The following first appeared in The Floyd Press.
“1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3” Katie Wells called out to her improvisation dance students at Dogtown’s Sun Hall on a recent Tuesday evening. It was the third class in an eight-week series, open to drop-ins and lovers of dance at all levels of experience.
Under the direction of Wells, a South Carolina-born professional dancer, about ten students were practicing a swing movement in three parts. The group, ranging in age from approximately 20 to 70, moved free-style through space in silence and to music. They explored playfully inspired movements and embodied various emotions throughout the 75 minute class. “It takes more space. It’s faster,” Wells told the students while guiding them through the bodily expression of joy.
Wells, who fell in love with Floyd after visiting her parents who retired in the county, received her MFA in dance at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has danced with companies in Chicago and New York City, completed a solo dance tour in Europe and is currently is a member of Rhythm Fire Dancers and Evo-latic, Floyd-based dance troupes that have performed at Floydfest and Floyd YogaJam.
She explained that Improvisation is “spontaneous creative movement,” and that Contact Improv, which she teaches following the improvisation class, is “a partner dance based on the physical principles of touch, momentum and shared weight.” Both classes are designed to expand personal expression on the dance floor while practicing presence, play and embodiment, Wells said.
When Wells recently returned to Floyd to be closer to her family and nature, she realized that she was less interested in performance – everything from interdisciplinary productions that can take up to year to prepare to spontaneous street performances – and more interested in teaching. She wanted to integrate more of the healing aspects of dance and help others.
“For centuries the mind has been overvalued over the body. Our bodies have been mostly used to transport our heads around.” Paraphrasing a quote by the late dance-healer Martha Graham, Wells said, “We feel one thing, think another and act a third. Dance can bring all that together. With intentional movement your body and your mind can work together to channel and release emotions.”
“There can be a healing process as you are creating your art. There can be self-discovery and healing you provide the audience when they view your art, whether it be visual or performance,” Wells continued. “What I most value now is guiding people through the process of making art.”
Wells remembers making up dances and choreographing friends from the time she was a child. As a teenager she found solace playing music and dancing in her bedroom, which was when she discovered that she was meant to be a dancer. Recently, she spoke to an audience at The Golden Ticket, a benefit to promote mental health awareness, about how dance helped her through the turbulence of adolescence. “I could lose myself. I didn’t have to be anybody,” she said.
The dance floor scene changed as the improv dancers moved fluently to the music of Muddy Waters. Wells later explained that the majority of her classes are not directed by music, in order to encourage students to listen to their own inner voices. She explained that improvisation involves structure, within which dancers can find their own authentic flow. “Otherwise it’s just chaos.”
Wells, who will continue her training in Italy and France in the early part of 2013, invites people to sample her current classes, which run on Tuesday evenings through December 18, beginning at 5:30. In the spring she plans to start another series, geared towards committed dancers who want to “build more intimacy and go deeper.”
“Don’t be afraid, just get your feet in the door and I will take care of the rest,” Wells encourages newcomers to improv dance.
Post notes: Photos: Katie’s class, Katie dancing with Rhythm Fire, Katie dancing (far right) with Evo-latic, spontaneous contact-improv at the Floyd YogaJam, a logo (photo provided) of Katie used by the dance studio she went to in high school, a photo (provided) that shows how Katie creates characters through dance and costumes. A video clip of Katie’s class is HERE. Visit her website at queenofheartsproductions.com. More class photos are HERE.