The First Pilot for Meta-Academy Brings the Jam Online

October 18th, 2013

You have more than likely heard about the increasing importance of online courses in higher education.  If you’re like me, you respond to the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) with a mix of hope and horror.  On the one hand, the unprecedented access to knowledge and community is potentially revolutionary.  On the other hand, as a dancer, I have many doubts and fears about losing the powerful experience of physical interaction in education. What about being in the room together?  What about collaborative learning? What about touch, rhythm, WHAT ABOUT THE BODY?

Meta-Academy screen shots

Meta-Academy screen shots

I had an opportunity to meet these questions head on when Marlon Barrios Solano approached me with his idea for Meta-Academy, an experiment in online collaborative learning focused around embodied practices and co-creativity on the internet. Barrios Solano and I were joined by online dance educatioexpert, Josephine Dorado, to launch the first pilot of Meta-Academy at the Bates Dance Festival in July-August 2013.  The pilot, entitled ”Meta-academy@Bates 2013: Minded Motion Lab“ focused on collaborating with master improvisation teacher Nancy Stark Smith to translate elements of her Underscore to the online space.  We asked the question, “what does a collaborative, embodied practice like the Underscore look and feel like if transposed to the internet with all its connective, social, visual, remixing and re-sampling capabilities?”

Meta-Academy participants: Nancy Stark Smith, Marlon Barrios Solano, Josephine Dorado, Rachel Boggia

Meta-Academy participants: Nancy Stark Smith, Marlon Barrios Solano, Josephine Dorado, Rachel Boggia

Barrios Solano, a dancer and digital media researcher and creator of and, conceived of Meta-academy as an opportunity to invite artists and authors to experiment with the unique opportunities for collaborative knowledge production available on the internet. Rather than broadcasting existing realms of thought into the online space as courses, Meta-academy proposes to work with experts/artists to translate their ideas into co-creative online activities, creating an online multimedia lab.  It is a free, non-hierarchical space in which all participants are treated as artist-scholars and collaborators. It uses massively available platforms such as google+hangouts on air, youtube, and flickr, as well as sophisticated tools for knowledge mapping and visualization. The material co-created stays available online after the lab is over for self-guided learning.

Meta-academy@Bates 2013: Minded Motion Lab featured creative activities and critical investigations that branched out from a central video interview in which Nancy Stark Smith describes and discusses the Underscore in detail.   Nancy Stark Smith helped us create a great resource commons of articles and videos.  When we arrived at BDF, Barrios, Dorado and I worked with Stark Smith to design creative and critical activities around the Underscore including:

Nora Zuniga-Shaw discusses dance documentation with Bertha Bermudez, Nancy Stark Smith and lab participants in a google+ hangout

Nora Zuniga-Shaw discusses dance documentation with Bertha Bermudez, Nancy Stark Smith and lab participants in a google+ hangout

66 participants from four continents collaborated in the lab with zeal and creativity. Many were dancers, some BDF alumni, some students of Nancy’s, but some were researchers in other fields.  They reported increased understanding of the Underscore, digital literacy, creative connections with others across the world, and finding new nuances on the experience of embodiment in relation to the computer interface, their creative work and theoretical approximations.  More than 20 hours of video content were created, as well as writing, images, and other forms of creative and critical output. Fascinating questions about embodiment, cognitive processes, creativity, presence, mediation and collaboration on the internet arose.

Barrios Solano, Dorado, and I organized an open lab/gallery showing of works at the conclusion of the Bates Dance Festival, which was met with interest, enthusiasm…and surprise. Participants continue collaborating.  All activities and outcomes can be seen (and tried) at .

Meta-Academy images

Meta-Academy images

We are continuing to develop Meta-Academy and are looking for funding to create a better website interface, as well as to conduct more pilot programs.  We are especially looking forward to presenting our work at Motion Bank “Live and Online 2013” in Frankfurt in November and our upcoming contribution to Contact Quarterly.

None of this could have been done without the curiosity and creativity of Nancy Stark Smith and her assistant, as well as the support of Laura Faure, the Bates Dance Festival, and Bates College. Also key was the support of the hard working BDF video team, headed up this year by Peter Richards and Lindsay LaPointe.  I want to thank them all for their generosity.

Of course the creative energy and sense of community at BDF is something that is hard to describe and so vital to my positive experience this summer.  Without the chance encounters in the dining hall, the inspiring, sweaty efforts of my students, peers and heroes in class, the rhythms of the musicians echoing through the quad as I rushed to the computer lab, this project wouldn’t be the same. And that brings me back to the excitement, questions, and fears around online learning.  There is no way to recreate the magic of BDF or an Underscore online. That’s not what we are trying to do.  But there is a whole world of related creativity and community available through the internet that is not yet being accessed by the lecture oriented teaching that dominates online education.

a word cloud generated by Meta- Academy participants

a word cloud generated by Meta- Academy participants

The future is now when it comes to the importance of online education, but the models are still being formed.  It makes sense for those of us that carry the tradition of embodied, co-creative learning to start to enter this online learning conversation, to put some skin in the game. Master teacher Stephan Koplowitz is teaching the first MOOC on site dance on starting October 21.  BDF Alumnus Emily Lawrence is producing videos for the interactive crafting website Craftsy.comScott DeLahunta and the Forsythe Company’s Motion Bank are working with artists like Bebe Miller to articulate the choreographic process and create examples that dancers have unique but transferable skills to offer the culture at large. But there is much more to be done.  The idea is not to replace our traditional experience with an online one, but to enrich the online experience with the knowledge we carry from the studio.

lab participants use google chat for an embodied activity

lab participants use google chat for an embodied activity

A full set of images from Meta academy@Bates 2013 can be seen at: Thanks to Marlon Barrios Solano for his contribution of text to this post.


Work in Progress 2013 Blog

September 16th, 2013

(Posted by D Nayar, 2013 New England Emerging Choreographer in Residence).

Entry #1

What follows are selected fragments.   Thoughts, memories, sensations that bubble to the surface upon reflecting on my choreographic residency at Bates. Each fragment is a different attempt to leap between the experience of dance making and the experience of writing.

There is no permanence intended by these entries: on another day, I would likely alter, edit, stretch, replace, rewrite these. (Remembering is an act of imagination).


Entry #2:

July 19th to-do list (pre-Bates)
Pack lunches, walk dog, car inspection, dentist, return library books, submit summer camp forms, groceries for week, return calls and emails, request air mileage update, post office, swim class, arrange babysitters, packing list.

Week #2 (@ Bates)
(Coffee, breakfast, write); 7-9 studio; 9:-10:30 somatics/movement class; 11-12:30 studio; Lunch; 2-3:30 Creative Process with Bebe Miller; 4-6 Studio; Dinner;
7-10 Rehearsal


Entry #3: In my notebook

Bits from Bebe Miller’s Creative Process class:
“To not know.  To make space for the encounter.
What is a beginning-not necessarily in the obvious temporal sense–, what makes something a beginning?
A middle? End?
On alchemy: how do you note the nature of something beyond a description of what it is?
Recommended reading: Metaphors We Live By

Bits from Metaphors we Live By:
“New metaphors are capable of creating new understandings and, therefore, new realities… Works of art provide new experiential gestalts and therefore new coherences….new coherences that are not part of our conventionalized  mode of perception or thought”

Bits from my own musings:
The creative process offers so much more than creating dances to be seen.  How does dance transform our way of seeing? Of knowing? Affect our mental modes of reality?


Entry #4: Work in Progress Rehearsals

I had the great pleasure of working with five dancers from the festival: Christina Martin, Kailey McCrudden, Katherine Paulson, Jennifer McCallister and Emma Hreljanovic.

My ideas for this work depart from literal references and manifest as abstract movement and images.  I seek evocative traces of meaning from specific memories to spill over into the consciousness of the dancing. I generate a large amount of movement material and pare down.  This rigorous filtering is further informed by collaborating and experimenting with multiple dancers, whose own subjective memories and experiences inform the consciousness underlying the work.

Below are some writings by my dancers, submitted anonymously, following rehearsals that sought an embodied suspension of time and a hyper-aware state of remembering.

“I am in your world.  Then it becomes my world.  Our world.  I am trying to be part of the collective, but my voice inevitable comes out.  Your mother’s voice means so much.  It is like my mother.  My grandmother.  Catching up.  Giving updates.  Her little inflections color the scene.    The beginning can go on forever.  I want to stay in our right arm curve, hanging, floating in the feeling.  I am still unsure, but I am trusting this story.”

“Listening, unison without looking.  How can we hear each other’s inner breath.  Ending energy through the hand, relaxing into a resolution together.  Togetherness, each individual.  Self within a group.  What can our eyes say?  I like to tell myself stories in the beginning phrase., usually fictional semi-unrelated stories, but still staying present within the group.  I love the moments when you take a breath with someone, taking in the new, the current, and exhaling the old.  Constant awareness to the current moment.”

“My muscles are buzzing with a new awareness in which I find a way to embody movement.  I feel a new articulation in each micro movement and yet somehow an overarching breath which holds the hand of this heightened sensory…”

“Tingling Sensations in my calves and palms.  Birds, strong, suspended, catching the wind.  The fan over bare skin, touching, shifting my loose clothing.  Birds speed against the movement of clouds.  A perfect landing, settling on my tiny branches.  Grounded in the floor.  Loose muscles and sensation extending out of limbs, fingers breath.”

“The vast empty space allows my body to move in its own time.  There is no pulse, just me standing in wind. It is surreal.  I negotiatate each movement with a precise flow, yet it’s so natural.  I force nothing and still movement happens.”


Upside Down with Kathleen Hermesdorf

August 7th, 2013

I am lucky enough to be enrolled in Kathleen Hermesdorf’s gut motives modern technique class accompanied by Albert Mathias. I say this because I have never taken a dance class that has made me feel as much as she has over the past two weeks. Kathleen is one of those truly talented teachers that gets you to do what you thought was impossible. We have danced from our kidneys, through our skin, embodied animals,and  incorporated wind, fire, water and earth into our improvisations. She motivates us to do these wild improvisations by describing internal functions and ideas with such ferocious energy.

Yesterday, Kathleen was having us move across the floor practicing inversions. She asked us to dive into a handstand, then bend at the knees bringing the legs into a frog position, before opening back out again. The key to the movement is allowing the spine to create one long line, head to sacrum that is perpendicular to the ground. We have been practicing inversions in her class all week, but this was adding a whole new step to the process. Kathleen was explaining that when we are in a handstand it’s like we lose track of where our legs are in space. We are so used to having them support us from underneath that it’s not until they reconnect with gravity on the way down out of a headstand do we have a clear picture of where they are in space. This resonated so strongly with what I was feeling.

Going upside down in Kathleen Hermesdorf's modern class.

Going upside down in Kathleen Hermesdorf’s modern class.

Which also sounds totally scary! And it is. But it’s also fun. And exhilarating. And challenges you both mentally and physically. And it’s all for that glorious moment when your pelvis shifts perfectly over your shoulders and you feel absolutely stable and free. In a way I feel like that is a true representation of what goes on here at the festival. For three weeks we are flipped on our heads and asked to flail around. Some days we feel like we aren’t getting it, just kicking up and not reaching the top. Yet other days we find that extra oomph and find that perfect moment of floating at the top! It’s important to remind myself that we are all struggling to find that moment each day. But the joy and energy that Kathleen brings to class always has me leaving class feeling like I’m floating on a cloud.

-Posted by Caroline Barna. Caroline is BDF’s Social Media Intern for the 2013 summer.


Youth Arts Program: Learning Through the Artistry of Children

August 5th, 2013

While close to 200 professional dancers are on our campus for 3 weeks this summer to dance, there is a lesser known program that invites youth and teens from the Lewiston community to join the festival. Our Youth Arts Program is run by professional, experienced, nationally recognized artists and teachers of children along with a few incredibly talented and experienced interns. One YAP intern, Allison Bohman who is completing her MFA in dance at the State University of New York at Brockport, wrote this about her experience working with the YAPers!


The Youth Arts Program (YAP) at Bates Dance Festival is a three-week, non-residential day program for students’ ages 5-18 years old.  The students study dance, music, theater and art and have the opportunity to put together and perform in a show at the end with the Professional Training Program at BDF.  This year, the students are exploring the concept of SPACE—inner space, outer space; any kind of space…and their explorations have proven just how creative and insightful young artists can be.

One YAP student shows off her arabesque between classes outside of the Olin Arts Center.

One YAP student shows off her arabesque between classes outside of the Olin Arts Center.

The “YAPsternauts,” as they now call themselves, practice collaboration through creating and playing as an ensemble in many of their classes.  In combination with all of this team building, students learn to identify a sense of self-expressivity and individuality through the creative process.  For example, in theater class, one group of students has been doing character work based on a list of 22 space-like creatures, brilliantly imagined by one student.  Within this character work, these 9-11 year olds have explored the question of what inner space means to their particular character.  One student, Hannah, writes, “Inner space is something that can be very sad and unforgiving.  Like if you did something bad or something bad happened, it would haunt you…your inner space can be gruesome, but the rest of you should live in the moment…I need a time machine.”  Poetic and astute, the words and discoveries expressed by the YAPsternauts have been incredible!

These students not only are discovering themselves as artists, but they are learning how to think through the creative process—a skill that proves useful at all stages of life.  The daily activities at YAP, whether they be regular classes, flash mobs in the dining hall, or site-specific works, foster an innovative sense of mutual learning that is fun, educational and a happy reminder of how much we all can learn from listening to the creative wisdom of children.

Students gather around their instructor at the start of class.

Students gather around their instructor at the start of class.


Musician’s Concert

August 3rd, 2013

We were lucky enough to spend Wednesday evening at the Franco-American Heritage Center in downtown Lewiston for the annual Musicians’ Concert. All eight of the accompanists we have working at the festival were brought together for one evening of powerful music making. Many of our musicians have returned to us year after year to accompany classes, perform in the musicians’ concert, and teach classes on music.

Our musicians come from all around the country, and each bring unique styles, experiences and instruments to the festival. But their ability to collaborate with each other is what the musicians’ concert is all about. The evening is built so that each musician brings one composition or work that the ensemble can join. The first four pieces of the night showed the wide-ranging and unique talents of these music makers. From Peter Jones’ lush piano playing, to the incredible trumpet sounds that come out of Jesse Manno’s mouth, to the joy that Terrence Karn radiates while performing, we get to watch it unfold on stage.

The beautiful Franco-American Heritage Museum was our venue for the evening.

The beautiful Franco-American Heritage Center was our venue for the evening.

The immense respect that these men have for each other was absolutely apparent on stage that night. Nothing made this clearer than watching Rob Flax and Albert Mathias perform separately one after the other and both completely enjoy watching their friend kill it. Rob playing solo on his fiddle and Albert creating booming electronic sounds with his Zendrum was a beautiful juxtaposition.

The energy these musicians bring to the festival is incredible. Having their presence in classes, shows and dance parties is absolutely crucial to the atmosphere of this festival.  The beautiful understanding that they all bring to their art and accompaniment amazes me. We are so truly lucky to have them here. You can read more about these individuals and find there websites by reading their bios on the Bates Dance Festival webpage.

Shamou brought students up on stage to help him lead the audience in singing a few notes!

Shamou brought students up on stage to help him lead the audience in singing a few notes!

-Posted by Caroline Barna. Caroline is BDF’s Social Media Intern for the 2013 summer.

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