Can I tell you a story about how some essays come into being?
I first wrote this piece, about my grandfather’s death and the secret I didn’t know about his work and his life, in college, oh, 20+ years ago. I wrote it as fiction, because it was a fiction-writing class and I didn’t know that I wasn’t really a fiction writer and I figured, what the hell? Who will know this is all true?
Over a decade later, I resurrected it for a workshop in graduate school, this time in its proper memoir form. Then, a few months ago, I decided to take a look at it again, make a few more changes, and send it off.
So what you’re reading here — or what you will read here, please and thank you so much! — is a piece that started in 1999 and is now seeing the light of day in 2019. Sometimes this is how it goes.
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.