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Getting to Know Two Beach Dances Choreographers

July 3, 2019 10:51 AM
by Rebecca Tokofsky

Getting to Know Two Beach Dances Choreographers

This past week, Santa Monica Cultural Affairs presented the second annual Beach Dances, a week-long series of dance workshops, open rehearsals and performances at the Annenberg Community Beach House.

Beach Dances: Shared Practice took place June 18 – 23, 2019 and presented the work of thirty-one artists over nine rehearsals, nine workshops, six performances and an artist resource sharing event. Iwas guest-curated by Allison Wyper of Rhizomatic Arts, interviewed here 

We spoke with Shaina Lynn and Carol McDowell, two choreographers who led Beach Dances workshops, about their respective practices.  

Choreographer Shaina Lynn 

Shaina Lynn

Tell us about the roots of New Orleans Bounce. What would most folks be surprised to learn about “twerking”? Where does this practice come from, and how does it connect to feminine spiritual practices in the way you approach it? 

As a Black woman from New Orleans, bounce music was a huge part of the culture growing up in NOLA. I personally believe New Orleans is responsible for the current Twerk craze. The popular local style of bass and bounce entered mainstream entertainment and took over from the 90s to the 00s.  

Many of the basics of Bounce dance stem from moves like “climbing the ladder,” which can be found in Second Lines on Sundays in New Orleans. These practices were developed through the rich history of Congo Square, where my ancestors would gather on Sundays to find rest in their traditional song and dance. Many cultures blended their styles in Congo Square, birthing the likes of jazz & blues.  

When you look deeper into the roots of twerking you discover that many women in African cultures practice these movements to help overcome trauma. Science is just understanding how trauma is held in the body and can be released through activities such as dance and yoga. Practices that ancient African women have been using for millennia. 

Shaina Lynn and Isabel Ivey on the Beach Dances stage, 2019. Photo by Jason Abraham. 

What inspired your workshop title, La Diáspora de Twerk, and what is the intent behind bringing it to the beach?   

La Diáspora de Twerk explores the relationship between traditional New Orleans Bounce and Afro-Latin dance. This inquiry is part of The Twerk Series, my sequence of reclamations of the dance style and its roots in NOLA and healing, and through the workshop I hope for participants to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the traditional roots of twerking. I also hope that more women of color feel invited to take up healing space at Santa Monica Beach. 

Shaina Lynn and Isabel Ivey’s workshop at Beach Dances, 2019. Photo by Jason Abraham. 

Choreographer Carol McDowell 

Carol McDowell in meditation on the Beach Dances stage, 2019. Photo by Jason Abraham.

Can you tell us about the lineage of Contemplative Dance Practice? 

Originally Barbara Dilley created and introduced CDP during a summer session at the Naropa Institute in 1980. Barbara Dilley was a prominent member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1963 to '68 and a founding member of Grand Union from '69 to '76. Dilley participated in the Judson Dance Theater, helped co-found the Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, and established her own improvisational dance group called The Natural History of The American Dancer with Mary Overlie, author of Viewpoints, and Cynthia Hedstrom, producer at The Wooster Group. Dilley designed and directed the Dance and Movement Studies program at the Naropa Institute and served as President of that Buddhist-inspired university. 

Since that time many dancers around the world have adopted the form and practice. I learned the Contemplative Dance Form from Barbara and practiced this meditative improvisational score with her while at Naropa. I began to dance with Barbara in 1993, and eventually we co-founded the Mariposa Dance Collective with Diane Butler and Polly Motley. In the Mariposa Collective we used Contemplative Dance Practice to ground our creative process and collaboration. 

How is this beach iteration different from practice inside a dance studio?    

Barbara’s favorite definition of contemplative in the western tradition comes from several dictionaries: it’s an open space for observation marked out by an augur, a place where we might witness and inhabit movements of nature within and around oneself. In this sense, a dance studio offers an enclosure of four walls and a roof, a container that helps focus the awareness of the assembled group toward the inner worlds of self and outer worlds of self in relationship to other.   

Carol McDowell and alexx shilling in Contemplative Dance Meditation, Beach Dances 2019. Photo by Jason Abraham.

Moving in meditation outside enables a different kind of fluid perception, and a receptivity to the presence of collected individuals together, in connection with the natural worlds around us. The sights, smells, and sounds of the Beach surround the open form of Contemplative Dance Practice with the living breathing liminal world of nature.  

When we meditate in nature, we bring a receptive presence to the natural world. It comes alive—and so do we. We no longer look at nature as an inert or pretty object, but as a living and breathing world of mystery and sensitivity, a realm of wisdom and learning that is always whispering its teachings to us.” 

Contemplative Dance Participants, Beach Dances 2019. Photo by Jason Abraham.

How is Contemplative Dance Practice different from meditation? How is it similar? Is CDP a spiritual practice? 

CDP utilizes an improvisational score, with somatic dance practices mingling with mindful meditation practices. Barbara calls CDP a Dancer’s Meditation Hall or a Meditator’s Dance Hall,” in her book. I like this phrase. In my experience, the state of perceiving and being that I access in the deep play of improvisational dance relates to the flow state I find when deeply immersed in the activities of Hatha Yoga, as well as the attitude of directness and unselfconsciousness that can arise in Shamatha meditation and the creative process of making work. In this state of being, we can experience the curious wonder and intuitive intelligence of noesis, dhyana, somatic bodymind, and the Zen koan, “Not two not one.”  

Could you expand on that? 

When Barbara introduces CDP, she often quotes this passage by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 

This is the most important teaching:  not two and not one. Our body and mind is not two and not one. If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; If you think they are one, that is also wrong. Our body and mind are both two and one. We usually think that if something is not one, it is more than one, if it is not singular, it is plural, but in actual experience of life, our life is not only plural, but also singular. Each one of us is both dependent and independent. 

CDP participants in meditation on the Beach Dances stage, 2019. Photo by Jason Abraham

Shaina Lynn is a New Orleans-born, LA-based multimedia artist. Fusing her training in healing modalities such as yoga and meditation with the rich ritual influences of NOLA, Shaina inspires the radical healing of the Black women’s past, present, and forevermore. Internationally, Shaina has produced work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Ludwig Foundation, and Fabrica de Arte. Nationally, her highlights include presenting at REDCAT, DC and New Orleans Fringe Festival, Emerging Artist Theatre, Hammer Museum. She was a 2017 Curatorial Fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

Carol McDowell is a BESSIE and Lester Horton Award winning interdisciplinary dance artist and lighting designer. Her work has been presented at Highways, Pieter, Skirball, Anatomy Riot, Platinum Oasis, Naropa, BMoCA, The Kitchen, DTW, PS 122, and abroad. McDowell co-directed Crazy Space at 18th Street, and co-founded max10 performance lab at the Electric Lodge and the Mariposa Collective with Barbara Dilley, Diane Butler and Polly Motley in Boulder. McDowell teaches dance studies and yoga at Rio Hondo College and West Los Angeles College. 

Beach Dances is part of the Beach=Culture series, presented by Santa Monica Cultural Affairs; for other events visit  

Annenberg Community Beach House  

The Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach is a public facility operated by the City of Santa Monica located on five acres of oceanfront property in Santa Monica. The Beach House story is one of evolution from private to public, starting with the development of the property at 415 Pacific Coast Highway as an opulent private estate of silent film star Marion Davies in the 1920s. | @Annenbergbeachhouse | #SMBeachHouse    

Santa Monica Cultural Affairs    

Santa Monica Cultural Affairs brings the City’s art scene to life for residents and visitors by supporting engaging and accessible cultural events throughout the year. Cultural Affairs nurtures local arts organizations, promotes artist involvement in the community, manages the landmark Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and presents and produces innovative programs citywide at the Annenberg Community Beach House, the historic Miles Playhouse, Camera Obscura Art Lab and in the city’s parks, enriching Santa Monica’s reputation as an international cultural destination.  | #ArtSaMo 

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