Talking to Kimberly Holloway, I was immediately drawn into how thoughtful, down to earth, and untempted by self-promotion she is. On some level, I have grown to sense that success as an artist necessitates self-promotion, an idea I’m sure is strengthened by the social media sharing-culture in the dance world. But in a beautiful, refreshing way, Kimberly challenges that mentality. In our brief time together, she showed me that to be a (capital-D) Dancer, you don’t need an instinct for bragging or an uncompromising vision. You can be real. You can be critical of your own work and your ability. You can be vulnerable, and it can make you stronger.
[Risa]: I know you had a busy September – can you bring me through what you were doing last month?
[Kimberly]: The beginning of September was getting into the teaching groove. It always takes a second to get into all the different levels, classes, personalities, planning, and rhythm. I was also in Michele Miller’s Catapult Dance performance, Homeland, which was really lovely to be a part of, at the end of September. I’ve been performing with Michele for four years maybe? [Laughter] It’s fun to have a consistent group of people that I know, work with, respect, and feel challenged by. That’s really special.
I saw Homeland and I loved it! It was such a thoughtful, important piece. What was it like to be in a performance that was so meaningful, and in this political time, so salient?
I appreciate the micro/macro level of the work. It’s about the walls and boundaries we put up inside ourselves, with the people we’re closest to. But there’s also the macro-things, like countries, borders, different races, and how we try to separate ourselves. In the work, you do it enough times that it can mean all those things, which I really appreciate. Being able to have a conversation about race and the border between the US and Mexico – which is huge and so important and terrifying – but also about how people have always built walls.
It sounds like there was learning in the process of making Homeland.
Yeah! It’s nice to be able to engage with an issue in a way that I’m skilled. It’s also important to engage when you’re like, I don’t know anything and I’m going to help. But it’s also really nice to be like, I know how to dance. I know how to perform. I can use what I’m trained in to focus on this issue, and that will hopefully affect a broader group of people and is a part of the bigger conversation.
Did you hear any feedback from friends, family, or other folks that came to see the show?
I think there was a lot of, Oh. That was a lot. A lot of people also asked about the text in the dance and where that came from. The piece is also a timeless thing to me, because the text was from someone escaping the Holocaust in World War II, where it could have just as well been from today.
Wow…wow I didn’t know that.
And so it’s like, great we’re doing this dance, but the world is still not learning.
That’s really cool to me. I do some Jewish activism, and there’s a big movement, called Never Again, which is about taking lessons from the Holocaust and applying it to what’s happening at the US-Mexico border. So it’s really cool to see that in a dance piece.
Beyond Homeland and your work as a performer, I know you’re a dance educator. What are you teaching? And have you always been a teacher?
I teach children at Bainbridge Dance Center and Dance Fremont, and then I also teach Advanced Professional Contemporary at Velocity Dance Center.
I’ve been teaching since I graduated college, so for 10 years now. I enjoy teaching because you have to get so clear about a thing. As a dancer I can just do the thing, and my body knows what to do, so I don’t have to mentally know what I’m doing. To teach you have to know not just your own body, but structures that work for multiple bodies. Especially teaching beginners, you can’t just say “turn out your legs” because they don’t know what that means. You have to say, “well there’s the femur and the placement and the rib cage and how you stand and where your feet are.” So I enjoy that.
I also enjoy the puzzle of it. I think I have a bit of the math brain even though I’m very much a creative thinker, so I think my math brain enjoys problem solving, like here’s a body that’s not my own that I’m trying to communicate these systems of dance to that I know physically. When it doesn’t work, there’s the problem solving of how do we fix that. I find that satisfying.
It’s been fun to teach the Adult/Professional class. Teaching younger children is much simpler because the system is so clear. You want to teach the tradition, so you’re going to teach a classic ballet class with all the combinations in order. You’re going to teach a more traditional Modern class that’s based on Laban or Graham or older Modern foundations. Professionals don’t necessarily want that – a lot of people are bored by that or it doesn’t feel good in their bodies or they moved away from it. So I figure out ways to have a warm up that feels really good on my body, now that it’s getting older, which will hopefully feel good on other people’s, and build in a way that’s actually engaging and gets someone really warm and challenges their strength and stamina. And also do some fun dance-it-out time! Because I think that’s important, especially as an adult professional. Because you need to enjoy dance still. That’s really important.
I’m on the Board of Dance Educators Association of Washington, and they had a conference last weekend, as they do every year. It’s where dance educators from across the state gather. It’s really fun to be with different people of different ages and different focuses in the dance world, but have a similar passion. [Seattle dance veteran] Bill Evans just moved back to Washington and lives in Port Townsend. I believe he said he was 79 years old, and he’s teaching this movement that’s very somatic. We talked about how we walk and it was mind-blowing. This legacy of dance is an honor to engage with. I think about if I keep doing what I’m doing with my body, I will not be freely moving when I’m 79. I’ve had a lot of injuries, from working a lot, teaching, and sitting at my computer.
In talking about this legacy of dance, I’m wondering how you see your style of dance and movement in the context of dance traditions?
Oh that’s hard! Especially in this day where we’re like “contemporary!” which means who knows what, and “modern!” which means who knows what. I feel like I have a lot of technical background of ballet. I took Graham in college, a little bit of Laban, so I got some of this classical training in my body. I’m also very curious about visceral, emotional expression. In classic dance, a lot of it is about form and shape. But I’m very interested in feelings. Because I have lots of feelings! [Laughter] That’s why I choreograph also. My style is that I still want to be able to stand up and point my toes and balance, but I also want to be able to take up space and feel feelings and express. More from the inside out, than from the outside in. Gaga has a lot of that influence. And taking a lot of different improvisational explorations of how to see and feel inside of yourself and physicalize that. I think that trend is pretty big. Like I’ve taken a class where I’ve shook for 90 minutes, and you’re like, “How many ways can I shake?” It’s about finding what that is inside, instead of “I’m going to make this position and do this move.”
When I make work, I usually come from a specific personal, emotional story. Then I try to abstract it enough that it expresses clearly. I talked to someone once, and they were like, “It’s as if you’re in your own world. And I don’t know exactly what’s happening but it’s so clear I feel drawn into it.” So instead of me expressing out, it’s me bringing people in.
Do you have an example of a story you told through a piece?
A couple years ago I did a work called Yessir. It was about my family. I grew up in the South, very conservative, very hierarchical, like the father’s the head of the household, then the mother, then the age order children. You don’t go against whoever’s above you, and you live your happy little perfect life, that’s somewhat dysfunctional. Yessir was a bit about the power struggle between my father and my brother.
Dance is so naturally abstract. I’m not into a story ballet, where so and so is this person and so and so is that person, and we’re going to pantomime. I’m into coming from a clear feeling or story, not to explain a narrative, but to convey the feeling or experience. So I think that is the goal: that it’s abstract enough that people can read their own story in it. Because we all have experiences of power struggle or family or these sorts of things.
It’s interesting the way you take into account the audience’s experience of the performance. Like, wanting certain feelings to resonate with them.
I think that’s important to me. My first choreography class in college was very much “you need to write down your goals.” There were these five steps and one of them was, what are you trying to tell your audience, and who are they, and how are they going to receive it. Which I’m not always good at! But it’s in my mind.
I think I’m really interested in story. I think stories are really powerful. The way that people are inspired or changed is through stories. So much that’s beautiful in life is conveyed through story. And if you tell it not through a story it doesn’t feel as beautiful.
And people don’t hold on it as strongly.
It doesn’t sink in. That’s why like statistics, 5 and a half million people who do this thing [for example] and you’re like, coooool. But if you tell a story of one person who did that thing, then you can hold that.
So you grew up in the South; what was dancing for you like there?
I grew up going to a little Christian dance studio. We did worship shapes. We danced in churches, carpets, and used chairs for bars. But there was a lot of improvisation. I was pretty young and it was like, I expressed myself! I just had fun and learned to love dance. Eventually one of the older kids told me, “It’s time to move on, don’t stay.” So I went to a more formal ballet school, and learned a lot of the technique that I have. I did ballet five days a week. It felt hard. So I got really good training, but I thought I was a terrible dancer.
What made you stick through it?
I went to college for dance, and I didn’t think I was a good dancer. And I thought, I guess I’ll do this because I don’t know what else to do. I got a scholarship for dance in college, and that helped. College was nice because I had really good training, but didn’t see myself as good, mostly because of body-type stuff, because it was ballet. And that’s built into the system, whether the teachers are trying to convey that or not. But in college I was able to take Modern for the first time, and did floor work a little bit, and contact improv, which I loved! I was able to learn new things, because I only learned ballet for so long. It was so fun to learn new things!
In college did you see yourself as a good dancer? Or was that more of a journey?
It was a journey. Because the ballet body-type thing is really strong, and really dysfunctional. It’s like “This photograph is a good dancer.” And of course you aren’t that photograph, and I’ve never been that photograph. But I’ve been around people who were, so that makes it harder. Those people get positive reinforcement, and you get negative reinforcement, even if it’s in your head half the time.
In college, I had a moment where I was laying on the floor in the beginning of Modern class, and I felt maybe the voice of God, maybe whatever, just this external thought: you can move the way you do because of the body that you have. And I liked the way that I moved, and that really settled into me. If I have to have this body to move the way I do, then I’m happy to have this body. Everyone has their own journey, but that was definitely a part of mine.
I’ve thought about that a lot! Often body-hatred and love of movement go together. And you cannot move without your body, and that should lead to a lot of love for it.
And appreciation because we put it through a lot of hard work.
Do you have any philosophies around performance? Like you mentioned learning to perform unapologetically, and that really resonated with me, as something I want to learn.
I’ve learned to perform that way. I haven’t learned to live that way [Laughter] so baby steps! I think in performing I try to be very, very present. Like in Michele’s show, there was this one moment, where we did somewhat arbitrary movements across the stage that you made up yourself. We talked about intention, and the intention was that you’re living your life, you’re just going about your ordinary life. So I had three different moves that made no sense together for me, and then I made a story: this is my professional life, where I express with confidence, and this is my processing where I’m more internal and maybe sad, and this is when I’m trying to find how to be a relationship, and there’s this give and take and pull and push. Those are three moves. 30 seconds. But I love stories!
I feel like I hold my emotions in my body, and they’re almost in this unnamed place. I think that’s why I like dance because I’m still learning to name my emotions and things I feel. It’s still easier for me to tap into them physically.
I think there is this aura that you can exude. When I’m performing I have this extra energy that I feel like I can send out of my physical body. That’s what I feel.
I met someone recently, and they were like, “You look different in real life!” And I was like, well I cut my hair. And she’s like, “No, it’s not that, you look smaller, like your essence is smaller.” So I think I take up more space in performance than in my normal life.
So you’re working on a piece about emotions and Mr. Rogers?
I’m going to do a split bill at the end of March with Emma Klein and Nicole Lobuzzetta. I’m going to expand on a piece I did two years ago. I’ve been in different cultures: one where everyone’s just sad, and the world is a woeful place and we all feel terrible about our lives. And then I was in this Church-community, and we’re all only happy, and we’re all going to be happy, because there’s good. Those are over exaggerations, of course! But the piece is about how can we engage with joy and sorrow and other humans who are in different states. And then Mr. Rogers is just a lovely human!
Do you find that religion plays a role in your life now?
I do still have spiritual faith, and it’s definitely based in a Christian tradition. For me, it’s about love. I’m really into knowing humans and seeing humans as they are, and not into judgement. In my own self-processing, I’m learning about shame and punishment and these sorts of themes and how they affect me. I really don’t like them.
But I think that there is, and I like feeling that there’s a greater life than just me living on a Friday talking to someone about dance. I don’t know! Having this awe of nature and the air outside, and the time to notice, and meditate, and pray.
Catch Kimberly Holloway teaching Advanced/Professional Contemporary at Velocity Dance Centers on Tuesdays at 10am, and look out for her split bill show at the end of March.