Summer Dance ‘Intensive’ Embodies Improvisation
Last Updated on July 26, 2019 at 12:00 AM
Originally published July 26, 2019
By Daniel Perez
A half dozen or so pairs of bodies set in a circle moved in tandem though almost never in sync during impromptu conversations that ranged from the silly to the mundane to the flirtatious. The goal of this dance exercise at The University of Texas at El Paso was to weave a person’s reason, instincts and imagination.
The actions conducted in a Fox Fine Arts Center studio was part of an intensive six-day workshop about “Embodiology,” an improvisation-as-performance method that incorporates West African principles of dance and dynamic rhythms. S. Ama Wray, Ph.D., associate professor of dance at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), taught the course that ended July 20, 2019, with a free performance in UTEP’s Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts.
The participants – male and female, younger to older adults, undergraduates to college professors, white-collar professionals and individuals from Spain, Italy and Colombia – learned different skills during their meetings that lasted at least eight hours per day. Beyond the breathing techniques and rhythmic movements, Wray stressed that their immersive class was a research lab where the dancers tested themselves and learned concepts that could help them professionally and in everyday life.
Daniel Molina, a sophomore dance major, said that the class was enjoyable and exhausting. The native of Juárez, Mexico, smiled as he described how he planned to incorporate what he learned to enhance Kuos, the dance company that he formed in his hometown with several friends. The company combines contemporary and folklorico genres. He said the workshop, called an “intensive,” helped his creativity.
“This is all new to me,” he said of Embodiology after a morning session that involved a lot of movement and stream of consciousness dialogue. “I wasn’t prepared for this, but I’m here. I am learning about freedom of ideas. It’s a weird mix, but I’m trying.”
Wray first visited UTEP as a keynote speaker and performer during the World Dance Alliance Conference in February 2019. She said that led to an invitation from the University to offer this intensive – where participants develop their bodies, techniques and artistry – so students, teachers and others could elevate their capabilities.
The professor, who trademarked Embodiology, said that her summer students have absorbed many of her basic principles. Their next task will be to implement what they learned to enhance their artistry, curiosity and creative capacity. She said the class provided foundational knowledge from which they can ask their own questions.
“There is no one right answer,” Wray said during a break. “Life isn’t like that and this is a version of life. They’ll have to press the boundaries of their own limitations and there’s joy in that. It’ll be difficult, but it generates its own energy.”
Among the other students who enrolled in the course was Tracey Bonner, assistant professor of dance and BFA dance coordinator at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. She had trained previously with Wray as a UCI graduate student and was thrilled to participate in the UTEP intensive. She said Wray’s workshop was a great opportunity for her to be a student again.
“Usually I’m in her position,” said Bonner, who has an extensive background in musical theater at the national level. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the authenticity of movement and where it comes from as an artist. I hope to take some of these details back to my students.”
Cristina Goletti, chair and associate professor in UTEP’s Department of Theatre and Dance, said she hoped that Wray’s intensive would bring attention to the University.
“This event has brought together an international, high-caliber group who will push the research of dance and of the body,” Goletti said. “It is an example of UTEP being a motor for the arts. It serves as a way to connect the excellence of different artists.”
Goletti said UTEP’s decision to host this event enabled several of the department’s dance students to attend. They often cannot travel to similar intensives conducted around the country due to lack of funds and family or work obligations.The UTEP professor, who organized this event, said she wants it to become an annual summer residency program that could attract renowned international guest artists.