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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Farm dance

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
I love to dance. I know. Best kept secret in town. The most recent dance class I took was a belly-dancing class in January 2009, a much-needed respite from the cold winter on Prince Edward Island, in Canada. That was the first dance class I had taken since 2004 when I took a flamenco class for about a month before moving to Canada to pursue my Master's degree. Growing up, my world revolved around gymnastics. But gymnastics involves quite a lot of dance, so I took jazz dance, ballet, and even a bit of tap dancing along the way. By the time I was in high school though, I had quit everything but the ballet required for gymnastics. Pointed toes, arials and chains of back flips were my world. I only had one career aspiration through most of high school, and that was the Olympics. Then, at age 16, I was given the ultimatum: move back to the US and enter full-time training, or accept that I would never reach my dream. With my parents and all of my friends living in the Mediterranean, the thought of leaving them all behind was too much. I gave up my sport, and spent the remainder of high school focused on my academic work.

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
In 1996, I had the opportunity to take a modern dance class in Cyprus with an amazing dancer and choreographer named Arianna Economou. She encouraged me to re-inhabit my body, and move from within instead of always being focused on having perfectly pointed toes and straight legs. It was a new world for me, and I loved it. In 1998 I moved to Arizona to attend Prescott College. I had not intended to take a dance class, but I needed something to balance out my other, more academic classes, so I registered for Intro to Dance and Improvisation with Delisa Myles. I did not know it at the time, but Delisa had been a gymnast as well, before turning her focus towards dance. Still relatively self-conscious when I entered her class, the environment that she created within the dance studio to explore movement both alone and with others was one in which I felt free to experience a great deal of transformation. I formed deep, life-long friendships with women who are still some of my closest friends; I started letting go of the fear of making a mistake, or the need to be whatever I envisioned as being "perfect" at the time; and I was invited to dance some very important stories that brought together my love for poetry and creative movement. That I still have the journal that I kept during that class is an indication of what an important formative experience the class was to my development as a writer and creative artist.

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
Delisa and I have kept in touch over the years through Facebook, and this week I noticed that she had posted some spectacular photographs for a course that she will be co-teaching with Breanna Rogers this summer (June13th - July1) at Prescott College called "Farm Dance." I wrote to Delisa, asking for more information, and received the following:

"This class provides a forum to begin a dialogue between artists and farmers, bringing to the table a conversation that investigates the relationship of the cultural and the agricultural. We will visit nearby farms and gardens, observe and participate in land cultivation practices, and allow our artistic impulses to be informed by each site. We will examine and experience how aesthetics and labor interplay and how one feeds the other. We will look at the connections and crossovers between food cultivation and art making processes. Our artistic training will involve volunteering labor at local farms and studying the aesthetics of dance composition and site specific work. Focus will be on the body and how it responds to imagery, hard work, and our connection with the cycles of nature. The mediums of dance, performance, and visual art will be used as vehicles to increase awareness in the local community about how and where our food is grown in the Prescott area."

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
I don't know about you, but the idea of bringing together two things that I love to do -- farm and dance -- sounds sublime. And having spent the last few years working with, interviewing, writing about and photographing farmers on their land, I have become very aware of how powerful the stories of the relationships between those who grow our food and their farmland is. Our farmers are people who have intimate relationships with and knowledge of the natural world and the shift of the seasons at a level that many of us have lost simply by virtue of living in towns and cities, and not being present for the small daily changes and miracles that farmers witness every minute of every day. With all of the unpredictable changes going on in our world and economy, farmers generally manage to remain hopeful and optimistic. They have seen the ups and they have seen the downs, and they know that life moves in cycles. As one farmer told me once: "Farmers are natural optimists. How can you do a job that involves planting seeds in the soil and then seeing the miracle of the rain and sun working together to make them grow into edible plants, and not believe in miracles?" Delisa went on to explain the rationale behind the class. She says:

"Farm Dance is a course designed to makes connections between the art we make and the food we eat. It is the intent of this course to create art that helps bring greater visibility, appreciation and support to local farms. The course provides our students with an interdisciplinary approach to learning and allows art and performance to intertwine with agriculture and ecology. There is a trend of festivals and forums popping up around the nation that bring diverse creative thinkers together for collaboration and exchange. There is a growing need to allow a wider spectrum of creativity to interrelate, rather than being highly specified and separate. This course provides a model for experimentation between disciplines and creates new connections within the community. Farm Dance is one of a series of courses being proposed for the summer which address sustainability, art and embodiment."

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
So many of the problems with our food systems right now involve a lack of collaboration and interrelationships. People going to the grocery store to buy a tomato that has been marked up ten times its original price so that the store is making an enormous profit, while a few miles out of the city the farmer who grew the tomato is being paid the same amount he/she was earning in the 1940s (if that). Children who do not know that their food was grown in the earth, or that cauliflowers and broccoli are flowers. Communities that are so concerned about keeping the price of their food low that they would rather buy food that is saturated in chemicals that could, in the long-run, result in soaring medical bills later in life. Communities that have no idea who grew the food they are eating, or where it was grown. Communities that no longer have the knowledge to be able to grow their own food. All relationships that we have be taught to not think about, but that are vitally important parts of being conscious, well-informed and responsible eaters.

Artists have been painting, drawing and photographing farmland for generations. The creative and visual arts are, in a sense, a way of refocusing our attention on something from a new perspective. A painting of farmland makes us stop and take notice and reflect. Farm dance, similarly, makes us pause and rethink our relationship to the land. Farmers' relationships to the land. The relationship between the seed and the earth; between the rain and the crops; between the wind and the snow and ice and the health of our soil. It invites us to ask ourselves: how would I listen if my existence were dependent upon, and interconnected with the natural world and the seasons? How would I interact with my community and the natural world around me if the health of each was dependent upon the health of the other? How does my relationship to and awareness of the earth, the sun, the rain, and the tiny details of the day and night change when I live in such intimate, close relationship with the land?

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
Intrigued? Prescott College is an experiential education liberal arts college offering Bachelor's, Master's and P.h.D programs in a wide-range of subject areas. Located in northern Arizona, the college is known for its creative and innovative teaching practices that use the southwestern landscape as a classroom for students to gain hands-on, real life experience in their field of expertise (or in this case, to dance on and with beautiful agricultural land!). I received my Bachelor's degree from Prescott College, and consider it to be one of the best choices I have ever made. It transformed my vision of what education is, and can be, and opened me to new ways of seeing and relating to the world and my community, wherever I live (and no, in case you are wondering, I was not paid to say that ;-)). If you would like to contact the admissions office, you can do so here.

I am a big fan of anyone doing anything creative, but both Delisa and Breanna have spent their lives engaged in some exceptionally amazing projects, and encouraging others on their own creative journeys. You can learn more about Delisa, and enjoy some delicious photographs of her work here

And with that, I will leave you with another of Breanna's beautiful photographs of Delisa. It you get a chance over the next two weeks as we head into spring, do some spontaneous dancing somewhere that you usually would not -- preferably out of doors. A beach. A farm. an outdoor farmer's market. A park. Maybe find yourself a partner to dance with. I find that makes it all the more fun. Let go. Explore that line between your body and the natural world around you. And if you feel like it, write a poem or take a photograph, and share it with me here. Have a great week!

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011

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