DANCE

Dance Week Diary, Part Five: Punjabi folk dance

To conclude her National Dance Week celebration, Heather Wisner takes Bhangra from DJ Anjali

Editor’s Note: With a last Punjabi folk dance class at Viscount Dance Studio, Heather Wisner completes her five-day, five-dance class sashay through Portland dance studios. We’re hoping her celebration of National Dance Week will inspire you to make it National Dance Year. Good dancing out there!

Part Five: Bhangra and Giddha at Viscount Dance Studio []
What is it? Punjabi folk dance
What makes it fun? Buoyancy
Who is it for? People who like group dances/clubbing/Indian pop music
Who is it not for? People with knee issues

Between the luck of the draw at BeMoved® and my 10-minute accidental warmup at Vitalidad, I’ve done more Indian dance than I expected this week: my only deliberate attempt is a Bhangra and Giddha class at Viscount Dance Studio. Up to this point, my Bhangra training has consisted of a barefoot bop at Arbor Lodge, where Jai Ho! host DJ Prashant taught the basics during last year’s Portland Parkways.

DJ Anjali teaches Punjabi folk dance forms at Viscount Dance Studio/Photo by Heather Wisner

So I have some catching up to do—and if you haven’t been to Viscount in the last five years, so do you, since the studio moved from its longtime Burnside location around the corner to Sandy. The new space isn’t huge, but there’s a good-sized dance floor bordered by a long wall of framed vintage album covers (Polka Party! looks promising).

Our teacher is Anjali Hursh, better known locally as DJ Anjali, who, with the Incredible Kid, has been deejaying Indian-themed dance parties for the last 18 years. She studied classical Indian dance herself, from her Kathak-trained mother and from Bharata Natyam instructor Jayanthi Raman; she learned Bhangra, as many people do, on the dance floor.

If you haven’t heard of Giddha, it’s sort of the female counterpart to Bhangra, which was traditionally done by men. This being a nontraditional setting, the male and female students in our class learn both. At the beginner level, at least, it’s not complicated, but it is aerobic: there’s near-constant hopping—on one foot, on two feet, in triplets—paired with shoulder-shrugging, face-framing, windshield-wipering arm movements.

The challenges come in when the music speeds up, the combination begins to integrate all the elements you’ve learned in the last hour and the class dances those elements in the round. DJ Anjali smiles beatifically throughout the class, and unlike the rest of us, never seems to break a sweat, despite the warm day and the close surroundings. This is a dance you could do just for the exercise, but the camaraderie and the music make it seem less like a workout and more like a social event.

*****

National Dance Week ends April 28, so there’s still time to officially celebrate by trying a new class, seeing a performance (check out Oregon ArtsWatch’s calendar of local dance concerts), going dancing with friends or even cutting your living-room rug with loved ones. As someone who grew up in a small town with one dance studio and very few performances, I’m gratified by the wealth of choices Portland offers to learn and explore.

This was a challenging week, physically and mentally. I’ve realized that I’ve been out of a studio for too long, defaulting to the gym to avoid rush-hour traffic and for other not-very-compelling reasons. But this was also a fun, soul-rejuvenating week, and I intend to keep celebrating dance unofficially once National Dance Week is over.

I left Viscount with a flyer for Tropitaal!, billed as “A Desi-Latino soundclash” remixing Bollywood tunes with reggaetón. It’ll be held June 9 at Goodfoot, so look for me there: I’ll be the one bouncing down an imaginary runway, grinning like an idiot, waving my jazz hands and swinging at serial killers.

 

Dance Week Diary, Part Four: Vogue femme

Daniel Girón takes his vogue class to lands beyond "Paris is Burning" and RuPaul

Editor’s note: We’ve reached Day Four of Heather Wisner’s five-day course through Portland dance classes in honor of National Dance Week, and, of course, that means Vogue Femme! Previously in the series, we’ve encountered Laura Haney’s BeMoved class, Latya Wilkins’ hip-hop class and Kody Jauron’s Broadway jazz class.

Part Four: Vogue Femme at Vitalidad Movement Arts Center
What is it? A crash course on the form’s history and fundamentals
What makes it fun? Feeling like a supermodel
Who is it for? Designed to uplift queer people of color, but all ages/races/body types welcome
Who is it not for? Introverts, anyone with joint or flexibility issues

As a first-timer to Vitalidad, I get a quick tour from front-desk staff, ending at the classroom (one of four in this spacious studio, located around the corner from Vega Dance Lab) where Vogue Femme will be held. During our warmup, the instructor plays Indian music and guides us through gentle stretches, which isn’t quite what I was expecting. Then he turns to face us. “OK,” he asks, “Does anyone have any questions about Bhangra or Bollywood?”

I run back to the front desk.

Daniel Girón leads the vogue class at Vitalidad Movement Arts Center/Photo by Heather Wisner

As it turns out, Vogue Femme has moved to another room; I dash in just in time for a set of intense quad stretching. After the warmup, instructor Daniel Girón gives us a voguing history lesson and lays down Vogue Femme’s five fundamentals: catwalk, hand performance, duck walk, Spin Dip and floor work. If your voguing knowledge is limited to Paris is Burning or RuPaul’s Drag Race, Girón recommends catching up with New York Vogue Nights:

Remember when I said that you don’t have to be young and pliable to dance? [Editor’s Note: That was in Part One: “You don’t have to be young and pliable.”] That doesn’t apply here: pliability is actually a huge advantage.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Erik Kaiel comes home

A Jefferson High grad returns home, BodyVox intersects with the Imani Winds, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre and so much more

Choreographer Erik Kaiel and his dance company Arch8, now based in the Netherlands, will be performing in his hometown of Portland for the first time since Kaiel graduated from Jefferson High School’s dance program in 1990.

After leaving Jeff, he spent a decade in New York City making dances in subway stations, sculpture gardens, empty swimming pools, city streets, and on stages, too. In 2003 he moved to the Netherlands where he is now the artistic director of Arch8 and Crosstown Den Haag, a choreographic fellow at Danslab, and a faculty member at the Artez Dance Academy in Arnhem. In 2010 he won both the Dutch national prize for choreographic talent and the No Ballet competition in Germany.

Presented by Boom Arts, Arch8 will dance an award-winning quartet, choreographed by Kaiel in 2012, called Tetris, a work specifically made for children inspired by the 1980s video game of the same name.

Erik Kaiel’s Tetris performed by his company Arch8. Photo courtesy of Arch8.

Tetris, the dance, uses everyday movement like walking, sitting, standing, traditional dance, complex partnering and acrobatics to mimic the game’s objective—to stack and fit different block configurations into an existing block structure to create a connected line of blocks across the screen. The dance aims to explore our connections with each other, with the larger world, how we build languages of intimacy and our private inner worlds. It’s meant for “the kids who can’t sit still, for the ones who like to climb the walls, and those who can imagine further than they can see,” it says in the dance’s description. If the description is the qualifier for who will enjoy the dance, then it’s a dance for pretty much for everyone, as far as I’m concerned.

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Dance Week Diary, Part Three: Jazz hands

Kody Jauron leads the Broadway jazz class at NW Dance Project, and truly, jazz hands are involved

I wake up sore from the previous day, so I’d like to think I was doing something right. [Editor’s note: In yesterday’s installment of Dance Week Diary, hip-hop instructor Katya Wilkins had said that if you aren’t a little sore after class, perhaps you could apply yourself more the next time.]

Kody Jauron leads Broadway jazz class at NW Dance Project/Photo by Heather Wisner

I wave goodbye to my husband with jazz hands and head to Broadway Jazz, only to find, once teacher Kody Jauron gets class underway in the sunny studio at NW Dance Project, that jazz hands are indeed on today’s menu. The warmup begins with Sweet Charity’s “Rich Man’s Frug,” which musical nerds will recognize as one of Bob Fosse’s most memorably groovy dance sequences. Following chest and hip isolations, we power through a set of double-time crunches as Tina Turner belts out “Proud Mary.”

Part Three: Broadway Jazz at NW Dance Project
What is it? Jazz dance foundational class
What makes it fun? Informal dance-party vibe
Who is it for? Broadway babies
Who is it not for? Self-serious types

Once we’re sufficiently loose, it’s back to Fosse: Jauron teaches us most of the “I Gotcha” sequence from the 1972 concert film Liza With a Z, a Fosse and Fred Ebb production with all the Fosse slink: jazzy box steps, coyly pointed fingers and swiveling hips, plus something Jauron dubs “the chicken run” (Y’know that thing Mick Jagger does with his hands on his hips and his elbows cocked behind him? That.)

It’s a substantial amount of choreography to absorb in one session, but it doesn’t feel intimidating—Jaron keeps the mood light, throwing himself into the steps with such genuine enthusiasm that he laughs along with everyone else when his glasses go flying after a saucy toss of his head. Like Wilkins, he emphasizes the mood that the choreography should evoke, by turns casual and intense.

When someone asks him how a run should look, he pauses to consider the question. “I don’t know,” he says finally. “Maybe like you’re running away from life?” And if that sounds dramatic, remember that we’re talking about a Liza Minnelli concert.

We finish with enough time to run the combination twice, and if we didn’t get all of it, well, Jauron points out, there’s always next week.

Dance Week Diary, Part Two: Hip-hop class at Vega Dance Lab

Heather Wisner continues her National Dance Week tour: Today she encounters the hip-hop class of Latya Wilkins

You can dance, even if you think you can’t. You don’t have to have experience. You don’t have to be young and pliable. You don’t even need to buy special clothes or shoes (most of the time).

To prove it—and to alert you to National Dance Week, which is happening now and is more worth celebrating than most holidays, in my view—I took a different dance class in the Portland Metro area for five days running. Full disclosure: I have some dance experience. But I’m also old enough to qualify for an AARP card, and one of my knees has been acting up lately, so I’m not exactly waiting for a phone call from World of Dance.

Latya Wilkins teaches hip-hop dance class at Vega Dance Lab/Photo by Heather Wisner

Luckily, Portland is wall-to-wall with classes for all ages, skill levels, tastes and degrees of decrepitude; check out Dance Wire PDX’s useful Class Finder to find some that sound appealing. To narrow my choices, I set a few parameters: I’d only take a class that didn’t require the purchase of special shoes (sorry, ballet and tap), that you could drop into (workshops were out), that didn’t require a partner (see you later tango, salsa, ballroom) and that was open to beginners. Yesterday, I hit Laura Haney’s Be Moved class at BodyVox, and today I’m at the hip-hop mercies of Latya Wilkins at Vega Dance Lab.

Part Two: Hip-Hop at Vega Dance Lab
What is it? Hip-hop choreography for beginner and intermediate-level dancers
What makes it fun? A teacher with a sense of humor + a hip studio feel
Who is it for? Hip-hop lovers who want to dance it out
Who is it not for? Arthritic folks

“We’re doing Beyoncé today,” announces teacher Latya Wilkins at the top of the hour, “sooo … get ready to live your best life.” Her timing is impeccable: Queen Bey has just killed it so thoroughly at Coachella the weekend before that by the following Monday, New York studio Banana Skirt Productions has announced it will teach a class of her festival choreography.

Wisely, Wilkins doesn’t attempt such a feat with a classful of a dozen beginners, instead coaching us through her own choreography to “Flawless.” It starts out slowly enough, rising from a kneel on the floor into a few fierce poses before picking up steam with bounces, shoulder rolls and finally, some crazy fast backward arm swings (“Pretend there’s a serial killer behind you,” Wilkins helpfully suggests.)

In this upstairs studio on Southeast Water Avenue, with its exposed brick, graffitied north wall and the rumble of freight trains passing by outside, you actually can imagine for a moment that you’re in a New York studio, and when Wilkins turns on an industrial-sized fan at the front of the room, it’s easy to channel your inner diva, something she expressly encourages. “I want you to sell it,” she says, demonstrating how the choreography shouldn’t look (neutral expression; small, tentative steps).

Latya Wilkins teaches hip-hop dance class at Vega Dance Lab/Photo by Heather Wisner

The hour flies by: besides running the choreography enough times to get us comfortable with it (and to allow more experienced dancers to play with it as they see fit), she has a knack for coaxing us into really dancing, rather than just doing steps. “I don’t go to the gym to work out, because it’s boring,” she says at one point. “Dance is my workout, because it’s fun.”

I couldn’t agree more. Calling attention to the fun factor in dance is, in fact, the whole point of this endeavor, although I also take to heart her admonition that it’s still a workout, and if you aren’t a little sore after class, perhaps you could apply yourself more the next time.

Coming Up: Broadway jazz dance at NW Dance Project.

push/FOLD: The many faces of Adam

The world premiere of Samuel Hobbs's "Early" investigates the human condition, masked and unmasked

As the audience entered the dimly lit AWOL Warehouse for push/FOLD’s world premiere of Samuel Hobbs’s Early, our first exposure was Hobbs himself, standing completely nude and still in the space. He remained in his stillness until the audience’s bustle of picking a space in the round had ceased.

With a downcast gaze and slightly torqued stance, Hobb’s posture recalled modern day Auguste Rodin’s Adam, a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. By pointing his fingers to the earth and collapsing in his upper body, Rodin’s Adam contrasts Michelangelo’s God-fearing, enlightened Adam, whose arm stretches towards a classically portrayed God-figure in the sky.

push/FOLD’s “Early” begins with a solo by Samuel Hobbs/Photo by Jingzi Zhao

During Early, Hobbs, who is push/FOLD’s artistic director, gives birth to multiple sides of himself, similar to the multiple interpretations of Adam throughout history. Hobbs has told me about a brief absence from dance when we had talked earlier in the week, and I asked him if Early was about a rebirth of himself. “’Early’ as a rebirth for myself?” he responded. “I think answering that might provide too much of a tangible thing to associate with a piece I’d like people to experience unadulterated.”

And so it went, the wonderful challenge of experiencing contemporary dance unadulterated.

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Dance Week Diary, Part One: Be moved

We salute National Dance Week by class-hopping across town, beginning at BodyVox for a little Bollywood

You can dance if you want to.

No, seriously: I’m not just singing Men Without Hats lyrics here. You can dance, even if you think you can’t. You don’t have to have experience. You don’t have to be young and pliable. You don’t even need to buy special clothes or shoes (most of the time).

To prove it—and to alert you to National Dance Week, which is happening now and is more worth celebrating than most holidays, in my view, even if you just pop a Quaalude, pull on your yoga pants and rewatch All That Jazz—I took a different dance class in the Portland Metro area for five days running. Full disclosure: I have some dance experience. But I’m also old enough to qualify for an AARP card, and one of my knees has been acting up lately, so I’m not exactly waiting for a phone call from World of Dance.

Laura Haney teaches BeMoved at BodyVox/Photo by Chole Hamilton

Luckily, Portland is wall-to-wall with classes for all ages, skill levels, tastes and degrees of decrepitude; check out Dance Wire PDX’s useful Class Finder to find some that sound appealing. To narrow my choices, I set a few parameters: I’d only take a class that didn’t require the purchase of special shoes (sorry, ballet and tap), that you could drop into (workshops were out), that didn’t require a partner (see you later tango, salsa, ballroom) and that was open to beginners. What follows is a day-by-day diary of what I found.

Part One: BeMoved at BodyVox
What is it? A movement class inspired by a range of social and cultural dance styles
What makes it fun? The thrill of the unknown
Who is it for? People who want a dance-y workout without killing themselves
Who is it not for? Genre purists

The hardest part of Be Moved is finding parking near BodyVox’s Northwest Portland studio, so plan your time accordingly. Former BodyVox company member Laura Haney teaches this class twice weekly to all skill levels, so if you’re not an absolute beginner, you could probably modify the movement to make it more challenging, if that’s what you’re into.

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