Two directors, two dance troupes, one new project: Living Kinnected
When Living Legends artistic director Jamie Kalama Wood and Kinnect Dance Company artistic director Angela Rosela Challis came together for an experimental and experiential learning opportunity, they created a fusion between their two companies. This fusion would prove challenging not only for their students, but also for themselves as individuals and as educators.
Living Legends is a dance company that specializes in indigenous dances from Polynesian, Latin and Native American cultures.
Kinnect Dance Company specializes in dance education. They visit elementary schools throughout Utah and teach the importance of dance and art to students. Kinnect also prepares BYU students to be future dance educators.
Living Kinnected is a project that merges both groups with brief interactions and aims to create more unity and friendship within the dance companies.
It all started when Challis, as a BYU student in the early 2000s, was a dancer in the Kinnect company. She had friends who were part of the Living Legends company, but there wasn’t any collaboration between the two groups. Today, as Kinnect’s artistic director, Challis wanted to change that.
“I felt it would be important to make a film that showed how these two dance worlds could come together to make art. Then we’d go to elementary schools and teach the students how they, too, can approach somebody they normally wouldn’t,” said Challis.
With ideas bouncing around in her head, Challis joined with Wood to create a collaborative dance project. Though the interactions were brief, they have learned that students from both groups have created new friendships with one another. Additionally, dancers from Kinnect have formed a desire to connect with their heritage and dancers from Living Legends have explored new ways to be involved in the dance department.
To introduce this new union, Challis wanted to create a short film on breaking perceptions. “I wanted to change stereotypes, but sometimes stereotypes are ingrained in us,” she said. The film features dancers sharing what they believe are the stereotypes or perceptions they give to other people and then share how they are different from that stereotype.
Challis admitted that watching the footage playback was heartbreaking and that a lot of the takes were so real and raw that they wanted to keep those confessions safe. They worked with the students in a two-way conversation to make sure that the students felt comfortable.
The conversation was continued to make sure that students felt comfortable in sharing their answers to the difficult and personal questions about stereotypes. Honoring student requests made editing tricky, but it was worth every effort.
Wood added that they did this to represent who their dancers really are and not what others may perceive them to be. The project was an effort to break down the physical and visual barriers people place between themselves and others. “There might be people right next to you that you have the potential to connect with, but you wouldn’t know that if all you’re seeing is that outer piece,” said Wood.
Coming into this project, both professors were under the impression that this would be a one-film endeavor–a single collaboration during one semester. But after seeing such a thought-provoking outcome, both instructors are thinking of ways this new project could continue on.
“I think it would be great to have a place where people can come and say, ‘This is how people perceive me, this is how I want people to perceive me.’ I think we should go further with this and include as many people who want to be included because everybody has something important to say,” said Challis.
“This gives students the chance to share their voice, the chance to connect with others and to connect physically. Not everybody is a dancer, but we all have a kinesthetic awareness,” said Wood.
Wood said that if Living Kinnected were to become a long-term collaboration, it would be essential to incorporate students early in the planning process. By doing so, this project could become a powerful tool for expression and a way for each person to share their story.