There are those who go to Italy to eat, those who go to Italy to sight see, those who go to Italy to take selfies, those who go to Italy to fall in love, those who go to Italy to dance, and those who go to Italy for all of the above.
Views of Capri.
I had the pleasure of dancing for two weeks in the beautiful town of Sorrento thanks to Staibdance’s summer dance intensive. My days were filled with 9 to 5 classes and rehearsals that pushed me to be a better dancer and better student. With only an hour to an hour and a half of lunch, my days revolved more about movement than reality. I did not go to Italy to see the Coliseum, or to have late night adventures, which I could have and I’m sure some of the people I met in the intensive did. Even outside of my home, I am still a homebody.
Being strong with the wonderful Gavriel Spitzer.
After days of dancing for so long, from modern dance, to ballet, to Gaga (a movement approach created by Ohad Naharin, look him up ;)), to Batsheva Rep, all I wanted to do was to lie in bed and take it all in. Yet, the intensive included our dinner, a four-course meal in the hotel. Thanks to these meals, which would take up to two hours, I got to converse with some amazing people and learn more about them that their bodies could not tell me. I could analyze them during the day and think, they move like a ballerina, or they are really powerful, or they are very grounded, but as honest as the body can be, it cannot tell me everything. So, having these wonderful conversations livened me with details that I would have otherwise been unaware of if I we all were in different hotels eating by ourselves. Staibdance found a way of making a dance intensive an almost family reunion–a family that still does not know each other that well.
Now, after these two hours, all I really wanted to do was rest. To be honest I could have stayed in my room on my computer doing nothing. You can call me boring, I really don’t mind. The scenario for some nights called for going out to drink, or eating gelato. Most nights we ate gelato. There was this beautiful town right near our hotel called St. Agata, which entertained us with their late night gelato stores and their small but very welcoming bars. Here, we got to dance on top of tables and adapt choreography we had learned that day to some of the latest pop music. I have to admit this was very fun, but the old-man soul in me cannot do this every night, and I am very okay with this. Most nights I stayed up talking with my friends ,the Swedes. Yes, that is their title. Johanna, Josefin, and Siri are some of the most beautiful people I have met in my life, both inside and out. Meeting them gave me so much life and hope in humanity. They showed me what unconditional love looks like, this coming from strangers. They were so open and kind and had no reason not to be. They offered you their hearts with every conversation and proved that genuine love does exist, especially when you feel yourself surrounded by obligated love.
I will try not to gush too much about the Swedes, because I may overdo it. They really touched my heart and saying goodbye today was harder than the Skype break up I had to deal with at 1 am the third day I was there.
The Swedes and I (Left), The Beautiful Johanna and I (Right)
The reality is that everything happens for a reason. I strongly believe that. Anyone who knows me knows the internal struggle I had for what seemed like a month to choose between attending the American Dance Festival and Staibdance’s summer dance intensive. The American Dance Festival is one of the most prestigious dance intensives in America and hosts so many great artists and companies. My decision to not go there this year is more about what I wanted to do know than what they offer. I hope to attend in the future…I know I will. Yet, Italy called my name this year and for good reason.
I got to step away from everything I knew to meet some wonderful new people that changed my life. I met Nicole and Candace, my lunch and adventure buddies, who each hold beauty and power as people and movers. I met Dina and Gavriel, a Palestinian and an Israeli, and got to be present in conversations about the current situation in Gaza and Israel. To hear them have their conversation, filled with respect and thoughtfulness, proves that peace and understanding is possible. I met Nick, an actor who likes his scotch and is even more of a homebody than me. I met Caitlin and Laura, two sweethearts from Atlanta, and Laura is proof that an awkward Gaga partnership can lead to a beautiful friendship. I met Loris and I cannot explain to anybody how amazing she is, she can sing “Fancy” word for word, for me, that is a talent. I can’t rap, period. Now, these are only some of the people, and I could write a 10-page paper on everyone I met. Meeting all of these beautiful people, who now feel like family, is what made my experience magical.
Now the dancing, that was hard. I have been pushed before, but trying to do Bathsheva Rep in a full classroom is like being in a warzone. Yet, that is the reason I love dance intensives. You are surrounded by people who worked just as hard to be there and want to be there. Everyone is on the same page and is willing to be vulnerable to find something new. Every day I was exposed to something by the people around me, whether it be about themselves, about Italy or about me. It showed me possibilities I had never explored.The funny thing is that as beautiful as Italy was, it was simply a backdrop to this live painting that I got to be a part of.
I do feel the need to do the whole Oscar speech mention, because I had the pleasure of being taught by some amazing people. They are smart and talented, and I hope something they taught me stays with me; if I can reach a small level of their brilliance, then I have a shot of making it. Jennifer Salk is one of the smartest people I know that it is overwhelming. She is so smart yet so sweet ,and I had the pleasure of working with her as teacher and choreographer. Her knowledge of the body is amazing, and makes me want to go read an anatomy book. Kathleen Wessel is extremely down-to-earth and gorgeous. You watch her dance and you can not take your eyes off her. Her eye to detail helped in teaching phrasing, and my abs were in shape after her Pilates class; if only I could carry her around in my pocket. Gavriel Spitzer is one of the most jovial people I’ve met, yet get into a room with him teaching and it is a different atmosphere. His respect for Gaga and the way he teaches makes you not only sweat but find a new way of moving that you did not know yesterday. Sarah Hilmer is simply gorgeous. She taught a contemporary ballet class unlike any I’ve taken and I was so happy. She kept the center of gravity shifting, which I’ve always loved doing. She is also an extremely kind spirit and calls me Fernando Ricardo Antonio (not my real name, but she gets permission). I won’t leave out Nick Surbey who taught us acting for the ensemble. It was such a fun class, yet I learned more by doing than by simply talking about what it means to be in an ensemble. Last, but not least, George Staib, the mastermind behind it all, basically takes everything we do in the intensive and tries to put it in a nutshell so that we can find the practice of all these different forms in our body. He was the father figure of the intensive and cared so much about us. George never let anyone go ignored or unacknowledged.
Dinner with some of the best people.
If you ask me what I learned or what I took from this experience, I will probably tell you a rather generic answer, that is, generic for me. I am still absorbing what I learned in Italy and how this beautiful country took me in and then let me fly away a completely different dancer and person. If anything, I have realized that I love what I do, I love meeting new people, dancers are some of the smartest people out there, and that in the worst of times you are never truly alone. Italy was amazing, but most importantly, the people I met in Italy changed my life. I will never be able to thank them enough. I hope to love, dance, learn, and inspire as much as I was while there. I may be a homebody, but when you have great people to visit you at your home (like the day 10 dancers just walked into my room) then you will always be comfortable staying at home.