Interview: The Others Dance

Following is an interview with Carly ‘Charlie’ Finan, regarding the formations of The Others Dance

When did The Others get off the ground?

The Others are based off of a project I did as my senior thesis in dance in undergrad, in 2016. The idea to revisit and reimagine it had been itching at the back of my mind for years until the opportunity to rent our current space arose and it became feasible to host a weekly class, which eventually evolved into a weekly rehearsal to prepare for shows. Our first night moving together was February 16, 2022, so we just celebrated our first birthday!

What are the parameters of the group?

The first thing to note: we dance in full face masks! This is to help dancers cast off their externally perceived identities and give space for true play and exploration. The Others aims to be a space where creative movement/dance is accessible to people who do not have a dance background, and a space where folks who do have dance experience can reinvigorate their practice by getting some distance from some of the more technical aspects of their craft. My own movement background is incredibly varied, and even my formal dance education spans several genres, but my lack of childhood ballet experience felt like an enormous roadblock to my participation in so much of the dance world until I studied modern from a somatic, or body-focused, perspective in college. This project carries inspiration from that experience: when we’re in class-mode, we teach improvisational movement skills to help students feel confident trying new things and incorporating physical contact into their practice. When we’re in rehearsal-mode, we utilize skills and inspiration from class to co-create long-form pieces of partially improvised choreography. Class is a gateway into the project for new participants, and the cast of a new performance piece is determined by interest and availability rather than an audition.

Where is the rehearsal space?

We rehearse in a studio on the second story of 1250 Niagara Street, which is also the home of Equal Standing Pelvic Floor Rehab and Physical Therapy.

Where are the shows held?

We got our start performing with the Buffalo Infringement Festival: our first run of shows had us performing in three incredibly distinct venues, so building work that could function on each stage was an awesome choreographic challenge. Our first-ever solo performance was held on January 14th, 2023, at the BOX Gallery in the Buffalo Hostel. For our next show on March 17th and 18th, we are creating a site-specific work for our home studio at 1250 Niagara.

Who are the orchestrators?

I am the director and founder of the project, but due to the nature of partially improvised work, all of the dancers have some authorship of the final product. I write the poetry that is often included in the music, as well.

Who are the collaborators involved with the project?

Again, because the movement is partially improvised, I consider all of the dancers to be collaborators. Those who are involved consistently with the project in a way that they might be called company members are: Tevin Liao (who has been with the project since its inception in 2016), Dawn Spears, Lauren Lerner, Angela Lopez, and my spouse, Devin Finan. Folks who are new to us for this show are Meghan Arnold, Nichole Cook, Jean Conway, and Shayanna Merced. Angela Lopez and Lauren Lerner collaborated with me on a visual art installation for our show at BOX Gallery. I collaborate regularly with Bryan Johnson to create original sound scores for the movement. Noelle Beenau made some of the costumes we use.

Are these shows “all original”?

“All” is a strong term for two reasons: one, because we do often incorporate named elements that are not ours into the work, such as in our show at BOX Gallery, where we utilized the track “The Man Who Married a Robot” by The 1975 in an otherwise fully original sound score; and two, because modern dance and contact improvisation are both well-established traditions with specific movement vocabularies that we are always pulling and learning from. There is movement in one of our pieces that we built by watching an international circus company’s Instagram reel of a specific trick and then making tweaks for our skill level. There is movement in another piece that is actually part of an exercise we do in class, and it’s an exercise I learned in theatre class in the seventh grade that’s based on a Lucille Ball sketch. One of the most exciting things to me about this type of performance art is the way the lineage of creative movement can be traced, be it back to ballet, cultural dance, pop culture, or somewhere else. We are always creating our own choreographies, but they are always in conversation with the disciplines they draw from.

What is the range of performances?

For the show we are performing on March 17th and 18th, there will be two pieces of choreography presented with a brief intermission, beginning at 8:00pm both nights. One piece is currently in-progress, and it will be a site-specific choreography designed to be performed in our space at 1250 Niagara. The other, “Give and Take,” is a reimagined version of the first piece we ever showed at the Infringement Festival, altered to reflect our growing company and a different stage. Because we are inviting audiences into our rehearsal space for this show, we have full autonomy over our “stage,” and are choosing to present our work in the round with mostly standing or floor-sitting room available for guests.

The Others rehearsing in the space at 1250 Niagara Street (from the 1/14 show). Photos taken by Pat Cray aka Painkiller.

Do you train the dancers/performers, or are they already accomplished?

Dancers’ backgrounds vary hugely: some have long, professional dance careers and others are engaging in creative movement for the first time in their lives. At present, one commonality is that every company member has prior performance experience, whether that be from theatre, aerial dance, music, or martial arts. That said, there’s not necessarily an advantage to a dance background for this type of movement: myself and the other dancers who have more technique-based histories often discuss the restraints past training can put on one’s creative mind. What I’m teaching in class is often to do with trust-building, comfort, and decision-making more than it is to do with where a leg or an arm goes. We have class in addition to rehearsing in large part so that we can continuously learn from one another, and I see reciprocal learning relationships develop between cast members of very different backgrounds all the time.

Is this considered modern dance? Where is the inspiration drawn from?

I do call this modern dance, yes. The basis for the use of our masks lies in Laban Movement Analysis and stage theatre training techniques. I draw a lot of inspiration personally from Merce Cunningham, whose approach to dance composition focused heavily on chance and involved a continuous collaboration with the musician John Cage. Right before beginning The Others, I was cast in a piece by Brooklyn-based choreographer Kimberly Bartosik through her residency at Torn Space Theater: she was a member of Cunningham’s company before becoming a director herself, and being exposed to her unique workflow and to his legacy in that way was hugely influential. Other major inspirations in the dance world are Lucy Vurusic Riner, who co-creates RE|dance out of Chicago, Illinois, and movements like the National Water Dance or Global Underscore which encourage movers of all levels to participate. Content-wise, inspiration is mainly drawn from concepts of groupthink versus individual identity, so I do a lot of personal research on cults, pop cultural movements, high control groups, immunity/inoculation, and the like.

What can people expect to find, when attending a show?

Expect to feel: without words, The Others demonstrate for audiences the tenderness of childhood play, the weight of communal grief, the difficulty of maintaining one’s sense of self among a group, and a hundred human experiences in between. Each piece of choreography averages about 20 minutes in length, allowing for smaller movements within the whole to explore an overarching theme or concept related to the experience of being both a singular human body and, always, one of many. The music, created for the choreography, incorporates poetry along with instrumentation to supplement the choreography. We typically invite audiences to stand and walk around us during the performance, or they are welcome to sit on the floor and get closer to the action. For this particular performance, a few chairs and cushions will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Why is this important for Buffalo?

Buffalo has a lively performing arts scene, as well as a thriving queer community, and this project rests at their intersection with the bonus of being inviting to those who haven’t tried dance before. All too often, queer (and especially transgender) folks develop an alienated relationship from their own bodies, and The Others hope to provide a safe space to explore that self-self relationship without the pressure of performing an external identity or the expectation to look or behave a certain way. We’ll be leading workshops for queer high schoolers this spring through the GLYS of Western New York, and it will be our first foray into that kind of community programming as a company, which I’m very excited for. While movement classes are offered all over Buffalo, rarely are they open to all levels and even more rarely are they free. We want to be as accessible to as many people for as long as we are able, to invite Buffalo to experience the joy and wonder of just rolling on the floor with your friends. There’s so much healing to be found in this type of movement. We want to share it.

How can people get involved?

Attend a free class! We announce through our Instagram and Facebook pages when we are open for free class versus when we are focused and in rehearsals: for instance, February of this month is all class, then we’ll switch over to rehearsal at the beginning of March to prepare for the next show. Free class is always on Wednesdays from 7:00-9:00pm when we’re having it, so you can just keep your eye out on our socials. We’re always excited to make new friends!

How many performances are you planning each year?

In 2022, we had four performances. Our shows on March 17th and 18th will be our second and third of this year. I know we’re hoping to get back into the BOX Gallery over the summer, and we’re likely going to be running a workshop with queer teens through one of Buffalo’s LGBTQ+ advocacy centers. My hope is that more opportunities arise as time goes on and that we can perform six or seven times in 2023.

Other than dance, what are the offerings at Equal Standing Physical Therapy?

Equal Standing actually does not specifically offer dance: they provide space rental to us and a couple of other local movers, some for yoga, some for dance, some for more exercise-focused movement. Equal Standing itself is a pelvic floor-focused physical therapy office. They’re incredible! More information about them can be found on their website:

What’s next for the group? Where would you like to be next year? In five years?

We’re hoping to continue hosting free class as long as we’re fiscally able: my goal is to keep it a permanent offering. I’d love to see us get into some larger local theaters, I’d love to see us collaborate with more and different types of creatives, and I’d love to create more site-specific work like what we’re planning for the March shows. I also hope to be able to get more involved with outreach: more workshops for students, professionals, or really anybody who’s got a curiosity about the intersections of movement, personal identity, trust, and collaboration. This time next year, I’d like to be celebrating our second birthday after a year of consistent classes and more original performances, and I’d like to have been consistent with applying for external funding to help pay dancers for performing. In five years, I hope that class is going strong, that paying dancers is a given, and in a perfect world, that we have a home studio that belongs to us. I’d also love to someday see us traveling to perform outside of Buffalo.

What’s your top wish for the dance/performance group?

To see its members thrive in all their endeavors as a result of their involvement. Whether you come to class twice in your whole life or are a constant on stage, I hope that this project gives dancers the tools to always find safety and joy in their bodies, to always remember the power of collaboration and community, and to always keep seeking inspiration. Of course, I wouldn’t mind getting to see us perform in New York City or found our own movement school, but I figure we’ll keep forging the path and discovering where it takes us.

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