Member Spotlight: BodyStories - Teresa Fellion Dance
BodyStories: Teresa Fellion Dance is a “contemporary dance company of women that capture and communicate universal human encounters through dynamic, purposeful movement.” Founded in 2011, BodyStories brings cultural arts activism into their work, using immersive techniques to empower audiences to engage in performance in new and innovative ways. They create work for their own live performances and teach classes to young, pre-professional, and professional dancers.
BodyStories is based in New York, but has a global orientation. Collectively, the BodyStories team speaks nine languages and has collaborated with artists from five continents. They have performed in Warsaw, Lyon, and Edinburgh. By necessity, BodyStories has had to offer virtual classes, workshops, and intensives instead of in-person ones in 2020 and into 2021, but by doing so, they have been able to work with students across the country, as well as in Canada and Dubai.
They recently shared excerpts from “rose walk green ice,” “Healing Currently Downloading,” and “Inwood Erases Hate with Love” at this year’s APAP Conference with Pentacle and performed as part of 7MPR’s Fourth Midnight Virtual Performance, premiering a new project combining music, movement, and poetry with composer Muriel Louveau and dancers Mickayla Clune and Alexa Mamoulides.
Founder, director, and choreographer Teresa Fellion shares how BodyStories has adapted its educational programming for a virtual, global classroom, how it uses art to foster social change, how they keep themselves accountable to their anti-racist work, and how Fractured Atlas has supported the dance company through the years.
Tell us about your work or project. What inspired it and how do you hope it will impact people?
I am accustomed to working in live performance and holding in-person events and workshops in theaters, studios, and other kinds of community settings. I have worked in social justice and activism since the 1990's, [been] involved with community groups, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and protests. Since 2005, [I have] employed dance, live music, and theater with social justice at scores of NYC schools, organizations and professional performances as director of InterCATaction/Children’s Adaptive Theater and BodyStories: Teresa Fellion Dance, and as a Teaching Artist for DreamYard, Marquis, [WP Theater, formerly known as] Women’s Project, CWP, Dance Department Director at StudioRepublik Dubai, and Summer Dance Education Director at The Ross School.
In early 2020, I was in the process of developing a live, independent dance education program through BodyStories that would deliver technical and creative dance classes to young dancers, pre-professional and professional students. Because of COVID-19 closures, BodyStories had to pause our live performance and education plans. The closures challenged us to explore virtual performance and educational platforms, which proved necessary in launching our new content. BodyStories is now immersed in creating and presenting digital movement explorations that seek to allow dancers to fully embody movement even in quarantine in both performance and educational settings. I hope that by shifting our creative and educational content to digital space, BodyStories can reach more dance audiences and dance learners and connect with people who have previously not been able to experience our work.
Describe the process you've taken to bring your project to life. What's been involved?
BodyStories’ virtual education classes have required intense collaboration and project management. Live dance classes are already challenging to coordinate as they involve developing curriculum, managing classes, working with students, and managing the logistics of holding the classes. We face the same demands by offering classes in a virtual setting but also have to coordinate technology and the online delivery of educational content to our students.
We are also learning new skills as dance filmmakers. This is an area we have done some work in previously, but now requires a new, investigate approach to figuring out what our voice is in dance film and livestream performances and how we can technically achieve this. Our new virtual performance and education projects have led us to develop skills in learning and applying all of Zoom’s capabilities and envisioning, directing, and editing dance for camera pieces, both for live presentations and dance films.
Teaching and presenting work in the virtual realm has allowed us to collaborate with many community partners who are dedicated to presenting artists’ work, even throughout the COVID-19 crisis. These partners include a year long fellowship we received from the LEIMAY Foundation, multiple performances and panels presented by Queer Spectra Arts, and performances presented by Pentacle Arts, 7MPR, and The Craft. We have also received immense support for our educational programming from LEIMAY, Merrimack Valley YMCA, and the mothers of our current students who have recommended our programming to their friends, children’s groups and teams, and local organizations. Our partnerships and supportive community relationships have allowed us to reach students in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Chicago, Dubai, and Colorado. Despite all the challenges that have come with operating a performing arts and arts education program amid COVID-19 closures, I am grateful that this virtual landscape has allowed BodyStories to forge connections with dancers, audience members, and dance students from so many places.
What have been your biggest challenges with this project or with your work?
BodyStories has been developing a virtual dance education program to deliver virtual dance classes to professional, pre-professional, and youth dancers. Navigating the development of this program while simultaneously maintaining a performance calendar, working on creative projects, and ensuring smooth virtual delivery to our students has been extremely challenging. BodyStories also maintains a small artistic and administrative staff, so it has been a challenge to find time, staffing, and resources to effectively market and manage our artistic and educational programming. Despite the difficulties that came with managing both performance and education projects in a fully remote environment, BodyStories remains dedicated to sharing our content with students and audience members.
For you, what is the relationship between art and social change? How does your work fit into that relationship?
Art is instrumental in facilitating conversations about differences. I have led workshops with people from different backgrounds, and the shared experience of consuming and participating in art allowed these people to open up to each other. By opening the possibility of dialogue, art can allow for deep and substantial communication where none existed before. BodyStories brings a wealth of cultural arts activism experience into each project we create with community partners. We believe in making work that integrates and empowers audiences with shifts of thought patterns. We navigate audiences through and shift public and theater spaces in interactive performances to open different perspectives.
As part of our commitment to community and socially-informed programming, BodyStories has performed site-specific works in venues including Fort Tryon Park, chashama at 4 Times Square/Anita's Way, Ballard Quarry in Newport, RI, 25 Federal Plaza with NYC Department of Transportation, and several others. Our site-specific performances often include an introduction or workshop with audiences so they feel engaged in the work. Audiences can then walk through and participate in the work, often leading to audience members dancing at the end. We also often hold discussions or question and answer sessions at the conclusion of our site-specific works. I look forward to continuing to include audience members as part of the performance process as I continue to develop new work.
As a company, we have always engaged in a lot of activism and are involved heavily in social discourse on gender identity, disability, anti-racism, and other social work that we value greatly. We also value partnering with and hiring artists, board members, administrative staff, and other collaborators that reflect a wide range of identities, and we have listed the racial and ethnic makeup of our artistic and administrative staff in our List of Actions for Accountability and Transparency in Anti-Racist Work on our website, in order to keep ourselves accountable.
I am interested in exploring additional methods of addressing social justice within my art and work strategies. I love to develop a new process and deepen the existing ones I have in order to further integrate our values as artists and citizens into the artmaking process and fully incorporate and respond to issues around cultivating a safe space, sensitivity, authenticity and openness. I am ready to explore the next chapter of responses to our current political climate both in my artistic process and in audience engagement.
What has been most useful to you about your Fractured Atlas membership? Which tools, resources, or services have you taken advantage of?
Fractured Atlas’s ability to receive and process donations has been incredibly useful. We work with a small administrative team and have many areas of focus as we continue to develop our programs. Fractured Atlas has allowed us to receive funding and remain heavily focused on our artistic and educational work. We have also received invaluable guidance on grant applications and submissions, which has allowed BodyStories to pursue numerous funding opportunities and expand our programming. It feels so supportive to be a part of a community where other artists and organizations are all a part of a large consortium. We have greatly appreciated the fiscal sponsorship model.
What was your first big win with Fractured Atlas?
When we first began our fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas, the educational component of our program was called interCATaction/Children’s Adaptive Theater. Fractured Atlas featured interCATaction/Children’s Adaptive Theater in their newsletter with photos and information about our community engagement performances and dance education work in public schools. Fractured Atlas’s support welcomed us into the broad dance performance and education community. Also, In 2015 and 2017, BodyStories received some of our largest commissions, and Fractured Atlas was thorough and informative in helping us receive and implement our funding to fully realize these performances.
What advice do you have for other artists or organizations using Fractured Atlas services. How can they get the most out of it?
Seek advice! Fractured Atlas has provided BodyStories with invaluable feedback on proposals and grant applications, making our proposals as strong as possible.
Any upcoming events that people should know about? What's next for you that we should be keeping an eye out for?
BodyStories was thrilled to be presented virtually by Pentacle during the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) Conference in January 2021, showing excerpts of three company works including new selections from “rose walk green ice,” our dance film in progress “Healing Currently Downloading,” and excerpts from “Inwood Erases Hate with Love,” which is an outdoor community engagement performance developed from our work “reeling --> healing.”
We are also offering ongoing virtual dance education classes in technique, improvisation, and composition for professional, pre-professional, and youth dancers. The company is looking forward to continued virtual presentations of work coming up in early 2021, including presentations with the Mark DeGarmo Dance Virtual Salon Performance Series, the Movement Research Open Performance Series, 7mpr and more! Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bodystoriesfellion.org for more information.
Follow BodyStorie: Teresa Fellion Dance on their website, as well as their social media pages. You can find them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can support their work by donating to them through their Fractured Atlas fundraising page!
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.