On the Edge of Adulthood: a Conversation with the ODC Dance Jam

ODC Dance Jam member Eliza Loran. Photo by Heather Hryciw

There’s So Much To Do (To Save The World). The title of KT Nelson’s 2006 piece, which is on the ODC Dance Jam’s upcoming season program, is just as topical as ever. Other works on the program, including Kimi Okada’s Head in the Sand and Erika Chong Shuch’s True Story, also point to hardship, loss and resilience in the face of adversity — very much markers of the current times. Throughout the Dance Jam’s season program, A Twisted Edge, there are bodies shuffling forward, as if crushed by the weight of grief; bodies collapsing onto others; and protective gestures of covering one’s head and curving inside. Yet there are also bodies hugging and rocking each other for comfort, rising up and opening up on stage with dynamism and power. A constant awareness of each other is the through line of A Twisted Edge.

Directed by ODC School Director and Associate Choreographer Kimi Okada, the Dance Jam is ODC’s resident teen dance company. Its members -eleven this year- perform the works of the three ODC company choreographers, Brenda Way, KT Nelson and Kimi Okada, as well as other professional guest choreographers. They are challenged with the creation of new works, high performance standards, and the complexities of diverse dance styles. They train in multiple dance techniques, often collaborate in the creative process, and participate in opportunities to guide and mentor other students in ODC’s Youth & Teen Program. They start preparing for their yearly spring season in the fall and are responsible for the production of the performance, including its marketing and fundraising aspect.

After watching the Dance Jam rehearse A Twisted Edge, presented this weekend at ODC, I coincidentally listened to a radio program about the recent surge of youth activism following the Parkland Florida school shooting. In rehearsal, the Dance Jam members performed the repertory with commitment, maturity and care, qualities they shared with the three high school students who spoke on KQED’s Forum about the actions they were taking at their respective schools in regards to gun control policies. The similarities prompted me to ask three Dance Jam members — Trea Dipkin (3rd year), Olivia Ferguson (1st year) and Eliza Loran (2nd year)- about their experience at ODC and youth activism. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Marie Tollon: Tell me about the repertory you are performing this season. How do you relate to its themes and choreography?

Eliza Loran: The physicality of the repertory is the driving force. There is a lot of variety in the physicality and energy of each piece and that takes me on the journey. For me, meaning and movements are intertwined.

Trea Dipkin: A lot of pieces are about loss and have a heavy feeling to it. Being in the piece, in the moment, with your fellow dancers, makes it so much more powerful. You get to pull from the experiences you have triumphed over and where you have been in your life. Even if it’s unintentional you get to reflect on that.

Olivia Ferguson: For me, it is in True Story that the emotional part comes together because you have to get into the mindset of who you are playing, what your story is but you also have to tune into everybody else too so that it’s still cohesive.

MT: How do you see the skills and values that you are being taught at ODC being transferred to your life outside of the dance studio?

EL: There’s a sense of professionalism and a very strong work ethic that the Jam requires which I see affecting my everyday life, whether it’s school or my personal life. There’s a certain motivation and self-discipline in everything that you do here that can definitely translate into everything else outside of dance. Also, to relate it to what Trea was saying, dancing helps to put what’s happening in the world into perspective.

OF: Being present and working together no matter what else is going on are two things that I have been taught here.

TD: Being part of the Jam is a very submersive experience that gives you not only a sense of camaraderie but also a home. Dancing and going on stage is a vulnerable thing, so having good days and bad days with your fellow dancers helps create a safe space. The people we have to look up to -Kimi, Brenda, KT, all the company members, all of our teachers- are all accomplished professionals. Having them around us not only pushes us more but is so inspiring. If this is what you want to do with your life, this is where you want to be.

MT: Can you give additional examples?

TD: In class, you can’t just be silent, there’s a conversation that happens between students and teachers. You learn how to interact with people from all walks of life. You get to understand other people and see things from their perspective. I think that’s really important. You also learn how to be pliable and not stuck in your way.

EL: In rehearsal, you have this general awareness of yourself and your teammates, all of us have to be ready to put ourselves out there. We learn to take initiative, which I totally see helping me out outside of the studio, especially at school.

MT: How do you relate to the recent surge of youth activism happening in response to the Parkland Florida shooting? Have you participated in similar actions at your respective schools?

OF: I go to an art school — the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts- where there is always someone advocating for something. There have been a lot of talks, we’ve planned multiple events, including call-ins about gun control and the need to listen to our voices. One thing we are doing is pushing for early voter registration.

EL: I go to Berkeley High School. We’ve always been known to be socially and politically involved and we’re not falling short this time either! I think protest raises awareness but to me the real difference happens when people vote so we’re pushing for early voter registration also.

TD: I’m home schooled so it’s a bit different for me. I do hope that even if we don’t have a voice or if our voice is easily brushed off, government officials realize that we are still aware of what’s going on.

MT: If there was one message you would want to convey to policy makers regarding changes you would like to see happen -not necessarily related to gun control- what would it be?

EL: We might be on our cell phone or on social media a lot but we’re not blind and definitely should be listened to because we are the next generation.

OF: Social media has played a huge part in spreading activism among young people because it’s a place where people can connect on different issues, share ideas and plan for action. I’m seeing stuff about upcoming marches and how to get our voices heard on Instagram, snapchat, etc. It’s our life that is at hands here! The changes implemented by these older people will likely not affect them, but it will affect us. We really need to be heard because it’s our life.

TD: It’s also not necessarily just about younger generations but also about minorities and people who are against the policy makers of our country. The choice to not even acknowledge someone else’s opinion, actions or ideas is something that is extremely frustrating. Maybe it takes a little bit of time and work but for actual positive change to happen there needs to be actual conversations.

EL: Dance is my form of conversation. It’s a nice feeling to know that you have this form of art that you can always come back to, that is a way to connect to people you may not even talk to outside of the studio.