Spotlighting Artists: Movers and Shapers

Public discourse is at the heart of the modern dance company, The Moving Architects. In marvelous alignment with that mission, TMA founder and artistic director Erin Carlisle Norton has created a podcast series about dance called Movers and Shapers. The World Dances spoke with Norton about her motivations for creating the podcast, her dance company, and the impact of sharing artists’ stories.

What made you decide to start the podcast?

I’ve been listening to podcasts for a long time and I’m a big fan of the interview format. I always looked for dance podcasts but there aren’t really any of them out there. I’ve had my dance company for eight years now and I always love doing new projects. I’m new to NYC and I thought it would be a great way to meet other people in the arts. We’re also sharing what’s going on in different niches of the dance world. I’m involved in the modern dance realm, but I’ve been learning so much about what’s going on in different creative areas and hearing so many amazing stories. I wanted to get that out there. It’s been really good. I’m really glad I started it.

Your company, The Moving Architects, has traveled as cultural ambassadors extensively. Could you please tell us about that?

Yeah! We’ve had a lot of opportunities to tour in the U.S., but also in Central Asia, Morocco, and Guatemala choreographing, teaching, and doing various community projects. We were contacted by the U.S. embassy doing cultural programming in Central Asia. They were setting up cultural exchange initiatives involving dance movement classes. We were there for two weeks and taught at probably 60 different locations, from main dance academies to super rural places. In each country we had these major performances, with hundreds of people at each show. We worked primarily with youth, and with lots of kids at orphanages. Their situations are really hard, but they just love dancing. It’s so inspiring.

Did your experiences traveling contribute to your desire to share stories through a podcast?

They definitely did. There’s something about using dance as a communicative tool that allows us to share common ground through dance. It then becomes easy to talk to people from that place of shared understanding. We’d be dancing together during the day with people with whom we had no spoken language in common, and then in conversations through translators we felt so connected. Going to these countries made it easier for me to want to talk to everyone. Everyone had something interesting to say and such interesting perspectives. 

Is it challenging to address dance through a disembodied, non-visual medium?

Ooh, good question. It’s been a transition. I’d done video editing and written many grant proposals, so I have that experience, but there’s something tricky about editing the voice. I want to make everything as clear as possible, and to gain audience is a bit of a jump. People are used to seeing videos and then learning more about an artist whose work they like. But with podcasts you don’t get to judge the work. You get to know someone’s stories and ideas as an artist. I think if you understand an artist and his or her perspective first, though, you might be able to get even more out of his or her work. Or you might become interested in seeking out something new that maybe you hadn’t been aware of.

What’s been the most impactful moment for you from your interviews?

I interviewed Carolyn Dorfman, who’s had her company, Carolyn Dorfman Dance, for 35 years. Her parents are both Holocaust survivors. I asked her about her childhood and how this has impacted her work. She was talking about how it’s impacted every single day of her life to be the child of Holocaust survivors. How she talked about it was so moving. It was a major moment for me.

What’s been the funniest moment?

I recently interviewed Paula Kellinger, a professor of dance at a Wilson College. I’ve known her for something like ten years now. She was talking about a piece she made in the 70s. It’s kind of a piece that nobody really wants to watch but everyone wants to do. It was so funny hearing her talk about the time period and the piece. I was just imagining this theater in the 70’s full of audience members bored out of their minds. We were laughing so hard. Editing it was actually really hard because I didn’t know how much of the laughter to leave in.

Has it impacted you as an artist to hear and share so many dancers’ stories? 

Yes. What I’ve been feeling from these interviews is that we’re all facing the same struggles. I’ve been interviewing a lot of people who are trying to make things. They want it to be fulfilling and for people to enjoy it. There’s something powerful about us all wanting the same things and struggling at the same time trying to make a living that I find very supportive. I don’t feel so alone. I think there’s a commonality that’s very comforting. I want people who listen to the podcast to feel the same thing. You’re not alone. Stick with it and try to make your way in the dance world!