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SPOTLIGHT:
DANCE AND THE CITY
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Rachel Levin
Dance and the City
California Dancing
United States
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Los Angeles, CA
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Dance and the City - Dancer 007

by Rachel Levin
November 18, 2004
Los Angeles, CA

Dance and the City - Dancer 007

Rachel Levin
November 18, 2004

Sometimes I feel like I have a secret life.

Aside from my close circle of friends and family, few people in my day-to-day life know that I'm a dancer. Teaching college-level English is how I make my living, and much of what I do in my professional life is completely antithetical to the notion of bodies moving through space. I am usually a body sitting, sitting, and sitting some more - in front of my computer or at my desk grading papers. I must habitually separate my mind from my body.

Even when I move around in front of a class, I tend to check my dancing self at the door. It is rare that I share my dance life with my students, because I'd probably lose some of my classroom authority if I gave them cause to picture their teacher up there shaking and shimmying.

Try as I might to separate the two worlds of dance and work, they inevitably blur. Anyone who has ever taken dance seriously knows that dance shapes your experience even when you're not consciously aware of it. There's no way of parsing it out and saying "This is my dance self" and "This is my non-dance self." Dance organizes your posture and the way you place your feet when standing at rest. It pervades your sense of rhythm, not just when listening to music, but also when doing the most mundane tasks.

Sometimes when I'm in line for groceries, I catch my feet tapping out an intricate time step. When walking up a flight of stairs, I often divide the trip into counts of eight. Others might suspect that I'm indulging in the counting rituals of an obsessive compulsive. But I know that I'm merely honoring the spirit of movement and rhythm that beats through me daily.

Sometimes I unwittingly slip into dance daydreams. I'll hardly be aware that I'm turning choreography over in my head until I realize that my hips are rocking or my shoulders are rolling. Once in a small graduate seminar, I embarrassed myself by doing a full head roll during discussion. I did my best to cover it up as a purposeful stretch rather than an automatic response to the soundtrack in my head, but I got quizzical looks from the class nonetheless.

Even during times when stress takes its toll, and my body feels drained of rhythm, dance always seems to sneak up and tap me on the shoulder as a friendly reminder not to lose spirit in the unlikeliest of situations. One recent day at the community college where I teach, our cash-strapped writing center was overflowing with more students than our staff could adequately help. On my coffee break, I wandered down the hall to the math department, where a book sale/bake sale was underway. The book offerings were quite a hodge-podge: old math textbooks, dusty ESL rhetorics, paperback novels, and outdated travel books, all for $2 or under.

Nothing in particular struck my fancy, so I gave the bargain table (25-50 cents) a quick peek before heading back to work. An emerald green course reader caught my eye. It sat out of place among the textbooks and paperbacks, and the cover read, "Dance 007, Winter 1998, Prof. Jens R. Giersdore, University of California, Riverside." The title piqued my interest. Why would a dance class require a course reader in the first place?

I opened the front cover and scanned over the table of contents. The readings were an eclectic mix, from excerpts of William Gibson's Neuromancer, to essays on beauty at the ballet, to scholarly articles on modern dance in Germany.

With my academic hat on, I began to envision what taking this course might have been like, what kinds of connections this professor weaved for students among the disparate readings. Surely this wasn't a movement class; it was an academic humanities class where students wrote papers instead of performed choreography. Just from the article titles, I could already see a thesis emerging about dance's relationship to gender norms, cultural power, sexuality, and the postmodern city.

But with my dancer's hat on, I flipped straight to an article written not by a critic, but by a dancer: Martha Graham. The slim two-page excerpt from Graham's autobiography was the first item in the reader following the title page. Professor Giersdore had underlined key passages for students: "art is eternal," "the dance of life," and a line that struck me deeply, "Movement never lies." It is true. My body always gives me away. Whether I'm in a graduate seminar or in line at the grocery store, the subtle movements of my body tell the truth of my passion. With one simple line, Graham fused mind and body.

I closed the emerald cover and clutched it to me. This was a little gem, and at 25 cents, a steal. I paid my quarter and made my way back to the lab, where students were waiting for my help. I entered the room with a renewed bounce in my step as I hugged my purchase.

"What's that?" one of my students asked me.

"I just bought it at the book sale," I said, holding the cover page so he could see.

"Dance 007? Why did you buy that?"

"Because," I said, without hesitation this time, "I'm a dancer."

Secret Agent Dancer 007, that is.

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