Process Focused Thinking In The Dance Classroom

PSM V26 D768 Brain of gauss
by Janet Rothwell

As a choreographer and dance educator, process is very important to me. It is through my creative process that I problem solve and create various products. My process can vary depending on the task at hand or even on how I feel in the moment. Any changes in my process are usually reflected in the product outcome as well. One example of how changing my process can be helpful is when I am choreographing a work and I do not want it to look or feel like the last piece I created. Changing my process can help me to create new movement and fresh ideas.

In order to teach my students about the value of process I give them many assignments where they have built in time to explore and play. I also have them reflect on their process answering questions like: How did you go about learning a movement sequence? How did you work within your group on a project? How did you approach the creation of your movement?

I often have students work in small groups on various choreography assignments. The most recent project I gave them was to create a short choreographic study based on initiating movement from certain bones in their body. The main goals were for students to learn the names of the bones, where they were located, and how it feels to move from those bones in their body.

The assignment included a rubric which required students to use specific choreography tools and a required length of counts for the whole dance. Often time when I give an assignment like this with a clear rubric of expectations, students look at the list of what the dance must include and work towards this end goal first instead of taking the time to experiment and play with movement ideas. I have to remind them that I’m giving them many days to work on the project to include the process of discovering the movement they want to use and they have time to change their minds and let the dance evolve. I use many analogies like when you create movement and choreography with your group you are writing in pencil not pen so as you go on if you don’t like something simply erase it and make a change.

The majority of the classes that my high school students take are very product focused and students can either be right or wrong with their product. It can be very challenging for students to shift their perspective in my class and linger in the process focused perspective as a means to create and problem solve. In dance class with a creative assignment there is not one way to do anything right so there are many right answers and what I try to teach my students is that I want them to discover what they feel is the best and right answer for them. They discover this through their process.

Having an emphasis on the process rather than the product does not mean that I do not care about the end product. On the contrary, I think that when the process is more fulfilled the end product is also more likely to be fulfilled and realized in a deeper way. The way we go about getting to an end product is through various paths and that we honor the paths we try out and discover what each one has to offer. Students edit and revise more while focusing on process in order to create the product.

As students embrace this mind set I see a shift in the quality of their work and their work ethic. In a world of instant gratification and product focused thinking it is becoming more and more important that we teach young people to value the process, the how we get to an end goal. Teaching students to be process focused can have great implications in many areas of their lives and help them to problem solve in creative ways. I hope to help my students become creative problem solvers and leaders in the world they live in.

dancer posing upside down

Janet Neidhardt

Contributor Janet Rothwell has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.

Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.

When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.


Making The Most Of Chance: Choreographer Greg Blackmon


Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Cheryl Mann.

Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Cheryl Mann.

Greg Blackmon is a new choreographer and DanceWorks Chicago alum. DanceWorks Chicago was founded in 2007 and gives early career artists an environment where they can build a foundation and hone their artistry through training, collaboration, performances and mentoring opportunities. They also showcase work from established choreographers.

Greg recently choreographed “PACK: And for All the Lost Ones” for DanceChance, a showcase which features choreographers chosen by chance. Afterwards, his piece was taken into the DWC repertoire – marking the first time that DWC dancer has become a DWC choreographer.

“PACK: And for All the Lost Ones” will make its premiere with DWC on Sunday, November 16 at DanceMoves.


What inspired your piece “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones”?

The piece is actually about a friend of mine and former DWC dancer, Marco Antonio Huicochea Gonzalez, who passed away during his time with us. It was a really rough loss for all of us, and after a few months of reflection I decided I would like to honor him through the art form we got to share with one another. So I dropped my name into the fishbowl at Dance Chance and wound up getting selected, which allowed this idea to come to fruition.


What music did you chose for this piece?

I chose a song by an Icelandic band called Sigúr Ros, “All Alright.” I’d heard it when a friend of mine used it years before for a piece of his own and I’ve always been in love with the juxtaposition of the music’s reflective, emotional tone and its instrumental minimalism.


What style is “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones”?

I would consider the piece to be contemporary. I’ve implemented some ballet principles, but re-imagined and reconfigured them to fit more organic movement.


What is your choreographic process like?

Since I’m just starting out, I think I’ll say my process from piece to piece will be different every time. I like to believe every task– not just in dance, but in life in general– has a formula specific to itself that will breed the most success in terms of what your goals are. This piece started with me taking a lot of note from the emotional displays of animals, mainly dogs/wolves, and fusing that honesty and the body language with styles of contemporary movement that I love.


When did you find out that “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones” was going to be added to the DWC rep?

A few weeks after Julie saw the piece at Dance Chance, she asked if Matt (the other original dancer and a current DWC company member) and I would like to perform “Pack…” at the Dance for Life kickoff gala this summer, which was exciting in itself because so many people that I admire in the dance world got to see it. And then about 3 or 4 weeks after that, Julie asked if we could meet to discuss how it would work its way into the DWC repertoire.


How did you feel when found this out?

I was absolutely ecstatic! This was my first creation as a professional choreographer, and I didn’t even aspire for it to be anything more than what it was– a short, sweet dedication to a very dear friend and to the family that I’ve found in DanceWorks Chicago, as well as a sort of memorial for everyone who’s ever been lost from this world (because everyone means something to someone. And everyone is loved very dearly by someone.). And it’s grown into something that a ton of other people will get to see and hold dear to their hearts because of one idea that I had.


What did you learn during your time at DanceWorks Chicago and how has it helped you?

I could write a book on everything that I’ve learned here. One of the most important things is that you really are a person first and THEN an artist. I think a lot of dancers can get really caught up in the idea of this art form we dedicate our lives to and all of the prestige surrounding the mental and physical dedication it takes, and we forget that we have to be people inside of the movement. Otherwise, you’re just someone else who can throw a leg up or point your foot and pretend to say something, or imply an idea, but never really say anything…never really give it meaning.

I’ve also learned to be more patient and a bit less of a perfectionist. I’ll never forget Julie Nakagawa pulling me aside one day while we were on your and telling me “Just do the work. Don’t fuss or obsess about the mistakes. Just… do… the work. That’s really all anyone can ask of you. But you have to really do it.”


Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Vin Reed.

Greg Blackmon. Photograph by by Vin Reed.

What are some of your dance goals and dreams for the future?

I think my biggest dream for the future is to continue exploring movement and manifesting both my own ideas and the ideas of others through dance. It’s so much fun translating something as abstract as a simple thought into something as tangible as dance. And I love knowing that the things I can put on a stage will touch each audience member in a way that’s unique to them and their experience, because that’s what art does. It stirs people in a multitude of ways and the beauty of it lies in the undeniable sincerity of their response.


18 Things I’ve Learned About Being A Professional Dancer

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

Dance, like any other career, has a learning curve. With time and experience, you find ways to navigate your daily life in this art form–and piece by piece you learn what works best for you in terms of a career path. It isn’t always easy–especially in the beginning–but over time, most dancers find their own way.

Our new series features posts from professional dancers from companies across the nation. They’ll be writing about a variety of different topics, sharing a behind-the-scenes look at what this career looks like up close…each from their own individual perspective.

Today we’ll be hearing from our new contributing writer Alessa Rogers. A dancer at Atlanta Ballet, she has graciously pulled together some of the most valuable things she has learned over the course of her career to share with you here–including a piece of advice from Twyla Tharp! Look for more posts from Alessa and other professional dancers in the coming months.

We hope you are enjoying this new series!        -Catherine

dancer doing a grand jete

Alessa Rogers rehearsing Possokhov’s Classical Symphony, photo by Charlie McCullers

 by Alessa Rogers

There is no formula for being a professional ballet dancer. There are some obvious requirements like having a good work ethic, a good teacher, a fair amount of luck–and a lot of Advil. But there are some other tips that I’ve picked up over the course of the past couple decades that I have found useful in my career.

1) Don’t quit. This may seem like a no-brainer but sometimes I feel like the reason that I managed to become a professional dancer over some of the girls I trained with is simply that I stuck with it and they didn’t.

2) Be nice. By criticizing others you take energy away from improving yourself. Gossip will not make you a better dancer and it will definitely make you a less desirable person to be around. Remember that the dance world is incredibly small. You will run into the same people again. Make it so that when you do run into those people they are happy to see you. You never know when it will pay off to have been kind.

Even when you are doing a solo, don’t forget about the countless people who helped you get to where you are today–your parents, teachers, the artistic staff, even the production crew. These people don’t get a curtain call or spotlight. Be grateful to those people in your life and when you get a chance, pass it on.

3) Love your body, worship it, treat it well. As a dancer, your body is the only instrument you have. Listen to it when it hurts and needs special care. Kiss your feet before a show. Say thank you to your body after a long week. Ballet gives us nothing to hold, so care for your body like a museum would care for a masterpiece.

4) Learn from others. Watch dance voraciously. Watching the people in your class is the easiest way to do that but these days you can watch almost anything online. If possible go see professional dance live. Ask professional dancers questions. Learn from them. But learn from your friends too. A correction for them is also a correction for you. Which brings us to:

5) Corrections are good things. Don’t feel ashamed or take it too personally if you get a correction. Feel grateful that you have a chance to improve. Strive to hear a correction only once.

As soon as I am given a correction I repeat it in my head a few times to help it stick. Later I might write it down. Be patient with yourself if it does take some time to apply. Bodies respond differently everyday and habits are hard to change but make no excuses when something doesn’t work. Mistakes happen, even when you are a professional dancer. Learn from them and then let them go.

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

Alessa Rogers, photo by Rick McCullough

6) There will always be someone better than you. The sooner you realize this the sooner you will be able to be proud of where you are right now and how far you’ve come. Having people who are better than you should give you inspiration–not depression. Be gentle with yourself. A dancer has to work hard enough, don’t put yourself down while you are doing it. Trust me, other people will do that for you. Be patient with yourself and ignore the naysayers, especially if the naysayer is you. You are almost certainly better than you think you are.

7) You have to find the right company for you. It might take a few before you find a good fit. Having a dream company is good for motivation, but realize there are so many factors that go into hiring dancers. If that dream company passes you up because they need a brunette this season that shouldn’t crush your dreams of being a dancer in general.

Find a company that will appreciate you and also push you to be the best dancer you can be. When you do get a job don’t be afraid to have respectful conversations with your director about issues that concern you. Also, cattle call auditions are rarely the best way to be seen.

8) Work smart. A ballet career is so short. You have to work hard to make use of the time you have. This does not always mean physically (but do that too). You can save a lot of time and energy if you use your brain as well.

Instead of throwing yourself into doing something poorly over and over again pause and think about how you could approach it differently. You’ll find you have more control over your body and improve more rapidly. Decide before each combination what you are going to focus on in that combination. It might be your port de bras or playing with the musicality or spotting a different place. Thinking about an intention before each combination or visualizing the choreography in your head before you actually take a single step will help enormously.

Also, do your homework at night. Go over your part, research your roles and take care of your body so you are prepared for the next day.

Read more


Dance Against Cancer – Dance Performance Photography At AXA Equitable Theater

Gillian Murphy and Jared Matthews in Don Quixote Pas de Deux. Photograph by Christopher Duggan.

Gillian Murphy and Jared Matthews in Don Quixote Pas de Deux.

by Christopher Duggan

It’s always a joy to photograph Dance Against Cancer because it’s a dance performance for a good cause and there’s an all-star cast. I’m always excited to see all these amazing performers in one place for one evening, and this year was extremely special for me, because my mom survived major pancreatic cancer surgery last year.

Tyler Angle and Maria Kowroski in Chaconne.

Tyler Angle and Maria Kowroski in Chaconne.

The program starts off with a voiceover from the artists, introducing themselves and saying who they are dancing in honor of – or in some cases, who they are dancing in memory of.

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Acheron.

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Acheron.

This year, I made these photographs in honor of my mom. I’ve never had cancer hit so close to home before and it feels very different to contribute to this program when the person on my mind is my own mom. Thankful for her doctors and nurses and thankful for dance artists who move for a cause.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible at Dance Against Cancer at AXA Equitable Theater in NYC.

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in Simply Irresistible at Dance Against Cancer at AXA Equitable Theater in NYC.


Contributor Christopher Duggan is a wedding and dance photographer in New York City, the Berkshires and beyond. Duggan has been the Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. In this capacity, and as a respected New York-based dance photographer, he has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene.

Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia NewmanHe photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions (nelshelby.com). Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.

Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.

His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

His Natural Light Studio (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.


Swan Lake: Combining Storytelling With Stamina

Fernando Bufala w Joseph Gatti in Corella Ballet

Ashley Ellis and Joseph Gatti in Swan Lake, photo by Fernando Bufala

Today Boston Ballet‘s Ashley Ellis joins us to talk about how she gets ready to dance the classic ballet Swan Lake. Read more from her in the coming months as she authors posts for us as a contributing writer to the site…

Dancing the role of Odette/Odile is an incredible challenge for any dancer. What steps do you take to prepare your body for this role?

Dancing the dual role of Odette/Odile is a challenge in various ways. There is the obvious technical challenge that most full-length classical ballets demand. However, Swan Lake is different in that to dance this ballet the ballerina is required to portray two characters that are completely opposite of one another.

When preparing to dance either Odile or Odette I like to start with my arms. The style of the upper body is quintessential to becoming a swan. Like with dancing any role, but especially Odette/Odile, I like to spend a bit of time before rehearsal or a show just to gear my body up for the specific style it will have to feel. I go through the movements so that when I have to dance it feels more organic. When I enter in the second act I don’t want to have to think about if my arms are making the right lines, I want to think about how I feel at that moment with my partner and the music.

So until I feel that I have these extreme and sometimes contorted positions feeling more organic in my own body I am constantly checking in the mirror to see what line the public will see. For me this comes with time as I’m working on the role. Each day my muscles remember more and I have to think less about the positions.

Then it is important to build stamina, so as we approach the shows, I like to run each act to build strength.

Black Swan Pas with Joseph Gatti

Ashley Ellis and Joesph Gatti dance the Black Swan pas de deux, photo by Fernando Bufala

What do you do to make each character (Odette and Odile) unique?

Each swan, the white and the black, the good and the evil, represents a completely opposite identity from the other. I try to embody the characteristics of each and do my best not to let them bleed together. I take on each role and try to let them shine through my movements. For example, Odette is a kind spirit, embodying love. However she is not weak, she is still a proud swan queen.

Odile on the other hand shows up in the 3rd act with Von Rothbart and carries out her actions under his command. Her mission is to trick the prince into swearing his love for her. To bring this role to life I try to use my eyes and more commanding movement to show strength and lure the prince in.

It does require a moment though to calm down going into 4th act after running off stage from the high of dancing the black swan–especially because in this act Odette is heartbroken.

When getting coached by the incredible, Larissa Ponomarenko, she constantly reminds me as I execute my steps that although I may be creating an esthetically pleasing classical line with my arms, that I look human, and “at this moment you are a swan.”

What is your rehearsal schedule like for this ballet?

Well, at Boston Ballet we are often working on various ballets at the same time. We just finished putting together Lady of the Camellias as well as various shorter pieces for later in the season. So things can get a little bit crazy, and some days going from contemporary into classical makes it especially challenging. The most important thing is to go into each rehearsal focused on the role to be mastered. So much of dance is about being mentally prepared.

As we get closer to the performances I like to run the ballet in order, beginning with second act and going to black and then back to white. It is so important to build stamina. It’s funny because I find that I tend to stress about not having stamina, but I know in the end I will get there. The feeling of not being able to get through a variation, ballet, or whatever is so daunting. It’s never easy, but it can get easIER.


Ashley Ellis as Odette, photo by Fernando Bufala

You have danced Swan Lake before, but Petipa’s version. How is Mikko Nissinen’s version different?

Like the version I danced previously, Mikko’s has the same classical base, with variations in the steps that he has chosen to apply to make it his own. I do find it interesting to see how the ending changes from version to version; if they die, or live happily after, or in some, they even die and then rise up into the clouds. I don’t think I’m supposed to reveal the ending of this version because it is NEW, and he probably wouldn’t like it if I spilled the beans. Haha!

There are many beautiful, interesting, and original touches in Robert Perdziola’s design and it is sure to be stunning. I can’t wait to see the production on stage; I know it will definitely be worth coming to see.

Swan Lake has such beautiful music. Is there a particular section of the score that you find you gravitate toward?

One of my favorite moments is the introduction to the Black Swan Pas de deux. The music begins while we are still off stage and then we fly on from the wing together. From the very beginning it gives me such a feeling of strength and command.

In terms of your pointe shoes – how do you prepare them for Swan Lake, and how many pairs will you use in a performance?

I definitely want good shoes, and will most likely wear a different pair for each act. Not a new pair for each act, because they will be broken in and worn just enough that they are ready to provide what I need. They have to have good support because there is so much technical dancing throughout the whole ballet.

As Odette I like to have supportive shoes but they should be well broken in. There is a lot of running around as well as movement that is very controlled so I need to be able to really feel the floor. As Odile I can wear a slightly harder pair. There are a lot of turns throughout the pas, variation, and coda and I need to know they will support me until the end.

sitting swan by Hoggerandco

Ashley Ellis in costume for Boston Ballet’s Swan Lake, photo by Hogger & Co.

What do you find to be the most difficult part of dancing this ballet, and what do you do to cope with it?

The stamina is quite hard, but it is more than just doing the steps and getting through to the end. It is so important to make everything seamless, while maintaining your portrayal of a swan, and on top of that telling a story. So the hardest part is doing all of this at once. I find that the best way to achieve this is to spend time on it.

It sounds simple, but spending time moving like a swan and listening to the music, and thinking of how the character feels at that moment within the ballet is the best way for me to prepare.

What is the thing that you enjoy most about dancing this ballet?

I love dancing both Odette and Odile so much, the challenge to becoming both is quite exciting. I love various aspects of becoming each character. On a physical level, although the dancing is very classical, the style feels quite freeing. Also, for me the music really brings both characters to life. You can really hear the emotions through each composition; from the tranquil feeling of Odette when she is all alone in her entrance to how frantic she is when the prince startles her, to the second act pas where she is falling in love, but is torn because of the spell cast on her. Tchaikovsky carries you through all of these emotions. Then for Odile, I feel thrown at a high speed onto the stage with the entrance of the 3rd act pas; the music screams grandeur and power.

Boston Ballet will be performing Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake from October 30th through November 16th. See Ashley Ellis bring Odette and Odile to life on stage. View the rest of the company’s offerings for the season here.

Boston Ballet's Ashley Ellis

Boston Ballet’s Ashley Ellis

Contributing writer Ashley Ellis is a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. Ellis hails from Torrance, California and she received her dance training at the South Bay Ballet under the direction of Diane Lauridsen. Other instruction included Alicia Head, Mario Nugara, Charles Maple, and Kimberly Olmos.

She began her professional career with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and later joined American Ballet Theatre as a company dancer. In 1999, Ellis won the first prize at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award, and went on to become the recipient of the Coca Cola scholarship award in 2000 and 2001. She has performed in Spain with Angel Corella’s touring group and joined Corella Ballet in 2008 as a soloist. In 2011, Ellis joined Boston Ballet as a second soloist. She was promoted to soloist in 2012 and principal dancer in 2013.

Her repertoire includes Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; Natalia Makarova’s  La  Bayadère;  Marius  Petipa’s  Swan Lake; Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, VIII and Polyphonia; Harald Lander’s Études; Michel  Fokine’s  Les  Sylphides;  Rudolf  Nureyev’s Don Quixote; Christopher Bruce’s Rooster; George Balanchine’s  Serenade,  Coppélia,  Symphony  in Three Movements, Symphony in C, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room; Stanton Welch’s Clear; Angel Corella’s String Sextet; Wayne McGregor’s Chroma; Jorma Elo’s Awake Only; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Symphony of Psalms, and Petite Mort.


Technology, Live-Streaming And Sharing Dances

Margi Cole. Photograph by Eric Olson.

Margi Cole. Photograph by Eric Olson.

The Dance COLEctive has an upcoming performance series titled “Holding Ground.” You decided to do a live-stream so that it could be viewed by an additional audience. What made you move in this direction?

There are many reasons I’m interested in the idea of streaming a live performance. I want to share my work with students, collaborators and artists I have relationships with outside Chicago. In fact, we’re encouraging people in other states to organize viewing parties, which we’ll report on via social media. To date, fans in central Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Idaho, Tennessee, Vermont, Germany and the UK are already committed to watching! For those in Chicago, it offers another point of view on the live performance, perhaps even from backstage. I encourage Chicagoans to come to Links to experience the live version, then watch it streaming and compare.

Where will the live-streaming be broadcast, and how did you select that particular channel for it?

You will be able to watch the live stream from the TDC website. Our first priority is to drive traffic to our website, which is why it is important that it be viewed there. TDC is using YouTube to stream the event, which allows people around the world to also find the event there.

Live-streaming adds an additional component to the preparation for a performance. Can you talk about the challenges it presents?

My first concern is about quality—of the footage itself and the different views from which the work can be viewed. Right now we are talking about having three cameras. I think that could change this week when we get in the space. I think no matter how much we prepare that we still have to be ready for anything.

What do you think can be gained by incorporating this type of experience?

Besides engaging with the viewer virtually, it gives me a new lens to look through as a choreographer. While I did not have this live stream in mind when I created the work itself, I do think that having an understanding of the viewer’s experience will have an impact how I design and execute the work next time.

Do you think that anything can be lost by viewing dance via live-stream as opposed to in person?

Of course, dance is a three-dimensional form best viewed in person. I am hoping this will be the next best thing, especially for all our fans, friends and family who can’t be with us in the theater. But I have no expectations that this can in any way be the same as seeing something live!

Has preparing for a live-stream changed the way you choreographed your piece?

For this first experience, no. It has not changed the way I am choreographing the work. I feel, though, that “choreographically” and with the idea of live streaming in mind, Links Hall was an important venue to support the work and broadcast from. Not only does the intimacy of the space lend itself to the signature elements of our work, but I hope it will create a more intimate experience for the viewer.

Do you think you would consider doing this type of thing again down the line? Why or why not?

Like anything creative, I hope to learn from this experience and try again with the intention of doing it again in a more interesting and informed way. Maybe even make it a regular or exclusive part of the way in which we share our work with others. I feel as if I am only just skimming the surface of what the possibilities and technology can provide.

Margi Cole graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts and received a B.A. in dance from Columbia College Chicago and an M.F.A. in dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught and guest-lectured at numerous educational and professional organizations, including the Alabama Ballet, the American College Dance Festival, Ballet Tennessee, Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, Lou Conte Dance Studio, the Joffrey Academy of Dance, the American Dance Festival and other institutions throughout Illinois, the Midwest and the Southeast. She is currently on faculty at Columbia College Chicago, where she has served as a lecturer and associate chair. Awards and acknowledgements of her accomplishments include making the list of “Teachers Rated Excellent by their Students” in four consecutive semesters while on faculty at the University of Illinois. She has received two Choreographic Mentoring Scholarships from The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, two Illinois Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships, a 2005 Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant and an American Marshall Memorial Fellowship (joining other leaders in their respective fields to represent the United States on a month-long tour of European countries). She won a Panoply Festival Choreography Award for Contemporary Dance in Huntsville, Alabama. Margi is active in the Chicago dance community, serving on grant panels and in public forums as an arts administrator, dancer and choreographer. In 2011, she was integral in organizing the Dance/USA and Marshall Forum annual conferences in Chicago. She has been a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Consortium Member for two years, is a member of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship Selection Committee and served as a mentor during the Thodos Dance Chicago New Dances Project in 2014. She was named one of The Players in NewCity’s “Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago” in 2012 and recognized by Today’s Chicago Woman among its 2014 “100 Women of Inspiration.”


Choreography: On Developing A Personal Philosophy


Madelyn Doyle, photo by William Frederking

You are choreographing for The Dance COLEctive’s “Higher Ground”, an upcoming weekend of performances in Chicago. Can you tell readers a bit about your piece and the idea behind it?

This piece is a look at the physical and mental necessities for an individual to develop a personal philosophy. The materials available to us such as media, literature and specialized individuals give us the ingredients to formulate ourselves, but what does one ultimately need in order to create their true individuality? Experience. Only then do we choose our path and honestly become what we are meant to be.

How did you work with the dancers throughout this process? What was that like?

I provided them with composition assignments, and free-writing prompts to generate movement and text. Then, I gathered the movement information and carefully sewed the pieces together in what I thought was the best way the dance would make sense.

In terms of music, how did you go about selecting what you would use for this, and did you choose it prior to or after your choreography?

After my choreography. I focused on the mood that I wanted to portray, and went from there.

What were the biggest challenges in terms of choreographing this piece?

Putting things together in a coherent fashion. There was so much beautiful movement that the dancers created, and using it in a way that made sense and created a story was difficult.

What has been the greatest learning experience for you throughout this process?

How to be on the other side.

What do you hope that the audience will see when they view your work?

That everyone should acknowledge the ridiculous things we do to better ourselves. As long as we are aware of them and realize that we should, in the end, rely on ourselves to do the work and make the choices.

BIO: Madelyn Doyle, a fourth year member of The Dance COLEctive, graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Education and received a K-12 Certification in Dance through the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She has been a part of the We Stand Sideways Dance Co., Thread Meddle Outfit, and independent productions with artist Megan Adams. In addition to establishing the Dance Department of Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, she has assisted for the presenting series of Riverside Brookfield High School’s Orchesis and choreographed for numerous musicals and high school dance companies in the Northwest Suburbs. Madelyn is a Choreographer/Teacher/Producer for the Arlington Youth Dance Ensemble in Arlington Heights, and founded her company Demi Dancers in 2013 to support creative movement and pre-ballet in local preschools and montessori schools.