Monday, March 28, 2011

A Local Field Trip

Spring arrives early in Austin, and I had the luxury a few weeks ago of lesson-planning for my Austin Community College Modern Dance I course outdoors. I was so inspired by this experience that I asked my students if they would be interested in taking a field trip for a class outside—to Austin’s Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, which is just around the corner from where we usually meet at Galaxy Dance Studio.

Tanagra Figures at Umlauf
I was met with a resounding “yes” and the readiness to pack up and leave right then! This was before spring break, and I wanted to check in with the Umlauf’s Director of Education, Sheila Fox, and make it an official trip. I also wanted to use the opportunity to teach a bit about the relationship between dance and sculpture and to highlight the direct influence of sculpture on the development of early modern dance practices.

We set a date for the Thursday after spring break, and I used that Tuesday to emphasize movement initiation from the solar plexus—a core element of Duncan’s technique, and an articulation of the body that is highly visible in Umlauf’s sculptures. We also worked on some phrasing from a Duncan dance called the “Cherubim,” focusing on a chase sequence with skip turns. The skater figure in the sculpture garden provides a really clear example of one of the shapes in this dance.

Tanagra Figures at Umlauf
On Thursday, students met me by Umlauf’s “Spirit of Flight,” and we began our class with conscious breathing and a classic Duncan arm lift. We continued to warm up through sways, bobs, and wheels, before journeying down into the garden to skip the larger pathways and learn Duncan's "Tanagra Figures" among the sculptures.  We finished by dancing some of the “Cherubim” phrasing on the pavilion area, and concluded with a beautiful group improvisation.

"Cherubim" chase on the pavilion!
The day was hot, and I think we got a bit dirty (especially practicing a laying down sequence amid fallen leaves), but the movement was joyous and the students were inspired. If only I had daily access to a beautiful outdoor space to share and create within Duncan’s subtle, specific, and soulfully uplifting dance technique. I’m very much looking forward to getting these students outside one more time this semester—check out ACC’s Carnival Ah! in a few weeks, when we’ll have class outdoors at the Rio Grande Campus on Tuesday, April 21st.