Law of Dance
For Ann Law of Barking Legs Theater, dancing is like breathing.
By Rich Bailey
Before Chattanooga’s renaissance officially embraced the arts, long before ArtsMove incentives drew artists to help repopulate the Southside, Ann Law brought contemporary dance to Chattanooga. She founded CoPAC (Contemporary Performing Arts of Chattanooga) in 1992 and, with husband Bruce Kaplan, opened Barking Legs Theater in 1993.
This weekend, Law leads a three-day “Re-Visioning Dance Education” workshop for teachers followed by the kickoff of the Dance@Barking Legs Program the following week. What follows are highlights from a longer email conversation I had with Ann about dance, movement and everyday life.
The all-ages dance program has classes for children, teens and adults, but it’s not your grandmother’s pirouette factory. By using the workshop to jump-start the class series, Law wants to stimulate dance teachers—including Barking Legs faculty and others—to find new ways of connecting with students and connecting dance to the rest of life.
In the eight-week class series, says Law, “We will encourage our classes to reach into the depths of our art form to bring a fresh new connection to how we move in our daily lives, the important role imagination and inspiration plays daily, and perhaps encourage a different perspective and appreciation to reach beyond.”
She says the dance program “embraces everyone”—ages 4 and older, with or without previous dance training. Because it is a dance class, teachers will “translate” students’ interests into the language of dance. “I want to feel more comfortable in my body” might become “You would like to develop a stronger kinesthetic intelligence with the support of somatic understanding,” for example.
But the focus is less on preparing for performance than on expressing emotions to transform others. “Every time I perform, that’s exactly what I strive for … surprise, happiness and self-reflection that can reach out and affect all of us,” Law says.
“Every day is a performance,” she adds. “When I get out of my car at Niedlov’s, walk my dogs, hang out at Barking Legs, clean the kitchen, wrestle with my daughter, I hope you can see my dance. My dance is a reflection of my life, my somatic practice, and my teachings. It is wrapped in everything I do. It is a life-long practice that involves everything.”
That somatic practice is primarily Pilates and Kinetic Awareness, two bodywork modalities that combine physical conditioning with more subtle education of a person’s sensation of the body in space. In addition to choreographing, dancing and teaching dance, Law teaches movement education through her Pilates in Motion studio. For her, any distinction between the art of dance, movement, education and daily life is not only illusory but harmful.
“Dance is to me, like breathing, I do it constantly in motion and in thought,” she says. “It is my art that keeps me always on the edge, never assuming too much, staying humble and sensible. It is through this art that I am constantly in the balance of all things, fighting as much to stay off balance as to stay on balance!”
“I believe that everything feeds everything,” she adds. “I suppose it is just human nature to segregate, to separate ourselves from ourselves and from others. As a dance artist, I participate in receiving bodywork or movement education to enhance my life. It is this education of my mind and body that feeds the creative process, and the act of sharing it with others is what I call dance.”
For Law, reintegrating those separated pieces is the focus of her art and especially of her teaching.
“Because we make physical, emotional, mental and spiritual room for you to come into dance, I feel that we are teaching a much more organic sense of dance,” she says.
Re-Visioning Dance Education Workshop
Jan. 4-6; $275 for three-day workshop
Dance@Barking Legs Program
Jan. 7-Feb. 28: ,$120 per eight-week dance course
Barking Legs Theater
1307 Dodds Ave.