15 Jul Ep. #29 Movement Matters with Jermaine Spivey and Spenser Theberge
Watch Jermaine in Kid Pivots’ Betroffenheit https://www.marquee.tv/watch/crystalpite-betroffenheit
Revisit Episode 3 with Chloe Arnold: https://www.thedanawilson.com/podcast/ep-3-dance-lessons-are-life-lessons-with-chloe-arnold
Amazon Shopping List: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/208ZBEMH1NK8H?ref_=wl_share&_encoding=UTF8&tag=thedanawilson-20&linkCode=ur2&linkId=c3b3604249eb6e654753fedb0ccdc8e8&camp=1789&creative=9325
Intro: This is words that move me. The podcast were movers and shakers. Like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight. But don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.
Dana: All right. All right. Hello everybody. And welcome to words that move me. I’m Dana. I am so jazzed about this episode, and I know that I always say that, but really this one is special. It is special because my guests are special, so special. It is special because I learned so much about myself, about my craft, about my relationship to the world that I’m living in right now. Um, and I also learned a lot more about audio editing. So here comes the heads up. The audio quality is not the greatest on this episode, but the, every other quality is the greatest. So this episode is my win for the week. Your turn, what’s going well in your world. Let’s see if I can keep tempo.
Oh, don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t do that. Don’t don’t boom, boom, boom, boom. Don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t tell, don’t do that. Don’t tell him Five, six, seven, eight.
Yes. Good for you. I’m so glad that you’re winning. Keep it up and celebrate yourself. It’s so important. Okay. Now I don’t want to take too much more time before I invite you to the table. Well, the zoom, I guess, with my guests today, Spenser Theberge is originally from Portland, Julliard Grad danced for NDT two and NDT one that’s Netherlands Dance Theater for you, non dance types. Um, the Forsythe company, he’s the winner of the Princess Grace Award. He currently teaches for Cal arts. Um, but most importantly, I want to tell you that his choreography makes me weep tears of laughter and also tears of a very special brand of admiration. He is a truly special artist and I am so honored and flattered to call him to call both of these gentlemen, my friends. All right. So up next, we have the one and only Jermaine Spivey He is from Baltimore, also a Julliard grad. Also a Princess Grace winner also has danced for all of the, that I oogle and all of the companies that you should Google. Um, he is currently teaching for USC Kaufman, but beyond all of those things, I can not think of a single thing, more mesmerizing in this world than watching Jermaine dance. That was at least until we had this conversation. And I learned that it is equally mesmerizing to dig in to words with him, with him and with Spenser, both truly mesmerizing. Um, this conversation simply blows my mind wide open. So without any further ado, please enjoy this conversation with Jermaine Spivey and Spenser Theberge
Dana: Spencer and Jermaine. Holy smokes. Thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. I am thrilled to have you! Welcome.
BOTH: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Dana: Um, this is kind of par for the course. This is sort of how I do it on the pod. Please introduce yourself.
Jermaine: Um, okay. I will introduce myself. My name is Jermaine Spivey. I am an artist. I’m a performing artist. I am a choreographer. I am an educator. I am a learner. I am a person in this world that um, loves to create. And connect to people through that creativity.
Dana: Thats a beautiful introduction. Thank you. Nice to meet you. Alright, Spenser hit it.
Spenser: I’m Spenser Theberge. And that is how you say my last name.
Dana: I’ve been saying it wrong for like four years now.
Spenser: Yes, it’s true. I am Spencer Theberge. Uh, I also echo what Jermaine says. I am an artist. I work in, I work in dance, but I don’t feel like I only live in dance. I am excited by interdisciplinary things. I’m interested in collaborations and the permeable worlds in terms of art and genres. Um, I teach. I dance, uh, and I’m also, Jermaine and I are partners. And we’re partners also in the work we’re making too.
Dana: You Guys. This is the first time I’m having a couple on the podcast. I’m so jazzed about this. Okay. Um, thank you for your introductions. I have a million questions for you. About your work and what it’s like to collaborate with your significant other and what it is to be in an interracial Relationship in the summer of 2020 and how the black lives matter movement is impacting you and how are you impacting it and what it means to be like, Whoa, all the things I have, all the questions. So slow down, Wilson. Um, let me simplify and ask you.
Jermaine: There’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Um, let me just simplify and ask you to tell me something you would like for people to know about your relationship. Or is it top secret?
Jermaine: Oh, no, I think, yeah. Okay. I’m gonna start that off. I think I would like people to know that it is, it’s a constant effort and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s actually very positive that its constant effort, but constantly trying to see each other for who we are and how we’re evolving and how we do that together. How we do that side by side, I really, really, really don’t respond to the idea of, you know, you meet someone and its the same and that is happily ever after, like, you’re the same person I met and it’s like, yes, I am a version of that person, but I’m also hopefully changing and growing and evolving the entire time and definitely tries to do that next to the person that I love. We’re next to each other we’re with each other. We’re changing. Okay. Talking about summer of 2020
Dana: Change baby change.
Jermaine: We’re both changed from how we started this year.
Spenser: I would also add or piggyback then say that, um, there’s the idea that we’re always partners. It’s not like we are, we are. And then what I mean by that is our relationship as partners. We’re always doing that. We’re doing that when we’re making work together, we’re doing that when we’re making breakfast together, we’re doing that when Jermaine’s on a tour and I’m home, and we’re not physically together. We’re always partners. Sometimes I think that there’s, um, you know, the compartmentalizing idea of we, you’re not, we’re not in our relationship when we’re making work together. For instance, like once we entered this room, it’s a different, it’s a different story or something. And that’s not the case with us. We very much are always exploring and interrogating, but our relationship feeds and that’s the art we make as well. Uh, and I think that we hope that our art changes and develops over time. And so why don’t, why not treat ourselves like that too, that we can change and develop over time.
Ah, I love that sentiment. I love the idea of perpetual evolution and, uh, specifically hopefully progress, right. Um, also Jermaine I’m so glad you brought up effort. And that is what I would like to segue with into this next part of the conversation. So I think it was after, and we can go back a little bit to our history as friends in a second, but I think it was after Gen Four, which was certainly the most, um, amount of time I spent with you guys like period. But I think after Gen Four, um, I dug into a search for more of you both because after that week of watching you dance, I just could not sate myself. So I was just looking for more. And I remember stumbling upon, um, short film that was directed by Dana Casperson and it’s part of her, um, changing the conversation book. I think she made little chunks from her book, changing the conversation, the 17 principles of conflict resolution. And, um, I was so delighted by this thing. Uh, and then I dug more on Dana and I became so delighted by her. Uh, she says that conflict is the origin of all creative action, which is like the smarter older sibling version of my saying, which is creativity is simply problem solving. But she, she says that conflict is inevitable and she adds that destructive conflict is not inevitable. That’s the choice part. Um, she, she explains describing nondestructive conflict as just dynamic tension. Effort. And to me that sounds kinda like fun dynamic tension reminds me of a first date or of like the early years of a relationship. Dynamic tension, sounds like, Oh, I like that versus conflict is something that I think is, is kind of has this negative connotation. Um, but, uh, one of the things I like most about you guys, both in your life, in, in your work is that you don’t avoid conflict or effort, um, or tension. Actually, I would say that you guys are both masters of tension and release of tension. Spenser, you do it with humor Jermaine, you do it with your body. Um, could you guys talk about how you use tension in your work and in your relationship?
Spenser: Woah, Dana, thank you. I love that. That’s some something you’re observing because it’s, we talk about conflicts all the time and it is really at the heart of our creations. It’s also at the heart of the process of creating. Um, we get along really well. We disagree, I wouldn’t say we fight.
Jermaine: Maybe once in 10 years have we fought.
Um, however, we’re both really, um, we really believe what we believe and we really care about the things that we believe in and those things are, are often at odds and that doesn’t feel good, but it’s sort of like a thank goodness type thing, because, uh, what I want to relate it to is this idea that you have to have conflict in order to have good theater. Otherwise the curtain goes up and maybe somebody proposes to the other person. And that person says yes, and then it’s over, there’s no conflict and the curtain goes down and it ends. And so there’s the thought that if you want something to be sustainable, if you want, and I’m talking now in a performative way, if you want to sustain interests for the audience, there’s gotta be conflicts there for people to have a hook, so we lean into the conflict. Um, and since our work is usually a kind of lens into our, into our relationship as partners, we then lean into the inherent conflicts between each other, um, and allow them to be present in the work. So that the work can sustain yeah, it’s a belief. I mean, if it feels like a belief, like a value for making work to me is this idea of conflict. So I love that you see it and that you’re aware of it.
100%. Um, do you have anything you want to add, Jay?
Um, I’m just listening to, I feel like conflict is also about diversity and, uh, it’s about opposition. Uh, I think we’re realizing right now in this moment that we can’t continue to curate this weird streamlined version of reality where there aren’t, there’s no diversity, right? Like where we, force people to conform to be the same, where we force people to have the same values and the same way of expressing these values, it’s not realistic.
And there’s no opposition, there’s no opposition. And we know because we’re dancers, who’ve done pirouettes before that you cannot lift up without also pushing down. You won’t have a successful rotation if you don’t do both. Um, this is what I’m inspired by right now is this idea. And I know it’s very self-gratifying, but it’s this idea that dancers just might be the best people to deal with and lead in a time like this because we have understanding and the ability to think kind of physically and know the importance of something like opposition. Know, the importance of something like spacing, for example. But I just, I, I would love to hear a little bit more from you guys on what some other dancer or choreographer characteristics might be helpful right now to, to all, not just to dance types.
Spacial awareness is the first thing that came to mind, um, is not just about avoiding bumping into people on the street. It’s about space. It’s about an understanding of how to occupy space, not just how to leve room for other people. Which is something from the conversation in our way of life here in the US, created a lot of extremes and not so much space or room for people to exist in. And I think that it is work.
Actually, I think we experienced that in the dance world was maybe we’ll have a chance to kind of get into a little bit more, uh, later, but this idea of where you exist inside of the dance world, and things sometimes not. I mean, sometimes for a lot of people, it’s always feeling like there’s, there is no intersection or blending of worlds and experiences. And I’m also thinking about blending of forms and blending of techniques. But, um, I’d like to first, before getting into that talk about also, I think dance has the ability to help us train an idea of empathy. I was just thinking about a rehearsal Jermaine and I had the other day where we were doing some partnering and I needed to know what something’s felt like for him in order to do my job for him to help him. So I, he had me do it, do his role, so I could feel what it felt like in his body. And then I knew better. It didn’t change instantly, but I had a better ability to make a helpful choice for him as a partner. And that made me feel like what we’re actually doing is training that thing we’re trying to talk about right now, which is, this is how this feels for me. Can you hear me say that? Like, can you put that on, this is how this feels for me. And, and we do that sometimes without even knowing that that’s unusual for some people in their world and in their life. And right now, since I’ve been teaching a lot online and, you know, theoretically everyone’s alone in their kitchen, like I am, teaching, right. And so I’m trying to still figure out how to teach this idea or promote this idea of empathy. And I think we can relate to ourselves in our own bodies, empathetically as well, and have that same process of like, what does that feel like for you knees? And then if I’m, if I’m fostering a sense of empathy in my own body, isn’t it then? Couldn’t it then be easier to be empathetic with the wider world.
Okay. Pause for the cause and let that sink in for a second. All right. In episode three, with Chloe Arnold, we talked about how dance lessons are life lessons. We talked about all of the different ways that dance has prepared us for life, and we dug pretty deep. Um, I highly suggest you go back and check that out if you haven’t already, or maybe even revisit that one, if it’s been awhile, but even in all of that discussion with Chloe, it had never dawned on me that perhaps the most important and powerful and dare I say essential human quality, empathy can be practiced physically through dance. This was a massive a-ha moment for me. I, I danced as a swing on my most recent world tour. And, uh, for those of you that don’t know a swing is somebody that knows and must be able to dance anyone in the shows track, um, a track just means their part, I guess. So for that show for the man of the woods tour, I learned all of the ladies and even took it upon myself to learn my male counterpart dancers tracks. Um, and it was my job to jump in for anybody in the event that they needed me to fill in. And man, wow. If it is recommended to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes, I highly recommend that you try dancing in them. I gained a tremendous understanding and appreciation for my fellow dancers by learning their show, by dancing in their shoes. I did wear my own shoes, but that’s neither here nor there. I think that perhaps the best part of what I’m learning from this conversation and from what Spenser is saying is that learning and appreciating can happen for me in me, like having empathy for parts of myself. Wow. Just Whoa. Okay. I had to jump out and highlight that and sort of plant a seed. So that next time you find yourself in conflict with yourself or with someone else, you might find an opportunity to practice empathy. Okay. That’s it let’s jump back in.
Jermaine: Yes. I can still connect and you know, physically partner with this person that doesn’t weigh the same as I do that has a different shape than I do that. That comes from a different understanding of dance in terms of their background than I do, but we can meet, we figure it out. I mean, that’s what happens. It happens again all the time. In a company its a whole new group of people, and you start that process all over again. And just thinking about how many times, whether it’s a company in a gig or in a shoot, you meet these people may never see again, but you have to come together for the common goal. We’re so versed at that. It can be bumpy along the way. It’s not always great. It’s not always whatever perfect supposed to mean, but I think that’s also the point.
Those are excellent points that I really hadn’t considered the concept of actually sharing weight and feeling feelings of, you know, trading roles. Like we do that in dance. I will dance your role. I will try to be your track. Um, I’ll try to lift you the way that you lift me in that lift. Like I can’t think of a, of a better way to practice empathy. Um, but also this idea that we are basically constantly, uh, building and then breaking down and then rebuilding new teams with different objectives. And that is such an important skill to have. I think dancers are really, really good at being quick to volunteer, quick to make changes, quick to make friends. And part of that is the nature of how quickly our world and our creative processes work, especially here in LA. There certainly aren’t, we, we don’t have the luxury of long rehearsal processes for most projects. And I mean, no rehearsal process now. No in-person rehearsal process now. So yeah, we we’ve gotten very good at doing certain things. Um, what are we not good at?
Well, we’re not always good at recognizing individual contributions to the mess. I feel like I’ve.. I’ve been a performer in a contemporary concert dance company and I’ve been in these moments with company where we’re complaining and we’re like, this is happening. And this is happening, this company sucks. Everybody gets under this company sucks train. And it’s like, we’re the company, you know? I mean, yes, there is an administrative body that is governing
The situation, but also we actually have a lot more say on the dynamics of how things go than we think. there’s something in structure. There’s something in the way a lot of things organize that causes us to forget that. I mean, every company that I’ve ever been a part of with the exception of maybe one has had like really rocky shit and again, that’s not a dig it’s layered, right? I think that’s something that happens because there’s many different aspects to running a company. And then of course the dancers feel the brunt of that, but then we can get caught in just complaining about it and just suffering in and that becomes our story. Like I’m just suffering this situation and this is how it has to be, woe is me, I’m a dancer. And then at some point you have to realize other things that I can do. And other ways that I find to this situation that will change me, and usually If I change myself that is reflected in the person next to me and the person next to them.
I would like to talk a little bit more about voice specifically. You’ve used it in your work in a way that I think is very attractive, but I know that for a lot of dancers using our voice, like our actual vocal chords is terrifying. I’ll speak for myself as for one. Um, could you guys share maybe a story of, of being asked to use your voice or maybe why you, why you love to use voice?
Yeah. I’d love to talk about that. I, I think a bit of context is helpful and to know that I grew up, um, like equal parts. I was training at a dance studio, uh, after school, but in school I was training in theater. I was a drama kid, and I was really, really torn between these two worlds. And I felt a lot of angst, of like this having to make a choice. And I ultimately chose dance because I love it. It wasn’t like depression or anything. I, I knew dance in my body and I didn’t know theater in my body if that makes sense, so I followed it, but I definitely felt like I’ve made a choice and closed a pathway, closed some kind of world in myself. And it wasn’t until I moved to Europe and I was working on a creation with the choreographer at Netherlands dance theater. And I was, I was asked to use my voice and I was sort of, Oh, I know that person, that’s that person from high school, like who knows, how to use their voice and who loves to speak and has this sense of theater and drama. And it was like inviting a part of myself to the party who hadn’t got to be at the party for like 10 years. And from that point on, that was it. I was, I was like, if I’m not getting to explore all of me, I’m just not sure if I’m that interested. And sometimes it feels right to make the choice to just dance. But there’s a difference between saying you can only dance. And right now you’re just dancing. Versus like, just knowing that it’s always, like, I always have the ability to use my voice if that’s the right choice for this particular communication right now, or to, I don’t know, sing, or make a dress or dance, or like get behind this camera and operate this projector or whatever, like whatever the moment calls for. I want to feel like I am allowed and have permission to, to deliver that. And that feels like, that feels like pursuit of, of me, to me.
That’s awesome. I love the, the 360 degree approach to making. Um, I also love the, the concept of giving permission to use voice. And when you said that, I realized that, um, I would say like fully 50% of my professional work is me lip-syncing to something, but you, you cannot be lip syncing because it looks like, you know, your, your neck, your muscles aren’t working, you can tell somebody lip-syncing. So even on the projects where I’m lip syncing, they ask you to sing out. And as I say so to me, that’s permission, right? You’re playing a track at volume. That’s not my voice. They, they, they, they won’t hear my voice. Maybe. I don’t know. They probably have a microphone hidden somewhere, but to me, that’s permission to sing out. And I, I wonder if that metaphor kind of breaks the part of this conversation. That’s important to me, which is it being your voice, but, um, Jermaine specifically, I’m curious what you’d have to say about this, because now that I’m talking about lip sinking, I’m remembering that maybe my favorite performance of yours is Kid Pivot’s Betroffenheit, your, your lip syncing, right? Is that your voice? Are you, are you lip-syncing?
Jermaine: I’m lip-syncing. You never hear my voice in the entire show
Spenser: That’s embodiment
That’s Embodiment. You could not tell me that’s not your voice. It’s okay. So just straight up curiosity, what was your approach to making somebody’s voice? That’s not your voice look like your voice.
Jermaine: Um, that is a good question. It was, it was a few different things. It’s the physicality of just the steps in the way that, uh, you know, with Crystal, we decided my character would, would move that movement directed the character. Then that character tells me how I need to lip-sync. Then the other level of that layer of that was listening to the track and getting familiar with the rhythm, the cadence and the timing of Jonathan speaking. And when there was breathing and wasn’t breathing. And every year that we performed the show, we peel back another layer of the audio I think when we first did it, we were not in the place where we could hear every breath, for example, that was in the audio track. And then when we came back to do it, we remounted it. We were like ‘has the breath always been there? Like I hear it differently now.’ So then the second year was really all about trying to embody now all of the breath. And then the third year was like the breath and the little crackles, you know, saliva, like when he’s opening and closing his mouth. We’ve done that also with reviser.
Uh, Jermaine. It’s so good. It’s one of my favorite things to watch. Um, I’m not sure if Marquee TV is still doing a 30 days free thing.
I will be linking to that in the show notes, please. You guys, this is mandatory viewing. Um, okay, cool. Moving right along. Um, you guys both went to Julliard. You’re both teachers you teach at the college level. And I know I have a lot of listeners out there who dream of attending prestigious schools like that and of having careers like yours. Um, what would you tell them that you wish somebody had told you when you embarked on your journey of higher education?
Yeah. Something comes in mind for me instantly. And I remember, I think it’s so, so important and so wonderful and so necessary to have goals. But what I remember is that I had tunnel vision with my goals, especially going into college and through college, into, into like the professional world. So my goals, um, confused me at times because they, what they did is they said this is important for your goals and this isn’t important for your goals. And so there was a bit of, I love school and I love to learn even as someone who loves to learn, um, there’s a little bit of like, I’ll need this. I won’t need this type of thing for the goals that I know, what I wish someone had told me is what I’m experiencing now and continue to experience is that you don’t know what your goals are going to be after you get a taste of maybe the goal that you’re interested in, the goals might change, they’re likely to change. And aren’t you, or maybe you will wish that you had absorbed a little bit more completely, then you did, when it was offered to you, I’ve found myself wishing often that I had taken better notes or paid more attention in a particular course, because I feel like I need it now, you know, 10 plus years later. And I just didn’t know that at the time. So that thought of hoarding information with accepting the idea that you don’t know what you’re going to be interested in. And you don’t know what you need ..
Um, will you guys play a game with me really quick? So it’s, um, full disclosure. It’s not actually a game, it’s an exercise, but we’re going to call it a game cause that’s more fun. So I have started, um, categorizing my goals now in tiers, I do these three tiers. My first tier of goals is the goals I could accomplish right now. If literally, if I just did it, like the action is the missing part, not the resources or the, um, the ideas themselves, but like right now I could accomplish this. Um, tier two is with a little bit more support, whether it’s in manpower or finance or time or whatever, with a little more support I could accomplish this. And then tier three is rip the lid off, no ceiling nobody ever would say, no, you will not hear the word. Know what? Like that’s tier three, no rules, no limits at all. So I would love to hear from you guys, three tiers of goals.
You know, I’m already, I’m already going to do the game. The game is supposed to be played.
Break the rules.
I’m am. Because It’s really, really, really layerd
Okay. Go. I want the depth.
I think I have learned from a very young age not to set goals. That has been a super power for me in my life. It hasn’t actually had a negative effect on me, but it may come from something that is a negative, which is related to being a black person in this country and my mom because I grew up with my mom in Philly, feeling sometimes like she was not supported in the way she needed to really get to that goal or just feeling like.. I just, I, I, I watched my mom do that and survive the most beautiful work. And I feel like I learned from that, life also just be about adapting and that isn’t a lack of openness or power
Or imagination. Um, well, there are many ways to choose, you know, how to organize it. And I, I don’t really set goals. Um, I know that sounds weird, but I do, I do stuff. I do stuff. And then I pay attention to how that feels and where it’s leading me there. And when I’m there I feel led to the next and that’s how my whole dance career has been. I never decided I want to go study at a conservatory. I just, I decided I liked dancing. So then I continued, I didn’t even want to dance. My mother forced me to go. Then I realized that I like it so I continued to go. Then someone was like, you should audition for this school. I knew nothing about Juilliard, but I went because I trusted that person’s opinion. But they were right. While I was at Juilliard actually, I had a teacher that was like, you should look into this place, which I did. And, you know, listening to the voices didn’t mean that I only listened to what people told me to do, I just took in that information, sometimes they were exactly right so I went with them. But sometimes it was just hearing what they had to say, to help me understand what I was feeling so that I can make my own choice intuitively. It continues to be that way. And the older I get, I feel like it’s really just about deciding to do stuff. Um, for me personally, I think people should set goals if that is how they need function and to plan ahead. But that just hasn’t really been a part of my spirit as a person. To plan ahead, It gets me into trouble in different ways because of the world that we, that we live in. But it also provides me a lot by not feeling, um, I don’t feel precious about the trajectory of my life in that way.
Would you be willing to go into what you mean when you say gets you in trouble?
Yes. I mean, in the, in the kind of like little micro versions of that, it’s like sometimes I don’t plan far enough ahead. So that I can be on time. So then I’m late, you know, and that’s, that’s like a little, little tiny version of that. Um, I think it gets me in trouble with sometimes because then with the interactions with other people, sometimes there are expectations that are not met and yes, because I think the way that I do, I understand that. And I, I see sometimes what that means for certain people in certain circumstances. But I also feel like I am not always responsible for delivering that expectation.
Full Stop. Wow. In hearing Jermaine’s point of view about setting goals, I experienced the moment that I’ve felt quite a bit lately, the shameful moment that many of my listeners out there maybe feeling lately as well. And that is the moment where your privilege is revealed to you in a place that you hadn’t noticed that before. I truly relish the goal setting practice, I called it a game. It literally is fun to me because my goal setting practice doesn’t get me in trouble. It gets me my desired results. And what I learned from Jermaine is that the accomplishment of my goals is absolutely not entirely attributable to the goal setting practice itself. I am a white, able-bodied, heterosexual woman who grew up in a middle class, suburban home with two parents who although divorced, both loved and supported me tremendously. And my life experience has taught me that dreaming big, mostly works. Someone else’s experience might teach them that dreaming big, mostly hurts. I know that now, and that doesn’t mean that setting goals is bad. And that doesn’t mean that I am bad for setting goals. It means that setting goals is not a default setting. I do think it’s important to mention that the thing that excited me and still excites me most about setting goals is that especially in that third kind of no ceilings, impossible tier something is only impossible until it’s possible. And I find tremendous inspiration and power in that. All right, let’s jump back in and hear what Jermaine, the man who seemingly defies gravity and every other law of physics in his dancing makes of doing the impossible buckle up.
For me. I respond to what if it isn’t impossible? Like what is impossible? It’s a construct for us to relate to, but it’s not really a thing. And I say that because like often when I improvise, I use tasks. And I talk about that I’m never TRYING to do something cool or impossible I’m never deciding now I’m going to do something that is anti-gravity like those things happen because I’m doing something that is really similar to me in the breakdown of all of the things I am moving my shoulder to the right and at the same time sliding my chin to the left. And if I do that and I involve my hip and my heel I miraculously made it around 4 times. I lived that experience in various ways in my life and I’m never really trying to do something impossible or spectacular.
That is, That is very important to me on the subject of effort. If we could circle back to effort, you look effortless when you dance, but it’s not because what you’re doing is easy is because you’re focusing your efforts into very specific, simple places or simple tasks that is fascinating.
And I’d like to jump in on that. As someone who gets to watch Jermaine a lot, his sense of validation is really inside himself. It’s not, it’s not bound to external sources.
And a small interjection I had to work on that because for so much of my younger life, I felt really bound to what I thought were people’s expectations of me and that it hurt. I hurt myself. No one did that to me. I did that to myself, fulfilling that expectation for everyone else. I caused myself hurt and suppression and guilt for things that I shouldn’t feel guilty for. And I don’t know, I think at some late twenties, I really started to come to terms with that.
What was the shift?
I think, I think it was it’s, it was physical and emotional. Um, I mean, they’re the same thing, but you know, it was this me on a path of diving deeper in my artistry, which pushed me to dive deeper into my person. And what, what am I expressing? What am I living, what am I doing what am I thinking? Um, it was me coming to terms really for real, with my sexuality and realizing how much of that, uh, was weighing on me in ways that I didn’t know that it was weighing on me. And through that realizing I have all of these boxes that I’m trying to fufill for other people, but I care about people that care about me, people that I need in my life. And so not only do I have the boxes, but then I also have the fear of not filling the boxes and what will they do if I don’t fill this box for them? And I’m trying to make it a long story short, I saw therapists and one was a craniosacral therapist, in Stockholm. Shout out to Banks Elmstron, My superhero, wizard, Swedish Man. He it’s very confronting to see someone that you’ve never met before and have them just read you like a book in one sitting. And, and to realize that they can do that because they’ve learned the skill of being sensitive. So he could feel these things in my body to feel them through the tissue physically, but he could also feel them energetically emotionally. And if I’m walking around with that all the time, that’s not going to be cute, down the line. So then, Hey, may, Hey, maybe there was a goal that was like my one goal, you know, it’s that to, to fix myself, like change my relationships with these expectations. He would, he would say to me like, wow, you put so much pressure on yourself. Why do you do that? And I’d be like, what, why are you saying that from holding my ankles? I don’t understand. And it wasn’t just him. I saw a few more craniosacral therapist over the years and had very similar experiences one with a person in London, with a person in Hawaii and every time it was very consistent, the things that they had to say to me very spot on, and these are people that I never met before in my life. And it was the last time in Hawaii where I was like, okay, do you, be you, live your life and your intuition. Trust that people will accept. And if they don’t, they don’t. And that has to apply to everyone.
Uh, yes, those, those boxes checked makes sense. And I, I remember coming up in dance, I actually wonder, I wonder if there’s a way to train dancers, um, that doesn’t perpetuate external validation, right. Is there a way of teaching anything that puts the authority in the hands of the students instead of any authority figure? I mean, dance specifically, I mean, I remember a very literal stick that was either, you know, it was slamming into the ground, counting the music, or it was slapping me on the back of the knee or my belly if, if I was doing something wrong. So, and you look to that person for, did I do it right? Am I enough? And that started for me when I was three and I didn’t go to college for dance, but I would imagine an institution like Juilliard, it’s that like dialed up, you’re doing that hours and hours a day for years on years on years. I don’t know how to remove that portion of, of our training process.
This is something that’s really on my mind. Um, and I’m, I know I’m not alone in that, but, um, this idea of, especially as someone who teaches ballet primarily, um, how to approach teaching ballet in a more inclusive way. And, um, you know, my, all of the readings I’ve been doing lately, um, the first thing that seems important is that you gotta name the problem and not pretend like it isn’t there. So we have to name, name the idea that Ballet is rooted in whiteness and name the idea that it is somehow, um, has been self described as this pedestal, um, this pillar of dance. And I think
That’s essential to all other dances somehow.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, there’s that, that thing that I’m sure we’ve all heard is like, if you know ballet, you can do everything or ballet is the basis of all forms. And that is, um, it’s a lie, that’s not, not a true statement. It’s true for a particular path, which is a particular path. That’s not the path. So this, I think first and foremost, we have to establish that ballet is A form of dance, not THE form of dance. And then how do you approach learning it, honoring it, without letting, without, um, allowing it, and I mean, this both as a teacher teaching it, but also as a student taking it, how do you, how do you make sure that you’re honoring it without letting it tell you that it knows something about you as a dancer, because many of us have this relationship with ballet as it being a standard of dance, then the aesthetics of ballet become a standard that I know my, my body doesn’t always accomplish. Um, my feet don’t do the thing that it’s both that they’re supposed to do for ballet, my rotation, my range of motion, all of those things. I don’t, I don’t check those boxes, but I can still honor that work and ballet and approach it, honoring my values about capital D dance, not ballet as dance, if that makes any kind of sense.
But even that is, it’s a deformation of where it came from, because it was never intended for people to rotate their feet away from each other, 180 degree or to lift your foot above your head to the 12 o’clock. That was never the intention. We applied that all of that came later, with ballet and many other genres, right? So even that thing that we’re, we’re fighting up against we have to remember that comes from people that comes from a particular person or a particular desire. And now we’re all trying to fit into that fantasy. We’re missing, we’re missing the root. Everyone can rotate their legs in some degree or fashion, because legs do that. Everyone can turn the arms in and out in general because arms do that. So it’s not about, well, your body does something, my body doesn’t do. Everybody’s bodies do exactly what they need to do.
That’s why I like to talk about turnout and experience, as opposed to, a shade. Like, it’s not a result. It’s something that you’re actively doing. And when we make things a movement, I think we allow them to be fluid as opposed to the static idea of arrival and position and aesthetic and shape. I think we get bogged down in ballet by that a lot, like moving from pose to pose. Like you heard me talk about today, how do I mean, let’s emphasize the move part moving from pose to pose instead of moving from pose. Oh, that’s right. Like, what are you emphasizing? I think it’s real important to stay curious for more information and to assume that they’re more that you don’t know, then they’re like there is that, you know, always assume that there’s more out there. However, you do know what your values are as a dancer and you know, what your values are from an early age and you can pursue those values. In any form you go into. There is not, um, like musicality coordination, organization, relationship to space, relationship to time, those things exist across dance they’re not, they don’t belong to any particular technique. So whatever you love about those things find that in whatever form you’re working on and then you’re working inclusively in your own body.
Well, I think Spencer, the other thing that you did in class today that I thought was very inclusive was, um, you talked about energetic ideas, opposed to physical explanations, physical ideas, or physical pictures of what is right and what is wrong. Um, it was very much about energetic ideas and the, the one that stuck with me and that I’ll be hearing in my head as I turn out. And as I lift, and as I oppose. Is this idea of forever. You said, turn out forever, open your back forever. Uh, root your legs forever. And it became like, this makes me emotional because it’s now timeless, which is something that kind of breaks my heart about dance, especially live dance, is that it only truly exists in that moment, even if it’s captured on film, the actual moment of it is so temporary and so fleeting, it’s what makes it so beautiful, but God, I just wish that it could last forever. But when you explained those shapes those poses, if you will, as becoming eternal, it was an emotional experience. And, and that is inclusive.
I thank you for that observation. And I, I totally, I mean, speaking about bringing information from other forms and other experiences into right now, we’re talking about ballet. So into this particular farm, that information I’ve learned and developed from, from learning and developing my relationship with Jermaine, uh, this idea of endless directionality and opposing forces and opposing energies in the body. That’s something that I was first introduced to by him. And it’s something that we really privilege in the work that we make together and in our, in our improv practice and in all of that stuff. So then again, the thought is that it doesn’t have to just belong to that practice like that improv face or that creative space with Jermaine, but I can actually invite it with me into my ballet practice or any other practice that I’m in. And I just think, I just think that that matters.
That does matter. Is it possible? You guys new idea, auditioning it on you now? Is it possible that improvisation is the foundation of all styles? Because everybody’s body is their own. And if the body is the tool of dance, then a degree of mastery of your own body and a communication of your own body in the moment from moment to moment is, is essential.
I’ll tell you what I, my experience with improvisation is that I really didn’t like it because no one was me what to do and I didn’t know how to be good at that. I didn’t like it until post my time at Netherlands dance theater. So I’m like a grownup person running around the dance world, not loving improvisation and not making improvisation into my world until I joined a company that is rooted in improvisation, the Forsythe company. And that was a real hard, um, awakening to, to have somebody say to me, well, how do you want to do it? Which is essentially what that proposition was. You’re going to improvise in this show. So you’re demonstrating what do you think essentially. And I was like, I don’t know what, what should I think is how I answered that. I didn’t know how to answer that. And I was 26-27, something like that at the time. And I just felt like, wow, this is, this is really late in the game to not even have a clue what my, how I want to move, how, what are my instincts? What are my values? And it was in those two years of working there that, and just being immersed in improvisation that I really learned, what do I care about? What are my values? What are my impulses? And that work, that exploration has just fully permeated everything. I mean, it’s, it’s like, um, like a good kind of infection not like COVID It’s just, I find it everywhere. Now. I didn’t know that person before. I didn’t know the person that knew what, uh, what they wanted in dance and knew how to make choices in dance. I only knew the person that knew how to be told what to, right?
I think it is a risk, um, to be always told what to do and told what to think and not taught how to think dance taught me a lot, you guys. Dance taught me a lot. And some things that you might not expect, like how to manage my time or how to, uh, work in a group, how to resolve some conflicts. Right. Um, but it did not teach me HOW to think. And it certainly didn’t give me confidence in my thoughts if I ever had it, if I ever had any confidence at all, it was because somebody told me that it was good, but I, I rarely had confidence in my thoughts.
That’s right. And I feel like we’re touching on something that, especially in this moment, uh, is important to be thinking about is that, you know, we’re speaking a lot about dance, like less than civilization and culture. I’m speaking about concert, dance, culture, fine arts, in quotation marks, education. Why are those fine, we’re talking about, but I didn’t know, like someone taught me how to dance. Well somebody taught you these particular forms, but again, everyone knows how to dance because they have a body like everyone dances. We’ve been dancing since the beginning before somebody decided to hold a class, you know, like people were teaching and learning from each other as a way of communicating as a way of expressing, as a way of existing as a way of keeping track of their stories and their history and all those things. So it’s just, it’s very important to remember. You’re really affected by like the forming and the codifying of the idea. But everybody dances.
I know this because, I know babies, that wiggle in their car seats when music comes on and nobody said do that. And nobody said, put your shoulders down.
I just think it’s also worth noting that the way that Jermaine was just talking about that need to codify is also like this idea about the needs to define in terms of goal setting, like what he was speaking about before this idea to just let it be experienced is, is the information you need in order to know how to engage with it. Um, yeah. What is, what is this need to define it, to like set it in concrete and make a statue out of it? Um, and is that what we have to do to it in order to relate to it?
Or is that what we need to do to it in order to remember it like 400 years from now, if my generations pass down, want to find out what I was doing at this time, how would they find it? You know, how, how would I know the important players of this thing, if this thing didn’t have a name, um, in this, in this kind of information age where you have to know what you want to search for in order to find it, I mean, that’s, to me that’s maybe the only, well, certainly the best way that I can, the best reason I can think of giving things a category or a name is simply so that they can be recorded and found later. Um, but yes, I’ve seen that genre-fecation as being so divisive and Jermaine, you mentioned earlier, like you mentioned that the dance world is very separate and it’s weird to me that for as small as it is, there is so much distance between the groups. It is so section off.
Because there’s so much hierarchy and the structure of it that is about creating exclusivity and elitistsm and ultimately I think we all don’t respond to that very well. I mean, at the top of it is, is whiteness and privilege.
And I think you you’ve touched on right away with that idea of like, who decided what was fine, because that’s, that’s why we spend more time in ballet, in college programs then other forms of dance. Because those things were defined and those things were defined by white people.
Yeah. That’s heartbreaking to think how much is being left out. Um, I think about when you use the word fine in relationship to fine art, I think about fine China and that, that, and, and how rarely it gets used and dance is so useful. It might be weird coming from somebody who operates primarily in the commercial space, but dance is useful. It has function connective, um, expressive, and to think of how much dance isn’t getting used, because it’s not considered fine. Like how many hip hop programs are there on the university level street styles, freestyles. There’s a huge problem there.
I mean, there’s also a problem there though, because the idea is like, you need to access information through this place in order for it to be successful? And that also isn’t true. You can be phenomenal, incredible artists without having to go to a university. The university doesn’t benefit from telling you that.
Thats coming from a person that teaches at a university so that might be really weird for me to say. But its something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, like I have to go to this place in order to attain success to get to the next level. But that aint true because the teachers that teach hip hop at the universities they taught themselves. Right?
You have, you have proof that it isn’t essential yet, yet the high price point would make you believe that it is simply because it’s that expensive. It must be important.
You know, we have to remember that, even though we see that, and it’s super shiny and impressive, that is not the end all. That is not the only definition of success. Everyone does not to be Beyonce And everyone won’t be Beyonce. You know, we’re saying, look at Beyonce and say, look at how she did it, you can do it too. this is a way to inspire people. But the flip side of that is like, there is one Beyonce, and if you don’t become her, that’s also, okay, you can do something else. You can still make music on a different level for a different person that can be successful.
What is success to you Jermaine?
I think success is living in tune, I was going to say with your purpose, but I don’t want that to sound too esoteric and like religious it’s living with your intuition and letting that also cultivate how you interact with your community and the people around you.
Spens, I’m curious what you’d say.
Yeah. I think especially lately I’m feeling similar to Jermaine. Um, I can recognize different times in my life when I felt feelings of success and what it feels like to me is purposefulness. Um, happiness is in there. And I think that that has come in my life when I felt like I’m really listening to what I actually want to do, as opposed to what I feel like I should do and have like a good, um, balance of those moments. What I’ve struggled with in the past is worry about what I should do. And I guess I never spoke about the goal setting idea, my relationship to goal setting. Sometimes it’s complicated for that same idea of creating tunnel vision, like talked about early on this thought about the goal, kind of taking over my sense of self or, or being present with what’s actually happening and what I, how I’m starting to understand it now is to be just a little bit vague blurring edges so that things can transform. When I try to specify the goal, sometimes I made pursuit of my happiness, not so honest. So to me to circle back success feels like really being honest with myself about what I’m actually looking for, as opposed to what I expect myself to be looking for.
Gentlemen, I cannot thank you enough. You’ve blown my mind several different points during this conversation. I’m not shocked by that because this is what you do. I love you. Thank you so much.
Though you we’re done. No. Now I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website, theDanawilson.com/podcast Finally, and most importantly, now you have a way to become a words that move me member. So kickball change over to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more and join. All right, everybody. Now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon.