Scholar, writer, and dance artist Kimerer LaMothe is KYL/D’s thought partner for Faith Project. She’s been guiding us through the Story Circles, leading us in movement and facilitating discussion. Kimerer took a few moments to dive deeper into her role with KYL/D and her perspectives on dance and religion.
JESSICA: In one of the story circles, you reflected that the question that led you to Harvard was the same question that led you away from Harvard - why don’t Christians dance? What piqued your interest in connecting dance and spirituality?
KIMERER: I grew up going to church — always some strand of Protestant Christianity. While I enjoyed the singing, I inevitably felt restless sitting in the pews, waiting for the chance to do something. Meanwhile, when I was dancing by myself, in a musical, in some kind of dance class, or most of all in nature, I inevitably felt a happiness and joy — I felt the deep and abiding love — that the ministers were always talking about. I wasn’t finding it in their services. So at some point during my high school years, the question popped into my mind: why aren’t we dancing in church? The question unsettled me. It provoked doubt. In college, the question prompted me to turn away from Christianity, lamenting its hostile attitudes towards bodies, women, dancing, and desire. After college and in graduate school, I turned back, realizing that Christianity is more complicated than I had known, and I started looking for forgotten dance-friendly moments and voices in western Christian history. All along the way, I was dancing — deepening my own experience of coming alive through practices of bodily movement — in an oscillating rhythm of thinking and moving, of conceptual and kinetic imagining, that continues to guide my path today. As you note, that path has led me to a farm in upstate New York, where I am able to live this rhythm in closer relationship to my longstanding inspiration — the natural world.
JESSICA: How have you/do you enter into the process of the Faith Project? How do you approach your role as thought partner "behind the scenes" - when you're not in the studio with the company?
KIMERER: I see myself as an "enabler" in the best sense. I aim to enable conversation between the invited members of Philadelphia’s faith communities and the dance artists of KYL/D on the topic of religion and dance. Yet our time is short — two hours per Story Circle — and I don’t want any ordinary conversation. I want the kind of exchange that produces understanding, wonder, and delight. The kind that facilitates communion, and not just communication. To this end, I employ several strategies. I lead participants in shared movement experiences that are designed to help both faith participants and dance artists perceive their own bodily movement in a new way — as raising questions that traditions of religion and dance answer. What does it mean to be a bodily self? How do we move in relationship to a mountain, a tree, a doorway, a wall? Of what are we made — earth, air, fire, water? So too, in discussions, I do not assume religion and dance are two separate entities. I draw attention to shared patterns of commitment and parallel pursuits of values such as love, truth, center. How to be present in the moment. How to make an honest gesture. How to connect with and move from one’s own core. My hope is that this process of moving and talking, watching and listening, will not only generate insights for Kun-Yang and the dance artists to feed their choreographic project, but will help all participants realize their own responsibility in evolving western culture along the path of an amicable, productive relationship between “religion” and “dance."
JESSICA: How do you see the ability of KYL/D's Faith Project to speak to the social divides we're facing in our country, through the context of performance and concert dance?
KIMERER: Among the performing arts, concert dance is at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to finding audiences. Because dance is rarely included as part of a public school education alongside art and music and drama, few people grow up knowing the history, the people, or the basic “language” of contemporary dance. On the other hand, dance, because its medium is the medium through which every human lives (i.e., bodily movement), has a unique capacity to communicate across cultural, social, racial, and ethnic divisions. Human beings cannot not respond at a visceral level when we see someone else moving. So the potential for dance to bond people of different religious traditions in a shared experience of community, of humanity, of love, is huge. KYL/D’s project is diving to the heart of this possibility. It is not about creating a mosaic made from different pieces of separate traditions, but rather, tapping into and revealing the strong currents of bodily becoming that course through them all.
JESSICA: Having participated in a Studio Showing for Santuario and in many discussions with Kun-Yang how do you view/experience his CHI Awareness Practice (through your lens of "Is religion dance?”)
KIMERER: There is much I have yet to learn about Kun-Yang’s CHI Awareness Practice. From the little I know, however, I am delighted by how synchronized our projects are. In my book, Why We Dance, I talk about the importance of an experience shift in which people cultivate a sensory awareness of themselves as movement. I am the movement that is making me. Kun-Yang, as I understand it, is doing this — discovering a host of exercises that help people become aware, at a sensory, visceral level, of the movement potentials that are available to them, enfolded within them, and coursing through them, in the shape and form of their bodily selves. My philosophy of bodily becoming provides one perspective on how and why Kun-Yang’s work is so important! When humans invite and rehearse this sensory awareness of themselves as movement, they release a capacity to heal — a wisdom of how to move in ways that will not recreate pain in ourselves, in our communities, and on earth. Santuario as I have written elsewhere, is a beautiful example of how that healing happens. I can’t wait to learn more!
JESSICA: Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your own process or your experiences with Faith Project?
KIMERER: I have been amazed and honored by how each of the three Story Circles have been so unique. Each one has led to different experiences and understanding among those present, with each building on the one before. The work of The Faith Project will not just appear in a final stage production, it will radiate out through the new relationships that have been created in the process of its emergence. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it all!
JESSICA: Thank you, Kimerer! We’re grateful for all you’re sharing with us!
~ Jessica Warchal-King
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Major support for the Faith project has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.