Tag Archives: modern dance

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.