Clad in her signature loose black T-shirt and baggy gym shorts, Emma Portner is standing in a cavernous industrial space in downtown Los Angeles. A glass box—big enough to fit five dancers with only a little room to maneuver inside—sits in the middle. The five performers, Portner included, are standing inside it, side by side, palms on the glass.
“Question,” Portner asks. “Are we looking at our hands?”
She steps out to watch the others try the phrase, and adds a few more steps. Quick, staccato movement, legs kicking out, torsos swiveling around, fists hitting glass. “This is a puzzle,” she says, almost to herself. “I’m not sure I’ll like it.” The statement, like so many, is punctured with a sweet, nervous laugh.
Portner, 23, may be soft-spoken, but she’s a powerhouse mover. Anyone who has seen her Instagram videos can recognize the ferocity with which she throws her body—and seemingly her soul—into each moment.
That said, the energy in the rehearsal space is anything but frenetic. A calm, collaborative feel permeates. “What do we need to do next?” she asks the dancers. “Is everyone okay?”
It was a total joy to write about the incredible choreographer/dancer/revolutionary, Emma Portner, for Dance Magazine. Read the full cover story here.
[Photo by Quinn Wharton]
For months my daughter has been taking ballet and tap at the local recreation center, and she recently came to the requisite end-of-year performance. My kid is only four, so her part was minimal—a few short, absurd appearances, flanked by all the other little giggling girls in her class. The real show started and ended with the older girls. I knew I wasn’t in store for something professional, but I still didn’t expect what was coming.
Read more at Motherwell!
Paul Taylor, a legend of the dance world, was the first dance I ever saw, at age 4, at Jacob’s Pillow. I fell in love right there.
He died yesterday, at age 88, and will be so deeply missed.
Over ten years ago I wrote an homage to my favorite piece of his, “Esplanade,” for Dance Magazine. The dance still makes me weep.
To see this marvelous piece of choreography, click here. Do yourself a favor and watch all five parts.
When the two stragglers let the door clatter shut behind them, I turn the lights in the restaurant’s dining room all the way up and zip over to the stereo. For the past few months, we’ve been blasting the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” while closing. We all sing You may ask yourself, my God, what have I done? while manning brooms and mops and rags, none of us aware that we are singing of our own lives. At the chorus, we give in, drop what we’re doing and dance: Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…
Keep reading by clicking here.
Thanks, Longreads, for publishing this!
I had the delightful experience of talking with the folks over at the new podcast, Restoration Row, about chronic pain, identity, mental health, and recovery. How does pain change us? And is that okay?
(Yes, yes, it is.)
Click over here to listen to the podcast. (Interview begins around 14:00.) To hear my Lenny Letter piece read aloud (beautifully–that accent!), don’t skip ahead!
Happy Friday! I’m delighted to be in Lenny today, with the story of how I healed from chronic back pain. If you want to go back and read Part 1 of the story on Longreads — all about my dance career — click here.
I’d love to hear all about your woes of pain and (hopefully) recovery.
We converged on New York City from every corner of the globe: from college dance departments in Ohio and Michigan and Minnesota, and conservatories in Florida and California and North Carolina; from Athens and Stockholm and Tel Aviv, and tiny towns in Brazil and Ecuador and Italy, all of us sweeping into Manhattan, that sliver of an island, from the outer boroughs for morning class. In our bags: cut-off sweatpants and bottles of water, tape to bandage split and bleeding toes, matches to soften the tape, apples and bags of tamari almonds from the Park Slope Food Coop, sports bras and tubes of mascara, gum, cigarettes, wallets full of cash from late nights working in bars and restaurants, paperbacks and copies of New York Magazine, and iPods for long subway rides. The bags weighed 10, 15 pounds.
My piece about dance, injury, chronic pain and identity is up on Longreads! Click here to read on.