Misty, Haikus, and other Finals Week Updates

After 40 pages of papers, 4 exams, and a long night grading session my finals are done. Some updates:

  • Coffee is good. I was never a daily coffee drinker before last week, because I was trying to save up my caffeine sensitivity for “emergencies,” but that has kind of gone out the window lately. I’m drinking coffee now.
  • At one point, it seemed like a good idea to write my papers as haikus instead of actually finishing them. Think #HaikuYourThesis could become a thing?

How to make it big:
Unis, music, public funds
Don’t piss off HUAC

He cares more than her
Blurry, disconnected forms
Marriage is scary

Sexy prostitutes
Get grotesque with Picasso
Shows a messed-up truth?

Mo oil mo problems
Did regional control help
Eh, it’s still a mess

Saudis and US
Frenemies with benefits
Democracy screwed

  • So I just casually took class next to Misty Copeland yesterday. It was in a very small, chill upstairs class at Steps: just a couple of pros, couple of tween bunheads, couple of adults, Misty, and me. She had just flown in that night, but was obviously still gorgeous. I tried to play it cool by not asking for a selfie.
  • Currently taking on the airport on Christmas Eve. Wish me luck.
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Finals Week Expressed in Vintage Dance Pictures

  • Your early morning struggles:morning martha graham

 

  • Which doesn’t really help with your study space struggles:fosse finals

 

  • When you ask your professor for an extension:limon puppy

 

  • Those essay questions you didn’t really prepare for:nijinsky history

 

  • Your best guess for philosophy passage IDs:

unidentified ancient greek

 

  • When someone asks you how you’re doing and you’re like:literally dying swan

 

  • And when you’re finally done:bennington party

 

Things that Blow My Mind #4857: Appalachian Spring Was Originally About Abolitionism

Stuff I learn while working on a dance history paper:

Nothing says shiny, idealized American history like Appalachian Spring. The Aaron Copland score is recognized as a quintessential representation of rural Americana. And Martha Graham’s ballet shows pioneers, a preacher, and a newly married couple making a life on the frontier.

(I personally prefer to watch Martha as a murderous mythological madwoman, but I guess this was also a thing . . . )

But that’s not the history they started out with. Graham sent Copland a series of scripts outlining her vision of the then-untitled piece, which changed significantly during the process. The first included a scene based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was cut early on. The second, which Copland used to compose the score, still included an abolitionist figure based on John Brown and a fugitive slave, as well as an “Indian Girl” figure.

For whatever reason–maybe the potential political controversy–these figures were cut from Graham’s final piece. But when Aaron Copland was writing the soundtrack to your images of an ideal, whitewashed American past, he was thinking about the Civil War and racial conflict.

Just think about that.

Kind of turns the whole iconography of American exceptionalism on its head, right?

For more on this subject, check out Mark Franko’s book Martha Graham in Love and War.

In other news, I’m currently in tech week for two different shows this weekend. So this week’s activities are brought to you by Starbucks™.

Annotating With Sass

An out-of-context collection of some of the snarkier things I wrote in various textbooks and readings for class:

  • Freud projects his mommy issues onto all of humanity.
  • Well that was a fun story before it got racist.
  • Britain only wants you for your oil.
  • So many ways to screw up a baby . . . How does anyone manage to end up a healthy, normal adult?
  • Then again, I’m not sure I know any healthy, normal adults.
  • Did Russia stop existing during this century, or did you just forget to write about it?
  • Nothing says “great ruler” like mass beheadings.
  • Did women stop existing during this century, or did you just forget to write about them?
  • Who would sign their baby up to be classically conditioned, anyway?
  • OMG tutus and moving torsos . . . so scandalous! How will we explain that to the children?
  • Woah, naked ankles. Sexy stuff.
    • (Note: looks like tight pants are not responsible for women being inappropriately sexualized.)
  • Stop trying to make history fit your narrative. It’s not going to happen.
  • Spoiler: she wakes up and it was all a social construction.

Concert and Commercial Dance: A View From Under the High Horse

Recently, I was talking to some friends about the difficulty of finding funding for dance companies. One of them, who is currently a company manager and studying non-profit management (you can check out her blog here), was saying that she wished the commercial dance industry (dance in film, TV, music videos, etc.), which does make serious money, would give back to the concert dance world.

dollarfly

That’s a really good point. Why aren’t dance TV shows, which are raking in the big bucks, on the list of donors for dance companies which are just trying to stay afloat? After all, if these shows claim to do the dance world a service by exposing the public to small, easily-palatable slice of it, why don’t they feel compelled to support the majority of less-exposed artists who have long been developing the techniques and choreographic ideas that they like to sample from?

But it’s not just a one-sided issue: the non-profit dance sector could benefit from a closer relationship with its for-profit counterpart, but not until concert dance people (I include myself here) get off our high horses and drop some of our snobbism toward commercial dance.

“But I like my high horse,” you protest. “It’s my favorite kind of horse! And what if I care about the integrity of the art form?” I feel you, but as fun as it is to claim the status of a “true artist” and look down upon the flash and trash of the world’s lowly entertainers, maybe we need to consider the possibility that commercial dance has something to offer us—and not just money.

After all, why are we still trying to maintain a line between “high art” and “low art”—as if that distinction wasn’t largely arbitrary, historically shifting, and rooted just as much in classism and elitism as in merit? Before we claim that what we do has nothing to do with “entertainment,” let’s not forget the first ballets were made to spice up parties or that Martha Graham started out as a vaudeville dancer.

We have to admit that, as much as we might like to dismiss commercial art and entertainment as silly or insignificant, it is inevitably influential in shaping culture and determining how most people experience the world. (Personally, even as someone who has an intellectual and artistic appreciation of music across genres, nothing is so deeply and emotionally tied to my conception of time and change throughout my life as stupid pop songs.)

And if we insist that dance has inherent humanistic value, we have to consider which humans we’re making dance for. If it’s mostly small urban, educated populations with either a lot of money or dance training themselves, that’s arguably the people who need it the least. As much as we don’t want to determine our worth as artists based on ratings or box office sales like those *Hollywood people,* maybe we should consider that building the sheer size and scope of an audience is not totally without artistic value.

And what about sometimes paying attention to the wants and needs of these people watching? Sure, commercial media may go overboard with their target demographic research and focus groups, engineering content into a mere reflection of the viewer’s own interests. But must we go so far in the other direction, turning dance into a one-way expulsion of personal expression with no regard to who is receiving it? If these two sides combined forces, could we make some dance which functions as a two-way conversation between artist and viewer?

And hey, we might even end up with some people making art and money.