Moving in Time - In Conversation with Sarina Gonzalez

Moving in Time - In Conversation with Sarina Gonzalez

Micaela Brinsley

Issue 35
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OVERTURE


at some point
I was so on the edge of probably burning out

        close to right before
in March
of 2020

everything was feeling
mundane

sometimes I still get to that place
but
sometimes
it

        just
felt like I was going through the motions
with school and everything
        I think something got lost along the way

you know?
yeah

I was so focused on Broadway for the longest time
I’m not really sure why
yeah

I mean I’m sure why
        I know why
                I just…

it was the idea of it
        more than
it was the idea
        of saying
‘I’m on Broadway’
        the respect people get from that
        respect that it garners
versus
‘I’m going on tour’
        more recognizable
        I think
than me saying…

        I mean
       I’ve done so many shows
        danced in so many shows

Broadway versus ‘I’m doing this random show at this random, Off-Broadway house in Soho’

you know?
totally



ACT I


2020 took away a lot from people, differently. Some were forced to leave their jobs to care for their families. Others moved back in with their parents, or children, depending on age and financial pressures. Some postponed their plans for a vacation, for a change in profession; others were forced to work longer hours and place themselves in situations injurious to their health and livelihood. No one needs to be reminded of the horrors of what is coming upon a year and a half of an ever-evolving state of isolation.

As we look forward into figuring out how each of us wants to exit this time, every decision regarding how to choose what to do next feels heavier. Starting from a place of relative solitude and trying to move back into the motions of what it means to try to sustain a living can be confusing, and overwhelming, particularly if the pandemic afforded time for reflection.

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to reach out to Sarina Gonzalez, a dancer who, like me, spent a lot of the past year or so trying to give space to listen to what our academic and artistic training distracted us from paying attention to. She grew up on Long Island in New York State, training in various disciplines at Oceanside Dance Center, the Classical School of Ballet LI and Jennifer Napolitano’s School of Performing Arts. While studying for her B.F.A in dance at NYU Tisch School of the Arts she performed both professionally and in academic settings. We met in the fall of 2019 when we worked on a musical together in our last year of university. She was one of the busiest people I knew; waking up early in the morning to work out and then taking classes for her dance major and math minor, going to dance rehearsals, theatre rehearsals, working at an exercise studio.

In the show we worked on that fall, she was a performer and the dance captain, while I served as the director. We shaped the choreography together. Sometimes I came to rehearsals with detailed notes but often we would discuss the feeling of what we wanted to create and then work with everyone else in the room. One of us would suggest a possible eight-count of movement, then see how everyone else interpreted it. Ask them if it felt good, if there was something else they would rather do. After coming up with a draft for a sequence, we would ask everyone to try it out a few times. Then we would give notes to make the movements more specific. In some songs, we were more successful at it than others, but we tried to build the choreography and movement sequences as a process of layering; of beginning with a feeling, then a gesture, then some notes, then more specificity, and then we would return to check in about how it felt, what needed to change. We repeated this until we decided to stop.

This year, none of us got the chance to process our feelings by stripping them back carefully, layer after layer. We all found ourselves thrust into various states of loneliness and chaos, fearful of how to conduct ourselves in a situation none of us were familiar with nor prepared for. But many people have attested to the strange gift of the pandemic, which was the opportunity to reflect on where they were, what they wanted to let go of, and decide anew the ways they wanted to move through the world. Now, as we look forward, it’s hard to know how to be intentional and considerate for ourselves. Building ourselves back into our communities can feel strange a lot of the time, because we entered into isolation with no warning or preparation. The discovery of patience and mindful listening can be hard to hold onto as each of us try to carefully paint our decisions on top of each other, stumble back into interacting with one another.

Sarina and I are meeting late at night for her, after a day of dance classes and work. She’s living in Long Island right now, an hour commute by train from New York City, while I’m in Los Angeles. It’s the best time we could find that would work for both of our schedules. After we both admit how tired we are, and confused about how we feel, my first question for her is what question about dance she never wants to be asked again. Without hesitation, she says, ‘what do you want to do with dance?’

She smiles, doesn’t seem to feel the need to add anything else. After I confirm she means that she never wants to be asked whether she’s employed by some dance-affiliated institution, she nods. She says that she doesn’t want to think of what job she has as a mark of legitimacy over her passion for her artistry. She says she’d be happy to be paid to dance, no matter for what purpose or choreographer; ‘I’m into telling good stories through great movement. If you can provide that choreography for me and have me be part of making something, I’m equally passionate and happy to do that work, be in a room doing that as if it was [opposed to] a major choreographer that’s on my list of people to ‘want’ to work with.’

She spent the pandemic living with her parents (as did I) and taking dance classes over Zoom. For a long time she would record a video of herself dancing every day, upload it to Instagram to create an archive for herself. Many of them were filmed in liminal spaces within the house: on the porch of the house or a hallway between two doors, in front of a closet. All spaces of transition she marked with her movement.

I ask her what this time in isolation, moving alone after being in dance studios her whole life, brought to her own awareness of her body. She says, ‘I’m just trying to be a lot more patient. To actually take time to listen to the music and not to what they tell us we should hear in the music. Form my own ideas about the music and how I want to move to it,’ and I say, ‘yeah,’ in response, understanding. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about dance over the year, you know?’ I ask her to clarify what she means. ‘I definitely feel like I’ve become a better dancer. Yes, I’ve been training a lot but also… I don’t know. I feel very different entering into [the] space now. I think it’s more grounded in intention, my movement. Obviously, as we all did, we lived a whole lot of life in the past year. We got to sit with… ourselves. You know?’ she says, looking at me through her computer screen. I completely agree.

With the increase in amount of time on her hands she decided to participate in a number of workshops throughout the year that gave her the opportunity to confront some of the pressures she’d placed on herself through her teenage years and time in college, surrounded by other dancers and creatives in New York City. She admits they were transformative, and came at the right time. ‘I remember in particular, the group that I did for a month in person with this choreographer. She asked us a lot about… literally everything.’ She shakes her head in amazement, as if she can’t believe how much space was given for everyone in the workshop to confront their fears. According to Sarina, this choreographer encouraged them all to question habits they’d all developed over the years that kept them in cycles of shame. Shame for not being encouraged to dance at the front of the class, or traumatising experiences in rehearsal rooms they’d accepted as normal, and therefore, not worth giving space to process what made them so difficult. The choreographer encouraged the dancers to reflect on the number of times they were felt less than in their training, to reckon with how many of those instances trickled into how they thought about their artistry and worth in the industry. Sarina admits asking herself ‘big questions like that made me delve into pieces of me that were previously untapped, I think.’ She pauses, considers those questions again. ‘I mean, I still think about them,’ as an mmm’ leaves my mouth. It seems as if in all her technical training to be a dancer, few mentors and teachers took the time to ask their students how they wanted to engage in the art form and take care of themselves at the same time.

She tells me that she’s now taking classes in studios again, surrounded by others after a year of not dancing around anyone else. She’s trying as best as she can to maintain the gentleness she cultivated over the last year, though some days are easier than others. When she was dancing by herself, she followed along to classes taught by choreographers she admired. She could move without worrying about the gazes and bodies of others. But she’s found it exciting to continue to develop trust in herself and respond to the needs of her body and self while dancing in a studio full of people.

Luckily in March this year she was invited back to a studio by a few teachers to experiment with hybrid Zoom-and-live sessions before they opened classes fully to the public. She mentions ‘it was a really great space to be in because we all knew each other. It was just so lovely.’ Beginning with a small group helped her to acclimate to the studio environment again, at her own pace. It sounds like it helped to anchor her as she chose to commit to dancing as a craft. To think about it as not just a reflection of her training but a symbiosis of technique and her own needs and desires. In her words: ‘a different mindset about how I want to approach dance. And how I want it to be in my life.’

She tells me that ‘any time I take class now, it’s because I genuinely want to be there. It’s not because I need to show up or I get an absence. You know?’ and I nod. I ask her, ‘do you feel like part of it was you making the choice to make it matter to you?’ ‘Yeah,’ she says, ‘I think I really prioritised [that] throughout the year. And… I think it shows.’

She sheepishly admits that ‘teachers have been coming up to me or shouting me out in the middle of class, being like, ‘that was so great.’’ I nod and she continues, ‘I was always fighting for that, a year ago. And now that I’m not seeking approval it’s just coming to me.’ She smiles tentatively and confesses, ‘I was taking a class yesterday and someone I’ve never even met came up to me and said ‘you were killing that.’ And I was like, ‘thank you, so much.’ It’s weird. It’s very weird.’ I don’t think it sounds strange at all and remark, ‘that’s interesting.’ She quickly adds, ‘I’m very grateful. I just wanna dance. I’m not trying to be told I’m good at dancing.’  

I ask her to specify what she means when she admits that she’s dancing differently, how she makes sure to be in tune with her body. ‘It depends on what I need for that day,’ she says, and an ‘mmm’ leaves me. ‘Sometimes I just want to pay attention to myself,’ she says, as she folds her hands towards herself, taking the time to choose her words. ‘Which sounds selfish but sometimes I just don’t want to pay attention to moving with a group. Sometimes I get lost in the music and… I notice a lot that people rush. Sometimes. I want to sit back, usually,’ she says as she curls her hands towards herself.

‘So sometimes I’m behind them. But still…’ she crosses her hands over each other, ‘in time.’




ACT II


However I describe dance would never fully relay the experience of doing it…

it’s become more than a [dance] class
        sometimes
I need to dance
        because
I need to get something
out of me
        mmm

so if I don’t dance…

It’s an emotional experience (she quickly gestures to herself). Sometimes I need it for a lot of reasons. It brings me joy, but it also helps me work through whatever I’m working through.

If I’m taking a class or something, when I get to the point where I don’t need to think
about the steps anymore and I can just do it. Mmm. I usually find myself
        getting lost
when I just release the need to have it perfect
        I get lost in
              (she moves her hand to chest, like a wave)
        
doing the movement to the best of my ability
              (I look up at her)

to however it feels good

sometimes it feels like I’m in some kind of daze and I’ll finish and think,
‘oh wow, that happened’

watching others brings me a lot of joy
as of recently
I notice, returning to class
        [post-isolation]
I’ve spent a lot more time watching others and allowing myself to be inspired by
them
instead of
just
focusing on myself

that has brought me so much joy mmm

dance just always reminds me that dance is so cool. Getting to participate in this art form is so special. So many people don’t get to experience it. I don’t think that answered your question.
        I think I just went on a tangent
             (she smiles lightly, both of us start to laugh, I look to the side, shake my head)
                   I love the tangents

I think I’ve realized it’s not just the physicality anymore
it’s an experience
a whole experience
it’s emotional
it’s…

it’s so easy to see
        (she rubs her eyes, then positions her left fingers together into a shape)

when someone is so genuinely vulnerable
while they’re dancing
yeah

versus just…
        (she moves a hand up, as if in a kick as I burst out laughing; she giggles)

doing random steps!
        (I stay laughing)

it’s just different
        (she giggles, I’m still laughing.)

that should be in my interview, my very amazing choreography of…
        (she mimes the stiff high kick again, we both giggle)

that reminds me of the show we worked on together. You at some point said, I don’t need to see the leg.’ You put it in some way I felt was just so correct, you meant… we don’t need the forced image of something. You were like, it’s not about the picture, it’s about getting there. I remember the first time you said that I just started cracking up and I remember thinking, ‘yeah, of course!’ (both of us giggle) Yeaaah

going back to the question
of trying to let go of wanting
to only be on Broadway

these people…
Broadway’s just their job
they’re not any better than us
they’re still gonna be at the back of a dance class
trying to learn the moves
struggling through them
        just like me
you know?
we glorify it sometimes

do you feel like sometimes that ethos helps you?
that you can remind yourself
it’s just about doing it
you know?

yeah
        there’s plenty of super talented dancers that just haven’t been given the chance yet
yeah

these people
        that are on Broadway
someone saw them and said
I want them
and that was their own subjective opinion
        (she shrugs her shoulders)

and they were just given a chance of a lifetime
yeah

does that make sense?
totally

now
same way that ballerinas come back to the barre every single day
it’s the practice of engaging in moving my body
there’s comfort in it
there’s [asking] the [question]
‘how’s my body feeling today versus how it was yesterday?’
        you’re meeting it at a new place every day
it changes

it’s cool thinking about people passing through jobs
but
[always] returning to the studio
yeah
making it about that
so if you get to be in the studio
which you’re doing right now
        (I gesture my hands open)
you can do it any time

it’s just a choice you make
yeah

I feel like dancers are so attuned
to what’s going on
their physicality
mmm

I feel like dance has taught me a lot about who I am
every day when I come back and start warm-up again
        [I ask]
‘how is my ankle feeling today?’
        and also
        (she points to her chest)

‘how am I feeling today when I go to do this movement?’
‘how does this feel versus how it felt yesterday?’
        totally

does that make sense?
yeah

what you’re speaking about  
this physical sensitivity
        in all the ways
this way you’re orienting yourself
       differently
it feels like you’ve room to do what you’ve probably always done
but now you’re more aware of

yeah
giving you an emotional sensitivity
        to yourself
how you’re feeling is relevant now
in what you do
which I’m sure reverberates in all the ways
        does it?

I think it does
same thing as if you’re watching someone
you can tell
        when they’re in it
        and
        when they’re not
yeah

if they’re just going through the motions

I was taking a class the other day
the teacher was like
        ‘dance is like free therapy
I was like, ‘oh, actually, [that’s true]’
        (she laughs, gestures left hand out)

you can work through what you’re going through
and
no one knows

I’ve realized
        more and more
I just really
        (she raises her shoulders)

like dance
        (she smiles again)

I could talk about it forever
        (she grins, moves hands to the side)

dance is just the best
        (both of us laugh)

I feel like any words that I put to it would never match what it’s like to actually do the thing
        and experience it 
              and there’s [always] so much more to it
                    there’s so much to it
the energy
the emotional side of it
the mental side of it
         whatever words I put to it would never encapsulate it



EPILOGUE


It’s something I do because I couldn’t imagine my life without it.

Micaela Brinsley

Micaela Brinsley is in the process of trying to figure out how to stop thinking of everything in life as a performance. I was trained in the theatre and am curious about examining experiences no language or theory can completely describe, and trying to find ways of using the tools of text, performance and movement to work through that struggle. I recently graduated from the Performance Studies department at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and grew up moving around, mostly between the United States and Japan. I also work as a developmental editor for LPB; please reach out if you're interested in speaking to me about your work.

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