Monday, November 15, 2010

Veterans Day

Okay, space is an issue at The Girls’ School of Austin, where I teach my weekly Isadora Duncan dance class for K-2nd grade students. Right now, we push the furniture to the walls in the kindergarten classroom in order to facilitate the nearly dozen tunic-draped dancers whole-bodily exploring the relationship between music and movement. Thankfully, the weather in Austin is nice enough to accommodate some dancing outside of the classroom, but when winter sets in, this will no longer be the case.

Dancers in the courtyard
In brainstorming end-of-semester performance options for the dancers, we realized that a classroom performance would seriously limit the size of the girls’ audience. Ms. Schmitt, the principal, asked me if it would be possible for the girls to dance something patriotic. If that was the case, they could perform outdoors (and earlier in the semester), for the school’s annual Veterans Day celebration.

Something patriotic? Well, Duncan certainly choreographed revolutionary, if not outright patriotic, themes in her day, and her impulse to choreograph these dances is evidence of her deep conviction that all peoples of all nations have an inherent right to physical and spiritual freedoms. While the range of revolutionary songs she choreographed may seem paradoxical from a contemporary political perspective (Duncan lumped revolutionary themes from the French "Marseillaise" to the Soviet "Internationale" into one category), Duncan’s desire to represent freedom in her dances was transnational. It is from this place that I could say, yes, we can work with that—the girls will dance something patriotic on Veterans Day.

Salute from
"Stars and Stripes Forever"
Of course, with the girls, I talked about heroes, freedom, and working together to accomplish goals that benefit everyone. Somehow, I just didn’t feel the time was right to address the historic complexities of female bodies representing abstract ideals or governments employing dance and other performance arts for nationalistic ends!  Nevertheless, I did tell them how Duncan donated the building for her school Bellevue, located just outside of Paris in France, to the Allied cause for use as a World War I hospital. I also told them how her German students were held on Ellis Island when she brought them to the United States during that same war. The history of Duncan’s school intersects with some world-defining events, and since life provides the content for our dance art, what better jumping off point to begin developing historical perspective.

Under the scarf from
"Stars and Stripes Forever"
So, in honor of Veterans Day 2010, we created choreography to “Stars and Stripes Forever,” John Philip Sousa’s patriotic tribute to the American flag as a symbol of freedom and currently recognized at the national march of the United States. The girls shot across the courtyard in their blue tunics with sharp-kneed skips and outstretched arms.  They soared under a lofty blue scarf and finished by lunging deeply with outstretched arms or kneeling in salutatory tribute.  A sincere dance of freedom, strength, and joy in recognition of those whose military service has protected and preserved our many freedoms, including self-expression through the dance!