By Gal Snir
For the past twenty-some years, dancers from across the nation would gather at Capitol Hill’s Velocity Dance Center for their three-week dance intensive, Strictly Seattle, and the subsequent week-long Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation (SFDI). This year, dancers will still have a chance to attend, though they will need to have to have a solid Wi-Fi connection to do so.
Both Strictly Seattle and SFDI, which make up the month-long immersive dance education program that attracts participants from across the nation, have been moved to the online format of Zoom, the software we all wish we could see a little less of these days. But, at a time like this, the chance to connect with others through movement, even through a computer screen, prompts artists of all kinds to make the effort to log on.
Initially, Velocity was hesitant to go forth with the program, unsure how worthwhile it would be to have the movement festivals hosted through an online platform. In an interview with the Communications Manager for Velocity, Vladimir Kremenović explained that honoring their commitment to over thirty teaching artists contracted for both Strictly and SFDI was the first catalyst for pushing forward with the online offering.
“In this time where everyone is losing income, especially dance artists who have been impacted so much since movement practice is so inherently in person, we didn’t want to be another form of income that they would have lost.”
As soon as the decision was made to transition Strictly Seattle online, the Velocity’s Artistic Director, Erin Johnson, began meeting with the teaching staff to build a structure informed by the instructors’ needs in teaching an online movement practice. But after tailoring the program for COVID-19 regulations, Velocity needed to shift once again. The Black Lives Matter movement, with CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) happening literally on their doorstep, prompted conversations around the festival and anti-racism. Honoring this moment in history led them back to the drawing board to restructure a second time, this time significantly changing course offerings. In addition, for this summer, and hopefully onwards, all BIPOC dancers who register for the festivals will have their tuition waived.
Kremenović laughs, “I think by the time the festival started running, we had gone through four different fully developed and ready-to-launch versions of it.”
Usually Strictly Seattle takes the form of four learning tracks: Beginner, Intermediate, Professional and Hip hop, but discussions around current community needs led Velocity to restructure around creating a non-hierarchical space for dancers to come together that is conducive to all. Now, if a dancer of any background level registers for the full festival, they have unlimited access to all class drop-ins, and their choice of a creative process intensive or hip hop intensive.
Registration-wise, Strictly is a lot more flexible this year, where many of the classes are drop-in, and the creative process workshops taught by Zoe Scofield, Alyza DelPan-Monley, and Alice Gosti are only week-long commitments.
DelPan-Monley, who taught Week One, reflected on their creative process intensive, Rambleways: Walk to Listen to Think to Dance, and the process of tailoring the classes to zoom:
“I wanted to create a class that could access movement given many of the confines and obstacles we’re all feeling at the moment—zoom fatigue, creative block, cramped spaces, social disconnect. In rehearsing and taking online dance classes, I’ve noticed myself falling into an old habit: watching myself in the mirror and assessing myself… Now with Zoom, I notice my eyes wandering away from other people in the gallery view to check in with how I look. ”
So for Rambleways, the participants spent most of their dancing times separate from the screen, taking dance walks guided by an audio track, and allowing their eyes to take in their unique surroundings.
“I was very appreciative of the Rambleways participants,” DelPan-Monley writes, “They were honest and communicative, graciously sharing their questions, excitement, thoughts, and critiques. For whatever magical reason, we were able to jump right into deep conversations, and by the fifth day it was clear that people trusted one another to show up with their real selves and not worry about falling short of expectations (because there were no expectations).”
The Hip Hop intensive taught by Jaret Hughes is the only workshop to have kept its original three-week long form. This is to honor the work that Hughes does for the program every summer and his request to keep it in the same format for this year. Dancers must pre-register for these intensives if they would like to participate but dancers may opt to just participate in drop-in classes, which are spread throughout the day.
Whatever dancers are interested in, they can pick their own adventure for the day. Morning offerings include ballet class taught by Gilbert Small, aimed to get all who participate out of their heads and into their bodies. Alternatively, dancers can drop-in to learn the basic elements, culture, and history of Waacking from Tracey Wong. Other days, dancers can bring a sense of clarity to their mornings through a Yoga and Moving Meditations class led by Fox Whitney, engage in a Redefining Technique class by Lavinia Vago, or Afro-Contemporary with Noelle Price. There’s Hip Hop Choreography class from Lex Ramirez, featuring combos to old school hip hop, contemporary R&B or pop music. Not ready to dive head first into a combination just yet? Dancers can join Jaret Hughes for a beginning hip hop class instead.
If dancers work in the daytime and still want to participate, they still can! Maya Soto offers an evening intermediate modern class that is open-level and geared towards flow and floorwork, or Natascha Greenwalt offers a gyrotonic-based ballet course. Other evenings, dancers can get into the groove with Nia-Amina Minor, exploring movement informed by musicality, Black social dance and improvisation, and modern technique.
In a normal year, Strictly Seattle famously ends with performances by each track level, a aspect of the program cut for this summer:
“We discussed it and are of the opinion that we should be focusing on movement, coming together, connecting with our bodies, and less on a product-based mindset. The world is trying to keep doing what it has always done and that ignores all the struggles that artists are facing right now from COVID-19 and institutional racism. To ask artists to keep doing what they’ve done before all of this happened is unrealistic and unfair. If the artists don’t need a product right now, the audience doesn’t need it. ”
The flexibility of this online platform will hopefully invite dancers to participate who were not able to commit to the whole program the summer before. As a participant in the festival this year, Kremenović reports that he has found the creative process classes particularly nurturing and enriching despite being online. He says, “In a time where we are all so alone, coming together and just knowing that there are other people in the same time as you sharing the same experience is really magical.” Providing this connection and support marks the other reason Velocity is glad they have continued with the programs.
Following Strictly Seattle, the week-long festival SFDI, has also been altered. The jam-packed-week style of SFDI will be replaced by a two-week online festival in order to avoid Zoom fatigue and allow the participants to process all the information thoughtfully. An upside to the online format has revealed that teaching creative process classes and improvisation online has been more rewarding than initially thought. Says Kremenović, “If you are working on an improvisational score or thought experiment, you can utilize the materials in the participant’s surroundings to engage with them.”
Eiko Otake will be leading one of the three intensives offered during the festival. Her intensive, the Delicious Movement Workshop, is open to all ages and dance backgrounds and will be open for drop-in in addition to the full intensive. Morgan Thorson and Fox Whitney will be leading a morning practice intensive exploring the unfamiliar magic of dance through movement. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color dancers are invited to join Rosy Simas in her BIPOC-only intensive intended to create space for refuge and rest through movement and discussions. Register for these intensive workshops soon, as they are capped at twelve to thirty participants!
SFDI will also include drop-in courses spanning a variety of topics from physical theater to the Alexander Technique. Teachers for these drop-ins include Beth Graczyk and John Gutierrez, Crispin Spaeth, Mooneyka, Allie Hankins, Lu Yim, Hayley Shannon, Keyon Gaskin, and Takahiro Yamamtoto.
Whether or not dancers reading participate this summer, keep in mind these words from Alyza DelPan-Monley for inhabiting any online space:
“We’re all learning. Learning how to find ourselves in this new platform. How to express. How to listen. How to activate and translate and find connections. I continue to be inspired by those who really dig into the playground that is this moment. And I’m excited to keep learning.”
To register for Strictly Seattle or SFDI, please visit the Velocity Dance Center Website. All participants must have access to a device that can launch Zoom calls, but Velocity may also provide support to participants who do not have access to a computer or tablet. To request BIPOC tuition waiver, email email@example.com.