Dance Camp for Life


I survived B12 Festival (kind of).

As part of my continued efforts to be a student in immersive movement experiences of all different kinds, I signed Ken and I up for 10 days of workshops at Berlin’s premier contemporary dance festival, B12.

B12’s slogan is ‘Research or Die,’ so I thought it was safe to assume that workshops would involve a solid amount of exploration/creation/integration, but that was not really the case. Below is a summary of my experience and some insights on teaching:
We started with Fransisco Cordova. He is inspiring and super-skilled, but also sadistic, and a bit contradictory. The first day was four-non-stop hours of cardio-acrobatic-mayhem. It was high friction (I floor-burned a hole on my ass), high volume, and high stress. He gave us ZERO BREAKS OF ANY KIND and rather than addressing questions he just yells at you to ‘GO’ (as in solo demo your confusion in front of the class). Then he yells, ’NO!’, whenever you make a mistake. It was MUY IN-TENNNNSO. Things were actually dangerous at times. The floor was slick with sweat and grease, and the acrobatics were demoed full speed with no progressions. We were throwing movements where a technical failure could lead to a fall directly on the head- as some people did. By day two, there were blood trails on the floor from people who had ripped their feet and hands open. We weren’t allowed to walk slowly in class ever. We were on ‘his time’. So, yea, don’t go to Fransisco in search of a soothing movement journey. Do go if you want to learn to run sideways really fast into the floor and look in 50 directions while getting up. I did really dig the movements, so I took his teaching demeanor in stride. It sure did motivate me to push hard.

The second workshop (which I won’t name) was was so bad that we left part way through the first day.  She ‘taught’ by having you mimic her, at full speed, as she performed a lengthy phrase full of handstands, rolls and turns—from one point in the room (a phrase is a short piece of choreography). After you tried the phrase about six times, she ‘taught’ a second, and then a third, with the same methodology. IMO, it was a perfect example of how NOT to teach. Even though the room is full of advanced movers who can pick things up VERY quickly- this method left no space for discussion of WHY or HOW anything is to be done or connected. 90 min in, I was OUT. Maybe things got better, but with a neck injury, my patience was too limited.

I should note that the average age of the hundreds of people in attendance was probably 23. I was representing for the ‘older’ dancers, which I never mind; being with dancers in their prime is inspiring. Dance has changed a lot since I was in that age bracket and it was fascinating to observe the evolution.

Tom Weksler’s workshop was fantastico. It was probably my favorite of the five immersions I’ve taken with him. The techniques were clear, the concepts were potent, and the movement soothed my circle loving heart. He cultivated an optimal environment for exploration by managing the space and sound. It wasn’t until  Tom’s class that I even realized the room didn’t have mirrors- it sure didn’t need them.

Then came Hannes Langolf. I thought it was going to be all Flying Low (a famous floorwork approach)- but it was primarily a voice and embodiment class. We practiced vocal improvisations and emotional intonation. He said it’s easier for us to be dishonest with movement than sound- so we practiced honest sound. We took this new state of awareness to the floor, and back up again, about 30,000 times, very quickly. I liked Hannes a lot as a human. He is diversely skilled, wise, and charming.

Lastly we did an Organic Acrobatic workshop. By this point the soles of my feet were screaming at me, and I was recovering from a hamstring injury. This class was fun but also confirmed that if I ‘warm-up’ for 2 hours with acro-conditioning, I’m probably not so open to new material after that.

I leave the festival inspired to integrate what I learned, but also refreshed as an instructor. My main take-aways to apply to teaching are:

  • No matter how advanced the people in the room are, detailed observations, tips, and tasks lead to better learning than vague cues and mimicry.

  • Beating people up to make a point about hard work doesn’t really make the point. It just leads to injured people whose performance dwindles. You cannot transform someone into an ‘athlete’ in 2 days. Offer perspective and motivation, not a beating.

  • A huge amount of NEW material is less valuable that a few solid perspective-changing patterns and ideas.

  • Always make time to allow students to INTEGRATE the old (how they moved when they arrived that day) with the new (what was covered in class).  Guide them into lengthy explorations with clear and specific directions that help them trust fall their way into less familiar patterns.

Next learning experience: Zouk Retreat with Xandy Liberato.