Grit, Complexity, and Beauty: An Interview with Rebecca Steinberg

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I met Rebecca Steinberg when I was working with Gallim Dance in Brooklyn. Kind, courageous, and an incredible mover, we quickly became friends. Rebecca is currently dancing with the company New Dialect in Nashville, Tennessee, and has been for several years. Though we don’t live in the same place, I am continually inspired and impressed by Rebecca’s whole being, and I am thrilled to share this interview, which I believes contains her infectious joy of moving, being, and sharing her art.

What is your personal history with dance/movement?

I was a very active child; my mother tells me I came home from school asking to do a different sport everyday. I dabbled in a lot of different activities but nothing ever really stuck. When I was eleven, I signed up for a dance class because my friend at the time was signing up and the rest is history. Since that first year of dance, nothing has taken a higher priority in my life than dancing, making dance, and facilitating movement experiences for others.

How has your relationship to dance changed over time?

Every year I’m able to pinpoint more acutely the physical, social, cultural, and artistic reasons why I am a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. This process takes place alongside a constant refining of my physicality through the day in and day out demanding work of increasing my knowledge of my own body’s capabilities and challenges. Since I’ve moved into the professional world, I’ve been researching my own physical body in an effort to become more and more myself. I’m learning how to continuously gain agency and autonomy in crafting my body’s unique movement language as opposed to trying to place other codified languages on top of my own.

Can you discuss the relationship you’ve forged because of movement?

My family is comprised of movers I’ve met and forged relationships with all around the world. There is something about the vulnerability and generosity necessary to do what we do well that I feel fast forwards even a new relationship into a place of comfort and trust very quickly. The beauty in this sociocultural aspect of the dance community is a huge part of the reason this work is so important to me.

You spent time in Israel dancing with Vertigo Dance Company; how did that experience influence/change you?

My year training with Vertigo Dance Company was a hugely transformative time for me. The rigor of the training in combination with the exposure to repertoire from a number of the leading companies/choreographers in Israel was invaluable. It was during this year that I learned I wanted to be in a company that exposed me to choreographers with various movement languages and challenged me to be facile in the distinct embodiment of each language.

When did you first learn about New Dialect?

After my year in Israel, I moved back to New York and was a freelance artist dancing for many different people. I realized I wanted a company setting where there was more time and space for research and process. I knew it would be difficult for me to find that in the city so I began looking for companies outside of New York and outside of the states. I found New Dialect in this research and was instantly intrigued by Banning and her work. I attended the company’s first summer intensive and knew instantly it was the right fit. Something inside me opened up the minute I walked into that studio and was given space and time to research.

Why New Dialect?

Banning has cultivated a group of dancers and an environment that is based first on research. Every person she brings in, whether it’s to teach for one day or to set a new work, is interested in using the space she has created as a laboratory. Collaboration exists in this environment in a way I have never experienced. Each person in the room holds equal value and equal weight in the collaborative process. The environment is about people first and moving bodies second. Each of my colleagues are wildly curious, intelligent, and generous human beings. I’m going on my third season with the company this fall and it still feels thrilling to walk into a room where every person involved is raising the bar for themselves and the collective day in and day out.

New Dialect’s mission is to “advance the evolution of contemporary dance by inspiring people of all social backgrounds, cultures, and generations.” How does ND do this currently? What kinds of programs/initiatives do you have or participate in?

New Dialect exists in the southeast, in the center of the bible belt in response to a need to bring community driven, socially relevant art to people who may not be exposed to such otherwise. Education is an integral part of the ethos of New Dialect. Our education programming spreads from morning community classes, to children’s classes, to a girl power camp for young women, to workshops for inner city high school students, to 55+ communities and beyond. Art is for everyone, movement is for everyone, and it’s so beautiful to be a part of a community that engages in an active participation of this message. I have been lucky enough to share the joy of movement with people from every walk of life through our workshops and performances; this part of what we do holds equal weight to every other creative process we engage in daily.

What has been your experience working with Banning Bouldin?

To work with someone who has the capacity to simultaneously challenge and support each person in the room is pretty extraordinary. From the moment I met Banning, I felt as if she saw potential in me that I could not yet see in myself. More than two years into our relationship, I feel the same way. I have been given opportunities to grow, mature, deepen my practice, my artistry, and my connection to myself in ways that I would never have imagined. Time exists differently in the studio with Banning and the fuel that she supplies the room through her own passion and investment in each of us opens up space for growth in a way I’ve never experienced.

You’ve created dance films; are you currently working on any? 

Making dance films is one of the ways I’ve expanded my artistry since moving to Nashville. I had the gift of meeting my creative partner and best friend, Ben Green, through joining New Dialect at the same time. From the moment we met, we knew we wanted to create together. Ben and I both have an interest in photography and film, and Ben has an amazing eye for the camera so creating short dance films felt natural for us both. Both films we created together in 2016 were the product of play for us and a joyous way for us to physicalize our friendship which consists of everything you see in our films: creativity, love, humor, vulnerability, laughter, sadness, and joy. Our creative partnership has become a bit more difficult since Ben moved to Israel the summer of 2016, but I know we both look forward to the next time we can create together and I’m sure our work will continue to deepen as our lives and our friendship does throughout time.

On what are you currently working?

I have an ongoing amalgamation of notebooks, sticky notes, phone reminders, visual collages, etc. of anything and everything that catches my eye or inspires me. This is a ever growing research library that has its own life whether or not I am in an active process. I have grown into myself and my identity as a maker in huge ways these past few years and I have some really exciting opportunities this upcoming year to research my own work as well as my work as a dancer in the company.

Who influences/inspires you?

I am influenced by people who are confident in the value of the information they have to share and are unapologetically themselves. I am inspired by artists whose curiosity is never satiated; people who are interested in people in all of their grit, complexity, and beauty. I am influenced by artists who are constantly challenging themselves which in turn challenges others and therefore challenges our art form. I am honestly most inspired by my colleagues who I see doing all of the above each and every day. And of course, by Banning. I have been greatly inspired by artists she has brought in for us to work with including Alex Ketley, Bryan Arias, Joy Davis, Riley Watts, Ana Maria Lucaciu, and Navarra Novy-Williams, just to name a few!

What is like for you to be a dance/movement artist in today’s political/social climate?

Art simultaneously acknowledges and transcends both the ugly and the beautiful parts of the world we live in. Coming into adulthood in such a politically and socially charged time could not enforce the importance of my practice as an artist more strongly. My role as an artist is a part of, about, and in service to every aspect of the world we live in. It is such a privilege to dedicate my life to a practice that serves both the local and greater community every day. Art is imbedded in every one of our lives; it is a privilege to be a brain and a body who recognizes that fact and chooses to share it with others.

Lead image photography by Antelmo Villarreal. Inset photography by Hunter Armistead, Antelmo Villarreal, Jim Coleman, and Ben Green.

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