During my years as a Brownie and a Girl Scout, I had a passion for dabbler badges, where you splashed into the shallow end and swam the breadth of subject. I’ve developed the capacity to dive deep, but I am still quite a dabbler at heart. As I scamper through schools, libraries, theaters, museums, back alleys, dead ends, and truck stops, I have absorbed influences from mentors, colleagues, idols and random passersby.
When I was in high school I had a habit of going to the Wellesley public library and picking out five books at random. On one of those visits I happened upon Glorious Color by Kaffe Fassett. This stunning book transformed my ideas of knitting, of clothing, of art, of life. This was in the dark ages before the interwebs arrived and I checked it out over and over again. Over the years I racked up an embarrassing amount of overdue library fines but it was worth every single cent.
Kaffe began life as a painter and he uses color in his garments like paint. His patterns are not perfectly the same throughout. When he runs out of a color in a pattern of stripes, he inserts a new color. In his books, it was possible to wear art. Kaffe taught me to love oddballs in all aspects of life, to toss aside my notions of perfection, and to seek out inspiration in every nook and cranny. Like all craft book authors, he believes in the open source sharing of designs and actively encourages people to find their own voice in the process.
When I stomped off to Northwestern University, I thought I had finally quit my childhood dreams of becoming a dancer. Silly me, I thought I was going to become an academic and began working towards a 5 year BA/MA in Linguistics. I discovered, however, that the Dance Department consisted of some of the best professional dancers in Chicago and most of the classes did not count towards my credit total. I became a junkie for Timothy O’Slynne’s vivacious modern dance classes and Lynne Blom’s conceptually driven choreography classes. Tim showed me that women of all sizes had power as performers and could find a place in the dance community. He challenged me to find the uniqueness of my own physicality. Lynne pushed me to mix my intellect into my movement. Her choreographic exercises gave me tools to explore the idiosyncratic language of both materials and people, and radically altered how I develop work with dancers.
Both Tim and Lynne were more specific about their end products than I am but their methods of inquiry underlie most of my pieces. For example, I made a solo entitled Idolum/Invisible to the Eyes in 1998. The piece is flirtatious, with a large brimmed hat that hides my face. Later, I wanted to set the piece on Nicole Harris but the hat looked odd on her, and the elements that made it flirty for me felt forced on her. I began to change the tone and emphasis of choreographic phrases so that they communicated this dancer’s natural style. Eventually, I decided to build an entirely different costume and switch the music. Almost all the movements are the same but it took my mom years of seeing both pieces before she recognized that. So while neither piece would ever be mistaken for something created by either of my mentors, their influence is everywhere in the process.
My Linguistics professor, Dr Judith Levi began to wonder why my grades were slipping and she discovered that I was often sleeping on the floor of the studio after staying up late to get my choreography assignments built. She prodded me to re-examine my passion for dance and helped me to navigate the aftermath of the deaths of both Lynne and Tim shortly thereafter. I am not sure that I can ever thank Dr Levi enough.