Volume 5, Winter 2000
Interview: Talking with Dance Artist, Keith V. Goodman
Choreographer and dance artist Keith Goodman used cultural influences and dance rituals from Asia and Africa to create his Young Audiences performance Dance Gatherer. In addition to working as a professional artist, Keith is a part-time dance teacher at Buckman Elementary School.
Q What did you do to prepare for your work at the AfL (Arts For Learning) Workshop this October?
A The Civil War subject was intimidating so I began preparing by reading contemporary information first. I read American Pictures, by Jacob Holdt, in which pictures that he took during the 1970s in different poor African-American communities document American poverty. To me this poverty is an extension of that conflict over slavery. From there, I read excerpts from various books on the Civil War and began researching images in the form of old photographs.
Q Through what process did you take the participants during the 90 minute dance sessions?
A First, we did a general warm up in both meter and non-meter to prepare their bodies for movement. We also did some weight sharing so that they would be comfortable touching one another.
At this point, I presented the photographs discovered in my research. As an artist that works abstractly, I somehow have to create a way for the dancers or the other artists to understand why I want particular movement. The best way to arrive at a common language is to show them a photograph and then to operate from that photograph. I’ve done this before. It seemed like the best process for this particular group of people because some of them were movers and some were not. We used the photographs as the basis for creating simple tableaux – working in the field as a farmer, then as a soldier, then as a slave, and then as a slave with an affliction. A level of emotional weight started coming into the work. Then we did the Virginia Reel to bring some levity and frivolity to the class. The goal was to get them to a point where they could put together their own compositions. They were free to do this from the perspective of their “family” or some other Civil War issue (i.e., slavery, soldiering, etc.). Most chose to deal with their family and the loss of family.
QWhat were you hoping the participants would gain from this experience?
A It was twofold. I wanted them to feel comfortable moving and working this way with a group of students because this exercise can easily be simplified for children. If I gave them an anchor or something very stable to operate from as a mover and a composer then they would be able to feel very comfortable and just lunge ahead without reservations.
Q What did you hope to gain from this experience?
A When I was approached to teach the workshop it was suggested that I might be able to incorporate this into my own work. The Civil War is the furthest thing from my mind and I thought, “No way.” But of course it’s leaking in from the perspective of compassion. I’m always dealing with how I can make the world a better place through my art form.
Q Outside of the Tapestry, have you used dance to teach or support other subject areas?
A Yes, I have. Michael Lang from Jackson Middle School (PPSD) approached me with the idea of integrating math and dance. Michael was teaching an algebra and geometry lesson. He had seen some of my work with Mt. Tabor Middle School years ago and thought there was something in there that might help students understand tessellations. So we came together and had a meeting. The only way I felt comfortable doing this work was to sit in on the class with the students. I wanted to hear what they were learning, see what their gaps were and what was and was not engaging them. It made me feel much more comfortable going in and co-teaching with him. It made the kids more comfortable as well.