Heidi Henderson: "I teach downtown modern, joyous modern."

Henderson (center) with members of her company at Judson Church in New York City. Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Henderson

With her warm demeanor and self-deprecating sense of humor, Heidi Henderson doesn't exactly come across as a rule breaker. But the choreographer, who started her career dancing with Nina Wiener and Bebe Miller, takes a certain delight in upending ideas about how modern dance should look—or sound, for that matter. “I teach downtown modern, joyous modern," she says. Describing a work in progress in which she pairs what she calls a “sad solo" with aggressive grunge music, she says, “I choreographed to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' very much a song you shouldn't use for modern dance—which I liked. It was a kind of noise that was needed for some very quiet material."

Whether working with students at Connecticut College, where she has been on faculty since 2003, or with members of her Providence, Rhode Island–based company, elephant JANE dance, Henderson's choreographic process is the same. “I walk into a room and start moving, and eventually, after what might be hours or days or minutes improvising, hit upon some way of moving that feels unique in terms of quality or texture. And communicating with my dancers helps me identify the way I'd like to move," she says. “There's always flow, weight, articulation and freedom in what I do, but there's something unique to each process in terms of how it feels to be in that moving body. That to me will be the marker of what gives a piece oomph."

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