Fall 2021 In Dance

strip mall space, one of the studio parents created the new floor plan on AutoCAD. The sprung floor was another parent’s doing; after lots of research, they discovered you could install pool noodles to create the spring. There is a bin of mismatched ballet shoes, tap shoes, and jazz shoes held together in pairs with stretched out rubber bands for dancers who forgot their footwear. There is a min- iature altar with a picture and pair of slippers for one of the parents who passed away early last year. Small performances are held for the hospi- tal and nursing homes every spring. This place has love in its bones. But I didn’t always know I was allowed to love the Strip Mall Dance Studio. Strip Mall Dance Studios have long stood at the periphery of my mental schema of Successful Dance Education, where Those Who Can’t Do go to Teach because they can’t Hack It at Real Dancing. Real Dancing is always happening elsewhere—at sleek Big Name Com- pany Dance Studio or edgy Move- ment Complexes (gawd knows I have some movement complexes). Even raw, unpretentious spaces such as the local Community Center or Church Basement contain Real Dancing.

The strip mall where the author currently teaches

The author’s former childhood Strip Mall Dance Studio, now housing a shop called “The Bee Store”

said that this gesture-phrase had come from her mentor. I wonder, How many bodies have walked into the Strip Mall Dance Studio, learned that same phrase and felt comfort, not just in the phrase’s mechanical yumminess but in its ubiquity, in how known it is, not in how original or virtuosic? The Strip Mall Dance Studio is a home and the dancing that happens there, like the strip mall itself, might feel unremarkable in a sea of other strip malls. But when it comes to movement lineage, throughlines are like collec- tive heartstrings, felt by the group and passed between bodies. The Strip Mall Dance Studio is a base, roots, and a culture inclusive of showstopper fina- les and bedazzled tutus. It is a beloved place for a community of kids to return to again and again, learning the same warm-ups and hello songs that the older students know, that the teachers taught them, that their teachers taught them. It is a place tucked between a hardware store and a pizza place, where I teach Real Dancing every week. And it is one of my favorite places on earth. JULIA DAVIDSON is a dancer, teacher, writer and arts administrator based in Minneapolis, MN. She received her B.A. in Performance Studies from Macalester College and M.A. in Dance from Mills College.

Strip Mall Dance Studios don’t contain Real Dancing. They are sin- gle-story shopping centers, where Buying Things and Doing Capitalism happens. Real Dancing privileges process. And processing. And not knowing. And inventing new languages for all the processing. Modes. Practices. Embod- iments. Phases of self. Real Dancing relishes the goo stage between cater- pillar and butterfly. And Real Dancing bemoans the need for money to help ensure the goo stage is able to pay rent and buy groceries this week. The Strip Mall Dance Studio I’ve danced in and the Strip Mall Dance Studio where I teach know them- selves as businesses that rely heav- ily on costumed end-of-year perfor- mances to make ends meet. There is clarity in what goes on (performance) and why (our bottom line and finan- cial survival) that needs little expla- nation or re-language-ing. Instead of modes, practices, and embodiments, we have The Death of Dance as an Art; Product Over Process; Over-in- volved Parents and Dead-Eyed Chil- dren soul-lessly performing their millionth tap piece to “Good Ship Lollipop.” The Strip Mall Dance Stu- dio doesn’t gel with my sense of what

dance education and dance community should look like. But that’s not all the Strip Mall Dance Studio is. Turns out, the shit I judge is also the shit I love. I love the parents who run the front desk, create schedules, costume the performances, dance, and teach classes. I love their group text, a web of out- dated Winnie-the-Pooh memes and “you make it home alright?” messages. I love that the kids get so hyped about learning their end-of-the-year dance that they beg to share it with the other classes before the damn thing is even done. I love that they love learn- ing choreography and repeating it. Again. And again. And Again. I love seeing how much the students crave being in the space together, becoming inseparable like a pair of necklaces in a pocket. I love that my Strip Mall Dance Stu- dio is bringing forward dance forms from Black lineages and movement tra- ditions that I don’t have a strong his- tory with, like tap and jazz, and along with them, through slow but steady conversation, awareness around HOW these forms are taught and BY whom and in WHAT relation to other forms, thus slowly shifting the needle on how dance is understood by this community

of young people. I love that we are transposing new conversations about studio culture and racial equity onto gatherings replete with unironic wine- mom humor. And wine. I love our clunky unlearning and growth. And I love that I’m welcomed in, allowed to have my creative movement, roll on the floor, expand-contract, feely- feely improvisation happening right next to dance-along songs that, frankly, the kids seem to like better. We (y’all/us who treat dance as more than just a hobby) know Real Dancing happens everywhere. We know it with the fervor that accom- panies everyone and their dog making dance videos, adding dance as the special sauce to their art because, “hey, I can move so I can dance.” We know it because of how discov- erable dance STILL seems to be (did you see this kid? Did you see this vid? Did you know that obscure people in obscure places ALSO move their bod- ies?) We also know that Real Danc- ing, or at least the definitions of it that have set up shop in my head, often require and hide a lot of work, money, and credentials—prerequi- sites to belonging that still persistently go unaddressed in many of my cir- cles despite the ways in which other

“Turns out, the shit I judge is also the shit I love.”

barriers such as gender, ability, race, class, size, age, and neurodivergence are more actively addressed. Strip Mall Dance Studios remind me that Real Dancing continues to hap- pen in places where a part of me still thinks Real Dancing doesn’t happen. Dancing happens in repetition. It happens in dance-along songs (#teamLaurieBerkner). It happens in places with inspirational quotes on the walls. It happens in places that emphasize performance over process and places where people get excited about costumes. I was talking with the studio owner—a friend, a chosen mom to many, and a teacher in the dance department at one of the two col- leges in town—about her dance lin- eage. She did a modern dance head swirl shoulder roll arm extension thing and said that that is how she always starts her modern warm-up. A coworker did the same gesture, and said, “Yep, we know that’s how modern starts.” The studio owner

Julia Davidson


in dance FALL 2021 32

FALL 2021 in dance 33




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