UMA People is a series of profiles of UMA 'regulars' though threre's nothing regular about any of them! We share their stories of how they found dance, found UMA, and what it all means. All photos: Adriana Imhof
At a very young age, Lu Donovan's (they/them) was plopped into a Ballet class by their parents. Not an uncommon occurrence in suburban Boston. However, for Lu though, “Unlike a lot of other people who have that experience, I just never quit. I never stopped doing it. It took me through the first 18 years of my life on a momentous path of training: 6 days a week, 4 hours a day.” Lu continued with Boston Ballet’s pre-professional training program until, when it was time to consider college, conservatory, or something else, it was made clear to them by mentors and teachers that “it wouldn't be possible for me to become a professional ballet dancer. Mostly because of body size and shape.” If you’re not familiar with ballet this might seem confusing. In the world of professional ballet, it’s not just about silhouette. It’s about 1 million other predetermined anatomical factors, such as one’s muscle development, metabolism, torso to leg proportions, and rotation available in the joints, especially the hips. Mix that up with Ballet’s embedded traditions of racism, sexism, and classism, and it starts to be clear that, despite an entire lifetime of training, the cards can be stacked against an aspiring ballet dancer despite years of training.
When Lu decided to leave Boston Ballet and attend a liberal arts college, they experienced a “beautiful awakening about what dance is and could be.” Lu explains to me that at Boston Ballet, they didn’t even have exposure to other ballet studios, let alone other styles of dance, the mindset was: “If you don’t go here you’re not a good dancer.” Moreover, the still-common belief that ballet is the one and only foundational technique for all other dance styles, was hammered home constantly in their early training. It wasn’t until they left Boston Ballet, did they find out about the Dance Complex, a dance hub just across the river in Cambridge, even existed. The Dance Complex is housed in a labyrinthian former Odd Fellows hall, that has been housing and celebrating a plurality of dance styles since the 90’s, and before that, in its former capacity as the Joy of Movement since the early seventies.
Lu laughs as they describe their first experiences of the contemporary and improvisation based styles they encountered at college, “I kinda got bullied out of being a bunhead when I showed up the first day in a leotard. Everyone was like ‘What are you doing?’” Lu got over the initial shock, and so did their peers, whose initial shade became a call to awareness, and eventually, a supportive community. Lu explains almost everything they made in university was collaborative; their growth was fueled by the acceptance and encouragement of their peers. “I was realizing I don’t have to point my feet and turn out my hips to be a dancer, it opened all the possibilities of style, movement, textures, that my body, and a body, could hold in dance. It showed me the infinite possibilities of what a dancing body could be.”
Lu graduated from Wesleyan University in 2018 with a dual degree in Dance and Critical American History. I asked Lu why Wesleyan. With the benefit of hindsight, they replied, “I think I liked that there was a lot of queer people.” Similarly, Lu moved to Philly in part because during early visits to the city, they felt at home around visible and inviting queer communities. Before COVID precautions kicked in, Lu was organized a gathering of Queer Dance Makers. Lu explains, “ I found a lot of queer people in my life in moving to Philly. And the community is very vast. But the places where my queer community and my dance community overlap are fewer. Is this a problem that other queer people are facing? Is there a gap?” Lu explains that the event they were planning, now indefinitely postponed, was intended to be “a space where people could come together and be seen as queer and want to collaborate. To talk about ideas or recommend other queer photographers, designers, spaces, choreographers. To really bulk up that community."
Lu first came to UMA at the urging of friends Julia Bryck and Kayla Bobalek. Lu was attending Headlong Performance Institute (HPI), and found themselves missing dancing. (HPI is an extension of Headlong Dance Theater, a boundary blurring dance and physical theater that's been an engine of Philly's dance/theater scene since the 90's). Short on funds, but desperate to move, Lu did an 'Intro Month' at UMA -- back when we had a physical studio space -- and came to class every day. “I tried everything”, they said. That was about a year ago. Pre-COVID Lu was no longer at UMA everyday, they took house regularly and often dropped in on UMA other classes, becoming a work study in early 2020. (Lu also shouted out Shannon Murphy's classes, as another local favorite.) Lu says they feel safe being queer at UMA but the space, overall, with its many purposes and sub-communities, hasn't put forth a sense of queer community or collective for them. Lu says "queer people are there, we dance together on a regular basis" but Lu is "craving something a step further."
For Lu, the multitude of styles they’re able to train and explore at UMA is part of the expansiveness of queerness. Lu is invested in “all of the possibilities of how a body can move.” They explained, “I’m excited about researching and investigating in a dance context with myself and other people about gender and queerness, how a body looks, walks, moves through space.”
we launched an online platform on april 1! check it out!
nearly all of the regular programming is available, though class times have shifted slightly.
learning online is different. it's not for everyone. learning to teach online is certainly an adjustment. no small feat especially as a quick pivot given totally unforseen global circumstances.
drop in classes in waacking, breaking, house, hip hop, afro-club, afro-cuban, afro-hip-hop and more are up and running! alll drop in classes are 45 min, so we suggest getting yourself ready to go at least 10 min before class. clear some space in your living room, get some water nearby, and start to warm yourself up a bit.
for those you want to dance it out every day, membership packages are still available. membership online includes all livestreaming classes as well as recordings of classes from the last 30 days. PRACTICE!
collage: Mark "Metal" Wong
I'm quarantined up in the mountains in the Catskills, having helped marry my friends over the weekend. I'm going to try and hold class online! At the very least, it will be a chance to practice the shim sham together. At the very best I might even teach you something new. It's an experiment, so it's free (And only 40 min)
we will 'meet' using Zoom, a free online meeting application
Meeting ID: 567 094 460
see u at 4:30 tonite (sunday!)
informative and vaguely erotic. philandering phalanges.
Rashaad Hasani talks about his journey as a popper and the roots of the dance. Check out this amazing mini doc made by UMA's Adriana Imhof
UMA People shares the stories and testimonials of UMA students and community members. There are some really special people around here! So much love and gratitude to Will Morris, for being part of the UMA magic.
We are delighted to welcome Lillian Ransijn as our Winter Artist in Residence. The Winter and Spring AIR cycles draw from within our staff and student community to support artists offering something exceptional at the intersection of genre, style, and discipline. (The summer AIR cycle is open to the public and the applications open around March.) We have seen Lilli perform at 'WORKINONIT' in the summer of 2018, as well as in Lily Kind's work at 'WORKINONIT: Deluxe' this past summer of 2019. Lilli is found getting her sweat on in many classes at UMA, especially Ron Wood's Movement Flow and Vince's House and Waacking classes. We are also grateful to the Lilli as a work/study who has been with UMA for two years. It is with a LOT of love that we offer her space to dig into it this winter. She will present a works in progress showing in January of 2020.
Lillian Ransijn is a Dutch/American dance theater artist. Raised in Wyomissing, PA, she followed her Magnolia-mouthed mama’s footsteps down to Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where she earned her BA in Dance and Movement Studies and trained and performed with Susan Eldridge/DENSE, Catellier Dance Projects, and Out of Hand Theater. In 2008 she founded her own ensemble, Ground Delivery Dance Theater, as a vehicle to experiment with the dance theater form. A 2016 graduate of Uarts/Pig Iron’s MFA program in Devised Performance, she is dedicated the cross-pollination of artistic forms through ensemble-driven work. Lillian has choreographed and performed with Amanda Byars, Blake Beckham/The Lucky Penny, Claire Porter, David Dorfman Dance Theater, Dance Truck, Duende Dance Theater, Ellisorous Rex and the Dance Machine, Fly-By Theater, Helen Hale Dance, 7 Stages, Theater Emory, and Wolfthicket/Lily Kind. She is a proud member of Moving in the Spirit's community, where she was as a teaching artist from 2008-2011 and guest choreographer for the Teen Apprentice Corporation National Tour. She feels most alive digging intimately into universal questions through the communal pursuit of artistic questioning.
Vince and Alex star in Episode 2 of Weirdos for Wellness has arrived.
Episode 2 “Getting Into Your Meat” introduces self-myofascial release techniques for pain management and improved performance. Fascia is a connective tissue that envelopes muscles and organs in order to distribute forces on the body properly. It's like an envelope that holds you all together so you don’t collapse into a giant meat bag. Sometimes the fascia and muscles develop what are known as “trigger points,” or “knots” that create sustained contractions in the tissues that do not release on their own. These knots can cause pain, stiffness/tightness, and muscle weakness. This can be caused by overuse of the muscles, sitting or standing in one position for too long, sudden contractions, etc. the list goes on.
But do not fret! You can resolve your pain and manage future issues by getting into that meat anytime, anywhere! The techniques in the video provide you with examples of how to release these knots through direct pressure and foam rolling. Research suggests working on particular muscles/facial areas or knots for at least two minutes to create lasting change. Set that timer and get to work!
Weirdos for wellness is a video series designed to fix all the problems in the world, starting with your own ouchies and boo boos. In addition to teaching yoga at UMA, Alex is an acupuncturist and body worker harassing intersecting Eastern and Western modalities to help athletes, physical performers, and everyday folks heal and prevent injury.
DONT MISS IT!
Saturday October 19, 2019
Rashaad Pearson, one of the most renown popping style dancers in the world, will be teaching a workshop at Urban Movement Arts on Saturday, October 19th 5-7pm. Popping is a style that features undulation, animation, contractions, speed change and lots of body control. Specificity and clarity are the name of the game. Rashaad is respected around the world for his musicality, funkiness, precision and soul. He is a great technician and historian of popping and hip hop in general. Folks in Philly often ask for a poppin' OG. Here is your chance Philly! Let's show up for Rashaad!
$20 online advance purchase
$25 at the door
We present to you, Episode 1 of Weirdos for Wellness featuring Vince Johnson and Alex Brazinski. Filming & Editing: Adriana Imhof