June 1, 2020
Volume 1 Issue 2
By: Laura Briggs
“A chance to hit the pause button.”
That’s how Atlanta-based dancer, choreographer and arts advocate Patton White describes his virtual Movement and Meditation class series. “It’s not so much about technique with a capital ‘T.’ It’s about the very essence of somatic practice, which begins from a very interior place.”
During these anxious and stressful times, nothing sounds better than a chance to hit the pause button, and White’s class delivers on its promises. It is an equal marriage of meditation and gentle movement that draws on White’s background as a student of dance, psychology and philosophy. He uses tools such as body awareness, poetry and breath to uplift, stabilize and invigorate everyone who tunes in.
“This is an experience for people of all ages, backgrounds and movement abilities,” White said of his online class. “I’ve spent a fair amount of time doing residencies with the aging population. It’s profoundly moving to work with people who have such vast life experiences and stories to share. My role is to help them share those stories and translate them into movement.”
This outlook is largely inspired by the work of choreographer Liz Lerman. Through her company, The Dance Exchange, she asked, “Who gets to dance?” White strives to expand the breadth of that question and encourage everyone to dance and unleash their inner creative. “In these Movement and Meditation classes,” he said, “my audience is anyone who wishes to reach deeper into themselves, find the motivation to move and embrace movement as a spiritual and psychological practice. I am finding my own way to construct a new way of being in this changing world, and I invite others to join me in discovering their own new possibilities.”
As the Artistic and Administrative Director of Beacon Dance for 30 years, White has remained committed to producing socially conscious and community-oriented work. The company recently relocated from its longtime home in Decatur to a studio at The B Complex in Capitol View. With the onset of the pandemic, White is especially grateful for his company’s flexibility and nimbleness.
“As everyone’s practices have had to shift, so have mine. I was working on several new grants for Beacon over the past few months. The grant I submitted in late February describes a very different project than what I’m currently working on,” he said. “What seemed important to address through a new work two months ago seems less important now. What seems more important is to respond in real time to our current reality.”
For White, the Movement and Meditation class series is only one part of his artistic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also committed to envisioning and shaping a more equitable tomorrow. “This is an opportunity to realize that a return to ‘normal’ is a bad thing. ‘Normal’ was an unjust system on many levels. . . . Our world as we know it has fractured, and the way we organize ourselves as individuals and communities has changed dramatically. The arts can assist with reorganizing our world.”
Part of that reorganization, White argues, will involve a shift from traditional theater venues to more site-specific work. “You can’t go into a theater and sit beside someone now. My artistic journey took me outside of the theater a long time ago. While many performance groups have dabbled in site-specific work, I do feel like there’s an assumption that traditional theater work is ‘better.’ I hope we can continue to dismantle that thinking.” Before the quarantine, Beacon Dance was resurrecting The Mapping Project, a performance series that presented site-specific works in Dekalb County parks. White hopes to organize an outdoor performance series for Beacon’s upcoming season, following the evolving guidelines set by the public health community.
As an artist who has been working in Atlanta since 1979, White has a long list of inspirations in the city. “I’ve been curious and enthusiastic to watch the journey of the Fly on a Wall artists. I also find inspiration in longevity in the dance community — organizations like Moving in the Spirit, Core Dance, Full Radius Dance, Georgia Metropolitan Dance Theatre and staibdance. But my biggest inspiration, the person I always return to, is Lori Teague. It’s her outlook, her endless quest for invention and reinvention and her positive attitude.”
You can tune into White’s Movement and Meditation class series every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Beacon Dance’s Facebook page. Each video is archived on Beacon’s feed, so you can revisit the classes whenever you feel like hitting the pause button.
Laura Briggs is a dancer and choreographer based in Atlanta. Their research is concerned with embodying aspects of the queer and trans experience.