Dance class is in session: Flail, Get Weird, Unlock Yourself

You’ll feel stupid, Angela Trimbur promised.

It was a Sunday, and Trimbur, a dancer and choreographer in an ’80s leotard worthy of Jane Fonda, was leading a class at a midtown Manhattan studio. Nearly 50 people were attracted by his pitch: a twirling afternoon in a not very serious but very intentional movement. The goal, Trimbur said, was to get the buzz of kids putting on a dance performance in the backyard.

“We’re equal, we’re 13 and we’re just going to do some silly choreography to show our parents before dinner,” she said. “It’s the vibe.”

To loosen inhibitions, Trimbur suggested some shouting. And kiss a stranger. The dancers – dressed in everything from ballet shoes with ripped tights to Converse and knee pads – were instructed to run across the room, wail to each other, then kiss. I participated: it was awesome and powerful and downright ridiculous. The energy was equal parts eighth-grade gym class and fair affirmation.

Then came the routine, on a 1986 synth cover of “You keep me hooked.” “I’m not counting,” Trimbur said, ordering us to slap our butts, roll on the floor, switch feet, kick and spin. Her credentials were less Balanchine and more “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” — she choreographs for faces, too. “FYI, I’m fidgeting about wild dancing,” she wrote in her newsletter.

Trimbur’s genre of intuitive, low-stakes, accessible champion movement found a new audience during the pandemic, as dancers and dance teachers migrated online. Ryan Heffington – the pop choreographer whose Los Angeles studio, the Sweat Spot, helped a “come one, come all” dance culture flourish there – had tens of thousands of followers (including Trimbur) in his Instagram sessions Live at the start of the lockdown. Even eminences like Debbie Allen took two steps to feed, finding unexpected communion, even as everyone literally danced to themselves.

Among this thriving crop of teachers and influencers, and the legions of creators getting into memes on TikTok, 40-year-old Trimbur stands out. Underpinned by an intimate and revealing aesthetic, she navigates fluidly from a sweaty group class at a phone screen to an ambitious project – dance is her public palliative for physical and emotional upheaval. And yet, she is having fun.

“With her, it’s really the endorphins, the feeling of being in love, in a way, that she can generate,” said filmmaker Miranda July, a friend and collaborator. Evan Rachel Wood, another friend and creative partner, trusts her implicitly: “I I would privately do my own dance videos, edit them and perform,” she said, “but I would never show anyone — except Angela, because that’s the energy that Angela brings. It’s a question of authenticity.

A lavish dance short, “Unauthorized,” which Trimbur choreographed and directed by Wood, which has yet to be released, is set to songs from Fiona Apple’s 2020 album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” Solo and with other artists, some traditional dance stars and some not, Trimbur leads scenes across the Los Angeles cityscape and its dusty moors. It starts out moving with smooth musical precision and morphs into something more wild, feminine and beautiful, articulating male-female power dynamics and rebirth. Wood and Trimbur have made it a way to deal with the pandemic and other struggles, they said.

Trimbur’s work is full of empathy for people who, like her, strive, July said. “All they have is their own bodies, which don’t work perfectly and can fail them in a million different ways, and they’re still alive, and she’s alive, and that’s that’s what dance is about – it’s there with sound.”

The fact that she unfolds all of her ups and downs on Instagram has endeared her to nearly 100,000 followers. In the pandemic-born social media dance boom, even established artists have found a new footing. Corn Heffington is a commercial success and spent a decade developing Sweat Spot (it closed during the pandemic), he said overwhelming, global response at SweatFest, his Instagram series, changed his life. It redefined for him what was possible by ridding dance of its intimidation factor, moving it away from perfection and helping its followers find joy. (He also raised substantial funds for charity.)

“It’s not about how high you kick, your flexibility – none of those traditional rules or metrics matter, in this new wave of thinking and including people,” Heffington, who planned to quietly start teaching in person again this month, said into a phone. maintenance. “It’s just because you want to; that’s enough. Let’s lower the bar – let’s bury that bar – and allow everyone to come and just participate.

In Los Angeles, where she lived until late last year, Trimbur had built a reputation as a specialist in community dance, hosting “Lightly Guided Dance Parties” at the Geffen Contemporary of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and evoking viral dance videos even before TikTok. (She’s also an actress, most recently playing a roller-skating influencer on HBO Max’s dark comedy “Search Party.”) She created and ran a female dance team who performed at local basketball games and inspired fierce devotion among his fans and members.

This crew and other friends had her wrapped up when, in 2018, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and then six related reconstructions and surgeries. She documented his treatment online, becoming a lawyer for other cancer patients, and building a support network through the Marco Polo video messaging app (about 500 people have joined, she said).

Between Trimbur’s health and the pandemic, the dance team disbanded. But after a ‘Search Party’ shoot last summer made her fall in love with Brooklyn — “I’ve never felt so alive, you know? New York is magical” — she packed 15 years of her life on the west coast and her two pet cockatiels, and moved in. Now she’s relaunching her career here, from a Bushwick loft she’s decorating in shiny black and white to look like an ’80s nightclub There are several disco balls, Vogue magazines from 1981 spread out on a panther coffee table, and a square white TV/VCR that was in her childhood bedroom.When I met her at home for an interview, she appeared in a VHS of “Dirty Dancing”.

She choreographs in the studio-style mirrors she has had installed and teaches a Zoom dance-fitness class – recently called “listless aerobics”, when you can’t handle the regular acute training zeal. (It’s set to emo.)

Trimbur is also developing a TV show about her life for a cable network, she said, with July serving as producer. They met when July cast her as a YouTube dancer in her 2011 film “The Future”; later they discovered a mutual affinity for real estate sales and started surreptitiously record improvised scenes the.

“She’s a really special combination of innocent and straight,” July said. “Sometimes she’ll say something and I’ll just want to write it down, because it’s perfectly worded, but not the therapeutic version, which is pretty rare these days.”

Trimbur grew up outside of Philadelphia, where her mother ran a dance studio — “When she picks up the phone, it’d be like ‘Pitter Patter Dance Studio, where everyone’s a star!’ students, learning all the routines. But when Trimbur was about 12, his mother became a Jehovah’s Witness, closed the studio, and took her children out of school. Trimbur’s formal dance education largely ended by then, but she spent hours at home, filming herself dancing — as she does now.

“The way I like to think about dance is the version of myself that’s, like, stuck inside my living room, just dancing to Mariah Carey,” she said. “That’s what brings me joy, just being free and not thinking about the right step.” Still, New York’s multi-faceted dance scene offers new possibilities, and Trimbur is already considering taking Broadway-style classes and holding adult recitals in school auditoriums. (A Valentine’s Day couples dance party she organized for the Bell House in Brooklyn quickly sold out.)

Dancing through and after cancer was her own revelation. Hosting “Slightly Guided Dance Parties” during chemo, she sometimes had to step off stage to regain her energy, she said, but she didn’t regret the gig. Dancing, she says, “is how I talk to myself.” She and Wood made Fiona Apple shorts right before she had her breast implants removed; as a dancer, Trimbur said, “they just felt like stapled Tupperware.” As part of the treatment, she also had her ovaries removed, so the film is an emotional memory, one of her last examples of performing with her old body.

“It was palpable watching Angela dance — I totally understood that’s how she deals with it,” Wood said.

Trimbur begins its in-person classes with students in the fetal position for a womb-shaped meditation, followed by careful listening to, say, “Magnificent” by Christina Aguilera. It’s not uncommon for people to cry, she said.

She wants to unblock them from those emotions when they start squirming: “Get weirder, girls, get weirder!” she boasted, in the course I attended.

In another class, she explained, “there’s a part in the song where you’re going to throw yourself on the floor like a toddler” throwing a tantrum — “but the face is cute.”

“I want to be able to make people laugh through dance without it being too much, like, honk, honk,” she told me, mimicking a schlocky comedian with a honk. There was a sense of joyous abandonment in this Manhattan studio — I’ve rarely seen so many students smile between rehearsals — as the screams mingled with the laughter.

His New York dancers are already addicted. “It’s like the church,” said Chelsy Mitchell, 32, a dance newbie who has been coming every week since Trimbur started her Sunday classes, traveling an hour and a half from her upstate home. “Dance therapy”.

Catherine McCafferty, a comedian and actress in her twenties, had the weight of 18 years of ballet and other dance training when she walked into Trimbur’s studio for the first time that afternoon. She had come because she liked what she saw on Instagram, but she was also new to New York and worried that she wouldn’t measure up. Instead of feeling judged, she felt liberated. “The only eyes that are on you are a bunch of other people who want you to shine,” she said.

For Trimbur, this atmosphere of validation is paramount. “I get so frustrated when someone says something like ‘I can’t dance’ or they say ‘I’m the worst’ or ‘no one wants to see me do this,'” she said. “It’s so sad because I know, scientifically, how happy you could be if you allowed yourself to move.”

About Bernice D. Brewer

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