This is my friend Lori Sappinton. Every Saturday morning I drive to a gym on the other side of town to take her Body Jam class. In her "normal" life Lori teaches elementary school and there I'm sure she's the very picture of decorum. In Body Jam it's a whole different story- loud, fast, sweaty, and a hell of a lot of fun.
It is a choreographed group dance class, a mix of hip hop, salsa, and god knows what else. Lori dons spandex and microphone and calls out the moves to about 40 people, demonstrating all the while up on a spotlighted stage. A small woman and slightly built, I have no doubt her muscled legs could kick anyone's head off should she feel it necessary.
She also is incredibly graceful, part natural talent and part years of dance training when she was young. I wasn't like that. As a boy I would have been laughed out of town had I ventured to take serious dance lessons. More than that I just wasn't comfortable enough in my own skin to dance in public. But time heals all sorts of wounds. I passed thirty and my level of self acceptance had risen enough to let me re-examine that and a bunch of other issues.
About two years ago I took Lori's Jam class for the first time. That she moved extraordinarily well was immediately obvious. More than that, I found the curious language Body Jam employed felt on a gut level a whole lot like painting. Up to a dozen individual moves are strung together into long sequences (by a choreographer in New Zealand named "Gandalf." The guy is inventive as all heck). The moves look good, at once intricate and elegant. There is a forcefulness expressed as well as a delicacy. As I've told my students, art is about getting opposites- the very subtle and the intensely dramatic- to stop fighting each other and instead work together.
Below is a vertical composition of mine not unlike the pose Lori the instructor is taking above.
Philip Koch, The Birches of Maine, oil on canvas,
55 x 44", 2007
Lori's body is thrusting away from its usual vertical pose with a focused and deliberate movement. She's talented in a way that let's her push herself into a shape you don't expect to see, but are glad to discover once you seen it. In my oil painting, I'm creating surprising gestures, in this case radically bending tree trunks, that nonetheless possess a believable authority. The art of both dance and painting lies in giving the viewer movements and shapes that, when done right, strike some inner bell deep down in our personality.
It ain't for nothing that every culture around the world in any century we look at has invented its own unique dance and art. Like the struggle for food or safety, something in us has a hunger for the forms and rhythms of dance and art. We can't explain the chemistry of it the way a biologist can describe the mechanisms of hunger, but it's just as elemental a longing.