What happens when dance and theater nerds join forces

This entire blog post goes under the heading “better late than never.” That’s because I’m finally getting around to writing about the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) conference that I went to last November in Seattle. Yep, that’s right, over 7 months ago. But it’s all good, because I took copious notes. So here goes.

Straight to it: the conference was great. There were many informative presentations of quality research done by individuals in the academic sector. Since it was a joint conference of CORD and the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), we got to hear about topics relating to both fields – dance and theater – and also about points of intersection between them. To be honest, not all of them were interesting (to me) and sometimes the combination of monotone speakers, fluorescent lighting, and lack of sleep caused me to doze off from time to time. But most of the presentations were well-done and quite relevant, such as discussing documentation strategies for the performing arts and exploring identity in contemporary modern dance.

I also really appreciated the State of the Profession plenary – a panel of academics from mixed backgrounds and interests sharing their views about the present and future of their respective fields. It was great to hear what seasoned scholars considered to be the current issues as well as their opinions on how to move forward. One idea I found particularly interesting came from Praise Zenenga, professor at The University of Arizona, who expressed his desire to unlock the power of the human body, as he believes the “body is a site of interdisciplinary inquiry.” (Such a nerdy arts phrase, but I guess that’s why I like it.)

I was really glad that CORD took a page from the ASTR playbook and welcomed “working sessions” into the mix, which were small groups focused on specific topics of discussion and self-led by volunteering individuals from the field. I actually had the privilege of joining and contributing to one of these working groups. Entitled Nursing a Beautiful Bastard, my group explored the mixed forms of theater and dance in theory and in practice. (To check out some of our conversation and our truncated “manifesto” formed through our meeting at the conference, you can read the group blog here.) Since the working sessions were open to all attendees, though, I was also able to listen in on and enjoy other discussions, namely one on dramaturgy and one on intersecting bodies in performance. I think some really great things came out of these groups, out of the blending of brains and the creative potential of joining artistic forces.

Of course one’s experience of a conference is also greatly shaped by what one makes of it. Looking back, I feel I did a fair job of taking advantage of the people gathered and the opportunities for discussion. I remember a wonderful sharing (over drinks, of course) of two art makers and their thoughts about critics (as colorful as you would imagine). I also was able to speak with many grad students, gaining helpful advice for my own grad school plans.

Very cool sidewalk art of partner dance steps

Along with the conference itself, my time in Seattle was vastly enriched by my living arrangements. For mostly economic reasons, I stayed with a friend of mine instead of in the hotel, which meant a slightly longer commute to the conference each morning but an overwhelmingly broader experience of Seattle and its arts scene. (Thank you, Rachel! Please hit up New York anytime so I can return the favor.) Of course we hit the tourist spots, like the Space Needle and the Pike Place Market, but we also went to a rather interesting dance installation piece housed in an old school. I also saw a performance at On the Boards, seemingly Seattle’s version of Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) with more wood furnishings. A real highlight, though, was watching a rehearsal of my host, which was held in a studio built in the choreographer’s backyard. That’s right, New Yorker’s, a backyard (which also happened to have a personal dance studio in it).

On a final note, I’d like to point out some things that were not so great about the conference. First, there really was very little time in between panels and events for much informal mingling and networking. And if you’ve ever been to a conference, you know that a huge takeaway is often these informal connections made with colleagues – sometimes more important than the official conference agenda as they can lead to future professional relations and projects. But with a jam-packed schedule and not even lunch or coffee breaks, these conversations were hard to come by. The pinnacle example of this was having the CORD award ceremony during a catered lunch, literally trying to listen to someone’s acceptance speech while telling the waitress no, I did not want any coffee.

Secondly, while sharing ideas with others in the field is important, at times it can feel quite insular, in that perhaps there is more we should be doing than just talking to each other. I would have liked more of the presentations to conclude with thoughts about the effects of the particular research on the field at large and maybe next steps for using the information to produce change. Often some interesting questions were brought up in the question and answer portions, but with very little time for open discussion, these ideas just floated in the air. As I said, while supporting fellow scholars is hugely important for growing as a community, I would love to see more progressive, meaty discussion about how to use the research to address issues in the field – really taking advantage of gathering so many brilliant people in the same space.

Me and the Pacific Coast

Finally, Seattle… what can I say? We had some good times. But I think between the snow in November, the less-than-thorough bus service (especially in the snow), and nothing open in the city on Sundays, you’re just not my cup of tea. A lovely city with exciting things, for sure, but I think I’ll stay away from settling on your northwestern shores. Until next time, Seattle, I bid you adieu.

And to CORD, I thank you for another wonderful, educational experience as only a dance nerd like myself can really appreciate. I look forward to many more years of engagement and learning.

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  1. Dance and Theater, can’t keep their hands off each other « The Hidden Language of the Soul
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