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Dancers Build Community at the DEL Movement Sentence Choir

Photo by Julie Lemberger

In February, The Dance Education Laboratory of 92Y Harkness Dance Center hosted the fifth annual DEL Movement Sentence Choir led by noted choreographer David Dorfman, DEL founder Jody Gottfried Arnhold and educator Ann Biddle, with live percussion by Kyle Olsen. Some 70 dancers and teachers from both education and studio settings spent four hours focused on collaboration and community-building through dance.


DEL's workshop is influenced by the original ideas of Rudolf Laban, who was known for devising large-scale dances, similar to a vocal choir, and he called them movement choirs. These dances allowed participants with a variety of dance backgrounds and proficiencies to collaborate by using movements developed through improvisation and personal expression to create a cohesive whole. DEL builds on this idea, incorporating the movement sentence, which, like a sentence structure, has a beginning, middle and end. This might translate to a beginning or starting still shape, followed by two or more actions, derived from words, and ending in a still shape. The facilitators predetermined the action words that were displayed for all to see: "swirl," "embrace," "bridge."

The aim of the Movement Sentence Choir: to make a dance about anything, to collaborate, to think creatively, to embody and interpret movement with a sense of agency and self-expression, to explore personal spaces and boundaries and to connect with others. The process is emphasized more than the product.

The Movement Sentence Choir lasted 20 minutes, but it took more than four hours to grow, as an organic dance from seeds of information and inspiration, and it flourished with personal exploration. It was improvised with set cues and approximations.

Photo by Julie Lemberger

Groups of eight dancers work for 20 minutes to make dances that are presented two at a time. It sometimes seems as though the dances are purposefully choreographed in tandem.

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