The feeling of fall is in the air and for NJDTE that means dancers are back in the studios. After a summer of successful programming, NJDTE has found its “new normal” allowing dancers and faculty to return to doing what they love. Looking towards the Fall season, we wanted to check in with NJDTE Faculty and Alumni to understand their “new normal” and get advice to pass along to dancers and the NJDTE community.
Megan danced with NJDTE between 2003 and 2009, and is currently a movement instructor teaching GYROTONIC, GYROKINESIS, and Pilates. She believes that “movement is medicine. Gyrotonics and Pilates alleviate pain and stiffness, create equilibrium, build strength, and heal injuries.” Megan shares, “over the past 10 years teaching, I've seen this in my own life and in my clients' lives. As we integrate movement and breath, inflammation is reduced in the body, and the entire system - mind, body, spirit - is soothed.”
Like many of us, the past six months have certainly come with some challenges. She shares, “I'm super fortunate, though, that I've built clientele up to this point to carry me through this time. A handful of my clients have been working with me consistently during Covid-19 via zoom (many of them several times per week). I've also been offering remote group classes for friends, family, and anyone who wants to join!” Megan says that it hasn't been easy, but teaching remotely has had its perks: anyone in the world can join her. She has seen her clients make a lot of progress during this time, and that has certainly lifted her spirits—something we all need right now.
"There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in" ... stop running after perfection as it does not bring happiness and it does not make something more valuable.
Megan’s favorite inspirational quote is "There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in” by Leonard Cohen. It reminds her to stop running after perfection as it does not bring happiness and it does not make something more valuable; there is beauty and light in everything if you look for it.
Dancing and touring with NJDTE is one of Megan’s proudest achievements. She shares, “The opportunity to learn from the best of the best - and perform work by acclaimed artists - was invaluable. No doubt, I was
“be yourself, love yourself, and honor your unique story
Megan wants to share that is she so proud of all the NJDTE dancers. She follows NJDTE on social media and sees the incredible work everyone is doing which brings her so much joy. She comments, “Keep shining, and know that I am here if you ever need support.” She is also happy to discuss Gyrotonic or Pilates if anyone is curious about exploring it as a means of cross-training, or as a profession to supplement your dance career.
Find Megan on Instagram at @megan.guinta or email her at email@example.com.
Sarah danced with NJDTE between 1990 and 1998, and is currently an acupuncturist and an artist. Her acupuncture practice, Sword Hands is based in Putney, Vermont, and as a performance artist and visual artist, she works under the name Sarah H. Paulson.
As an acupuncturist, she is particularly interest in the place where medicine and the arts meet. She says, “Acupuncture addresses the root cause of illness in an individual and works at the level of the body, mind, and spirit. As Taoist Medicine addresses the whole person in both health and illness, all people can benefit from receiving acupuncture treatment.”
Sarah found her way to acupuncture because of physical pain that she wanted assistance with; she had fractured some vertebrae in a performance art piece which made her back constantly hurt. She shares, “Though acupuncture was very effective in helping resolve the pain and some other physical issues, what I really grew to love was the fact that acupuncture seemed so similar to my experience as an artist. Acupuncture is a healing art that works with resonance. Dance, movement, sound, music, painting,
Her patients seek relief from specific symptoms such as insomnia, depression, skin issues, headaches, joint pain, musculoskeletal pain, PMS, asthma, digestive problems, or allergies. Other individuals come in with the sense that something is not quite right or there is a feeling of being stuck such as writer’s block or a lack of inspiration. She shares that “Many patients experience positive results in the realms of addiction, depression, energy levels, or emotional distress (sadness, worry, grief, fear, anger). Often times, patients may find relief from symptoms that are quite subtle and/or are difficult to diagnose from a Western medical perspective.” Acupuncture treatment can also remind the body how it can heal itself, and that living more in sync with the seasons is an excellent way to maintain one's health through seasonal tune-ups.
She believes that art has the power to heal. She shares, “Though the depth of this dialogue remains almost untouched in the modern and contemporary art world, I think many of us have had the experience of being truly transformed by seeing a performance, looking at a painting, reading a poem, or hearing a piece of music. To me, Performance, in its sacred form, has the capacity to bring the human being closest to what it means to be human. This gives me hope during a time when we need the arts more than ever.”
Each dancer has an innate form of language within her/him/them, which is waiting to be recognized and cultivated.
While at NJDTE, Sarah learned about relationship, movement, power, strength, weakness, friendship, and her own passion. She notes, “On one level, I’ve never had a body made for classical ballet, so that was often painful. I am not naturally flexible, and I don’t have good turnout. But it wasn’t always excruciating—there were many moments of great joy! I’ve never lacked discipline or focus or a love of movement, and NJDTE provided a place for me to utilize those aspects of myself. In many ways, ballet created a foundation from which I eventually differentiated. I became determined to find my way into uncharted territory within myself, and NJDTE supported this.”
She continues, “Some days I thought I was supposed to want to be a professional ballet dancer. For years I took classes and pushed myself in ballet. And then, one year Nancy Turano invited some contemporary choreographers and dancers to the summer program who opened a whole new door to me. My world was changed when I began improvising and learning about contact improvisation and other less classical or traditional forms from dance artists like Kyle Bukhari and Jodi Melnick. It was new, wild, different than anything I had learned before, and yet, it was the most natural thing for me. I feel lucky that I was young when I was exposed to the downtown dance scene and immediately felt the overlaps between dance/movement and visual art. I realized that I had been waiting for this, and to this day, I feel gratitude to Nancy Turano and NJDTE for knowing that each dancer has an innate form of language within her/him/them, which is waiting to be recognized and cultivated. Every dancer is unique.”
Many NJDTE alum have performed and participated in these performance works. For example, Sarah’s last large-scale piece was a 10-hour performance called “The Reed Bed” performed in Brooklyn, NY at Grace Exhibition Space. Corey Bliss and Mackenzie Fitzgerald, both NJDTE alumni, were performers in this piece. Samantha Grey, also an NJDTE alumna, performed with Sarah in “Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean,” a 3.5 hour performance in Miami, Florida.
The Impact of COVID-19
Initially, Sarah closed my acupuncture practice in March, an action she never imagined would be called for, especially as a healthcare practitioner. She quickly learned that this action was necessary in order to not be a vector for the spread of the virus, and during that time she was able to connect with the earth at greater depth. She slowed way down; the earth and the acupuncture points are intrinsically linked, so her acupuncture practice deepened without the use of needles. Acupuncture works with the seasons in a person, so she learned from the seasons of the earth.
She was in regular contact with patients via phone to remain connected, to hear how they were impacted, and also to share her own personal experiences. Since August, she have resumed one-on-one acupuncture appointments with very specific safety protocols. Though she is wearing a face shield and a mask and look a little strange, she feels wonderful to be working again.
She noted that patients are coming in with serious questions, anxiety, pain, rage, sorrow, grief, and a range of experiences. She comments, “If I am not willing to do the personal work within myself, how can I properly address those with whom I am working?” She has had the privilege of being in deep conversation with both patients and colleagues about how to learn from this time. She says, “Working at the root of another person’s life often includes a level of intimacy, trust, and honesty, but this time is calling for more. People need one another more. Listening is vital.”
This time has encouraged Sarah to reflect and to ask important questions:
- How can we cultivate an existence that does not use hate to protect us from our own shadows?
- In this time where “social distancing” has become the norm, how can we maintain connected to other people and the earth?
- What are my priorities as an artist and a practitioner?
- What is it to be human during this time of crisis in humanity and the earth? What do I have to offer?
Sarah’s acupuncture teacher recently said, “Think about how contagious this virus is. Love is 100 times more contagious.” This powerful statement is something Sarah keeps close to her heart.
Sarah’s Advice For Dancers
- Let yourself feel your relationship to dance.
- If you love it, you must do it. No matter what. If you are born an artist, you must live this.
- Dance comes in many forms.
- A break from what you love is always important, because you have the chance to determine whether you really can’t live without it.
- This is an unusual time. Use it, if you can. Ask yourself questions. Answer honestly from deep within yourself. Let your passion and longing grow. If you have questions about what you’re doing, ask them. Not everyone knows what she/he/they want. You don’t have to. Each person has their own pacing. Different times call for unexpected responses. Timing is more mysterious than we are trained to think.
- Explore. Experiment. Let dance speak to you. Dance can exist in more places than you know.
- The arts are sacred. Connect to your passion through your heart rather than a hunger for fame or money. So many things are falling apart right now. Structures that determine success are changing.
- Let the arts be sacred. Try to remember this in a time when this has been forgotten.
- Not everything you do has to be perfect. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Fall. Trip. Fall on purpose. Say the wrong thing. Apologize. Be real. Use your weaknesses to learn. Don’t feel embarrassed for being confused. Stay close to one another. If you’re competitive, use it to challenge yourself, not to hurt others.
- Let love transform. Find this power inside of creation.
- Art can unite. Let yourself be a part of this in creative ways.
- There are so many different kinds of artists and people. I couldn’t possibly give you a blanket statement. The world is a different place than it was months ago. Ask yourself what really matters to you. Especially outside of the studio, you have a chance to come into closer relationship with the sacredness of dance. Give yourself that freedom. The world could benefit from this being restored. Your life is precious. The body is a holy instrument. The heart is even holier.
Learn more about Sarah’s work at www.swordhands.com and www.sarahhpaulson.com.