49. creative dance research projects

My Nutcracker diet is coming along. In the meantime, here are some projects I’ve created for my Fall 2017 courses at NYU. It started slow but ended fast here. I’m excited to see where these projects will take me in the future…

Dance History Charms & Patronus

ELEC-GG2546 Lib Arts: Storytelling in the Digital Age

Gallatin, Fall 2017, professor Lara Vapnyar

Inspired by Pottermore’s Patronus page, I created an interactive, personalized (brief) survey of dance history for my final project. The assignment was to use digital media/technology to propose new hypothetical media which utilizes storytelling elements. I limited this project to seven characters in dance history, all narrative-based since the course is about storytelling/narratives and all universally understood characters for non-dancers in this course. Three bubbles branch off the main character to help the text information and videos feel more accessible and condensed: “Feel,” “Think,” “Watch.” I’ve also coordinated color combinations for each character based on their costumes and sets, which did help my classmates keep track of all seven.

Due to limited time in the semester, I had to lift the “History” and “Story” text for most of the character bubbles from primary sources online and I don’t take credit for those. However, everything else is credited to me as this was an entirely individual project.

My personal goal for this project was to find a new way for audiences to connect with dance history whether for dance majors in the classroom or for general audiences at home before/after a performance. I used Prezi to present my project to the class with working videos embedded. Below are screenshots from each slide of my Prezi, starting with the “Charms” in blue. The “Charms” are meant to generate base moods/traits for the audience before the assigned visuals/backstory of the dance characters.

Screenshot from 2017-11-03 21-56-35



Screenshot from 2017-11-03 21-57-51


witch baby’s dance

ASPP-GT 2028 Creative Response: Performance Matters, Between Imagination and Experimentation

Tisch- Performance Studies, Fall 2017, professor Karen Finley

an experience that explores

the movement of witch women as portrayed in

Western visual art, dance, film, and video games.

 🔮🏵🔮 an experience at the Kimmel Windows (#2) 📍LaGuardia Pl & W. 3rd Street at NYU one night only 💃 12 . 4 . 17 🕢 7:30pm 🌕

The original spell was cast from author/poet Francesca Lia Block’s title character, Witch Baby, from the collected Weetzie Bat series, Dangerous Angels (1998): “Witch Baby was wild, snarled, tangled and angry… She never cried, but always wanted to cry.” (Block, 1998). Additional spellbinding texts for this project include Kristen J Sollée’s Witches, sluts, feminists : conjuring the sex positive (2017), Lyndal Roper’s  The witch in the Western imagination (2012), and Sally Banes’ Dancing women : female bodies on stage (1998). The supreme for this project is German dancer/choreographer/writer Mary Wigman and her Hexentanz “Witch Dance” (1914) which was revised in 1926 and filmed in 1930: “Sometimes at night I slipped into the studio and worked myself into a rhythmic intoxication in order to come closer to the slowly stirring character…. When one night, I returned to my room utterly agitated, I looked into the mirror by chance. What it reflected was the image of one possessed, wild and dissolute, repelling and fascinating. The hair unkempt, the eyes deep in their sockets, the nightgown shifted about, which made the body almost shapeless: there she was—the witch” (Wigman, 1966). A curated collection of dancing witches will be collaged into a montage and conjured onto a screen in a loop (~20 minutes runtime). Explore the desires, repression, and freedom of dancing women like Old Madge from La  Sylphide (1836, classical ballet), the forest witch ballerinas from Pia & Pino Mlakar’s PLES ČAROVNIC Dance of the Witches” (filmed 1955), the evil Sorceress from Mark Morris’ Dido and Aeneas (1996, modern dance), as well as film and video games witches: Maria/Robot Whore of Babylon from Metropolis (1927, film),  Jeanne from Belladonna of Sadness (1973, animated film), Suzy Bannion from Suspiria (1977, film), the Owens sisters and aunts from Practical Magic (1998, film), possessed Edea from Final Fantasy VIII (1999, video game), and Bayonetta the Umbra Witch from the title video game series (2009 & 2014). Bundles of imperfect hand-folded jacaranda origami flowers will be scattered on the floor inside the window, an offering for all the witches who have dance. Under a light purple hue, a distorted wallpaper of black and white images of iconic witches in Western art history will cover the walls. The gaze of Goya’s bloated witches, Blake’s wretched Whore of Babylon, and all manner of fiendish women created by men will haunt the corners of the space. Most of the selected images are taken from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s 2013 exhibition, Witches and Wicked Bodies. The wallpaper is led by the supreme image of a witch in my memories, Anthony Frederick Sandys’ Morgan Le Fay; Queen of Avalon (1863 – 1864). Call upon these witches in the form of an IG account (@witchbabysdance) for positive spells and incantations: #witchbabysdance

(full montage upon request only)


Banes, Sally. Dancing women : female bodies on stage. Routledge, 1998.

Block, Francesca Lia. “Witch Baby.” Dangerous Angels. Harper Collins Publishers, 1998.

Hults, Linda C. The witch as muse : art, gender, and power in early modern Europe. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

Manning, Susan. Ecstasy and the demon: Feminism and Nationalism in the Dances of Mary Wigman. University of California Press, 1993.

Newhall, Mary Anne Santos. Mary Wigman (Routledge Performance Practitioners). Routledge, 2009.

Petherbridge, Deanna. Witches and Wicked Bodies.  National Galleries Of Scotland, 2013.

Roper, Lyndal. The witch in the Western imagination. The University of Virginia Press, 2012.

Smith, Marian Elizabeth. La Sylphide : Paris 1832 and beyond. Dance Books Ltd, 2012.

Sollée, Kristen J. Witches, sluts, feminists : conjuring the sex positive. ThreeL Media, 2017.


I. Mary Wigman’s HEXENTANZ/“Witch Dance” (original 1914, revision 1926, filmed 1930) © Mary Wigman Archiv

II. Fantasia (1940) “Night on Bald Mountain” © Disney™

III. Metropolis (1927) © UFA

IV. Bayonetta 2 (2014) © PlatinumGames

V. Belladonna of Sadness (1973) © Cinelicious Pics

VI. The Craft (1996) © Columbia Pictures

VII. August Bournonville’s La Sylphide (1836) featurette by Paris Opera Ballet (2017)

VIII. August Bournonville’s La Sylphide (1836) scenes from Act II by Royal Danish Ballet (filmed 1988)

IX. Suspiria (1977) © Synapse Films

X. Pia & Pino Mlakar’s PLES ČAROVNIC/”Dance of the Witches” (filmed 1955)

XI. Mark Morris’ Dido and Aeneas (1996) scenes from filmed production (2015) © Mark Morris Dance Group

XII. Final Fantasy VIII (1999) © Square

XIII. Practical Magic (1998) © Warner Bros.

XIV.  Bayonetta (2009) © PlatinumGames

“Ice Queens, Fat Sugar Plums, and Beanpoles” Exposing the Origins of Unnecessary, Sexist, and Derogatory Comments in Dance Criticism

CORE-GG2029 Lib Arts: Proseminar in the Arts: Why Do You Want to Make It, and How Can You Make It Better?

Gallatin, Fall 2017, professor Nina Katchadourian


Jared Angle as Cavalier and Jenifer Ringer as Sugar Plum Fairy, 2010 George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (1954) © The George Balanchine Trust Photography by Paul Kolnik, AP Photo

(text is taken from accompanying artist statement)

In this course I’ve struggled with making my dance research projects less cloistered with mystery and more universal for non-dancers, which has turned out to be a radically important task for me to learn. So I looked back to where the whole mystery of ballet comes from…”

“… The incident from 2010 has been talked about and covered in many outlets, but the issue remains. In a Dance Magazine article posted online in 2011, writer Kathleen McGuire effectively responded to the lingering effects of Sugar Plumgate: The language of body criticism in dance is uniquely its own, full of implied meanings and carefully chosen words. When the issue is something unchangeable, the words used are straightforward, like being too “tall” or “short,” but when the issue is weight-related the adjectives become more varied. Teachers and directors will tell dancers they are “too loose,” “soft,” or “thick,” or advise them to “tighten up,” or “get lean.” In each of these instances the dancer hears only one word—fat. As a result, the true meaning often gets lost in translation… The most dangerous thing about body criticism in dance is the silence that surrounds it… the subject is still taboo, and very few of those who have received such criticism have the confidence to counter it as [Jenifer] Ringer did. Without support networks, they will continue to cope poorly. As long as body issues are regarded with a sense of failure in the dance world, disordered eating will take the place of sound nutritional consumption, embarrassment will squelch the desire to get help, and potentially beautiful careers will go unfulfilled. [Alastair] Macaulay may have been out of line, but he got us talking, and the dialogue needs to continue…

“…I can’t help thinking that had the review come out during the peak of her struggle with eating disorders, injuries, and depression, her outcome in dance might have been different. This hypothetical scares me so much, but it helped me commit to the conception of my project as a gift for silenced voices and bodies in ballet…”

“… Since it’s the holiday season now, and when the article was published, the idea of presents and gift wrapping started to occur to me. People around this time of the year are really obsessed with presenting gifts that are pristine and polished to one another, wrapping everything up in paper that sometimes costs just as much if not more than the gift inside. Ballet is like this in that dancers prepare for hours, days, weeks, months for a single moment on stage that is in essence entirely ephemeral. More time is put in before the performance than during the actual performance. Writing a review can also be an act of excessive “gift wrapping,” elaborating and extending one night’s memories and subjectively presenting it to the public. I wonder, do critics like Macaulay think of their “precious” writing as a gift to the dancers or the audience or themselves? On a deeper level, the wrapping paper on the boxes that I created and photocopied represents the outer layers of emotional trauma that can linger and embed itself in a dancer’s mind from the start and throughout time. How a single sentence in a fourteen paragraph review transforms into a couple of harmful words that repeat in someone’s mind. I thought about how holding onto a private, protected core keeps most dancers motivated to continue dancing and remain healthy despite the layers of criticism and/or abuse. And how something entirely productive and inspiration–Jenifer’s autobiography Dancing Through It–can come out of such a horrible moment in one’s life is a true revelation. I feel that the creation of her autobiography is the true gift…”

“… Yes, dancers have to form thick skin when it comes to criticism in class and when reading reviews, but I really do feel that many (CIS male) critics past and present are given too much leeway and reverence with their published words. I look to Jill Johnston’s book of dance writing Marmalade Me (1971) as an ultimate source of effective reviewing, along with Joan Acocella’s entire career in ballet criticism and current NYT critics who are searching for new, positive ways to describe dance such as Siobhan Burke and Marina Harss as well as amazing writers in dance outside major publications like Eva Yaa Asantewaa and Marissa L. Perel. In the end, I want to see the field of dance criticism move away from unnecessary, sexist, and derogatory comments–particularly in ballet reviews–and towards more genderless ways of looking at the body and describing dance. Ultimately, I hope this project helps open the conversation up between dancers and non-dancers.”

  1. Wrap 3 boxes like presents with “NYT quote wrapping paper” starting with largest box and original size font, inside and out
  2. Continue to wrap boxes down to smallest box using progressively larger font, inside and out; tie boxes with satin pointe shoe ribbons; all boxes to be opened by class
  3. Inside smallest inner box with largest font insert copy of Dancing Through It (2014) wrapped up with pointe ribbons; add post-its to specific paragraphs inside Dancing Through It to be read out loud by class


Larsen, Gavin. “The Quest for Confidence.” Pointe Magazine, 1 August 2016, online.

Macaulay, Alastair. “Timeless Alchemy, Even When No One Is Dancing.” New York Times, 28 November 2010, online.

Macaulay, Alastair. “Judging The Bodies In Ballet.” New York Times, 3 December 2010, online.

McGuire, Kathleen. “When Words Hurt.” Dance Magazine, 28 June 2011, online.

Ringer, Jenifer. Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet. Viking, 2014. 211-31.




One thought on “49. creative dance research projects

  1. Pingback: 54. interdisiplinary dance research projects | J.M.M.

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