How Nol Simonse Brings Joy to His Modern Technique Class

Simonse creates his own variations of Cunningham exercises. Photo by Andy Mogg, courtesy of Simonse

“I think it's nice to start class with a moment of calmness," says Nol Simonse, of his open adult modern class at Alonzo King LINES Dance Center in San Francisco. “People have so much stress in their everyday lives. They sometimes carry that stress in their jaw or throat or neck." A short meditation in constructive rest position, followed by gently rolling the skull on the floor, relaxes the class and awakens students' upper spines. “We make sure there's no gravel in there," he adds.

As a freelance dancer in the Bay Area for 15 years, Simonse has soaked up a wide array of stylistic influences that find their way into his class. His approach to modern is based primarily on Merce Cunningham technique, but it has echoes of Bartenieff Fundamentals and Limón, Graham and Horton techniques. “What I teach is kind of a hodgepodge," he says. He creates his own variations on traditional Cunningham center floor exercises. “All those things that I thought were horrible when I was a young dancer, like upper-back curves and prances, I love those now," he says.

Finding enjoyment in the rigor of modern technique is at the core of his teaching philosophy. “We'll be doing a leg brush combination and I'll say, 'Everyone looks beautiful, but I'm not feeling any joy. Let's do this one again, let our eyes move in their sockets and find some more joy in the leg brush.'"

Photo by Andy Mogg, courtesy of Simonse

Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

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