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Dancers Among Us Comes to Seattle

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Chicago- Angela Dice and Demetrius McClendon in Dancers Among UsPhoto by Jordan Matter
“As adults, we lose our magical enthusiasm for the small moments in life,” says photographer Jordan Matter, in an interview with SeattleDances. “I wanted to find a way to photograph those moments and I realized that dancers have that everyday.” In Matter’s new book, Dancers Among Us, this magical enthusiasm takes center stage, as he places dancers in everyday situations doing extraordinary things. A sense of whimsy, play, and most notably, a vibrant passion for life, seems to leap from his photos. Matter will be in Seattlethis weekend for several book-signing events, one at Pacific Northwest Ballet on Sunday afternoon and one at Elliott Bay Bookstore on Monday evening. Read on to see how you can win a signed copy of Dancers Among Us or even be photographed by Jordan Matter!

Santa Monica, CA – Jill Wilson and Jacob Jonas in Dancers Among Us
Photo by Jacob Matter 
Matter, who knew nothing about dance before embarking on this project, was first inspired by watching his son play with a toy bus. “It was so magical to him, and it was just nothing to me.” As he was mulling over the idea of how to look at the world through his son’s eyes, where a toy bus was a huge adventure and not just a piece of plastic, he happened to attend a performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company. The timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous, as he realized dance was the perfect vehicle for his nascent idea. Already in contact with one of the PTDC dancers who had asked him to do portraits, Matter was quickly put in touch with many other PTDC dancers who all volunteered to be part of the project. Word travels fast in the dance community, and soon Matter was shooting dancers from many of the major companies in and around New York.
After shooting around New York City for several years, Matter was approached about creating a book of his photos. Most publishers, however, declined, citing that the material was too New York-centered and wouldn’t have a wide enough appeal. In his final meeting, frustrated with being turned down so many times, Matter mentioned that he was planning a U.S. tour (of which he had no plans) to photograph dancers across the country. “They asked where I was going to go and I just rattled off a few cities. I said Coloradoand realized I had no idea if there was dance in Colorado!” With the pending book deal, Matter had to actually do a cross-country trip, and “a very exciting 6 to 8 months of travel” ensued.

As a newbie in the dance world, he was both thrilled and surprised to see such talented dancers across the country. “The enthusiasm was incredible and skill level was equally so, not just New York City and Chicago, but everywhere had very talented dancers.” Matter was also struck by the dedication and passion he found. “I would just tweet and say I was going to be in Chicago and a bunch of dancer would show up. Many of them drove 6 or more hours or flew into town just for the shoot.”

Seattle – Angelica Generosa in Dancers Among Us
Photo by Jordan Matter
Matter said the biggest challenge was “trusting serendipity, because I rarely had a plan.” Though the relinquishing of control was difficult, he came to revel in the process of simply “going to a place, and seeing it, and letting it happen. That process was the greatest challenge, but was also the greatest asset because there’s so much spontaneity and you can just see it in the images.”

Besides this delightful sense of spontaneity, what makes Matter’s photos so unique is their ability to tell stories. Each one encapsulates a specific mood, emotion, or experience that everyone can relate to. “I wanted each to have a story, and the dancers were part of telling the story.” Indeed, his photos show many different scenarios: the daily grind of waiting tables as a woman delivers a tray of beers en pointe, the ennui of waiting for a subway as a dancer dangles lazily over the platform, or the simple joy of finding the perfect pair of shoes and boldly leaping in the middle of a department store. With little knowledge of dance himself, Matter also had to trust the dancers to help him achieve these stories. “I would say things within the construct of elaborating on daily life rather than specific dance poses. Can you jump off that bench and make it look like you’re just sitting, and that you’re levitating? And they’d say, ‘Sure!’ The dancers were willing to push the limits as far as they could take their bodies and shoot it over and over again.”

Matter’s photos broach a new genre of dance photography, moving away from, as he puts it, the two types of dance photos: “pretty pictures inside studios, or pretty pictures outside.” To get away from this pretty picture trope, Matter purposefully tried to “dirty up the dancers. Showing them drinking, getting dirty, doing construction, making them real people.” The effect is powerfully humanizing, making the work extremely accessible. For people who “don’t know dancers or go see dance, they think dancers are out of their reach or their grasp. [With the photos], people have gotten really excited about the capacity for dance to express everyday emotions. It brings it down to their level so everybody can see it and relate to it.” Indeed, Matter’s photos remind us not only of how human dancers are, but how human dance itself is, and its capacity to bring joy and passion into everyday situations.

Playland, NY – Eric Bourne in Dancers Among Us
Photo by Jordan Matter
Matter will have two book-signing events in Seattle: One at 3:15 pm on Sunday, November 11, at the Amusements Gift Shop at McCaw Hall, directly following PNB’s All Premiere performance. The second will be at Elliott Bay Book Company on Monday, November 12, at 6:30 pm. PNB dancers featured in some of his photographs will be in attendance, and, at the Elliott Bay event, Matter will be staging an impromptu photo-shoot with the PNB dancers, and one lucky local dancer.
In a SeattleDances exclusive, Matter will be giving away one autographed copy of Dancers Among Us to a SeattleDances reader, and will including a lucky reader in his impromptu photo-shoot at ElliottBay. (To be in the photoshoot, the winner must be a trained dancer). To enter to win either of these, leave a comment on our Facebook page right here, under the link to this article, and let us know you’re coming on Monday. Each commenter’s name will be put in the raffle once. Share the link to this article and your name will be entered again. The more shares the more chances to win! Come to the event on Monday to see if you’re the winner!