When Bettina Mahoney prepared to move to New York City in the spring of 2019, she planned to host a big dance intensive. From August 5 to 9 2019, The Artistic Director of Fortitude Dance Project  brought her vision to life: an unforgettable week that empowered women through dance. They became a community that consistently supported one another, making each other stronger. 

At certain points during the intensive’s final showcase, Mahoney spoke of dancing for a higher purpose. One such higher purpose can be building community – something that was clear and meaningful at all levels of the intensive. By attending four classes and viewing the final showcase, I was fortunate enough to experience this first-hand, along with its focus on artistry.

Classes at Fortitude Dance Project’s Summer Intensive

Contemporary with Ryan Pauze

On the first day of the intensive, I take Ryan Pauze’s Contemporary class. He starts the class with a larger message on artistry — that if his type of class, or any class, “isn’t your thing, [you should] make it your thing.” Pauze’s compelling movement is daring and challenging. Moments of gesture conveying sass or sultriness ooze into technical feats. As a yoga instructor, I have occasional concerns about hip and other joint safety, though that likely isn’t a concern for the young and Gumby-bendy dancers in the room. They offer each other smiles, words of encouragement, and a joke here and there. Even after the attendees had only taken three classes together that day, I can already feel a community amongst them gelling. 

Jazz Funk with Miles Kenney

I begin the next day’s double-hitter of classes with Miles Kenney’s Jazz Funk session. His movement is lighting-fast while also quite technical. In a flash, the forearms quickly hit forward before melting into a sideways swerve of the head and a turn. I feel as if his joyful energy and positivity give me the confidence I need to execute this ambitious choreography. Dancers show each other similar lightheartedness and support, offering little pep talks and pats on the back between runs. 

A sweet moment occurs when Kenney recognizes his former student. “Oh my gosh, you got so big…. in a good way!” he says with a laugh. Before class finishes, Kenney also shares wise words about being a dance artist and making one’s way in a tough industry. He highlights the importance of knowing who you are as a dancer, and offers more technical guidance about dancing. (Did you know that dancing stamina largely depends on breath?)

Contemporary with Taylor McLean Bosch

In the next class, Taylor McLean Bosch immediately changes the energy by switching off the lights. She instructs the dancers to breathe and re-center, while lying down, but she soon raises the energy with rigorous movements executed at hyperspeed. Her choreography has conventional modern dance foundations paired with unique gesture – for instance, swooping arms are punctuated by protruding fingers to begin a phrase (what a way to grab an audience!). She shouts, “Make me see you blue!” And as I’m the one wearing a blue top, she pushes me to explore the limits of my movement more and more daringly during an improvisational section.

“Your improv should be better than my choreography… You know your body way better than I do,” she advises. McLean Bosch repeatedly runs the phrase, pushing dancers to be more specific with timing and shape. At the same time, she shows care for our needs, assertively telling us to “grab water.” The energy in the room is united, determined, and inspired. 

Fortitude Dance Project’s Summer Intensive Performances

“I Am What I Am” by Jessica Ice

A musical theater piece from Jessica Ice opens the showcase. It moves more slowly than many of the other pieces; however, the dancers could really milk the slower speed to add to the drama, and Ice could guide them there. However, building that kind of performance level may require more time than these dancers had to learn this piece. The dancers’ handle on the movement is actually quite impressive, given that they had learned the piece on Monday and it’s now Friday.

Turning in coupé (a foot to the front or back of the ankle) and pencil turning (one foot tracing the floor during a turn, like a pencil making an arc) are motifs that harmonize the piece; they bring a unified, organized feeling to the space when the group of dancers executes these turns in synchrony.

The ending memorably intensifies this group feeling. The dancers travel in coupé turns and other assorted steps from a circle to form solid group pose. I am interested in how the song speaks about treasuring individuality, since the choreography imparts a harmonious feeling of community. It makes me think about the power of unity when individuals truly know themselves and work together. 

“For Island Fires and Family” by Alexa Luke

Alexa Puke’s piece is especially striking because the powerful vocals in the sound score matches the dancers’ intensity and commitment. Their legs rooted in a deep lunge, they lift their hearts to the sky, fully releasing their spines backwards. Their hands reach upwards, energy pulsing through every splayed finger. The dancers seem to have zero fear and zero reservations. Later, their movements become more accented and grounded to match a similar change in the music. The performers’ technical facility, artistry and commitment is truly impressive — especially since most are young pre-professionals.

“To Witness a Death” by Bettina Mahoney

A piece from Mahoney herself closes the night. The work’s conceptual and aesthetic clarity is remarkable. Dancers begin in lines, each with a chair. Then a strong duet from dancers Jordan Celli and Francesca Vetack breaks out from this structure, offering compelling contrast and conceptual food for thought. Their connection is contentious, yet passionate – and clearly full of magnetism.

Unique partnering caught my eye, such as Celli spinning a horizontal Vetack around her body. The auditory aspect of the piece is equally captivating. Dancers pound their chairs against the stage, building the atmosphere.  Even though the dancers (apart from Celli and Vetack) don’t directly interact, they maintain a sense of community through clean unison. It is pleasing to experience. 

Within this piece, and throughout the larger Fortitude Dance Project intensive, it is clear to see how dance guided by true artistry and community is a special gift. 

Kathryn Boland contributed this guest post. She regularly writes about dance, with a focus on holistic wellness, for Dance Informa and { DIYdancer } .

Disclosure: The author of this article received free admission to the summer dance intensive hosted by Fortitude Dance Project. If you would like coverage of your event, please see our ‘Work With Us‘ page.

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