I attended a high school creative writing workshop as a guest of Sarah Broderick at the Mill Valley Public Library in December 2019.
As a preliminary introduction to the field of “dance writing” and to warm up the students to the idea of conceptualizing dance through choreographic script, I had them read excerpts from “Rethinking Dance Writing” by Alys Longley at the University of Auckland. This article contained the writer’s reflections on her rehearsals for a duet called Little peeling Cottage, including inserts of choreographic poems she used to instruct her collaborative partner’s improvisations. Strikethrough functions similarly, in that the procedures serve the choreographer in instructing her dancers through movement creations. (In the case of my first rehearsal, I used the procedures to enhance my choreographic eye, the erasures inserting themselves as “stops,” where normally an edit might not be made).
I then presented them with a trailer of Dynamic, a Deborah Hay solo adapted and performed by the Norwegian choreographer and writer, Janne Camille-Lyster. Throughout the duration of the two-and-a-half-minute solo excerpt, I instructed them to write the beginning two six-line stanzas (I.) of a strikethrough poem—sensorial stream of consciousness observations of the dance occurring before them—without prefacing the strikethrough procedure that would follow. I then led them through the procedure (II.) of crossing out three lines per stanza, ending each line with either an “omit” or an “insert” followed by anything arising from their imagination in relation to the strikethrough phrase. For example, “omit balancing act” (strikethrough #1). The remaining six lines are then plainly re-written (III.). The same procedure of crossing out three lines per stanza (IV.) follows, each line ending in an “omit” or “insert” that precede an imagined choreographic instruction. For example, “omit tininess, tunnel vision” (strikethrough #3). The remaining three lines are then plainly written (V.) to conclude the poem, or rather fragment the initial spontaneous composition into an edited artifact of the imagination, a microbe of the lengthy poetic material first presented, a curbed version of literary improvisation. The participants expressed more of an interest in what watching/listening to the dance film produced in their writing; a kind of poetic sensibility surfaced without condensed effort or even conscious realization. It was only after sharing their works that these observations were made. Most of them had never been told to write about a dance. Afterwards, Ms. Broderick encouraged them to apply this observational mode in everyday life, that this form of poetics existed not only in human movement, but inside the buzzing of an overhead lamp, the mowing of an air conditioner, the steaming of water in a pot. It was here that strikethrough served its original purpose, which was discovery of expressive, individual pathways through a predetermined writerly procedure. It thereby introduced dance to young writers as an art form which inspires observation, stream of consciousness writing entirely individual to the writer.
I attended a second high school creative writing workshop as a guest of Sarah Broderick at the Mill Valley Public Library in January 2020.
With a shorter time frame, I decided to lead my workshop in reverse, instead presenting the participants with an example of a completed strikethrough procedure, and offering them the chance to rewrite the same poem through their own process of strikethrough. I instructed them to draw a line down the center of the page and alongside strikethrough #1 they chose their own omissions and insertions to culminate with a completely different set of words for section III. and the final section V. Compared with the earlier workshop where the participants had no preconception of strikethrough, this workshop presented them with a preconception, which coincidentally eliminated the purpose of the procedure, which is for the writer to adapt their stream of consciousness writing into a concise fragment through choreographically oriented edits. This served helpful as an exercise, and rather taught the students to be more professional editors of others’ work as opposed to personal editors of their own. It forced them to take apart an already fully formed work, detach from notions of completeness in any medium, whether it be poetry or choreography. Poets are interpreters, so are choreographers; we must gain the ability to fold and cut and glue and fold and cut again.