Technologies of Dance Spaces

Photo Robbie Sweeny

Dear Dance Studio,

It has been hard for me to love your emptiness and square lack of features lately. You are so clean cut, so devoid of clutter or differences or variety. Where ever I move the surfaces are the same. I don’t have anywhere to turn my gaze to. There are no distractions to keep me interested in working. No colors, no objects.

Under my feet you feel flat. There is no topography for my body to adjust to, no forms to adapt to, no textures for my skin to sense. It has been straightforward going from beginning to end. I am offered a distraction free situation to set apart and deep-clean my movement practice. I’m dancing in a laboratory pretending that it reflects or resembles real life. Except it is real life: secluded, sheltered real life.

I am sorry to have resented you that way and for having taken you for granted, dear Dance Studio. For you are here and open for me, you give yourself for me to enter. I don’t always have access, but often I do. Even though I know you are unaccessible and exclusive for many others with much less means, even though you are this clean thing halfway up the air, you have made exception to me and you have welcomed me and you have supported my dancing. You have granted your floor under my feet and my feet have learned many things (but not how to wrap into the embrace of the earth), accomplished many things (but not running up a hill) and failed a few (in all categories).

I return to you time after time, dear Dance Studio. Even after rolling on a beach or burrowing half my body under the forest bottom I come back. I have the option of dancing on the streets but I rarely use it. It is here within you where I experiment, get wild, shake it. On the street and out in the world I walk, I run, I sit and I stand. Further and further into this categorization of movements and bodies — sedate bodies, formalized bodies, socialized bodies and dancing bodies, expressive bodies — we go by each act of separation we commit.

You, dear Studio, have given me asylum from the street and its ruthlessness and sweetness. Under your roof I have been sheltered from rain, cold, sun; but not always (mostly, though) from harassment or aggression. Bodies brown, black, white, failed, scarred, marked are moving in the world and that movement is categorized and defined so it can be streamlined into suitable spaces. This categorizing fails us when resources fail (if not before), and it is the individual body that carries the experience and discipline of not fitting into defined spaces. We respond by creating more categories. This is how I keep coming back to you, dear Dance Studio: I need your shelter. But more categories just make more bodies fall outside.

I wrote and spoke the above letter to Dance Studio during Chrysa Parkinson’s workshop last weekend. I have edited it a little today as I write this. Navigating art spaces and a city as an artist is a complicated mess of challenges and privileges. The previous day we (the workshop participants) had walked outside on the streets in Soma of San Francisco in twos, talking of another exercise. We strolled back and forth for the allotted 14 minutes engrossed in telling each other our thoughts. My partner and I were harassed by some men but hardly noticed from working and passed by it without reaction.

Later in discussion Chrysa commented that working creates a boundary. The boundary here was different from the one I had experienced during a residency in the Tenderloin of San Francisco two years earlier. This time the boundary by working made us as women resilient to harassment. The boundary we unknowingly had around us in 2014 was one that seemed to prevent harassment.

I am not interested in talking about this in order to find what people do or don’t do to encounter street harassment. The result of this pondering can’t be victim blaming. I am interested in thinking about the technologies or architectures inside of and outside of bodies that define whether the presence and movement of bodies is allowed or disciplined in various places. This post is just the beginning. Meanwhile my ideal is a boundary around every conscious being that is respected by all others regardless of time and context, and that helps us to treat each other kindly. My ideal are places that are hybrid and open according to need for shelter and creative activities.

In 2014 the main event of THIS IS WHAT I WANT Festival (or TIWIW) took place in the new CounterPulse building 80 Turk Street. CounterPulse is an arts organization that supports cutting edge performing arts, especially dance. It has a history of activism and community building, but moving into Tenderloin was a move by an established arts organization into one of the poorest San Francisco neighborhoods. In recent years the largest social change in the Bay Area has been displacement of low income people, communities of color, mom and pop stores, and small art spaces by affluent people, high end businesses and tech companies. In the spring of 2014 the TIWIW resident artists (of which I was one) were acutely conscious that creative professions are usually the first ones to move into “affordable” neighborhoods and that all those (other) privileged groups often follow.

We found ourselves in the act of possibly creating displacement through the afore mentioned mechanism. Lead by TIWIW artistic director Tessa Wills we wanted to take part in the neighborhood outreach CounterPulse was doing — and it needed to be concrete acts that would shape our creative process. There are some problems in this, as whether it was more gesturing than socially effective, but what remains is that human connection was the foundation we wanted to build. The first we did was to just hang on the street in front of 80 Turk and to talk with people. The building was an old porn theater with paintings of exotic dancers on its window panes and a giant sign that read “Dollhouse”. We all were youngish female-identified artists. Standing in front of the building seemed to create confusion in area residents and the police alike. We had plenty of opportunities to explain who we were and what we were doing: artists working in the recently converted building seeking to connect with the community. Everyone we talked with was friendly and respectful.

In all cases I described in these texts we — female (identified) artists — were working but the boundary it created or that was built around us was different.

Full Definition of technology

plural tech·nol·o·gies

  1. 1a : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area : engineering 2<medical technology>b : a capability given by the practical application of knowledge <a car’s fuel-savingtechnology>
  2. 2: a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge <new technologies for information storage>
  3. 3: the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor <educational technology>

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