(From left) Simone Dinnerstein (at the piano), Maggie Cloud, Netta Yerushalmy, and Lindsey Jones in Tanowitz's New Work for Goldberg Variations (photo by Marina Levitskaya, courtesy Tanowitz)

Find Out What Inspires Pam Tanowitz

Pam Tanowitz's dances are a lot like diamonds: They dazzle with compositional brilliance, reveal even more facets when you look closer, and are the products of an unusually intense creative force. Growing up in The Bronx, NY, Tanowitz trained at the Steffi Nossen School of Dance before getting a BFA from Ohio State University and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. A two-time Bessie Award winner, she's earned countless fellowships and sets work on companies and universities across the country. Here's where she finds inspiration. —Helen Rolfe


I rarely have auditions. I meet dancers by word of mouth, see them dance, or fall in love with their personalities. I spend more time with my dancers than anyone else, so I have to like them. My dancers have impeccable technique, but more than that, I have to feel connected to them. We share a sense of humor. They have to be super-smart because we collaborate all the time. I expect them to give themselves to my work. I once hired Stuart Singer after hanging out with him for an hour. I got a good feeling from him.

Tanowitz (photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy Tanowitz)

I'm very inspired by French New Wave cinema, but don't generally make dances to look like certain movies. It's more about how those filmmakers broke down foundations and redefined the telling of a story. That said, in the story progresses as if in a dream of glittering surfaces, part of the dance is like a movie trailer: We do all these full-body phrases as a moving tableau, and every time the dancers repeat a phrase, the scrim is saturated with a different primary color. That's a direct reference to Jacques Rivette's films.

(From left) Sarah Haarmann, Lindsey Jones, Melissa Toogood, and Dylan Crossman in the "Story Progresses As If in a Dream of Glitering Surfaces"(photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy Tanowitz)

Every piece's starting point is different. If I could tell you how I make a dance, then I could retire. But each piece has a focus, like spacing or composition. With New Work for Goldberg Variations, the music came first because I knew it would be to Bach's iconic Goldberg Variations. That was big, because I'd never worked with Bach before. My choices usually skew toward new music, living composers, weird electronic scores, and alienating string quartets. Having to be traditional and formal was actually experimental for me. I found there can be freedom in tradition and formality because you have something to push against.

(From left) Stuart Singer, Dylan Crossman, Melissa Toogood, and Maggie Cloud in "Broken Story" (photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum)

In 2013, the Joyce Theater residency grant paired me with postmodern dancer/choreographer/writer David Gordon, and the mentorship stuck. His focus is more theatrical than mine, and he taught me to leave in components I don't like for a while to figure out why they don't work. Dance is an oral history, so I love his stories about his company, the Judson Church movement, dancing with Yvonne Rainer, and the Grand Union improv group.

Viola Farber (photo by Los Greenfield, courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

Viola Farber was a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and a choreographer who helped change the face of dance in the '70s and '80s. During my time at Sarah Lawrence, she taught me to push myself physically. She also taught me to see what's in front of me in rehearsal, not what I think I see. She'd say, 'Dance is not a warm bath. It's not comfortable.'


A version of this story appeared in the September 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Choreographer's Collage: Pam Tanowitz."

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For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

Ashton has dedicated 14 years of ballet training in pursuit of that childhood dream. But all the technical prowess in the world can't help Ashton surmount the biggest hurdle—this aspiring dancer was assigned male at birth, and for the vast majority of boys and men, performing in pointe shoes hasn't been a career option. But Ashton Edwards, who uses the pronouns "he" and "they," says it's high time to break down ballet's gender barrier, and their teachers and mentors believe this passionate dancer is just the person to lead the charge.

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Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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