Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Friends of Dance Scholarship Recipient Reflections: Julianna Joss

Julianna Joss is a rising senior, majoring in Political Science and Dance/ Movement Studies.  She is a 2016 recipient of the Sally A. Radell Friends of Dance Scholarship to train at the Bates Dance Festival.

The First Step

When I reflect on three weeks of movement and creativity, the first thing that comes to mind is quite visceral and even cliché; the notion of “self-love.”

Self-love carries many false connotations; those gesturing at complacency, egotism, and self-importance.  However, my time at the Bates Dance Festival demonstrated that true self-love cultivates quite the opposite.

I took a 9 am Pilates class at Bates.  And this was not your run-of-the-mill Pilates course; we dove deep into the form.  We worked under the watchful eyes of a partner often, we completed exercises at an intentional slow pace, and our teacher, Robbie Cook, took the time to explain concepts.  Many times, his explanations and tidbits of wisdom felt like they held universal applicable meaning in life, beyond the studio, beyond the mat. 

The reality of breaking an exercise down and “doing it the right way” is it is painfully illuminating.  I have been doing Pilates since I was in elementary school, as a supplement to my ballet training, and the first time, I actually did a roll-up (fully and correctly), was this summer.  And the fact of the matter is, I still struggle; I still have much to work toward.

In my Ballet V course, my teacher, Rachel List, patiently reminded me several times to keep my focus up and to keep my core organized – corrections I have received from numerous ballet masters over the past 18 years of training.

Douglas Gillespie, my Modern IV teacher, cautioned me to take care of my body and not to throw myself on the ground, in order to preserve my knees.  This is a very basic lesson of floor work in modern dance.

During my rehearsal for Marianela Boan’s Repertoire course, she told me I needed to jump higher.  Allegro has always been my greatest strength as a dancer, so her observation could have been disheartening.

So, what does this mean?  I tirelessly practiced these forms.  I dedicated the greater portion of my child, adolescent, and now, adult life to dance.  I traveled to Maine for a professional training program and I realized I am still fighting the same battles in some ways and in other ways; I’ve uncovered new ones.  There’s so much work left to do.

But this is not disheartening. 

While giving a nuanced correction in Pilates, a couple groans erupted from classmates, realizing the difficulty and complexity of the exercise.  And Robbie calmly said,

“But now you know what you need to do.  And this is where self-love comes into play.  You can see what’s wrong, get down on yourself, and give up.  Or you can see what’s wrong and love yourself because you have the ability to fix it.”

Through my years of training, I have developed a deep, unconditional love for dance as an art form, for my teachers (we don’t mention them enough in our careers - Helen Clarke, Steven Hyde, Lori Teague, Anna Leo, Blake Beckham, Greg Catellier, Mara Mandradjieff, Sally Radell, George Staib, thank you and I love you all), for performers I’ve watched, for my fellow community of dancing friends, but what seems so impossibly trite that I would ignore and overlook is love for myself.

Because the reality is, if you don’t love yourself enough to recognize the beauty, the uniqueness, the “youness,” and the tremendous abilities of your body, then the improvement will never come.  The cultivation of artistry and a voice will never realize.  Too many years, I loathed my body and myself because I didn’t have the arched feet, the 180-degree turnout, the high extensions, the six pirouettes, or the long Achilles tendons.  My time at Emory began this process of self-love for me and my experience at Bates solidified it.  Self-love enables us to change, to do better because we recognize what we have to offer.  We accumulate more wisdom and we unlearn bad habits.  Most importantly, we become more because we recognize all that we are.

I walk away from Bates invigorated, happy in my person and in the humble piece I have to offer the art form.  But I am neither content nor settled.  The acceptance and subsequent readiness to move forward are why my perspectives and boundaries were pushed and my dancing deepened over the past three weeks.  I am neither complacent nor self-absorbed in my pursuit of self-love; rather, the opposite.  I became more energized, willing, and open to working, improving, and pushing myself further as an artist and a human being.

As I reflect on the invigorating dynamic classes I took, the community of creative, fearless artists I became a part of, the breathtaking performances I bore witness to, and the energizing finale that I performed in, I see the first step of loving myself.  I took the first step I wish I had taken 18 years ago.  But it was not too late.  Onward.

Photography Credit: Arthur Fink and Blake Caple

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