How I Became an Intimacy Choreographer

Following the Broadway World press release about my upcoming work with Measure for Measure Theatre company, I got a question about how I got into intimacy choreography. And it seemed like a really good 3rd installment to the intimacy series on this blog.

Vol 1: What is Intimacy Direction? Published in July.

Vol 2: Why do we have/need intimacy directors/choreographers? Published last week.

Vol 3: How did I get become one? Published now.

Past

I took my first intimacy for the stage workshop from Laura Rikard of Theatrical Intimacy Education in the summer of 2018. I searched out intimacy work, not because I had had a negative experience with a scene partner, director, or choreographer. Rather, I wanted to make sure that I, as a teacher and creator, had the best practices available, to do the best job, telling the best story, in ways that served my performers and audiences, that I could!

I had recently choreographed a musical for high school students in which one student was distressed about the onstage kiss, because this student had never kissed anyone, ever. And the director didn’t set it or offer any thoughts or even seem to want to rehearse it with them. Which I do understand, as intimacy with minors is a difficult thing, complete with legal issues on top of power dynamics and teenage hormones. So as the choreographer, I set it- mainly to ease the anxiety experienced by the students.

In doing this, I thought, “It is so weird that there is no standard for doing this!” So, I started looking to see who else was experiencing this and working on these types of encounters. I found TIE and Intimacy Directors International online, and read everything they had in the free resources. Shortly thereafter, the South Florida Theatre League brought in Laura.

I went to the workshop expecting it to be packed! This was amazing, relevant work, that people in all levels of theatre, not to mention dance and opera, would benefit from. It wasn’t. I mean, there was a good group. But for a topic I thought was so important, I expected more humans to be interested.

In that first workshop, I realized how much my own choreographic and performance experiences, and particularly my work in Laban Movement Analysis supported the idea of choreographing intimacy. I also realized that this was a skill that needed more learning and practice.

So, 6 months later, I enrolled in a 3-day workshop for performers, choreographers, and directors with Tonia Sina and Alicia Rodis, 2 of the co-founders of IDI. We learned about the Pillars of the IDI Method, the history of the work, and I even got to practice choreographing.

So, a little on the history. Tonia wrote her Master’s Thesis on Intimacy for the Stage in 2004. This work is not new, nor is it reactionary to the #metoo movement. It has, however, shown its relevance and importance even more as performers are speaking out against the abuses they’ve experienced in their respective rehearsal rooms. And again, this affects not just theatre, but dance and opera as well. But, Tonia was drawn to this work because she saw a need- we choreograph dances and fights. We coach text and dialect. But what do we do to prepare, protect, and professionalize intimate encounters on stage? And she found the answer to be “nothing documented nor consistent”. So, she set out to change that.

After my 3 days with IDI, I was interested in using and pursuing intimacy choreography as part of my creative work. In order to certify with IDI, one needs to have a certain number of hours of training with them. So, my next step was to apply for their 9-Day Choreographers’ Pedagogy Intensive.

I did, and was accepted! I got to train with intimacy choreographers and directors from literally all over the world in May. We were coached by the women leading this field in theatre, from regional to Broadway, and on TV and film. At the conclusion, I felt ready to take this work back to South Florida.

Present

Now, I’m hoping to apply for their apprenticeship program and earn my certification. I’m also going to Salt Lake City in November to work with TIE again. The two organizations have different approaches to the work, and I appreciate what each one has to offer me as a learner and a professional artist.

I’ve also been adding to my learning by taking classes and reading books on mental heath and trauma, conflict negotiation, and ethical issues surrounding touch and intimacy. This is definitely not a field that one can just learn a movement technique and call it a day.

Just this week, a press release went out on BroadwayWorld announcing me as the Intimacy Choreographer for the season at Measure for Measure Theatre here in Fort Lauderdale. I’m so excited to work with this company- they’ve shown a sincere dedication to offering relevant stories to audiences, while honoring the humanity of their artists. That they would be the first South Florida company to have an IC for a whole season fits their values!

Future

My company, Momentum Stage, is bringing in IDI for 1-day workshops in October. Registration will open after Labor Day, so pop over to the website and subscribe to our newsletter so you are the first to be notified!

As I complete my Laban Movement Analysis certification, I’m doing my final project on Intimacy Choreography, and am excited to carve my niche in this work and in South Florida.

I am actively pursuing other contacts, and would love to work with any dance, theatre, or opera company that finds this work valuable! Contact me! As I said in last week’s post, I got into this not because I think the performing arts are full of predators. There are some. But, rather, I believe our arts organizations are full of people who want to do the right thing, and tell meaningful stories. This work, and me, are resources for them.

Thanks for reading all about intimacy! If you found it informative or helpful, please share this blog series with your co-workers, artistic leaders you know, etc. And leave me a comment! Do you still have questions about intimacy- what or why it is, my story? Leave them in the comments! I love talking about this!

Why "Intimacy Direction"?

About 6 weeks ago, I posted about what “intimacy direction” is. But, even knowing what it is, some people don’t know why it is. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on that, based on some of the things I’ve been told about why intimacy direction is not necessary.

  1. Our director has been doing this forever, so we don’t need one of those.

  2. It’s just a fad, it would not be a good use of the company’s money.

  3. Actors should be able to do their jobs, and this is part of it.

  4. Our director is a woman, so we don’t need one of those.

1. Our director has been doing this forever, so we don’t need one of those.

I’m not going to make you hire me, nor will any of my colleagues. I’m a resource; just like a dance or fight choreographer, or a dialect or text coach. I’ve had specific training for this work. I built it onto my dance degree and over a decade of work as an actor, choreographer, and director. I’ve added to it with my own studies in Laban Movement Analysis, the ethics of touch, and trauma-informed teaching. I take my job seriously, and I think it’s a worthwhile field. If you need me, hire me!

2. It’s just a fad, it would not be a good use of the company’s money.

I recognize that most theatre companies do, indeed, operate on small and tight budgets. People donate to non-profits because they believe in the work they are doing, and/or the humans doing that work. For companies that hire an Intimacy director, it likely makes sense for who they are as a company, and their donors will get that, because they already believe in their mission. Also, if it’s just a fad, it will fade away, and then you won’t have to worry about this any more.

3. Actors should be able to do their jobs, and this is part of it.

Yup. It absolutely is. And our jobs, as members of creative teams, is to make sure that the actors have the tools and supports necessary to do their jobs safely and well. We have dialect and text coaches. We have choreographers for dances and fights. And now, we have intimacy choreographers.

There is another version of this comment that goes something like, “Well, they already know how to kiss/have sex/get out of bed in their underwear because they do that in their real life.” Maybe, I don’t know, that’s not really my business. Actors also sit, stand, and talk in their real lives, and we still think it’s important to make them rehearse those things in specific ways!

Also, acting is not their real lives. It is their job. The job of those of us in charge of steering productions includes creating a professional working environment, that our actors can walk away from at the end of the day and return to their real lives, without entanglements, trauma, or even a nagging “I wonder if that was really what s/he was looking for there”?

Audra McDonald worked with an intimacy director for Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. She didn’t feel like having an intimacy director was redundant or insulting. And, if it’s good enough for Audra, it should be good enough for all of us! Read what Audra had to say to Variety here. Check out my personal FB profile for a ton more links on the experiences of her and other professionals in working with intimacy directors.

4. Our director is a woman, so we don’t need one of those.

Oh. Good. Phew. Women don’t abuse their power and privilege. They also know all the things about all types of intimacy, inherently, simply because…estrogen. Done and dusted. Except, no. None of that is true.

RAINN does not offer statistics regarding the gender of sexual predators, but we can rest assured the number is not 0. Likewise, the abuse of power or privilege imbued in a leadership position is not specific to the male gender.

And, being a woman does not, in fact, make you knowledgable about all things sex/love/romance related. It’s like saying, “Our director is a man, so we won’t need a fight choreographer, because…testosterone.” My friend Yarit Dor, who does both intimacy and fight at the Globe in London (yeah, that one), just wrote about this today on her Facebook profile. So this is a global issue we could all be better at.

It’s also a very ridiculous sentence that reinforces the binary and gender norms. Don’t do that.

Pushback like the above comments comes from 1 of 2 places:

  1. Complete misunderstanding or a simple lack of knowledge of what intimacy direction IS and what it can bring to a production.

  2. Fear

The answer to the first is easy: knowledge. Besides the websites for Intimacy Directors International and Theatrical Intimacy Education, there are many, many articles regarding the use of intimacy directors for the stages of Broadway and off-Broadway and intimacy coordinators on set, particularly at HBO. For those who are members of SDC and/or SAG-AFTRA, those unions have published statements as well. I even wrote a quick hit on this for my blog last month.

The second however likely has no answer. Maybe these people are afraid that others think they are incapable of doing their jobs well. Or are afraid of losing power. Or are afraid of looking weak if they accept help. Or are afraid of being exposed as someone who has abused their power in the past. Or maybe they just fear change. Knowledge will help, but it likely won’t be enough. Until they look deeply at what they are afraid of and WHY, and deal with that underlying cause, fear will continue to make them reactive and negative about intimacy direction.

Part of the reason I was drawn to this work is NOT because I think the theatre and dance worlds are full of abusive predators trying at every waking moment to take advantage of the people they work with. On the contrary, I think our world is full of good people, who genuinely try to do the right thing and a good job. And having procedures and practices in place to help them do that makes their lives easier, and protects them from being lumped in with those who do abuse their power.

So, I’ll go on, doing my job, for whichever companies would like to hire me. Change, as they say, is inevitable. Or as Imgard Bartenieff said, “the only constant is change”. And I’m excited to be a part of it.

Sacraments and Symbols- Embodiment and Empathy

This post was originally a discussion paper in my Feminist Theology 2 class in my PhD coursework.

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stale,

After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,

“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,

After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,

“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Well that she said it to him then,

For dry old men,

Brocaded robes belying barrenness,

Ordain that she not say it for him now.

The poem, written by Frances Croake Frank, that begins Susan Ross’s chapter, is a beautiful example of embodied theology intersecting with art. The refrain of Jesus’ words, “This is my body, this is my blood” put into a woman’s mouth, in specific situations where we know women were present in his life, create vibrant, breath-catching images (Ross, 185-6). The final stanza starkly contrasts the role of the women in Jesus’ life to the role of those who follow him today. This entire chapter has helped me hone my own vision for my work, and raises interesting questions in the meeting of art, body and theology.

A theology of embodiment is at the heart of Christianity, and of a feminist approach to it. Feminist theology holds women’s experiences critical to its formation, and these experiences cannot be separated from the body which has them. Ross names this as a “feminist approach to sacramental theology: the incarnation, the centrality of embodiment and all that it implies, women’s lived experience, gender roles and ‘real presence’’ (186). Sacramental theology is typically identified with the latter through the use of tangible symbols: bread and wine, water, oil, hands, etc. All of these symbols are received and processed by a physical body. Ross, based off the work of Schillebeeckx, beautifully calls them “places where human beings live out in a symbolic way the life of the gospel” (191). Christ is the ultimate form of God becoming real as he took on a human body, to live in community with us. Sacramental theology is an embodied theology, and therefore is a feminist theology.

Ross writes of the women in the Middle Ages, “But most found in the Eucharist a confirmation of the sacred significance of the body which, to some extent, ran counter to the denigration of women’s embodiment taught by the church” (189). The Eucharist is a reminder that, even as it is a symbol, the body is also a symbol of the holy, of the redeemed, of the creation and the Creator. The Eucharist is a reminder that everything God created was named “good”, and that includes our bodies. It is a reminder that without a body to show love, and without a body to take it in, the sacrifice of Christ would not have happened. Embodiment is key to the Christian faith. And yet, many Christians try to deny their bodies and physicality. They particularly try to deny the agency of the bodies of others- by legislation, by judgement, by manipulating scripture.

These moments of judgement and dismissal come from an ancient Greek dualism that still rules in the Western world, the body is less than the soul. And yet, nothing in Christian theology shows that to be true. Ross writes, “A Catholic feminist perspective bases its critique on these dualistic conceptions on a retrieval of the Incarnation, seeing God’s taking on the condition of humanity as God’s own self-expression” (195). She goes on to state that, “Sacramentality grows out of human embodiment and its connection to the natural world, not in contrast to it” (195). As a language of symbols and practices, sacraments must be given, experienced and interpreted through bodies. Therefore, a feminist theology of sacraments “...argues for a closer connection between nature and history, body and soul” (Ross, 195). In this way, a feminist theology of sacraments could defeat not just patriarchal relationships in the church, but also current practices of disparaging science and destroying the Earth that often occur there, under the guise of “Creationism” or “trusting God to take care of it”. If we see ourselves and equal to and connected to the other, it becomes much harder to hurt them.

In education, we call this seeing “empathy”. It is one of the great gifts of practicing theatre and dance. When you take on a role, you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You gain a different perspective. And often, that practice changes you. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, considering the issue from a side that you are not on, or even considering an issue you didn’t even know was an issue makes that person who is different, that opinion you do not agree with, not quite so easy to dismiss. Ross likens this to a process Freud identified in young girls, called identification. She writes, “But women’s sense of ambiguity, reluctance to make separations, and tendency to identify with the other are closer to the heart of Christian sacramentality than the strict separations that have become pervasive in much sacramental theology and practice” (Ross, 199).

A feminist Sacramental theology is possible and sensible. In creating such a method, we value the experiences of the bodies that give and receive the sacraments. We value both genders, and all abilities, races and ages. An embodied theology sees all as created, all as good, all as equal. Ross writes, “A feminist theology of ordained ministry takes seriously human embodiment, in all its various forms, as the place where humans encounter God” (203). This is why we must have bodies, and this is why those bodies are holy. Which calls feminist theologians to broader fight than church practices: “The challenge of feminism to Christian theology is the expression of the full humanity of women and men, not only ‘in Christ,’ but in society ...” (Ross 198).


Ross, Susan A. (1993) "God’s Embodiment " in Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ed. Freeing Theology. New York: HarperCollins.

Art Education: Process v. Product. Originally published 5.2012

April was full of events. Actually, most of them occurred all in 1 week! My high school students presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream and their semester dance performance. My students at Hedgerow performed for a fundraiser. Through it all, I was coaching, correcting, writing program notes, performing as well, and just generally hoping for the best. 

Weeks like that are the best and the worst. We celebrate as all of our hard work, scolds, suggestions and teaching become a beautiful final product. And, we worry that it won’t. Somehow, it always seems to “come together”. Yet, I’m concerned that miracle of adrenaline is something we take for granted. Do we, as teachers and directors, just trust it will “come together”, and then not instill in our students the importance of discipline, rehearsing as you would perform, and taking pride in one’s work, as much in the process as the product? 

If we do not encourage our students to be disciplined- prepared, on time, respectful of the process, their peers and their authorities- we miss a chance to prepare them for college and jobs, where they will not have us there to remind them. 

If we do not have them rehearse as they perform, we do not teach them that the arts, and most things in life, are group efforts. That the actions (or lack thereof) of one person has a ripple affect on the group, with consequences s/he may not foresee when focused on him/herself.

If we do not encourage our students to take as much pride in the process as in the finished product, we do not actually encourage learning. We are telling them that the end is all that matters. We do not take mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, rather we just focus on the happy ending (see chapter 1 of Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine). And in that, we don’t encourage creativity. If we cannot teach our students to try, to fail, to try again, to seek ways to improve we are not educating them. We are not creating a generation of resilient, innovative thinkers and doers, who operate with perspective and insight. We are simply teaching them to get to the end. By whatever means necessary. 

The arts in education should not be about just getting to the end- the performance, the final piece, the presentation. The arts in education should be a time to teach the value of exploration, to embrace learning and process as just as important as the finished product. If you never start, you can never finish. If you do not learn as you go, you will not end up in any place different than where you started. 

Dancing Together v. Dancing at the Same Time. Originally published 8.21.17

One of my freelance gigs is coaching a competitive salsa team. Not in salsa, mind you. That is not my forte. But I use my Laban work and my theatre experience to coach them in performance quality and characterization. For this coming season, I have another goal for them- ensemble. 

In the salsa scene, teams compete and they perform at Socials (events that include social dancing and performances). I recently attended a social, and I found I had a HUGE problem with many of the performances. These "teams" of dancers looked like anything but. They were all dancing the same choreography, at the same time. But they were not dancing together. There was a serious lack of ensemble. 

Ensemble is a tricky thing to teach. It is also difficult to maintain in a high pressure setting. So I do understand that it is difficult to get students or those new to performing to grasp it. But it is part of the "it factor" that sets apart a performance. You can feel it when it's there, and you can feel it when it's not.

When a team is dancing together, they draw the audience in. We see connections and we want to be a part of that. When a team is dancing at the same time, they alienate their audience. The audience is constantly reminded that this is a group of people doing choreography, not dancing together. They are constantly confronted with faces and body language that says "look at me, doing this cool thing!" Every member is out for his/herself. The audience feels overwhelmed because they are trying to watch 12 soloists, rather than 1 team. Visually and emotionally, it's way too much. Each member of the audience ends up watching only 1 person, or worse, stops watching altogether and is checking Facebook on her phone. 

When we dance together, we are part of a movement. We are part of tribe that rises, or falls, together. I can only look good, or do well, if I give you what you need to look good or do well. When we dance at the same time, I'm worried only about me, what I need to do or where I need to go next. And god help you if you are in my way. 

There is no loyalty, or true teamwork, in dancing at the same time. It is simply an individual feat of memorization and execution. Dancing together, now, that is a different matter. I must still have my individual part, but I must be willing to sacrifice it at any time to the rest of the whole. Otherwise, the team ceases to exist. 

Dancing, particularly social dancing, is about being together. It is about connection, and what connects us-- our bodies. We mediate this world in our bodies. In the world of dance this is very visibly true. When I dance simply at the same time as someone else, my body is not a means of connection. At best, it is a request to be seen. And that request is valid, don't get me wrong. Everyone wants to be seen, and validated, for who she is. But what is the good of being seen, if we don't see anyone else there to share the space with? At worst, it's a tool of self-indulgence. And there's a time and place for that, too. But it's not in partner dancing, where someone is trying desperately to connect to you. And definitely not on a team of partnerships. 

Creating an ensemble is creating connection. I can feel your energy, find your path, use your momentum-- all without using my eyes. So my eyes are free to find yours, to solidify our connections. My eyes are free to look out for my team. Or to invite the audience to join the dance.