Here’s a great article by Joey Science on understanding how the words we use map to motions in dance, particularly from a gendered standpoint. The thoughts they put down here would definitely be useful for choreographers who want to have precision in what they communicate with their pieces!
I love this dance, but it’s not just about the dancing. So often in our community I feel like we are dancing other people’s stories … the stories of musicians and a people from a far different time and place than the average attendee of a blues dance exchange. We really mature as artists when we start creating pieces about our own lives instead of mirroring others’.
This piece really hits that on the head. Joey took a really powerful experience of their own and has turned it into a performance that all the dancers I’ve talked to relate to because it portrays the kind of friendships, hopes, and loss that we’ve all had. Sharing who we are with each other; it’s what art’s about.
What did you want to express with this choreography?
Joey: A few years ago, my best friend died unexpectedly due to complications with the flu. For the first long while, I would see her everywhere. Any one with even a slightly similar body or hair style would trigger all of the bits of my brain that were associated with her. I’d think about everything I had to tell her about what had happened since we’d last met. Of course, it was never her, and I knew that. So the stories would hang in my mind, and the realization that she wasn’t really there would sink in and hit me like a brick in the chest.
I wanted to honor that pain and in honoring that pain, the impact of her life on mine. I also wanted to highlight the importance of non-romantic relationships, and how they can be as uplifting and essential to our lives.
Laney: Joey really provided the concept for the piece, but while we were working on it we talked a lot about what kinds of movement gave the impression of a friend-type relationship vs. a romantic relationship. We also talked about expressing not just the “everything is wonderful!” part of being friends, but also the “life is really hard right now and I need support” part of those kinds of relationships.
Why did you choose the song for the piece?
Laney: Joey picked the song, so I’ll defer to their answer on this one.
Joey: I spent three years thinking about this piece before a song was ever picked. I never had any more details in mind, and at first it was too fresh. I was introduced to Albanie and Her Fellas by Mike Roberts in a class at Swing Out New Hampshire in 2014, and was all too stoked to throw the band my money. I had listened to the album maybe a dozen times (it’s reeeeeally good, guys. Like so good) before I was hit with December Song hard one day. I don’t know what made that listen different, but it threw me under the bus that day.
The lyrics are about just bumping into an old friend, and catching up, but there’s something wistful underneath it. The last lines of the song drive that home, “But now, once again it’s December. You know that time, really does move too fast”.
What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
Joey: I feel really weird saying this, but none specifically. I’m sure others’ staging choices and framings did subconsciously influenced Laney and I while we were working on this, because we’ve definitely both watched our fair share of dance choreographies. But while we were working, we just jammed in our own bodies, and then experimented together, and went from there.
Laney: Agreed. It was pretty organic, we didn’t really draw inspiration from any specific piece or pieces. Workshopping it at Sweet Molasses was really helpful – it got us thinking about our blocking in a new way, and gave us lots of ideas for development going forward and how to make the story more clear.
How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
Joey: I guess I started to answer that a bit before. I asked Laney if she might want to work with me in…late April? I had been sitting on the idea for so long that I knew I would just not get anywhere without someone to be accountable to. So Laney and I both listened to the song independently in our separate cities, and worked on it and thought about it. Then we got together during LindyCON and spent a few hours jamming on stuff together. Living in different cities has presented some odd challenges to finishing and polishing the piece. We got some great feedback at Sweet Molasses, and had a little bit of time to work before North Star to make one more change that we thought would benefit the quality of the dance. We went back and forth about how much hint to give that there was something off, but in the end, I still feel like the shock value of Laney’s dismissal is more powerful and more like what I felt than something that had more foreshadowing.
Laney: Yeah, it was interesting doing long-distance choreography. I do think that made us use the time we had together efficiently though. For me, especially initially, there was a lot of just listening to the piece over and over and over again and messing around solo. After we met the first time and had a better idea of the arc of the piece, we split things up a little – Joey would work on this section, I would work on that section. Then we came back together and put those together and finessed transitions/beginnings/endings. Toward the end we talked *a lot* about how to make the ending less abrupt, or…ease the audience into it somehow? We still might change some things and perform it again, but I do like the punch-in-the-gut feeling it currently has.