Dancing the Learning Curve

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“Alright, people. Thank you.”

And with those four words, Artistic Director David Hochoy dispersed the Dance Kaleidoscope dancers, concluding the run-through of the company's upcoming piece iconoGlass. The dance studio at the Jordan College of Fine Arts Annex, located at the corner of Boulevard and 52nd street was close and steamy. The dancers' chests heaved as they tried to reclaim their breath. It wasn't just dancing. It was enormous dancing.

Hochoy first created iconoGlass in 1998, and it was last performed by the company in 2013. Hochoy was interested in pushing the physicality of the dancers to see how fast and sharp they could move, along with using moving lights that, at the time, was daring and new on the dancing stage.

Martha Graham revolutionized dance in the United States through her incredible dedication to the art. - PHOTO BY CROWE'S EYE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photo by Crowe's Eye Photography
  • Martha Graham revolutionized dance in the United States through her incredible dedication to the art.

Choreographed to the music of living composer Philip Glass and inspired by the fierce dance style of Martha Graham, Hochoy combined the words iconoclast and Glass to arrive at the piece's name. The word iconoclast is defined as someone who refuses to be bound by tradition and who breaks the mold of what is and what should be. Each dancer becomes just that -- each breaking their own mold through their translation of the piece. There is not one standout performer in this work. There is a myriad of them.

Last week, I had the opportunity to scoot into that performance space and watch the dancers work through this piece. DK will perform it in the weekend concert of Rembrances, which will also feature iconoGlass, at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University Oct. 16-18.

And I gotta tell you, even though I had a tall Americano with light-steamed 2 percent under my folding chair, it got cold. I couldn't get over the breathing, the arcing, the bodies, the arms, legs, technique ... the effort.

I got a chance to chat with Hochoy and ask about this signature DK work. He says, “The piece is already in their bodies since they danced it three years ago. Because of that, they can sink their teeth into it, shake it and throw it back at the audience.”

But as I watched these dancers performing without costumes, lights, a grand stage and filled seats and still so able to already “throw it back” at me and my tepid Americano, I thought about that curve of learning. In the two weeks left until DK hits the big stage, what was left to throw back?

Dance Kaleidoscope's iconoGlass features the works of Philip Glass, renowned for his so-called "minimal" music. - PHOTO BY CROWE'S EYE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photo by Crowe's Eye Photography
  • Dance Kaleidoscope's iconoGlass features the works of Philip Glass, renowned for his so-called "minimal" music.

Most of us are trying to get better at something. For you, it might be your 5k time. For me, perhaps, it is patience with my children. No matter what it is we are working hard to master, we often imagine that we will steadily get better, improving linearly with the trajectory making an even and consistent climb.

Canadian writer Scott H. Young points out in a 2014 blog post that in most domains and disciplines, progress is not linear but actually more logarithmic. When you I and the DK dancer first begin the activity or practice, we initially make a lot of progress. Then, as we get better at the activity, it gets more difficult to improve.

That's where a certain mind-set comes into play. At the beginning of learning a dance piece or perhaps training to complete a 5k run, it can come easily by just maintaining disciplined habits. But then to go from good to great, we have to stop certain routines and habits that have become “calcified” and are now acting as a seat belt that is on too tight. Our habits have become a hindrance rather than an aid.

The runner who can complete the 5k might now need to cut out the nightly scoop of chocolate ice cream and add in some cross-training in an attempt to win his or her age division. Dancers scrutinize their every move and run it over and over and over again to be as close to perfection as possible on stage.

DK dancers demonstrate incredible athleticism during a recent practice for the upcoming iconoGlass show. - PHOTO BY CARRIE KIRK
  • Photo by Carrie Kirk
  • DK dancers demonstrate incredible athleticism during a recent practice for the upcoming iconoGlass show.

There are many growth structures when it comes to such goals of mastering an art form, learning a trade, earning a higher degree, etc. Young discussed stairway progress where you take a step upward, become stagnant and then take another step upward. There is also progress when it comes in waves with each one leaving a residue of knowledge that builds with each lap of practice. Yet another domain of progress is a valley-shaped curve. In this, you go down initially before you can go up.

Some would argue that dance is an exponential domain, where you have years of working hard while getting no accolades. Then when you enter into the stage where all the years of study and practice and performance come together, the dancer has to turn the hard-earned skill into something that looks easy to you and me, becoming seemingly effortless poetry in motion.

The day of the run-through mistakes were made. Blatant ones where a dancer would have an expression on his or her face as if to say, “Are you kidding me?!” But the learning curve was still curving, because each and every dancer was in their own way bending it. The dancing never stopped. The heaving chests continued heaving. The arms reaching. The legs soaring. There was growth in that piece from beginning to middle to end. There was progress in those 25-plus minutes from a company and its dancers that will not calcify.

In the words of Martha Graham, "Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith or desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired."

DK will put on a stellar performance in just under two weeks, because they will sink their teeth in both their talent and work, shake it and throw it to us, their audience. Now, how's that for a company of iconoclasts?

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