Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA Program at Dominican University celebrates it’s 10th anniversary this year and we have a lot to celebrate! Check out the special events throughout the year at our website, including our upcoming LINES Ballet BFA Fall Showcase, Fri. Oct 28 at 7pm and Sat. Oct. 29 at 3pm at Angelico Concert Hall on Dominican University of California’s campus.
We asked LINES Ballet BFA and Religion faculty member, Gay Lynch, to share with us her unique experience with the program which she describes as “awakening” and “insightful”. We also caught up with BFA alumna and student of Gay’s, Yoshie Fujimoto Kateada, on how the program has shaped her and her dance career. Read on to dive deeper into what makes the BFA Program so special and help us celebrate this momentous occasion!
Dance and Spiritual Expression: Rhythmic Bodily Movement and the Religious Life
By LINES BFA Program Faculty Member, Gay Lynch
My inspiration for investigating the spiritual dimension of dance, and for returning to previous scholarly studies of dance in the world religions, was ignited by our very own BFA LINES Dancers. I use the word ignited because working with our dancers has kindled a luminosity, a real glow in my heart.
My relationship with our BFA Dancers began with our very first class in the fall of 2006, the first semester we were gifted with LINES Dancers on our campus. That fall there were at least 12 freshman LINES Dancers in my 2 “Rhetoric of Belief” classes. At that time I knew little about their program, but within 3 weeks I was well aware that their program – their dancing – their rhythmic bodily movement – was enhancing their scholarship. The readings in our “Rhetoric of Belief” course are challenging; writers such as Primo Levi, Dorothy Day, Etty Hillesum and John Steinbeck invite us into a new relationship with what it means to live a richly human life. The dancer’s responses to these and other readings came from what I experienced as a heightened sense of awareness. Their responses in the classroom did more than impress; their responses reached into our hearts and they organized themselves in us at a deep level. The dancers’ responses motivated us and energized us.
Why was this happening? This I answer by suggesting that the movements they were making with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, before their afternoon bus ride to Dominican, were bringing their senses to life; their dance movements were awakening and expanding their sensory range; in a word, dance was offering them a sensory education which was releasing creativity and opening new avenues of insight.
Indeed, as Merleau Ponty and others have noted, increased sensory awareness assists in the birth of knowledge; further, Martha Graham cuts to the quick and says that dance is knowledge itself, and Nietzsche asserts that dancing develops in us the energy needed to “make room in our hearts for every kind of understanding, comprehending and approving” – in short, we might say, the energy needed to love. And so it is that our dancers offered our classroom new hinges of understanding. Their ideas of beauty, goodness, and truth touched me deeply.
Two years later this same group of dancers approached me outside of the library one day. Their energetic message was: Gay, you are going to teach us a course in Dance and Spiritual Expression next fall. This was a surprise for me, and I was humbled. I quickly emailed Kimerer LaMothe, an unusually gifted scholar of religion, a seminal thinker in dance and dance philosophy, an author of myriad scholarly books and essays, a beautiful dancer and choreographer, plus an incredibly loving human being. I did not know if I would hear back from her. Who knows about these things? She was a doctoral student at Harvard when I was doing my masters work there in the early 90’s. She corrected my papers in a class called “Religion in the Realm of the Senses” in which we explored the contributive value of movement and art to spiritual life. I heard back from Kimerer. She was eager to help me put the course together. Without her ongoing wisdom, scholarship, support and love, the course would not be what it is today.
Our course demonstrates the power of dance to open human beings to knowledge and experience that we would not otherwise have.
In case studies drawn from around the world, we see dancing bodies as instruments of devotion, and as vehicles for traveling through different realms of reality. We see moving bodies as catalysts for spiritual change and as vessels for religious meaning. We see women and men finding in dance a medium for expressing and becoming their highest ideals.
In our course we examine how dance, from the origins of time around the world, has been integral to the practice of religion. We focus on a movement-centered approach to religion – and one that American dancers such as Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Martha Graham, in fact, lived, and danced – for all 3 claimed their dancing was relevant to the understanding and practice of religion – dance was what religion is and should be – practice; revelation; affirmation; exultation.
In short, instead of looking to find a text to explain what a phenomenon means, we ask: what bodily movements enable the text’s production? If we were to ask, “Why dance?” The answer would be, “In order to know.”
Further, we acknowledge the constitutive role of bodily movement as a catalyst for generating kinetic images of a rhythmic unity of life. Here the dancer creates beyond herself; the dancer loses himself, becomes other to herself as a participant in the generative rhythms of life. This dethroning of the ego is, as Karen Armstrong reminds us, a goal of religious traditions. Here I am also reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that, “the aim of art is higher than art.”
A few quotations that guide our scholarly study:
1) Alonzo King: “What already exists within us is our perfection. Training is the work of discovering that perfection and removing anything that inhibits or blocks it. Dance training can’t be separate from life training.”
2) Nietzsche: “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest thoughts.”
3) Martha Graham: “Dance is an affirmation of life through movement. The human body is a miracle, and dance is a celebration of that miracle. Every dance is a graph of the heart.”
4) Saint Augustine: “Love has feet; love has hands. To see love’s activity is to see God.”
5) Isadora Duncan: “I believe in the religion of the beauty of the human foot.”
6) Ruth St. Denis: “Rhythm is what creates the universe and everything in it. Rhythm has always been a salute to the gods.”
7) Alonzo King: “Everything that comes into our lives is training. The qualities we admire in great dancing are the same qualities we admire in honesty, courage, fearlessness, generosity, wisdom, depth, compassion and humanity.”
These quotes, and others, are our guideposts along the way.
The support and good wishes of Marina Hotchkiss have made a profound impact on the success of our course. Our readings and discussions together are grounded in humility and love and the courage to express ourselves. I believe we all realize we are part of a purpose far greater than our individual selves. I offer the students the best dance scholarship I can get my hands on; whatever I give them, their moving bodies seem to already know.
Gay Lynch’s interest in the study of religion began when she was a third grade student in 1946, right here at Dominican University, then called Dominican Convent. Even at the age of eight, she was intrigued with the mystery of religious practices to which the loving Dominican sisters exposed her. Gay began her college career at the age of 50 in 1988. Her first class at UC Berkeley was “World Religions.” This class enchanted her. Twelve units before she was to graduate from Berkeley with a BA in Religious Studies, her youngest son Andrew died suddenly in his sleep in 1991. Her Berkeley professors encouraged her to continue her studies at Harvard Divinity School, where she studied cross-cultural responses to death. Following the completion of her Master’s degree at Harvard, Gay returned home to the West Coast, where she completed her doctoral degree in the Cultural and Historical Study of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Dr. Lynch joined the Dominican adjunct faculty in 1996, following her Master’s work at Harvard. She has been teaching at Dominican since that time. She has been married to John Lynch since 1962. They have two surviving children – a daughter, Lindsay Lynch Lytle, and a son, John Lynch – who have gifted them with six grandchildren. The death of her son Andrew has proven to be the ultimate impetus for her advanced academic degrees in the Academy. Her commitment to the students at Dominican University runs deep. Her passion in the classroom is a fusion of serious scholarship with concrete experiences of her students’ lives.
Speaking with Yoshie Fujimoto Kateada
From: Madison, Wisconsin
Graduated: 2015 (Summa Cum Laude), with a Minor in Religion
Tell us about life after graduation.
I am freelancing in San Francisco. Since graduating I have performed locally with Inside Out Contemporary Ballet, Kristin Damrow & Company, Tanya Bello’s Project B, Cali & Co, and the movement choir of Garrett + Moulton Productions’ The Luminous Edge (2015) and Speak, Angels(2016). I have also worked as an administrative assistant for ODC’s Beyond Technique intensive, and Katie Faulkner’s little seismic dance company. When I’m not dancing, I work as a trainer and in the office at San Francisco GYROTONIC®, as well as at the front desk at ODC Dance Commons.
Why I keep dancing:
The biggest gift that the BFA program gave me was the concept that dance is mine.
It is my responsibility to care for my art and continue to cultivate my own growth as well as to protect the joy that I find in moving. Outside of school there is no one telling me to show and up and dance everyday, and this has made me all the more grateful for the intense sense of personal responsibility that the BFA demanded. I dance because it constantly presents new challenges, because it is fun, and because it pushes me to show up and be present with my whole body.
Why did you minor in religion?
I didn’t grow up in a church or with much exposure to organized religion, so I surprised myself by choosing this minor.
I decided to minor in religion when I discovered that studying religion isn’t about memorizing belief systems or deciding who has the most credible ideas, it’s a study of the many ways that human beings create purpose in our lives.
For me, this minor offered a chance to study humans. What motivates us, our needs, desires, and our incredible capability to build meaning for ourselves.
What was it about Gay or her class that inspired you to minor in religion?
The first class I took with Gay was called The Rhetoric of Belief. We read the religious writings of a variety of people, old and young, men and woman, contemporary and historic, and I realized that Gay was as interested in our stories as she was in the course work. She relished the slow uncovering of her students’ beliefs and the sharing of our life experiences, and she invested a massive amount of energy in helping us to process each paradigm shift or new perspective that we gained. Any teacher with the ability to be in it with you, possesses a special gift. After I took my first class with Gay, I knew I wanted to minor in religion, both because I cared about the subject and because I wanted to be around the bright light that is Gay Lynch.
Did this minor influence your relationship with dance?
For me, dance and religion were very compatible subjects to study. In fact, in the majority of my papers for my religion classes, I wrote about my experiences with dance. The religious studies helped me to process my relationship with my major.
When I dance I feel connected to something greater than myself, and these classes gave me the language to articulate these movement experiences.
In my final paper for my last religion class with Gay, I wrote: “I have spent three and a half years clearing out the cobwebs of doubt, and being led to a deeper thought process about art. The process will be lifelong, but in general this program has emptied me; it has taught me to be gnawingly hungry for a deeper experience.” Religion and dance both possess this ability; to make me feel empty and full at the same time.