Skills

In an art form such as dance, it’s hard to get away from just looking at the black and white. Either the technique is there or it isn’t. I have more recently discovered that there are many other qualities and skills that a dancer can find useful, and more importantly, needs to survive in the modern landscape. I do have several strengths that are to my advantage. I have had a health amount of training in ballet, jazz, modern, tap, and even hip hop, so my versatility and adaptivity to nearly any style of movement is very present. I also am very good at speaking to people and getting my point across, so as far as negotiations and pitches go, I’m well versed. I also have a dual brained nature – in that I’m not 100% right brained and creative or 100% logical and left brained. This duality makes it easier to work with those of both natures and anywhere in between. My Creative Computing degree that’s in the works also adds to my skill set as I can animate breathtaking backdrops for shows, and later on even work with holograms. I also have a wide array of technical skills in and out of the theater, as I have spent time in high school working on tech crews and spent a two week period working on a film set in Los Angeles for the documentary filmed over the professional dance company I was part of at the time, Revolve. Getting my hands dirty and doing manual labor has never been an issue of displeasure for me. I see myself as a pretty good teacher – there is room to improve of course, but I have assistant-taught dance classes for a good number of years. There are some things, however, that I would like to improve upon.

I really should eat better. I eat a lot of things that are bad for me, and while I can’t really gain weight, I probably shouldn’t eat them. I also don’t exercise as much as I probably should – putting on some extra muscle couldn’t be a bad thing. In addition, when I meet new people, I often try to hard to not come on too strong as to not make them uncomfortable, and perhaps have missed out on some important opportunities. I worry too much about their feelings I suppose rather than my own future. I could always stretch more. Sometimes I can also get a go getting attitude in the wrong way, and end up rushing through something I could’ve taken more time on. There are many, many skills that I could improve upon, but I know that so long as their on my mind, I can both consciously and subconsciously improve upon them.

Elevator Pitch

I’m Zach Biehl, and I am a dancer looking to innovate in choreography through the utilization of both sides of my brain to their full extent, sparing no thought for each movement. As a double major Dance and Creative Computing student, my training in ballet, modern, jazz, and various other styles couples with my logical tendencies to craft unique movement, and add in coded visuals for even more breathtaking effects. I want my audience to leave a performance feeling as if they had an out of body experience, one that completely reshapes and repurposes their immediate and perhaps long term goals, just as I have had happen to me on many occasions. I am a dancer looking to change others for the better, whether it be one audience member alone or an entire theatre. Here’s my e-mail address, and you can find me on facebook or at people.smu.edu/zbiehl. I hope to hear from you soon.

My Motivation

What’s my motivation? Though I’m not necessarily an actor, this cliche’ comes to mind. In terms of my life in dance, a few important things factor into my motivation. I strive to inspire others. I’ve been greatly moved by many different dance performances, and every time it’s a different and equally special feeling of both renewed purpose and what to strive for. I wish to share this feeling with everyone, and so I hone my craft for this purpose. Another one of my motivators is the feeling of improving. Especially in such a physical art form, I can see how with each extension and with each step, my body is further honed as an instrument of dance. Besides the increased mastery that I gain from such feats, it feels good to be accomplished, and to be successful in my movement. Getting a combination almost instantly and picking up the slightest details is much more enjoyable that struggling to even remember what comes next. In terms of academics, I always strive to understand. No matter what the topic, I always work to gain a rudimentary understanding of it, whether it be Shakespeare or higher level Mechanics. I find joy in understanding things that don’t come easily, and this leads me to higher intellectual pursuits. However, when I work to learn or improve, I do it for myself. I know that each improvement I make further crafts a more valuable and intelligent individual, so there’s absolutely no reason to stop learning.

Values

Most of my values don’t hold traditional merit per say. While my morals aren’t absent or anything ridiculous such as that, I’m not a stickler on any particular issue per say. Not many qualities in people will be a deal-breaker per say in a traditional sense. However, there are a few things to me that are absolutely crucial. Dependability is key; working with another who won’t keep their word is frustrating beyond belief. I also gravitate towards others with similar creative drive. To be able to stay on the same flow as those that I work with makes everything go smoother. I’ve experienced this personally in the professional dance company, Revolve, in which I was apprenticed. All of our members were trained at the same studio by many of the same teachers in the same general style; this created cohesion and collaboration beyond what is easily attainable in this art form. In one piece, we had to perform Tai Chi to “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Yo Yo Ma. Most of this was done in near silence, causing the groups connection to each other the most important part in achieving comprehensive timing. I also value fun. I’ve never been one to push it to the limit past my body or mind’s abilities; if a break would benefit myself or others more than slaving over a particular section longer, that break will be taken. If I’ve reached a creative block in choreography, I’ll walk away and do it another time. I value creative vision as well. I enjoy being with others who can visualize and create, who can make something amazing happen from nothing. If any perspective collaborator or co-worker possesses these qualities, they would be exquisitely pleasurable to work with, and I hope that I can uphold the same standard.

Work Habits

As a dancer, my work habits have several different sides to them. In class, I constantly strive to clear my mind of all outside distractions and problems, focusing only upon the present and my connection to the music and movement in that specific context. I often turn inward and avoid talking to others, something that I believe to be ultimately more constructive than anything.

As far as choreography goes, I prefer to have a large space and to be alone. Sometimes my choice for movement comes fast and linked – other times I slave over a particular phrase or sound to decide how to capture exactly what I’m hearing. Another technique I like to employ is improvising several times to a song, recording each different attempt, and then taking bits and pieces of what I like to make a piece with dynamics, transitions, and flow. With all forms of dance, caffeine is a welcome friend. As far as time limits go, I generally try to keep choreography attempts under four hours; at a certain point, my creative acumen decreases sharply, as the day’s ideas exhaust.

For other problems, whether they be practical, involved in programming (due to my second major being Creative Computing), or otherwise, I discover solutions in the often most unassuming place. Some of my greatest breakthroughs while taking advanced high school physics occurred in the shower, and this trend seems to repeat across subjects and art forms. I often set rewards of relaxation time between my accomplishments, which I feel results in much greater efficiency. I use my djembe as a sort of “creative cleanse,” as the rhythms transcend the reality that I live in. I work best in either quiet environments or in one where I control the sound, usually through whatever music I’m fixated on at the time. This can lead to choreography, and the cycle refreshes. I view my work habits as quite healthy and self-motivated, something that I am very thankful to have engrained into my person.

History

I was born 1/31/95 in a small home in Spring, Texas. For those unfamiliar with the Houston area, it’s about 45 minutes north of Houston, and is a suburb across from The Woodlands. I did a lot of sports when I was young, until I grew bored with them and started tap dancing at age 9. After a year at that studio, I switched to North Harris Performing Arts, where I promptly started taking Jazz, Ballet, and Hip Hop as well. I soon joined their competition team, and knew then that this would be where I spent the majority of my life for a total of nine years. I was afforded numerous performance opportunities throughout Houston (starting at roughly age 14) via the resident dance benefactor, Dance Houston. At age 16, I was given the amazing opportunity to be apprenticed in my teachers’ professional company, Revolve. With Revolve Dance Company, I was able to perform even more, and even got included in their dance-documentary, Revolve on Camera. I also was able to train the past 5 summers in New York City and Los Angeles at Steps, Broadway Dance Center, Edge, and The Sweat Spot for weeks at a time, helping expand my training immensely. I now attend Southern Methodist University as a part of their B.F.A. dance program, and look forward to all of the opportunities that this amazing establishment can afford me.

My purpose as an artist is to inspire. Revolve Dance Company inspired me as early as age 11 through their own repertoire and with that of Wes Veldink, which is one of the main attributions to why I dance today. Being inspired by such a visceral and humanistic art form as dance is a unique and very special experience, and I aim to provide that experience to as many others as possible. If I can significantly affect even a single audience member through my movement, then I see myself as a success. To inspire is my greatest joy, and I aim to do so more often and more poignantly as I develop my craft into something more and more breathtaking.

On Commercialism in Dance

Dance, through the past few years, has moved more and more into the forefront of the artistic landscape. No more is it a rarity to find someone who is a dancer with studios popping up left and right as well as dance receiving increasingly large levels of media coverage. However, what should have been a positive increase in popularity for dance, has come with a thorn. Dance has become increasingly commercialized, polluting the dance-scape by storm, sweeping through different regions with a plague of self-promotion and bastardization of the true artistry. The true artists are being put into the minority at great speeds, and it’s saddening to have to watch.

Most dancers in the U.S. receive at least their initial dance training at a local dance studio. They pay to take classes, and progress through said studio’s levels, whether they be numbered or labeled with different titles of “intermediate” or “advanced”. However, in the past decade, or even less, dance has grown as an industry. More and more studios are popping up, and it’s no longer a rarity to find someone who’s a dancer. This creates an even larger vacuum the terms of work for dancers that are actually dance jobs, as in a professional dance company. This causes one of two things to happen. Either the dancer, as talented as they are (and I have seen this far too many times at my own dance studio) leaves the world of dance behind, choosing a profession completely unrelated to dance and wasting the years of hard work put into shaping their body into an instrument of art, or accepts jobs that are on the more commercial level, such as television ads, auditions for So You Think You Can Dance or some other media crafted monstrosity, or back-up dancing for some show-school taught diva. I, as a dancer, cannot fathom any of this. For the first part, a wonderful artist is now wasted, unable to inspire others through their work. The commercial job route also wastes the artist, but in a far more disgusting way. The dancer’s artistry is perverted into what sells, and, not to be particularly down on SYTYCD, it seems that all America wants in their “favorite dancer” are big jumps and whacks of the legs that hold no meaning to either the dancer, the choreographer, or the audience, and also cause unhealthy, terrible strain on the dancer’s body that can end their career by age 25. Granted, this show was still true to the art form for a little while, but has quickly degraded into an athletic event rather than an artistic front. The dancers on this show are good too, which is what I find most saddening. These dancers should be out creating for others and themselves, not for the FOX network. While FOX is doing dance a favor by spreading the good news that dance is an art worth watching, this formerly kind gesture has twisted into something else entirely.

This issue first became apparent to me at dance competitions. These events in themselves are scary forms of commercialism, but that’s another essay. Professional dancers who are classically trained in ballet and apply it towards contemporary and jazz work run my dance studio. This results in high quality choreography with acute attention to detail in their work, exhibited directly via their professional company, Revolve, of which I am entering my second year of apprenticeship. Our host dance studio also runs a competitive company, which the dancers willing to spend most of their days dancing usually enter. When this company goes to competitions, the contrast between it and the other studios is as plain as black and white. Their costumes are unrevealing, their music is age-appropriate, and most importantly, the movement isn’t reminiscent of a rap video. However, other dance companies often exhibit the exact opposite, with ten year olds “shaking it” to songs such as “Right Round”, which is anything but the direction the dancers of tomorrow should be headed, and the most sickening part is that it isn’t their fault. With the media putting out reality shows like “Dance Moms” that exhibit this kind of cancer to the dance world, the American public eats it up, resulting in the degradation of the nation’s quality of dance increasing at exponential rates. An interesting facet of this is the regionalism in which it can be viewed in the United States. I have danced in both New York City and Los Angeles, and these two cities’ dance environments are as contrasting as night and day. In New York, the air is much more professional and reserved in its nature, while Los Angeles has an “I want to be in movies and television” motto to its dance. They each serve their purpose, but what’s best for the art form is quite obvious.

The aforementioned dance company essentially puts out younger versions of professional quality work. With Revolve choreographers working with the kids and guiding them towards a professional level, they have a chance to be evaluated for the professional company. This creates a goal-oriented progression system for the dancers, always working as hard as possible to get to that next level, where they can learn even more and experience an increasingly professional environment. The ethic this instills in the dancers is crucial. Too often are today’s dancers switching between studios, never acquiring a concrete value set or respect for those at a higher level. The average dancer has changed too, from what, in the past, has been a small percentile of artistically involved individuals is now a much larger percentile of “teeny bopper” types who can’t give half a toss about what their dance means to them and others. Dance competitions also make these dancers as competitive as the average sports player where as in an art form on a point based scale, holds no merit. This completely reshapes the ethic of the dancer as can be seen in any business, sports, or nearly any organization, where the individual’s performance is elevated over the integrity and value of the group.

Commercialism is sweeping through the dance world. Just as it consumed hip hop and sports (minus the Olympics), it threatens to swallow dance as well. While some argue that the East Coast is safe; one haven is simply not enough. Perhaps I’m just a counter progressive for this whole movement, but at least I know that I’m one of the last, few true dancers, and hopefully I can teach both directly and through example that the commercialist path isn’t the correct one; and if others do the same and we have an impact, maybe there’s still hope for dancers to retain truth in their work.

 

Obligatory Picture

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