Dance Class

My first girlfriend after I left home was named Arwyn. She was amazing. Arwyn had so much energy, creativity, ambition, and passion. She pursued a number of political causes (perhaps blindly so), and was from a family of accomplished artists. While our relationship didn’t last long, we worked on a number of performance collaborations together for several years after we broke up.

For one of these – and perhaps this was the best of our collaborations – by Arwyn’s initiation we worked in Shove chapel, a small church in Colorado Springs. Shove is a small and modest church, though still with lush ornament – tall stained-glass windows, decorative wooden pews, tall vaulted ceilings, ceramic floor. The church was a strange blend of European Catholic churches, and the humble churches on the plains of eastern Colorado.

This was a performance by and about women. The dance, choreographed by Arwyn, and the setting provided the really meaning. I provided the music, an essential part, but lacking the spectacle the women provided.

Here was the basic scenario: There must have been half a dozen women. All of them were dressed in very skimpy, silky, and lacy negligees and slips. They were made to look feminine, weak, desirable, and tempting. Five of these women danced on the pulpit. They groped and rolled and made piles, and tried to work their bodies into the architecture of the chapel. The sixth woman, dressed just the same in a beige negligee, also wore roller skates. Quite quickly, perhaps even aggressively, she skated through the chapel. She took laps, up and down the isles, by the pews, and between the pews. She skated relentlessly, her skates beating rhythmically along the tile floor, almost like a pulse. Up and down, back and forth.

For my part, in homage to John Cage, I prepared the piano in the chapel. I placed bolts and nuts and pieces of fabric between the strings of the piano to change the tuning and timbre of it. Such tactics – a disregard for the rules – was an easy way to access creativity. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know too much about music, I learned to arrange sounds, tonally or atonally, in a constructive and expressive way. By deviating from convention, away from the traditional sound and meaning of a piano, I also provided a tone of defiance (if the scantly clad, groping and skating women didn’t provide enough). To top off the scene, just like the women, I wore only a negligee.

Women rolling on the pulpit, the steady beat of the lone skater, and blinks and tings of the prepared piano. Arwyn organized all this for a dance class. I’ll bet she got an ‘A.’


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