Art: You Know It When You See It

There are two signs I look for to know when I’m witnessing a truly great artistic performance, outside of the piece itself. The first is a hushed silence from the audience; a palpable sense that everyone is too wrapped up in the experience to holler encouragement. The other is the feeling of hair standing up on the back of my neck.

I felt both of those when I saw this piece performed. This is exactly the kind of artistry I hope to see coming out of the blues dance community, and I’m incredibly honored that Jenny chose to perform it first at the event I run.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

At most and least a reaction of any kind, as is a goal to every project I work on. With this particular piece I used the image of a tiny dancer that turns in a music box, and how sometimes we tell her story, I wanted to offer a different story for people to tell and understand. We each have that part of us that is on display or seen by the world around us and yet there will always be more in us that people don’t see or don’t know. An upset can come when someone see’s another side of you without explanation or your point of view and the assumptions they make of our situation, actions, or choices are usually then wrong. Many potential topics come up in this piece from identity, abuse, violence, presentation, desire, love, and more depending on your life and background. I wanted to express the complexity have have in these hidden topics in ourselves. How we may hurt, hate, desire and love all at the same time.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

The song came first for this piece. Every time this song was DJed I was taken with it’s beginning, growth and words. I’d usual solo and just about every time afterwards someone would come up to me and express their reaction to my dance. I don’t usually pick songs that people know or recognize and especially not songs with words, I tend to find it a challenge to do so and this one was just that. Nina Simone is an amazing artist who created many statement pieces, this is definitely one, but this piece had a work song sound from a woman’s point of view, which I had not heard many of those. There are parts of this song I directly relate to and parts that relate directly to family and friend’s stories I know and care for. This song took more time than most to create choreography to, this was a challenge but the story I wanted to tell made this song more and more perfect as I worked on it.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Blues, Jazz, African, Modern, Ring Shout dances, pedestrian (everyday) movement, Nina Simon herself in a couple videos of her singing this song, a tiny dancer in a music box, and many people in my life whom I honor by not mentioning.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

Metaphors! They are my favorite!

Theme in repeating a movement many times connects with various dance styles, the routine of life and the work song sound that we hear.

I took each different theme that I used in this piece and in practice did only that theme, only that movement for the entire song to feel it’s repetition, weight, possibility and opportunity in rotation. ie: only doing fish tails while rotating to this entire song, not as a drill but as the dance. Only walking in a circle and clapping, as if to be watching myself for the entire song. So I actually have many versions of this dance and the piece you saw is the combination of all of them.

I took into consideration pedestrian movement, what woman do in their life without music, in the beginning that movement was very literal and in time became more abstract so other people could insert their own visions onto the piece of what was happening and not just my own.

I played with the idea of using a jo (a long wooden rod used as a weapon in Aikido) for a time but I decided it took away from the simplicity, pedestrian movement and didn’t give me the emotional and dynamic range that I wanted to be able to portray. I played with other ideas that I will not mention as they are likely to be used in a later piece.

As a first in choreography, I did not show anyone this piece before performing it for the first time at Sweet Molasses 2014, it could only be truly raw once, so I was a bit nervous to say the least. It’s likely the piece will shift slightly if I perform it again, as the act of performance always brings out new aspects of a piece created to show as such. I look forward to those developments and have been honored by peoples private and public responses to me regarding this piece. It’s as though they have become a part of the piece when I think of it. So finished? Perhaps a living thing is never finished.

Now Here’s Some Jukin’!


This week’s interview is a little late … but good blues dancers are supposed to be behind the beat, right? Anyway, this week we have a routine by two talented and prolific choreographers in our community – Jenny Sowden and Dan Repsch! This one stands out because of the way they seat the audience around them and open up by going around the circle is really effective at drawing everyone into the performance.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

This is something we think about before even choosing a song. “What’s missing in our community?” and “What hasn’t been shown yet?” In this case, those answers were a purely jukin’ dance, a fast tempo, and mimicking an authentic jam circle. We also planned to structure the choreography like a social dance: lots of basics with some variation. Ultimately, we wanted to put something out that proved that fast jukin’ blues was just as “danceable” as slow blues and it doesn’t have to be a panicked, flailing experience.
The setting: late in a bar, club, dirty, crowded, hot temperature, just a hot night out. The story is simple: 1. boy and girl meet at a bar/club 2. boy and girl each show off, challenge and check each other out in a dance 3. boy gets girl.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

It usually takes us SO long to choose a song! We closed in on Goin’ Away Baby because it had so many elements that aligned with our above goals. It’s fast, it’s jukey, the clapping in the background promotes the jam circle idea. Goin’ Away Baby allowed for a lot of play between us and presented a challenge in keeping people interested because of all the repetition and similarity throughout the song.

What other dances and dancers influenced or inspired this one?

We thought a lot about the social dances we’ve had in modern clubs, in bars, and in juke joints, to live Blues. The things that characterized those dances became prominent in how we built this piece.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

A lot of listening. A lot of discussing. A LOT of dancing… come to our classes at Sweet Molasses for the details!