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Life, Sports, Music, Air 

Discussing dance, disco-hula and a new philosophy of the body with David Dorfman

If anything is subversive to corporate culture, it's a bunch of total strangers swinging each other around a large, open space and telling stories with no words in them. When you're strapped--hands to necks and backs--to the momentum of another human being, you don't need to ask questions. You just need to fly. The people I meteored about the SAS Institute gymnasium with last Tuesday probably don't remember my name any better than I remember theirs.

Why the wild rumpus? David Dorfman and his various dancers were here last week with a red accordion for the express purpose of playing with and performing for the citizens of North Carolina. The workshop was held as part of a statewide initiative, which aims "to create a nontraditional work environment through modern dance." David Dorfman Dance has completed North Carolina residencies this year in Asheville, Boone, Greensboro, and now in Durham and Raleigh with the support of a consortium of community partners working with the American Dance Festival. Other local workshops took place at Glaxo Wellcome, Duke Center for Living and the Herald-Sun.

After making a collage of name-dances with Rob, Lauren, David and Emma, I got to sit down with the barefoot choreographer and see, up close, where the energy comes from to turn audience-building into a dance party on a regular, tireless basis. The movement toward community outreach has scooped up many an American dance company in the last decade, but Dorfman has become one of the more successful innovators in the art of merging creative and community work to form a new, undefinable whole.

The Independent: So for this first question, please answer as quickly as possible with the first things that come off the top of your head. We can stand, and you should close your eyes while you speak to me.

David Dorfman: All right.

Where does your movement vocabulary come from?

Life. Sports. Music. Air.

List some names of movements you can use with new communities of volunteers or so-called nondancers. Words you can expect them to understand.

Opposition, weightedness, volume, texture, contrast, weight-bearing, momentum, ballroom, swinging, partnering.

And what are some that you use only with your company?

Fu, from Kung Fu, but also disco-fu, and then there's disco-hula, rib-rock, zigzag, things like that. [He does a quick rib dance to demonstrate.]

What are some names of your favorite movements?

My favorites? Disco-hula. And anything with a kick-ball-change, although I try not to say kick-ball-change, it can get you in big trouble in the postmodern dance world. [Kick-ball-change is a weight-transferring step from early American jazz dance.] And I really like stretching the body as far as it can possibly go and then going off balance. Anything that arches and opens the body. Simple weight drops.

Now while you answer this next question, begin to sit very slowly and don't arrive until your answer is complete. How do you think the human body is changing at this moment--in terms of range of motion, balance of musculature, preferences--when you consider history and where contemporary behavior fits into it?

Well, it's interesting, because I think people care a lot about definition--they want abs of steel and buns of whatever--while at the same time, because of the way people are sitting behind the computer, people are spending less time being physical. Maybe it's that they're trying to economize their time, their physicality, to try and fit it all into their moments at the gym, and the rest of the time they're sitting in front of a computer screen. So I feel we're becoming less physical and more physical at the same moment in history, which is kind of perplexing. [We sit.]

Do you think we've evolved a different philosophy of the body, of what it is doing around us, around our thoughts and personality?

Well, one thing I can say about the body is that people are more at home with it. Some of the taboos are lifted a little bit. People are celebrating the body, different types of bodies, here in America and also worldwide: big people, little people, young people, old people. There's a letting go of the metaphysical and with that a celebration of difference. You now see every kind of person in commercials where once you saw a lot of sameness. I think the body is now more political than it ever was, because you walk down the street and all the social and political action that is taking place can be seen in the children you meet. They represent this intermingling of people, and that is the evidence of social, political action.

Do you ever have a moment when you wake up in the morning and ask yourself, "Who am I today, what do I care about, what do I feel like, what on earth am I doing?"

Well, I like that in the sense that it's a blank slate, and we recreate ourselves every single day. I love that. But I do think that from kids up, we're more present in our bodies now than we used to be because of positive exposure in media and teaching and everything else. Think of sex ed and what it was when I was growing up, and maybe for you, too, and consider what it is today. I can still remember being in those early, freaked-out adolescent days and lying in a field and having dreams of not knowing where my hand was, or if my fingers were way oversized. I don't have that as much lately, and I think it's because I'm more grounded, more present in my body, and I kind of miss that wild illusion. And I think I maybe apply it to dancing. Because part of dancing is having surprise be present all the time. I say that going across the floor, "Surprise yourself," during an improvisation. And yet, we are our bodies, so to me that's the metaphysical part; it's that we are our bodies, and yet our job as choreographers and creators and, I think, as people, is to continually surprise ourselves, so that life is not predictable.

Now we have to speak in false British accents and give as little of our weight as possible to the chair, all right?

Quite good, quite good. Like this, Sarah?

Very, very, very good. Now listen closely. What is the difference between an athlete running and a janitor wringing out a mop?

Well, the difference, Sarah, is that when a janitor wrings out a mop, there is much tension, it's pragmatic, and there is a dripping effect. Now, an athlete running--these are both valid movements--the athlete is going somewhere, and it could be pragmatic, or it could be just a routine he's doing for his particular sport, or he could be running from a mugger. But they both have tension because they are dealing with muscle contraction.

Now I have to ask us to relax completely and give all of our weight to our chairs for my last question. Speak as heavily as you can. Do you think your work here in North Carolina has caused people to feel differently about the spaces they work in?

One of the participants today said that when she closed her eyes and let her partner lead her in a dance around the space, the room fell away. I hope they hold on to the ability to do that, to make space grow when they need to. Shall we do that now?

Close our eyes and let the room fall away?


Yes. EndBlock

  • An unconventional interview with dancer David Dorfman.

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