Paean for Class

Welcome to Class

Your whetstone.

The place to hone your greatest tool,



Your fingerprint.

Your way of making your way in the world.

How beautiful. Holy, even.

To dance like you and to know what that feels like.

You come to know the ways of your dancing in class.

As a dancer, class is the place where, lifelong, you are invited—aye, expected—to return. Again and again. Again and again, it is your opportunity. It is your place to meet the surface of the floor with a swath of flesh, to craft a dance resolute or rebellious, to feel the divinity in an improvisation with strangers, and to discipline your inner critics.

Among other things.

Consider the abundant, riotous, beauty gracing the classroom in common costume. Daily. For free.

A company of dancers has nothing on this room of movers creating their dances.

In class, your dance is yours to struggle with and to witness.

What am I learning? Why? What can I do with it? These are always good questions.

As you move your rambunctious and reverential dances in concert and independently, you ask them. As you wend your way through a wind tunnel of rhythmic virtuosity, you ask them. Sensing your cellular composition through breath soft and subtle, lovingly, impatiently, and when you least wish to, you learn to ask them and ask them again.

Shifting strengths, you write, draw, converse. These unglamorous words belie the seductiveness of their enaction.

I’ll try again. You unearth your thoughts as you freewrite private revelations in the communal studio, as you draw your feelings with your eyes closed using both hands, and as you hear previously unrealized truths—yours and those of others—in conversations brief and lasting. Alternately imaginative and pointed, roaming and succinct, these acts in varied mediums extend and compile your discoveries. They architect worlds. Your worlds. Perhaps as you contemplate a cohort of dancers traveling the floor, you realize you are becoming a more intentional and specific artist. Marvel or quiver. Revel, even. But notice.

But notice.

Sweaty epiphanies. One, following none.

Day after day.




In class, you can feel your dancing changing.

Class whispers, Ask the questions again.

In class, you can feel your dancing changing you.

Summon your courage. It’s there, in your breath-filled torso, in the consistent placement of pen to page, and in the steady reverberation between another dancer’s footwork and your heart’s off-kilter beat.

Notice your courage fluctuate.

Keep going to class anyway. A good class offers steady encouragement that buoys you as you feel the unfamiliar rhythms of your new ideas, habits, and ways of moving.

Support comes in gesture and gaze, word and patient silence, both during and around the edges of class.

These gifts from your class community embrace you, helping you trust the new turns taken by your mind, as expressed through your shapely shifts of weight. Music, played by learned hands or technology prompted by a finger, listens to you and amplifies your many thoughts in motion.

What blessedness, to have encouragement in so many forms.

Roll your newness around in your hands lovingly. Trust it and what it gives you.

Emboldened by your growing authority, you can feel yourself more clearly.

You traffic in paradox, listening as you speak, enjoying accelerated revelations born of slowing down. In your elegant, confident slide between dancing and witnessing, between celebrating others and receiving attention, you replace the paralyzing proclivity to make reductive distinctions. Wiser habits emerge.

For instance, noticing deeply and inhabiting nuance.

Gracefully wield your new practice of sensorial sophistication. Restore elements and actions to their rightful, independent complexity while acknowledging what they collectively hold in common

Notice the affinity your new mental habit bears to the way you and other dancers create your dances together.

In the womb of class, you learn the dignity of trusting what you know.

Proud country in which to roam, that class.

On a weekday afternoon some time ago, I lay on the massage table. My massage therapist kneaded and spread, talking. I heard her say,

I help you feel yourself more.

Wonder that.

You, too, have the means to such purposeful profundity.


In class.

Class is a container for identifying something as content.

Composition. Physical Practice.

… content. Content is the glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny—very tiny, content, offers William deKooning in the epigraph of Susan Sontag’s essay, Against Interpretation.

The class title further defines its content(s).


Or not.

Embodied Theory.


(Writing this, I recall Bill T. Jones’s fondness for Frank O’Hara: naming things is only the intention to make things.)

Arbitrary, real, created things.

Performance Practices. Strategies of Embodiment.

Visual creation by Erica Saucedo in Strategies of Embodiment, fall 2020.

Sometimes, content is about dancing or making dances.

Sometimes, content is about other things that dancing can illuminate.

Dance can’t discuss everything.

Some things, yes.

Teachers customize content for their motley of dancers—professionals, old people, “nondancers,” young folks—and package it for the containers in which they teach—universities, studios, and festivals. Packaging is part of the fun of teaching. Flash.

Composition. Physical Practice. Performance Practices. Strategies of Embodiment. Embodying Theory. Improvisation. These, a few names of classes I teach as dean of the American Dance Festival and associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin. These, provocations seducing you to wonder about what this class might or ought contain. Your assumptions and expectations are nothing if not inevitable, and inevitably mistaken. Seduction, expectation, and assumptions, inaccurate or confirmed, corner you to reckon with what’s actually present. They’re as essential to class as your moving body.

Single classes and semesters are structural details. So are the specific classes you attend and who’s teaching. For the record, you are always teaching class. Accept this as your role, no matter who it is that everyone listens to with acoltyic eyes aglow.

Notice. What comes up, what just came up.

The official teacher might be an authoritarian nightmare, the activities constructed vile or masterful. Regard these judgments as mere ideas dancing through your head. Mental distractions. When wrongly emphasized, they allow you to shirk your responsibility to keep teaching yourself. Leave them littering the highway of your attention and work the problem of class, the problems in class. It’s being in this class, right now that matters.

You can always choose a different class tomorrow, next semester, or next year. Indeed, you might wisely determine a different learning situation affords you fewer setbacks and sidesteps on your journey to discover your many dances. But don’t waste this opportunity.

Be where you are now. In this class.

Day after year after year.

The contents of class changes as you change, we change, culture shifts. It dances like you do.

And so.


To class. In turmoil, jest, joust, and joy.