An aside. A meeting with the DaNCEBUMS.
People on stage dancing
Photo credit: Emmet Kowler

I’ve just spent a year sitting on the couch, in a deflated C shape, terribly still, feeding my mammal child. This is a posture I will very likely fill again at an older age, as so many older adults do. I had gotten comfortable, as a body-based artist, being a person who is looked at, knowing the strength of this exposure, the strength of my body. But I am now only a soft surface. Invisible as furniture. And my energy is fugitive. Dancing seems far-fetched. Dance shows are long after bedtime, mine and the small mammal’s.

I watch dance online; viral traps of ballet-trained beauties under water, seniors flossing while assisted by sturdy chairs, and highly edited trailers of friends’ productions. These post-performance compilations are designed to highlight the powerful and flashy moments, outside of time and space, disconnected from the dynamic energy of the live event. I see videography, not choreography.  

Researching recent studies in reminiscence therapy for individuals with memory loss, it seems technology is a repeating proposal. Scholars are finding funding for tablets and offering screens exhibiting photos and media from earlier in that individual’s life. Without a study, I know how powerful music can be in triggering memory. I also know how absorbing and immersive my gaze can become when looking at a device. I am cocooned. I notice the sluggishness of my reflexes, my re-embodiment, when I’m looking at my phone and my young toddler is at the edge of the stairs. What if real people were funded to hold these photos, to make conversations that jog the memory, to be present, to make physical contact and connection?

But certain words look good on paper, certain words catch attention (read money). The most nonverbal dances and art are still preceded by language; buzzy blurbs that say things well, or don’t.  And, I like to read. I am asking you to just now. But you can’t learn to swim in the library, and YouTube how-to videos turn into rabbit holes.

These experiences—videos, photos, descriptions—aren’t dance shows. They are fake dance shows. I have seen art much nearer to being a real dance show happening right on top of the couch that I am, performed by a still present, tiny human.

Think about that escaped, overlooked marble at the Meg Stuart solos and duets show last month at the Walker.  The crowd was beautifully, cooperatively aware of what the tech person—let’s call them a dancer—was not. The whole crowd’s telepathic strength was focused on helping him spot it. Do you remember? The dance community in Minneapolis seems to me to be incredibly active, supportive of so much fellow work. Being present seems a collective value. But there aren’t that many performance spaces, there aren’t that many performance spaces left, it’s nearly manageable to see all the dance. There are more and more condos and there are more and more tablets, but they don’t sweat, or slip, they don’t take you by the hand and lead you across the room, they don’t meet you as a person and remind you of your humanness.

And, there are rehearsals, there are lots and lots of rehearsals. Because dancers love to rehearse? Or dancers love to be together in space, be embodied, be in the company of others while being their most core and original selves. Dancers may increase their cardiovascular endurance or range of motion through rehearsals, or maybe not, but would a gain via art be acknowledged by physical therapists and the medical community if not measured scientifically? And, show descriptions say all sorts of things that audiences may or may not see in the show. The writing may be offering a short unrelated tale or they might be making the impossible attempt to describe that specific sort of unnamable magic that happens when people collect, repeatedly, and move together.

DaNCEBUMS featured image for "It’s all Real. It’s all Fake. It’s all DaNCEBUMS", with pieces of wood cut out spelling "D-a-N-C-E-B-U-M-S" on a dining room shelf, surrounded by houseplants.
Three DaNCEBUMS movers dancing in the center of a stage, swinging their arms and hair.
Credit: Matt Gorrie
People on stage
Credit: Matt Gorrie

In DaNCEBUMS' upcoming work, It’s all Real. It’s all Fake. It’s all DaNCEBUMS, they are confronting dance in a world increasingly dominated by screens, incorporeal and remote. It’s all full of nostalgic sounding tunes from Eric Mayson that place you in the softness of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and detailed cameo triggers like a bag of tennis balls and iconic ballet tricks that dance kids practice obsessively in backyards. In a live world, the work gives you four friends, Margaret Johnson, Kara Motta, Eben Kowler, Maggie Zepp, and a collection of collaborators, dancing, working, beautifully with each other. The work is tightly rehearsed, clearly much time has been spent moving together and in contact. With as many authors, they had to have spoken openly to one another, have done so repeatedly, and have come out the other side to present something unified as an offering to the folks around them. A major shift happens as they step outside of what they built mutually, it seems a gesture towards those that might want something more concrete. They soon restore away from the confrontation and back to their own created space and micro-community. A reminder for the audience that by simply being in the same room, a fly on the wall, not a webpage away, you are invited into the environs of that energy.

Encouraging people to see dance shows is tricky. Do people remember, do people know that showing up comes with this sort of prize; kinetic energy, people at their best, their most actual? I saw my babe hold hands with another baby yesterday, it was thrilling for them, and done just because they could, because it occurred to them, just because they had hands. Isn’t this why we make dances, and isn’t this why we want to share them. Not all dance is this authentic, but if your notion of the form doesn’t include what I’m describing, I’m guessing you haven’t seen so much.

And, encouraging people to dance is tricky, but not impossible. We all had the impulse to reach out and hold another sticky hand at one time in our lives. It’s in us. It’s not immature, it’s not just for girls, it’s not silly. It’s not just for the young or the exceptionally abled. For those that are very familiar. It’s not the same on a screen, and it’s not expensive. It’s not hard science, it’s not trying to be. There are so many ways dance is possible. Try, just right where you are, try moving your shoulders around, just a small, maybe imperceptible, shoulder roll, a little shimmy. No one will notice, that’s not so impossible. Maybe somebody notices, I guarantee they are not looking at you with irritation. Probably, this movement didn’t even interrupt what you are doing otherwise. Did you try it? Why not?

To the DaNCEBUMS and all of you that did and do, thank you. Here’s to the dance being enough said.

By Target Studio artist-in-residence Anna Marie Shogren. Learn more about the DaNCEBUMS and their upcoming show, It's All Real. It's All Fake. It's All DaNCEBUMS, taking place May 23 – 26 at the Cowles Center.