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Staying in the Present with SFDI

“Honor the moment that is right now,” invites Katherine Cook, faculty and jam curator, as a studio full of dancers ease into the floor. It’s the dance jam kicking off opening night of the 22nd annual Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation. SFDI (commonly pronounced sfadi) is upon us again with a flurry of workshops and performances I can only begin to touch on here. The schedule is chock-full with a little something for everyone, and, with lots of drop-in classes available, it’s not too late to participate. In the spirit of improvisation, you could probably ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” and SFDI would deliver.

SFDI Participants 3_Photo by Tim Summers
Past SFDI Participants
Photo by Tim Summers

Need to unleash your wildness? Try Jessica Jobaris’ Raising Hell on Tuesday afternoon. Looking for new tools in your choreographic practice? Nóra Hajós teaches Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores Friday afternoon. Want to expand your Contact Improv practice? Andrew de Lotbinière Harwood’s workshop helps experienced CI dancers to embrace the awkward moments as a tool for creativity. Never heard of Contact? Try Ronja Ver’s intro workshop Wednesday morning.


I was lucky enough to drop into Ralph Lemon’s workshop, The Practice of Form, on Monday, although I don’t think that’s the workshop he actually ended up teaching. The course description, written months ago, was trumped entirely by the desires and realities of the present. To the group of nearly 50 people, Lemon recounted his morning in the park and how he was “containing” it. “I’m always looking at everything simultaneously,” he said. “The order, disorder, tonality. The music of it…I take it on as a kind of confusion. A productive confusion. What am I looking at?” He then invited the group to improvise—a productive confusion of our own. Afterwards we reflected as a group. “A lot of it, simply put,” Lemon reminds us, “is about trying to be present. It’s easy to say, but being present is a really risky, unsafe place to be. You’re in an ocean and you’re surfing and you want to stay on that board.”

Ralph Lemon_Photo by Dan Merlo
Ralph Lemon
Photo by Dan Merlo

Presence isn’t just what’s happening in the classroom. With its 22-year history, SFDI may be an institution, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still innovating. Much like improvisational dance, the festival is responding to the cultural values of the present moment. This is the first year, for instance, that SFDI will go carbon neutral. Velocity Dance Center will be buying greenhouse gas offsets to neutralize travel for every SFDI participant.


Jennifer Monson’s workshops have an interesting take on engagement with the presence of our surroundings. Her drop-in class, Dancing the Systems and Scores of Local Urban Ecologies, uses “dance as a research tool to understand the patterns and systems of the environments we inhabit.” In thinking about this city at this moment, Dani Tirrell’s Vogue workshop asks another relevant question, “How does gender, sexual expression, and gender identity affect the way we execute movement?” On Capitol Hill, and in light of the ongoing civil rights movement for the LGBTQ community, the currency of this issue is hard to overstate.

Jennifer Monson - Photo by Valerie Oliveiro3
Jennifer Monson
Photo by Valerie Oliveiro

Similarly important, Contact Improv and other dance improvisation forms are built on values of non-hierarchy, in contrast to many dance forms that put an ideal on youth and conventional feats of athleticism, not to mention a litany of other so-called “beauty standards.” But how does SFDI activate the value of inclusion and actually make pathways for all kinds of people to find dance? Karen Nelson and Corrie Befort “invite movers of all diverse abilities to explore, share, and enjoy their unique physical languages” in their Saturday morning workshop, Diversity in Dancing: start where you are. Movement jams every evening are also open to anyone. For questions and need accommodations, contact


For Thursday’s show, Dance Innovators in Performance, Tirrell also plans to address dance and age in a collaboration with Amy O’Neal, Jhon Stronks, and Amelia Bolyard. The work deals with dancing once you have approached age 40. “There was a point in time where being past a certain age would mean you had to hang up your dancing shoes or create for younger dancers,” says Tirrell. “Now most of us are more connected to our bodies and we tend to move more free and with a different intention.” The show will include eleven improvised works by national and local luminaries. Improvisational performance is a singular opportunity—a chance to witness the moment of conception, to experience the creation of “now” along with the artist. It is the most live kind of performance, which makes it very exciting.

Past SFDI Participants 2_Photo by Tim Summers
Past SFDI Participants
Photo by Tim Summers

Cook is among the artists presenting on Thursday. When I ask how she sees the festival relating to the now, she sums it up nicely: “SFDI is a place for dancers to engage in a dialogue with the present moment by coming back to it again and again, in different ways and with different teachers. The opportunity to spend a full week steeped in a sustained examination of the present moment is both a rarity and a great opportunity—especially as our modern lives become more complex and distracted all the time.”


Check out all these happenings and many more on Velocity Dance Center’s SFDI page. Drop-in workshops are $20, Jams are $5, and there are many free events as well.


Other SFDI Events:


Performance with Amii LeGendre

Wednesday, July 29, 2015, 9 PM

10 degrees



Dance Innovators in Performance

Thursday, July 30, 2015, 8 PM

Broadway Performance Hall.



Participant Performance

Saturday, August 1, 2015, 7:30 PM

Velocity Dance Center