limit you from expressing yourself through movement.  Given that idea, I didn’t restrict my cast to only dancers.  I ended up with a cast and crew of about 30 men and women ranging from 5 to 80+ years old, some dancers and some not.  The key to success in this situation is that I chose a dance form that anyone can learn quickly, in this case, it was improvisational modern dance.  Simple, repeated movements through space performed en mass are sometimes quite mesmerizing and anyone can do it and look good.

The group also had varying experience with science concepts.  A handful in the crowd have PhDs in a scientific field, some of them work with scientists, some are artists or accountants or philanthropists, and some are kindergarteners.  However, with the exception of me, no one understood my dissertation chapter nearly as well as I did, so everyone needed a science lesson.

Learning how to do the improvisation and the rules behind the movements didn’t take long – maybe 20 minutes.  And all together, the whole filming took less than 3 hours.  The preparation on my part was significantly more than that, but that’s the case with any dance performance.

In the end, I think everyone learned quite a bit both about art and science.  And it was fun!  It was amazing to work with such a diverse group of people on this kind of project.  I am in complete awe of their patience with the process, their willingness to give their time, and of their open hearts in general.  I’d like to do this again some time, but we’ll need to come up with a new science concept to dance.

Here is my entry for the competition (I already know about the typos):

Click here for my research YouTube channel.


A Treatment for Leotard Seam Disease

Side Seam Hole

Drat! It's wearing thin and it's getting holes! But it's not even that old!

Your leotard getting that tell-tale mark of age: the side seam hole.  You know the one.  It starts either at or just below where the shelf bra attaches, and if left untreated will progress several inches lower until the whole side rips open.  The worst part is, you often don’t notice them until right before something important, like a show, when there’s no time to get a new leotard.   Here’s how I stabilize them.

Scrap Fabric

Cut out a section of a discarded leotard to use as a patch.

1.  Cannibalize a leotard that has succumb to the side seam disease.  Cut out a section far from the side seam in a section that is in good condition.  I’ve also used bias tape.  Match your patch color to your leotard or the color will show through the holes and thin spots.

Patch

A patch with rounded corners

2.  Cut the patch larger than the affected area of the leotard you are trying to save.  Round the corners so they don’t curl up and peel off.

Heat and Bond with the Patch

Heat and Bond cut to the size of the patch

3.  Cut fusible webbing or heat and bond strips to the size of your patch.  This is important.  We’re not sewing this on.  When the glue melts into the fabric, it will stabilize it and keep the holes from getting worse.  Sewing is what caused the hole in the first place.  We don’t need more of it.

Cover those weak spots.

4.   Transfer the fusing material to the leotard, making sure to cover up all the weak spots.

Make a stack with the leotard, then the fusing, then the patch, and then iron.

5.  Put the patch on top of the fusing material and iron according the the instructions that come with the fusing you’ve picked.

6.  Wash it like you normally would, but make sure it stays out of the dryer or the patch will peel off.  You don’t dry your leotards anyway.

This is a treatment that will only delay the inevitable; it’s not a long term fix.  I’m sorry friends, once you see the signs of wear, it’s going to end soon.  It’s kind of like when you see your fish start to swim sideways.  You’re in denial for a while and think it’s going to get better, but it never does.  But the good news is that you can at least keep your leotard a little while longer, unlike the fish.

Do you have a better way to fix side seam holes?  I’d really like to hear more ideas.