Written by Shana Simmons
Let’s talk about why we applaud. In a way, the performer’s act of bowing is easy. I can’t remember the last time I was at a show when the audience did NOT applaud. It reminds me of the new fad of “everyone gets a ribbon.” The performers are always thanked by the audience even if not paid well for their performance...in the restaurant industry we would call it a verbal tip (vs a monetary tip) and while appreciated, is unacceptable. This immediate act of recognition and thanks for your performance is important to performers, but where does that leave the hierarchy for the standing ovation? Are we jaded into thinking what we do is always good?
In Pittsburgh, I don’t know if we’re starved for the arts or just super nice people, but almost every audience gives standing ovations to the performers. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but want to question how an audience can express their sincere appreciation when something really DOES move them? I think there are a few key categories for assessing dance and art quality, and points of interest to keep in mind as an audience member (including but not limited to):
1. Physicality: If the performer can do things other dancers cannot, if they have perfected their technical skill and physique to a high level...
2. Production: If the choreography, set, lighting, overall production has impressed you, if the use of these elements is creative, never seen before, given meaning in new ways...
3. Choreography: This is harder to define in the good/bad terminology, because, to each their own. BUT, to those that are educated about dance and movement, in my humble opinion, choreography should be unique movement creation (hopefully generated by the choreographer, but if not, give credit to the dancers’ inventions) and choreography should be assessed by the creative putting together of movements and patterns in space. There are so many styles of choreography which speaks to a large range of individuals. I could break this down further into assessing what has come before, are you breaking the bounds of dance as we know it, etc, but for a generalized version of whether or not to applaud, let’s assume we’re referencing an audience that isn’t in the field.
4. Impact: All of the above means nothing if the show or piece has impacted you. This can happen to anyone at anytime. It also nullifies all of the assessments listed above: a pedestrian can move someone if their gesture is done with feeling, a simplistic production can impact an audience more than the flash and show of a million dollar production. This also indicates that the level of audience appreciation, whether to applaud, to stand and applaud, to hoop and holler...all of it is subjective.
I’m questioning the validity of recognition of performers from audiences that are trained to applaud as a sign of respect and appreciation, not as a gauge of quality. And also questioning how are artists recognized as quality artists, appreciated artists, artists that make an impact, to the outside world, when it really boils down to subjectivity anyways? We all can’t receive the Princess Grace Award.
Working for Applause #3: The submissiveness of the bow
Working for Applause #1
Written by Shana Simmons
I remember leaning over to my mother as a young child at the end of a dance show and asking her, “Mom, why do they bow so many times, it’s taking forever!?” Her response was this: Because that is all they have. It’s what they’ve worked so hard for. This is their moment of appreciation. I was pretty young, so she might not have said that in so many words, it’s a loosely based quote, but that was the general gist. I sat back in my chair and put my hands together...again.
This has resonated with me my entire life and even if I don’t like a show, I ALWAYS applaud. I’ve grown up with the mentality that dance is underpaid and under-appreciated, and I should attempt to make the performers feel just the opposite at all times. In my mid-career body, this has manifested into something mentally unhealthy. I find myself seeking recognition and at the same time wondering why it is so necessary in the arts. I’ve been thinking about this over the course of a year and I keep going back to why we bow and why we receive applause. The act of bowing one’s body and the act of hearing and receiving appreciation.
The romantic mentality of the arts is to do so because you must (I say that with dramatic flair). It is what comes out of you and what you give back to the world. The arts exist to better our environment, make us as a society reflect, think and, God forbid, feel. The arts make us laugh, cry, scared, excited, exhilarated. Blahblahblah. I absolutely believe all of that, in fact, feel passionately about it. But WHY is it so hard for our American society to appreciate it through payment? And, since it’s such a battle to make a living in the arts anyways, professional recognition is all the more important. Success is undefinable, but the idea of receiving recognition from an outside “source” (awards, local newspapers, national ratings), has been plaguing me for the past few months. What does an artist do when they feel under-appreciated and on top of that, they’re getting nowhere in their field?
I keep coming back to the question of Why do I do this? For me, it doesn’t feel right not to. I think it’s what I’m good at and what I have a calling for. Is that an indication that I’m good at it? Do I need some source to tell me I’m good at it? It boils down to the question how does my work make me feel? It makes me feel good to do, it seems audiences are highly impacted by it, and at the end of our one show run a year, I receive that applause. Maybe I need to let it sink in more and bow one more time to get this chip off my shoulder. And maybe we as a society could recognize our artists more, because the “waiting for the award” which may never come is slowly retiring them.
Working for Applause #2: The Act of Applauding...even when you don’t like it.
As we approach the next two weeks, we look forward to sharing this project with you! Along with two other fabulous companies, we are ready to bring something unique to our viewers! More updates following shortly!
Tips and Tricks: A Sock Review?
So this week I want to talk about socks. Haha, very funny. No, I'm serious...socks. Very controversial as to whether dancers should wear socks or not. In my opinion it is a personal preference and I prefer to warm up in them but I always wished they had a nice grip to the floor so I could still feel grounded as I warmed my body up and began to thread into movement.
I am definitely a lover of wearing socks as I dance but again, hated the feeling of uncontrollable sliding in some. For me being able to wear socks and keep my feet warm is important. As someone who fractured a metatarsal in their foot- I am always on the lookout to keep my feet nice, warm, and secure.
In rehearsal on Thursday, we were rehearsing for tour coming up (linked below!), I had the grande idea of wearing a certain pair of socks all throughout rehearsal and test them out. I tried, along with one of my favourite people Jamie Erin Murphy, the new Blochsox by Bloch. They are shaped as a compression sock and had grips on the bottom of them to prevent too much slipping from occurring. I must say... these are the greatest socks I ever put on my feet. The thick material keeps my feet warm and the compression around my foot is tight and supportive. I 100% recommend these socks.... I now have 2 pairs and will possibly get more...
Try them out and they will change your view on dancing with socks on... well maybe just warming up in socks... again, it's a personal preference!!!
SOCKS LINKED BELOW--- I GOT MINE AT TUTU!
behind the scenes: a new work
At this point in the developmental stage of this work we are currently experimenting a lot throughout this process. Using this experimental process we have used improvisation to build ideas into the work. The idea behind some of these experiments is how women are told “no” in this world. Although the topic of women and empowerment is a huge movement in society right now, it isn’t everywhere. We have pulled scenarios from these circumstances and developed them into phrase work. To illustrate, we have played with the idea of being pushed down and not being able to rise up by creating a phrase entirely on the stomach.
Physically it feels heavy almost as if a rock is crushing you. This feeling of being heavy correlates with being smothered. To me, it reminds me of being held down by a relationship where it is nearly impossible to get up. In the progression of this phrase on the stomach we are constantly building in movement out of frustration. This phrase represents a constant struggle. Knowing that you are fighting and trying to get out from this and you can't because you are constantly being pushed down time after time.
So far, this is what I have taken from the physical movement but we still have development time to go. I am curious to see if this feeling changes or what comes of it when we display it on stage during the 3 city tour…
more to come!
After being back in the swing of things since the new year, my body has been sore and tired. When you’re working constantly and rehearsing you need to take time to recover and do the things necessary for your body to get back into the routine. Self-care is the topic and the thing I will try to begin practicing this year! Taking time for yourself- not pushing aside priorities- but knowing when it’s right to take some time out of the day and treat yourself. For me, I am working on being kinder to my body and that means knowing how to recover after rehearsal and how to prevent myself from really feeling terribly sore the next 3 days.
Here are my tips and tricks to the routine I am going to begin implementing into my week:
Moving forward- knowing when and how to take care of your body is very important especially being an older dancer. These are simple tips and they are easy to implement into your recovery routine so try it out- your body will thank you!
Shana Simmons Dance Company Member
Behind the scenes: A new work
Surprise! Shana is choreographing a new work for our 3 city tour coming up! Recently we have been playing around and this is a short recap of what's been going down.
During rehearsals we have been exploring female empowerment in both pedestrian but also in more complex movement based ways. We took a floor phrase and manipulated it in order to show some type of oppression. Since I am a rather small being it was very easy to feel as though Brady was overpowering me. We played with that oppression but also my pushing back in some instances offering some opposition to Brady’s constant push downwards.
We then played with more pedestrian movement. One exercise I found particularly interesting was having Brady say, “You can’t do that,” after each decision I made. To me, this statement represented society saying I couldn’t do something and that felt rather restricting. It was a fun thing to experiment with because in my experience I've never had someone physically tell me I can not do something but it shows restrictions that society has placed on us. Restrictions that majority of us accept as just “the way it is”.
This brings up the question: Why do we just accept societal restrictions we do not agree with, and how do we become more aware that we are doing so?
Today I wanted to talk about what makes a dance company run, or also cease running. This weekend we are looking forward to viewing Jessica Lang Dance Company’s last performance in Pittsburgh. This company has had a wonderful run of 7 years. It is incredibly shocking the company is closing its doors, as “the company has performed their repertoire of 25 unique works for audiences nationally and internationally in over 75 cities, 35 states, and 7 different countries.”
My question is: why?
These days it is incredibly tough to run a small dance company. I see it everyday in my own Artistic Director, as she has to do many things on her own to keep the company running (finances, grant writing, marketing, payroll, the list goes on). There is never a day where the company and the “business” don’t come to mind, especially when that is your full time job (that doesn’t pay yet) and there is no staff to take care of the day to day duties. It takes away from the creative/choreographic time... it also takes funding!!! Applying for grants and making sure there is enough money to take part in a choreographic process.
This is only my educated guess as to why they could be closing their doors, but it is still a conversation we should continue to have because these small companies can make an impact in the dance community, both where they live and on international scales. Dance and movement can express certain topics that are hard to speak about and smaller companies can also make those projects very accessible to the general public! Dance is an exchange between performer and audience and connects the two in interactive ways. (I could go on as to why dance is important, but I’ll stop there for now)
Ms. Lang has previously choreographed on other companies and will continue to do so after the company dissolves. In my opinion, she craves the process and being in the studio creating without having to think about running a company on her own. I believe we will continue to see great work from Ms. Lang in the forms of other prestigious companies like we have in the past and take this opportunity to see her company perform one last time, before they dissolve!
What’s new in the new year?! We are in rehearsals for Her Holiness, The Winter Dog. A new opera presented by the New Hazlett Theater and Kamratōn, scheduled to premier May 30/31!
In our rehearsals, we combat many things movement based, but for me, the most difficult is fully embodying a certain character or creature....
Our first couple of rehearsals focused on qualities that dogs and cats have - and also the differences. Yes, we are going to be cats and my fellow dancer/just awesome person all around, Jamie, is the Winter Dog.
We spent a majority of time differentiating movement qualities of both animals and creating a combination of movements that match each one. Not going to lie, being a cat is HARD.
Many hours spent crawling... but not just crawling, we were finding the perfect wrist flick, shoulder roll, and back arch. IT TOOK TIME. I, for one, still have a ways to go.
Workshopping different movements helps to bounce ideas off of one another creatively. We had many silly moments in rehearsal experimenting different ways of traveling, pouncing, and sitting. We tried to jump like a cat from all fours and land on all fours and run like a dog where their feet and arms are outstretched at the same time and come together to push off the floor at the same time (near impossible).
For me, the hardest part is believing I am a cat. We will be aiming to perfect these movements in rehearsals until May, so keep in touch and I will update along the way....
PS. Peek below for a preview!
Quote of the Rehearsal: “what’s an otter man?” -Brady Sanders
11/13/18- The Start of Something new
Have you ever wondered what the inside workings of a dance company looks like? Well wonder no further, you’ve come to the right place! As a company member in a Pittsburgh born modern dance company, Shana Simmons Dance, I’m here to dish all the secrets and as the young ones would say…spill some tea.
Okay okay, this blog will not be a gossip blog but I am going to be touching on a bunch of different topics all related to DANCE! I’ll be including some important “what should I know if I want to pursue a career in dance” information. I know that was a mouthful…
Keep an eye out for upcoming updates of what’s trending in the dance community, training tips and tricks, and product reviews! I will be discussing everything from my take on cross training, rehabilitation when recovering from injuries or also just rehabilitation for recovering after a long rehearsal. Self-care as a professional/aspiring dancer is key!
Also I’ll be including little snippets from rehearsals to allow for a sneak peek into the inside life of a dancer… disclaimer: it’s sort of fun, hard work, but fun. Stay tuned for more awesome things to come……
Quote of the rehearsal:
“It’s easy. You just have to remember what comes next….I guess like in all dance….”
- Shana Simmons
offerings from shana & company members
Something to read while laying in bed, on the subway or tube, or during your morning constitutional.