We arrive at The Goat Farm around eleven each day to give ourselves an hour to stretch our muscles, to move the lactic acid that has built up inside our tissue, by using our water bottles as impromptu rollers. Then we review the phrases we’ve learned the previous day. This is a type of waking.
We are working in Goodson Yard, a 115-year-old former cotton factory. The cavernous brick edifice is situated towards the back of The Goat Farm, an artistic center in downtown Atlanta, which also serves as a venue for performance arts.
Outside the sun is high and the air is thick. It is June in Georgia and the humidity never leaves. It is everywhere. Enveloping. Sticky like a peach and staying, just like my need to move, to be moved, which is why I’m here.
I was invited to Atlanta to be a part of GloATL’s Process for one week. Initially, I expected Process to be similar to other dance companies’ methods of learning choreography. Most commonly, this practice – often referred to as “setting a piece” – deemphasizes dancers’ creative abilities and reaffirms a choreographer’s artistic greatness. The line between the leader and her proteges is clear. But in Process at Glo, that line is blurred.
Instead of transmitting choreography that is already constructed and set to music, Lauri Stallings, founding creator of the platform, allows the material to transform as we learn it. It’s important that we watch Stallings intensely as she moves. We shadow her, working in a sort of pack. A swarm.
Stallings asks us to put our hands on her torso to better understand how she wants us to move. Though much of her movement vocabulary is derived from ballet, Stallings’ particular style of dance is unique. You can watch clips of performances here to get a sense of what it’s like. Gestures and human interaction riddle Glo’s signature vocabulary, making the movement an experience, an event. Periodically, Stallings stops to watch us execute the movement we’ve learned and says “good,” “yes,” “sweet.” Occasionally she asks us to watch a particular dancer do the movement or phrase so that we can get a sense of what she wants us to look like. In every way, Process is a process, one in which the dancers play an integral, active role.
And all of this is occurs without the presence of mirrors, which, for a dancer, is a rarity. Instead of being able to watch our and Lauri’s reflections, we must feel the movement in our bodies. Because the floor on which we dance is floating – it is a sprung Marley floor, lifted above the cement foundation of Goodson, unattached to any wall – there is no definitive front.
The five dancers that currently make up Glo told me on my first day that I would probably have intense, noticeably different dreams as a result of Process, a phenomenon they believe occurs because the way in which Stallings works rewires the brain. And they were correct. My dreams were vivid. Surreal. But something else happened to me too.
I had to confront something I hadn’t fully acknowledged, that’s easy for humans to forget. I had to address the reality that for years, I have done things in and to my body that have not been liked by it: working as marketing manager for a fortune 500 company, where I was required to sit for long periods of time; standing as a teacher and making minimal gestures; the list goes on. It was a difficult realization to have, but one I’m grateful for realizing. I can thank Lauri Stallings for this, all the members of Glo for this. Dance matters. My body needs it.
During lunch on my last day in Atlanta, I let my thoughts drift up, rising to the empty, inaccessible space in the thirty-foot ceiling: What happened here? Was anyone injured? Did workers sing while they worked? I shift my thoughts to Lauri and Glo. They are making something beautiful in this old factory and presenting outside of these walls. They are sharing their movements, their creativity. They are offering others access to a new type of waking.
I’m incredibly honored that I was invited to be a part of the Process, to share my energy and experience with the members of Glo, to come witness their uniqueness. I feel a new sense of purpose and plan to live my life with this new consciousness, this new way of making, living. I am awake and I am moving.