Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday

Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday

By Jordan Matter

Workman Publishing, 2012

231 pages

One thing dancers love more than watching dance is watching dancers do ordinary things—in a dancerly fashion, of course. Which is exactly what you get in the portraits of Jordan Matter’s photography book, Dancers Among Us, the perfect gift for fellow dance teachers, office staff and accompanists this holiday season. There are more than 170 images: From a dancer in muddy pointe shoes at a Chicago construction site to a suited “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist soaring in front of the New York Stock Exchange, they show a broad range of dancers in everyday locations across North America.

The concept took shape when Matter asked former Paul Taylor dancer Jeffrey Smith to leap across a Times Square subway platform in Manhattan amid the daily rush of travelers. As Smith hangs in the air, onlookers stare in awe (or confusion), which marks the theme of the collection—the dancers are among us. Many images show pedestrians surprised by the dancers, and some even participate in the shots. To set the mood of each chapter, Matter includes heartwarming anecdotes from his own life experiences as a husband, father and son. There are also behind-the-scenes stories for many of the images, thankfully, since many of the scenes leave the reader thinking, “How’d they do that?”

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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