Marie Tollon: What kind of class do you teach at ODC?
Lizz Roman: Release technique. I teach a 2 hour modern dance class that’s a blend of release technique, yoga, contact improvisation, and conditioning. I demand a lot of the students who take my class, I wear them out and people come looking for that.
MT: How would you characterize your teaching style?
LR: For me as a teacher, it’s about the bones. I believe that’s important for people to understand. I teach dancers to understand their dancing by asking first what is the movement, what part of my body needs to move. I challenge students to understand their bodies better by mixing different movement disciplines into a fun dance class. We really dance big. By the end of class, we are flying all over the floor and through the air. We get released!
MT: Could you describe your training and performance experience?
LR: I was born in 1960, the sixth of seven kids in Rockford, Illinois, about 90 miles from Chicago. I started dancing when I was three. I grew up a little ballerina. I was a good ballet dancer, but I was just as happy out playing basketball, kickball, and riding my bike. By high school, I was doing lots of theater and music, but I really liked dance. I was practical, so I studied theater in St. Louis and Chicago, and kept up my dancing, but didn’t see myself making a living doing it at that point in my life.
In 1984, I moved to the Bay Area to attend graduate school. I planned to get a PhD in psychology. I would go to dance classes when I wasn’t working or studying, and within a couple of months, people were asking me to perform. It was really fun. I had always wanted to make my own work, but had no clue as to how to go about it, so after making a few dances in my late 20’s, I decided to stop. After getting married and having a child, at age 31, I injured my back severely while dancing. After going through rehab, I decided to go to graduate school for dance. I wanted to learn about making dances, immersed myself in composition. In 1995, I put on my first show and it sucked, but I learned a lot from it. I had made some really good work, but producing work is more than just the choreography. My dances were greatly informed by my years doing theater and my style slowly evolved into the site-based work I do now. I am currently working on a dance that will be performed at the CIVICORPS Job Training Center in Oakland in September.
MT: Did you heal your back?
LR: I did, and I ended up really growing as a dancer as a result of all I went through. I credit my back injury with having given me a new career as a Pilates instructor and business owner, as well as preparing me to teach dance technique that focuses a lot on injury prevention and recovery.
MT: What sets ODC apart from other organizations?
LR: It’s an organization created by three wonderful women, who have made an amazing place for dance. It’s a place for dancers to train, for dances to be made, for dances to be seen and of course for people to dance! When I moved here, I was intimidated by ODC. ODC was “serious dance,” a lot like Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago. At both places, you had better get your dance on! Once I started wanting to make work, ODC had everything I needed; dancers, performance opportunities, emerging artist programs and eventually for me, a job. From about 1993 to 2000, I worked in several capacities at the theater, eventually acting as director in 1998. In 2001, I made my first really complex site dance, moving two audiences simultaneously through the entire ODC theater building while 11 dancers performed 8 1/2 dances. It was a big break for me. It was complicated and crazy and hard to do and I had to rehearse in the building; they were lovely hosts.
ODC has also been a big part of my teaching career. I started teaching technique in the old theater building back in 1993. I have continued teaching in some capacity for them since then. And as if that’s not enough, I have also had the privilege of acting as the mentor for the PILOT program, an emerging artist program that teaches production skills and offers choreographic mentoring. ODC certainly has also given me a lot of opportunities. All the people I trained with as a dancer, all the dancers I have trained, all the artists I have connected with, all the shows I have seen, produced, danced in and finally all the lasting relationships I have made because ODC was there, a place for me to be a dancer.
I first walked through the doors at 3153 17th Street in 1984. 31 years later, I walk in to their new beautiful Commons every Saturday at 10am to teach, proud to be on staff at such an amazing space. ODC has deeply shaped my dance career, acting as a creative incubator for a nice kid from the Midwest, who just loved to dance. I really want to thank ODC, Brenda, KT, Kimi and all the amazing people I have met and worked with as a result of all the opportunities they gave me.
Lizz teaches an intermediate/advanced Release class on Saturday mornings at 10am. Tickets for This Beautiful Space “DANCING@CIVICORPS” are available here.