“I could make music with my shoes and I could even improvise; I was actually saying things in ways that I never could with words. For this reason I think teaching tap is so important; anyone who can get tap shoes, or even tape coins to their shoes, can express a part of themselves that may have been suppressed.” -Jojo McDonald, They Dance For Rain
Arts education has been an extremely important part of my life, both as a student and as a teacher, and I’m excited to continue that with They Dance for Rain. As a child, some of the most positive influences I had were from arts programs––predominantly, acting at Shakespeare and Company and tap dancing with Stefanie Weber.
Acting camp was one of my favorite experiences growing up, and in the summer of 2013 I had the opportunity to return as a teacher. Being an educator there was more challenging and more rewarding than I could have predicted, and it taught me that even when the work was extremely taxing and exhausting, it was still something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I think it’s so vital to give kids a space where they can feel like they’re good at something; a space where their voice is heard and their opinions about their own work matter. When I was young, it gave me so much confidence and happiness to be in that space, and I firmly believe that we need to give this experience to all children if we want to live in a society with competent, happy, and responsible citizens.
Before my summer of teaching at Shakespeare and Company, I also had a brief opportunity to help teach tap dance with Stefanie. Stefanie works with a program called CATA, Community Access to the Arts, which teaches various art forms to people with disabilities and aids in developing their artistry. The first time I went with Stefanie to assist in teaching the class, we were both in her car and she was preparing me for what to expect. I remember she told me, “the thing to know about this group of people is that they’re just people. Just talk to them like you would anyone else.” That simple piece of advice, as well as watching the example she set in the classroom, has been more helpful to me than she knows. I was sixteen at the time and was so afraid to interact with a population of people who seemed so differently abled than me––how much do they understand? Do I have to simplify my speech when talking to them? What if I say something offensive? What is and isn’t offensive? I felt I had to tiptoe around them because of their disabilities, but once I saw Stefanie laughing with them and calling them out on their quirky actions, I could feel my muscles relax. I thought I had to give them special treatment, that I had to try extra hard to not hurt their feelings, but that only would’ve put up a barrier between me and everyone else in the room. Stefanie is a model for me in terms of how to teach people who are different from me, and going with her to teach in Kenya will help me immensely as I strive to be a better teacher and person.
Aside from the importance I place on arts education in general, I find tap dance specifically to be an important creative outlet for all people. When I first started to take tap lessons, I was immediately drawn in a way that I hadn’t been with other forms of dance, or really any activity that I had learned until that point. Everything else––be it basketball, clarinet, or Irish step dance––looked like it would be fun if I got good at it, but the road to getting good at it was paved with boring technical exercises. I wanted to fast forward to the part where I could do it fluidly and professionally instead of learning one note or one step at a time. But with tap dance, it was fun even at the beginning; I already felt like I could do it. I could express myself musically and physically in ways that I couldn’t do with ballet or clarinet, due to my lack of self-discipline and talent. I could make music with my shoes and I could even improvise; I was actually saying things in ways that I never could with words. For this reason I think teaching tap is so important; anyone who can get tap shoes, or even tape coins to their shoes, can express a part of themselves that may have been suppressed. Tap dance gives a connection to other people musically, a way to communicate without words, and a way to feel good at something. This sense of confidence is so important for everyone.
June 20th-Somerville, MA 8:30p. Meeting location: Alley between ice rinks at Veterans Memorial Ice Rink on Somerville Ave. For more information about the Dancing in the Streets festival presented by the Somerville Arts Council go here.
July 12th- Easthampton, MA 6:45 Meeting location: Old Town Hall steps, Main St. Part of the Easthampton City Art’s ART WALK event.
Aug 2nd- Detroit, MI Time: 4p and 8:30p. Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts is an outdoor celebration of site-specific performance and installation art, in the heart of Detroit’s Old Redford/Brightmoor Neighborhoods.
Sept 5th- Pittsfield, MA- Meet at Lichtenstein Center for the Arts at 8p. In partnership with Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development for the Arts & Industry Initiative (premiere of new work-in-progress scene, “Magic in the Mechanism”)
October 10-12th- Manhattan, NY- Time: TBA. As part of the Art in Odd Places Festival, an annual festival along 14th Street from Avenue C to the Hudson River.
Auto Mobile Body Works is a space-specific adventure in action-based art that both imagines and reveals an integration of human and auto bodies. The Creatures of Habitat Physical Poetry Public Performance Project utilize video projection, movement, music, and vehicles in outdoor paved spaces, parking garages, lots, alleys, abandoned industrial atmospheres and car wash bays to bring persistent metaphors to life. Sculptural regalia and intentional visual limitations for all the bodies present transport the viewer into a mythical world of blurred lines between real and imagined. The audience are active participants traveling to 4 separate locations to view the work. Auto Mobile Body Works is like a breathing chapbook of individual physical poems that are bound together by a vocabulary versed in intimate texture, dystopian concept, female fierceness, and cultural investigation.
Original video by Stefanie Weber and Greylock Productions
Choreography by Stefanie Weber and Creatures
Sculptural regalia by Stefanie Weber
Music used by permission of Thomas White/Electric Soft Parade
and Stefanie Weber
While traipsing around and photographing potential sites with Gregory Jenkins, Executive Director at the Somerville Arts Council, for Auto Mobile Body Works presentation in Somerville in June, I came across this auspicious sign. I think we may have found one of the locations for the 4 scenes!
June 20th, 2014
Creatures of Habitat Physical Poetry Public Performance Projects: Auto Mobile Body Works in Somerville, MA as part of the SOMDANCE festival.
transparently present is a visual partnership of image space and (suggested) motion. The (suggested) motion exists between layers, time, and the near far field.
Rhythm Tap Dance Workshop
Saturday February 15th, 2-4p, $20
with action-based dance artist Stefanie Weber
Northampton School of Dance, 141 E. Damon Rd., Northampton, MA.
Performance to follow
Tap & Blues
with Blues Woman Robin O’Herin
and Tap Dancer Stefanie Weber
221 Pine St. (Arts & Industry Building) Florence MA Studio #422
Join action-based dance artist Stefanie Weber (USA) with collaborative dancer/choreographers Adam Chienjo (NRB) and Sara Kwala Opondo (NRB) and special guests from VOCAL, Shangilia, Ghetto Exposed and more for a showcase of performance work featuring the fusion, growth and development of the American vernacular art form of Tap Dance in Nairobi with Kenyan-based musicians, dancers and image-makers.
Photographer Monika Pizzichemi (USA) partners with guest photographers from Nairobi to project images throughout the event that investigate the theme:
The Space To Transport Time
Nafasi Ya Kusafirisha Mda
Old Concert Hall
Kenya National Theater
Reserve tickets in advance:
THEY DANCE FOR RAIN