Music for Class: Setting Dancers Free
Erica Sobol characterizes her modern fusion classes at the EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles as “out-of-the-box contemporary.” Her combinations don’t include high extensions or perfectly turned-out positions. Instead, they are raw, breaking dancers down to nothing but pure emotion, throwing their bodies and truly internalizing the music.
“I’ve had beautiful, technical dancers walk in the room who had never really expressed themselves in a way that felt organic and real,” says Sobol. “My great hope is to set those people free.”
Sobol is also founder and artistic director of collidEdance Company, which was founded in NYC in 2004 but moved to L.A. with Sobol at the helm in 2007. The company now has about 30 performers who are dedicated to her mission of blurring the line between theater and dance. With a BA in dance-theater from Barnard College, Sobol began her professional dance training at Broadway Dance Center in New York City, where she was inspired by hip-hop teachers like Kevin Maher and Rhapsody James. Eventually she transferred everything they taught to her own unique contemporary style.
“Like hip hop, my movement is very soulful and not at all pulled up,” she says. “Everything sort of drops down through your center to really connect to the floor. It’s pedestrian,
She also credits her hip-hop mentors with instilling in her a sense of musicality, and she tries to use contemporary music in similar ways, really listening to and embodying its lyrics and beats. DT
Artist: Matt Duke
Album/Song: Kingdom Underground, “Rabbit”
“Matt’s voice is haunting and his lyrics are sort of magical and odd. Since a lot of people don’t really know who he is, it’s a cool surprise for them to really connect to his music. I use ‘Rabbit’ a lot for meditation at the beginning of class, when I allow everyone to lie on the ground, close their eyes, feel the floor and listen to the music. It brings their bodies and their hearts into the room.”
Artist: Ingrid Michaelson
“There’s something about Ingrid Michaelson’s work and my work that marries well. Her songs are cheeky but sensual, wounded but strong. I do a lot of improvisation to her music. It fills me up, and all I want to do is overflow with all of my ideas and all of my movement.”
Artist: Jason Mraz
Album/Songs: We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things, “Details in the Fabric” and “Butterfly”
“This is a big album, but it’s varied. When I use ‘Details in the Fabric’ in my warm-up, people just melt right into the floor because it’s so beautiful. Conversely, ‘Butterfly’ is extremely sexy, upbeat and funny. So, no matter what the mood is for my combination, a warm-up or even a meditation, I can always find something on that album to play.”
Artist: Ani DiFranco
Album: Living in Clip
“Ani DiFranco’s lyrics are unexpected and poetic without being cheesy. Her music allows me to be unapologetically pedestrian. A lot of my movement is extremely based on her lyrics. If not literally, it’s all about referring to what the song is speaking about.”
Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Album: Before these Crowded Streets
“This album is dreamy and fantastical. I use it a lot, especially if I want to spend a little extra time warming up. The songs are long but never boring. It allows people to just get lost in the room, in their bodies and in the music.”
Albums/Songs: Vespertine, “Pagan Poetry” and “Cocoon”; and Homogenic, “Unravel”
“For wildly different reasons and in completely different ways, all three of these songs really shift people’s energy: ‘Cocoon’ in a sexy, warm way, ‘Pagan Poetry’ in a wrenching, awful way and ‘Unravel’ in an offbeat, sad way. People are always completely moved by Björk’s music. It’s literally like she lifts them up and plops them down somewhere else.”
Watch Erica Sobol’s students showing off her unique contemporary choreography:
Photo by Leo Lam, courtesy of Erica Sobol.