Breaking barriers at the Ballet Hispanico Summer Intensive

Company Dancer Donald Borror sent down a report from the studios on the Summer Intensive process…

Before starting my second season at Ballet Hispanico, I was approached by Mr. Vilaro about teaching at the summer intensive. I’m from Columbus, Ohio, and I will always remember being at BalletMET and hearing about one of the pre-professional girls who went all the way to New York City and did the summer program at Ballet Hispanico and thinking it was so cool!! Right from the get go, I knew what it meant to be those kids, from Ohio, that cared enough about dance to spend your summer away from home in the studio, sweating and working on what you loved. Though I never went to the BH Intensive myself, hearing about her positive experience encouraged me to do my own exploring, taking me to Boston, New York, Montreal, Vancouver, and Dresden, Germany. Along the way, I was able to retain the tools I felt were most useful from each environment as my needs, interests, and attitudes were evolving. Plus, it gave me a chance to fill holes I felt I had in my training that I knew wouldn’t be supplemented during the school year. So zooming back to today, when Mr. Vilaro asked me to TEACH (!) at a summer intensive that helped defined what ‘summer intensive’ meant to me as a young dancer, how could I have possibly say no?!

Though I am teaching several courses, I have been very excited about the work being done in my advanced improvisation class.  First of all, I love to improvise. Going into the program, this was the place I had the most recent experience in from college at Juilliard, which today exposes its students to an array of improvisational techniques, ideas, and workshops. On top of this, the summer programs I did my last years there placed a huge importance on developing organic movement. Looking back, it quickly became clear how different these programs were from the more classically focused intensives I first participated in, and I was then eager to create a fertile, exploratory environment alongside a rigorous technical curriculum this summer.

When we first began, I went around the room and asked what people’s feelings and experiences with improv had been. The students shrinked to sizes of peas describing horror stories of being thrust in front of snickering peers without any information besides ‘dance!’ and in one instance, having each peer tell the dancer what they COULD have done but didn’t. One girl even told me that she has panic attacks induced by improv class so she might have to sit out. Something is wrong when you get panic attacks from the only class you don’t have to move in any other way then your own. Luckily that terrifying approach is very very different than what I believe an improv class should be and I was excited to change their minds and get them to fall as much in love with improv as I am.

We began by throwing out the idea of needing approval to feel confident in your body (we’re all beautiful!) We closed the mirrors and the dancers closed their eyes. I could tell they had no idea where this was going but were invested and eager to continue. I then walked the students through an exercise of creating movement and availability in every joint, muscle, and bone. It was important for them to know that their bodies have so many more movement and dynamic possibilities then the patterns and positions we use in technical classes. It was immediately so interesting to see how different bodies interpreted the same direction (example: how can your shoulder blades move in relationship to the ribcage?), and that the students were already moving in unique ways to their own bodies. We then played with acceleration and slowly increased our energy counting from 1 to 10 and ending in extreme chaos, the dancers earnestly and daringly throwing themselves around the room. Following ‘10’ the dancers were to immediately lay down after which I talked them through a cool down. As they lay there eyes closed most of them had smiles on their faces and were sweating and panting heavily.

In the following classes we continued exercises like this, accessing the movement possibilities of each unique body and dancer so they felt comfortable moving each joint by simply using their minds to direct energy to them. I stressed availability, or the idea to be able to go anywhere in your body, space, or dynamically in the blink of an eye. We worked on the idea of never repeating a move, and noticing patterns in our unconscious movements to break them and find something new. Listening to ourselves as well as others is also a huge part of being sensitive to organic movement. Investigation in the limits and extremes of our bodies was an essential tool to give the dancers more of a choice in directing where their energy was heading, yet without calculating past impulse. The students all threw themselves wholeheartedly into these exercises and have made leaps and bounds in such a short period of time!

I am so excited for our last class, when we will be able to really use our tools to see how far the students have come. I couldn’t enjoy more how inspired the students get during class and owe a lot of my inspiration to the people who really shaped me, Jill Johnson and the incomparable Margie Gillis. I have yet to decide on what we will do for the showing but I’m playing around the idea with surprising them with something new. And I don’t think anyone will have a panic attack.


@donborror. Follow me on twitter!

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