Written by Amelia Taylor, BFA Class of 2021
Halfway into my senior year, I’m reflecting on how my education in this program has prepared me for this semester. I mean that both in that I am working in a new format, working online, but also in that I am working in a constant crisis of unknowing. I’m thinking, though, that I’ve spent the past three and a half years learning, in all sorts of vehicles, about openness, curiosity, forgiveness, and trust. All the ways in which I’ve learned to live my life as a result of my coursework, have shown themselves to be necessary in the past nine months.
In the first semester of my freshman year, I took Dance and Spiritual Expression with Dr. Gay Lynch, a beloved teacher and longtime friend to all the dance students who have passed through the BFA Program. I don’t know any other way to say this: in her class, I learned how to live life. She gave us tools, poetry, language, to dissect ourselves and the world. We began the course by reading Dr. Kimberly C. Patton’s 2005 address to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School. I’ve found myself coming back to it, again and again, throughout the past nine months.
Patton states that “life did not intend for us to be inviolable.” She speaks of her students throughout the years who taught her “not to fear the unruly flood of life as it is lived, often so different than life as it is planned.” She shares that they taught her “not to avoid the place past the bend where the flood turns into plunging falls, but to embrace it, row toward the embattlement.” There are forces, she says, which carry us all, and “to row back up the river is to try to exempt oneself from being acted upon by [these essential forces].”
This year, I’ve seen that no one is exempt from the plunging falls. I’ve been a mess this semester, and I’ve watched everyone around me fall in and out in states of mess. We’re grieving in so many new ways. But, also, I’m noticing that some of it feels recognizable, familiar. Beginning in my first week of this program, I’ve been introduced to countless scholars, writers, and movers who recognize they can never be truly inviolable, and who welcome vulnerability and its less-beautifully-named sibling: disorder. My professors and peers have shared tools to navigate the falls—I didn’t often recognize them as such, at the time, but I’m seeing it now—as well as stories, anecdotes of them doing so.
One of these tools is inviting chaos in. Not only have I learned how to experience unruliness throughout the past few years, but I’ve learned how to welcome it, in small bits at a time. The act of playing with chaos and order is the epitome of ballet, for me. Creating disorder, or even simply accepting its existence within me, makes more sense to me within the context of a dance studio than it does anywhere else.
In Christian Burns’ ballet classes, I was introduced to the idea of purposefully shifting my weight to my standing side when I tendu, instead of holding my weight stiff, in the middle—as I grew up doing. Learning that I could invite chaos by purposefully shifting my weight—working with the forces which command me instead of pretending I could reject them—was a revelation. This sounds small, but every piece of learning to work with the natural forces which carry us has been essential for me. Every bit of that work has allowed me to trust the forces, now, when they are rushing at their strongest.
In Dr. Lynch’s class, we read dance and religious philosopher Kimerer LaMothe’s “To Dance Is (More Than Just) a Radical Act.” In the piece, LaMothe writes about how our modern society has been, for the past four hundred years, “bent on building boxes designed to insulate us from the vicissitudes and variability of nature.” This is white supremacy culture. This is a way of being that doesn’t serve us, in the midst of a pandemic where the 99% is vulnerable and hurting. And this is the head, not the body. The bodily self is the antithesis of a boxed up, stifled world. Dancing, in contrast to living within boxes, LaMothe says, “yields a kind of knowledge that we need now: knowledge about how to create mutually enabling relationships with the nature at work in us, through us, and around us.” These relationships are what I experienced in ballet, learning to shift my weight, and what Patton speaks about. I don’t want to say I know this relationship will surely carry me through. But if I have enough trust in nature and unruliness and the tumbling falls, there’s a chance it will.
I’m grateful for my LINES education for many reasons, but at the moment it is clear that this education has prepared me to continually row toward the embattlement, and I am most grateful for that. It’s so hard, but I think (crossing my fingers!) it’s the only way.
Photo: Amelia Taylor by Annika Gordon
LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican applications are open! The program seeks highly motivated, creative dance artists eager to be challenged. If you’re looking for a deeply personalized, one-of-a-kind college program designed to cultivate your artistry and catapult your career, this is for you. Get a taste for the program at the FREE Open House on January 16, 2021.