Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

The Touch of Modern

"The Ark," on East Campus, has become a new haven for me. Once a gymnasium, it now plays host to most of Duke's dance classes. It's creaky, knobbled floorboards and thin walls seem to perpetually leak heat - perhaps because the building itself is constantly supplied by steam pipes. We sweat.

Over the last month and a half I've begun an exploration of modern dance in my own body. About 10 of us gather there, twice a week, to follow our instructor - a petite, beturbaned dancer named Kabal Khalsa, with strangely long toes - as she guides us through a series of stretches, exercises and improvisation. This week we've had the pleasure of working with guest Mark Dendy. On Tuesday we danced, leading our movements first with our pelvis, then our sternum, then moving to our right shoulder, left knee, right elbow, chin, fingers. It was exhausting but liberating. I felt like I was taking my mind into each consecutive body part, ask it to be its own organism, to drag me to the floor or make me jump, or spin me in circles. Natalie, our amazing accompanist, took us into the movement with her music. She was at her best this week.

We emerged, sore and wrung out. Today was calmer, Mark asking us to stretch more musically and emotionally, working off the tunes and sounds that Natalie gave us. We played off of one another, approached one another and used one another's gestures and movements to build narratives, to play and surprise each other. I loved this most - the softness of extending arms and legs and energy to one another. When, crouched on the floor, I felt two of my classmates come to stand beside me, place their hands on my shoulders and lift me up, I gasped from the gratitude that swept me. This, just from an exercise. I realized how foreign that sense of touch had become.

I always encourage my dance students to be more aware of how their lead or follow affects one another. But even this touch has some sense of being utilitarian - the more effectively they connect their arms or hips to each other, the better they can dance. Today in modern, touch wasn't that - it was purely for the purpose of connection. And with that, was some great intimacy - just as the way we put an arm around a good friend, hug our parents, hold a lover. Maybe that's what soothes us about pets, that they purr or wag their tail just for the joy of contact with another being.

Those moments of contact today, in class, made me realize how starved I am myself for that human contact. I am so fortunate to have such wonderful close friendships, borne of many many years and deep trust - friends with whom I am so comfortable that I can just lean on them. But these people are far from North Carolina.

Thus does modern dance bring me to realize myself. And until I can bring such freedom to the rest of my life, I will await the next time when my bare feet meet the dance floor of the Ark, my muscles loosen from the warm sunlit air, and my classmates and I stretch to let the music take us over.
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