Contemporary Dance Inspiration at Gibney Dance Center

Posted on 07/07/14

Imagine seven different points within the body: the ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, ears and top of the head. Now explore moving these points in various fashions. Let the ankles bend and straighten, the knees circle, the hips stretch and so forth until you reach the highest point, the crown.

On Wednesday, April 16th I was fortunate to take a contemporary dance workshop with choreographer Norbert De La Cruz at Gibney Dance Center in Manhattan, NY. This workshop was one of my first “official” contemporary dance workshops and I found his style to be physically and artistically fulfilling. Prior to the class, I was oblivious of contemporary dance class structures, and while De La Cruz was teaching I was surprised at how similar his structure was to Luna Dance Institute’s (LDI). Like our lessons at Luna, Norbert’s class began with a warm-up, followed by explorations, and a deeper improvisation, and ended with performances of a student-made composition.  As a dance educator and contemporary art-maker I was ecstatic to experience this method of teaching at a professional dance level. I left the studio feeling confident that our teaching methodologies at Luna are preparing our students for the contemporary world.

At LDI, many of our lessons focus on a concept that is problem-solved with the body. Two of my favorite concepts that De La Cruz introduced are connecting and disconnecting points in the body and maintaining a space hold. Utilizing two of the seven points De la Cruz defined during the warm-up, dancers chose two points to connect and disconnect, creating an imaginary line. After creating the imaginary line we took a step back to observe and then we played with the line by smothering body parts, shifting space, changing plane and switching points of contact. I thought about my students studying Laban directional scales and how I compare them to dancing different horizontal and vertical lines. I smiled and thought to myself, “Wow, my students as young as they are would really enjoy this!”

For the space hold exercise we imagined holding a sphere with two hands. The sphere could be anywhere in relation to our bodies. We could hold the sphere in front of us, on our side, behind us, high in the air etc. After playing with having both hands on the sphere we improvised holding with one hand and then with various body parts. I moved towards and away from the center, under and over it, placed the sphere at different angles, and played with the size and parts of my body that connected and disconnected. Throughout the activity I felt comfortable to dive into the improvisation and take some challenging and fun risks. Again, my mind returned to my students and contemplated on what they would do. I then realized their innocence and uninhibited actions have a strong influence on my own dance practice. I heard my inner teaching voice whisper, “How about this? Can you do it on a low level?” I was having a ball being a dancer on the floor engaged in creative dance-making.

Towards the end of the workshop each dancer provided a couple of movements based on the concepts we explored to build a class phrase. Norbert applied his beautiful knowledge of artistry to ensure all of our movements connected and flowed physically and aesthetically. After performing the phrase a few times in small groups we watched each other add improvisational moments. I was excited to see professional dancers from various dance backgrounds perform the phrase with commitment, versatility and ownership. Watching them dance together felt revealing and profound. I thought to myself, “I wish the school classroom teachers I work with could see this, because if they did, they would understand more thoroughly the great depth of thinking and dancing their students are engaged in.”

Participating in Norbert De La Cruz’s contemporary dance workshop was an enriching highlight to my trip. I had no idea the workshop would align so closely with our teaching values at Luna. I felt powerful and comfortable moving in the class and it seemed that all of us in the dance studio, no matter our dance background, were able to relate to the material, create something new and leave feeling accomplished. It is this feeling of certainty and self-knowledge that I crave for my students. Since teaching at LDI I have seen students take physical and emotional risks, and exhibit a deep understanding of their bodies in relation to space, time and energy. I believe that creative expression and improvisation are preparing them to be versatile dancers, and quick acting intelligent human beings ready to enter a forever-changing world.

- Cherie Hill


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