It’s no wonder Dawn has received so many awards. As a teacher, she draws out what is most beautiful and pure in the artists with whom she works. As a choreographer, she astutely joins dancers with their audience. This past winter I had the pleasure of watching Dawn at work on Red Tape. A work-in-progress, its significance and meaning gradually took shape as each week’s rehearsal revealed a new layer to the dance. Red Tape is perfectly timed to emerge on stage after months of winter rehearsals, poised and ready to flourish in spring light.
Red Tape will be performed by a mixed company comprised of artists with and without disabilities. Dawn is working with dancers who possess a wide range of ability. Each dancer comes with her own specific way of moving, learning, and expressing herself. Addressing the different levels of ability requires some essential ‘tools,’ the first of which entails a deep respect for artistry and with that, expectations, too.
“Across all the genres in which we work, CATA Faculty Artists set a high bar for our artists with disabilities. The expectation to perform well and to do our best serves us all. There is something very motivating about reaching just a little bit higher in whatever we do” says Margaret Keller, CATA’s Executive Director.
In order to achieve lasting outcomes, CATA Faculty Artists employ humor, compassion, mutual respect and discipline throughout their teaching. This approach is at work each week as Dawn adds layers and cues to the dance, all the while guiding the artists through actual red tape – Walking. Tape. Walking + Tape… Walking + Tape + “under”…Walking + Tape + “under” + “over”…Walking + Tape + “under” + “over” + “Initials.” It’s a friendly, easy-going process but everyone is focused and working hard. There’s no slacking, no chatting, just friendly banter that keeps everyone on their toes…and moving.
Red Tape begins with dancers crossing the studio, as though pedestrians crossing the street, trying to get from one place to another…just a typical day. The next layer adds the simple, but profound element of tape – brightly colored, blinding tape that runs across the dance floor making the crossings more crowded and difficult. As the next layer is added, the bright threads intersect and form “blocks” in the road. Dawn’s instructions “back away if you can’t get through. Find a new route. Over. Under. Ask for help from others…” guide the dancers as they adjust and modify their movement, always attentive to her cues.
Throughout a seemingly tangled web of passers-by, helpers and obstacles, each dancer stops to perform her initials – a set of separate movements for each of the three letters of her name – as if to say, “I am” … “I am ready, willing and capable of moving through the challenges in my day - on my own and with the help of others.” When the dance closes, the connection has been made and I am humbled: I know each dancer’s name.
This is the beauty of Dawn’s teaching. In five minutes of dance she illustrates the power of individual ability as well as the power of community support and connection. Each component is essential to nourishing and nurturing artistic ability. I leave the studio thinking about these women and what their days might be like. How many life frustrations do they face alone? How many do they work through with the support of family, friends and teachers?