A Space for Everyone: A Conversation with Christine Cali | By Maya Kitayama

Christine Cali performing with Cali&co

Christine Cali performing with Cali&co

Maya Kitayama: Tell us briefly about your training and performance experience.

Christine Cali: I actually came into dance pretty late. I was 19, at a community college on the East coast and discovered a dance class, but grew up very athletic, [involved in] lots of sports. There was something about taking that dance class and realizing I could have all that physicality and turn it into creativity as well that was a very big turning point for me. I started really training in dance then, went to undergrad, went to grad school, started a dance company, performed with a bunch of people in New York, travelled all over the place because of dance, and still came into it very late. This is part of the reason why I teach classes the way I do, which is very inclusive, because anyone can enter the studio and hold space for classes.

MK: How does your athletic background inform your teaching?

CC: We spend a lot of time with the floor, pushing and pulling, and doing things that are very functional; things that everybody—literally every body—can do. Pushing, pulling, spiraling, a lot of improvisation, that eventually leads into conditioning and more specificity in the movement, but what I really focus on is gross motor, big momentum movement, really utilizing the gift of the physical body.

MK: What do you try and communicate to your students?

CC: First and foremost, for me, that this is a collective and community environment. Yes, dance is the vehicle, and we’re in that room for training and rigorous movement and experiential process, but we’re also in a group doing that. Seeing each other, moving together, there is so much connection and physical contact in my classes, but always we’re holding a space where everyone is welcome. Diversity is what we want. And then the movement stuff is not secondary, because it’s a dance class, but everybody can move and there is space for everyone to do that, for me in the dance room. And then on the other side, just getting people super sweaty, warm, in a safe way. How do we move fully and find our authentic way of moving and do that in a safe way? Functional and sensorial.

MK: What do you take away from teaching?

CC: At this point, especially teaching here, at ODC, my dance students are my community. They’re my friends, they’re my family. It’s like church, it’s like every time I come to class I have people that are there religiously, regularly, consistently. And then they carry forward all of that connection and movement to meet new people who come into the space.  So there is this sort of layering out of connection that I find really cool, and really anchoring for myself.

MK: I read that when you choreograph, you try and cater to the dancers you have to work with. Do you utilize that same philosophy while teaching a class?

CC: I have a very clear progression in my class from the warm-up into phrase work. However, that progression at the top of class is so experimental that it gives students— dancers—the opportunity to discover their own pathways, their own connections, their own ways of moving. But it’s very functional, and it builds along the way. I think it’s different from a lot of dance classes, we’re not facing the mirror just staring at ourselves, we’re actually really in and out of the floor and dancing with each other. I think that’s something that’s maybe a little different about the class that I teach. I think it’s important to have the specificity of choreography, because that’s how we find muscle memory, and how we find intention in movement. I try to balance that with “what do you bring to this? How does your body do this?” I left the idea a long time ago that a dancer must be learning to do exactly what I do, that’s just not where I live in dance. I might have a format or a model of a phrase, but I want the dancer to seek their potential inside of that phrase. That’s most important, and that’s probably the most important thing in my teaching anyway. Dance is the vehicle, but it’s about holding a space for humans to seek their potential.

MK: How have your teaching methods changed over time?

CC: There was a time when I was like, “just do what I’m doing!” as a choreographer and teacher, two decades ago, when I first started teaching. But what I’ve discovered is that’s a part of becoming a better teacher; learning how to transfer that information. I’ve been in the physical practice of teaching and dancing long enough now that I have some real sense of those concepts and how to share them and reach people from various levels with imagery, clear language, and specific words, and then just sensing and closing your eyes. Just trying to find a synthesis of senses to bring it all together.

MK: Do you have any moments or memories that were particularly significant or inspiring?

CC: I have lots of them all the time. I’ve really committed myself to not just my own individual evolution in dance, but to being an open channel and reaching as many people as possible in the deepest way possible. I have [these moments] all the time, I have students that I come across or see in New York or when I was living in Korea. Everywhere I go, I run into someone that has been in a dance class with me. I find that amazing, and I’m not kidding, everywhere I go. I’m obsessed with remembering people, and names, which I learned from David Dorfman, I have to give him some credit for that. I try to really see a person, remember their name. As soon as I see a person dancing, I know them. And I see people everywhere, everywhere I go. I think that’s one of the coolest things I’ve experienced.

MK: What about ODC sets it apart from other dance schools and centers?

CC: First and foremost, the space. There are nooks and crannies all over to just stretch and hang out. You could spend your whole day here, and no one wants to kick you out. It’s a really open space. The studios are gorgeous, but aside from that, what I’ve found is the community that has been cultivated here has been generous and open. Some of the dancers during my weekend classes, I call them “weekend warriors” because I have people that have been coming to class every Saturday or every Sunday, and I take other classes and they’re in those classes, so I just think the cultivation of community and people who love to dance [is inspiring]. From their teen program to their professional program to people who love to dance but aren’t professional, all those people can be in the same space, in the same room. What else could you ask for?

Christine teaches advanced release/contemporary on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10am. She teaches an intermediate contemporary class on Saturdays at 2pm, and beginning release class on Sundays at 11:30am. 

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