Damara Vita Ganley is a JGPG company member and education coordinator. In her role as education coordinator she has developed JGPG’s youth and adult education program, including our popular Dance for Parkinson’s program. Learn a little more about her history with the company in a recent interview.
Tell us about your first experience with JGPG and about when you joined the company?
I first worked with Joe and Marit Brook-Kothlow [former company member] as a student at UCSC. They were there to set a piece on a group of UCSC students and I was fortunate to be included. I remember having this strong, vibrant response.
After that, I saw the company perform and was really moved and excited by the experience. I especially remember studying Marit, in awe that a human could be so strong, so fearless, and so beautifully vulnerable all at once in a way that always cracked open my heart. That cracking felt healing.
What about JGPG caught your attention? What about the work interested you as a dancer and performer?
I think I am really drawn to the emotional poignancy in the work. There is this craving, maybe even compulsion I have for engaging with the layered feelings that we have in life. Joe’s work does this and it helps me to make sense of how to relate to the paradox and the complications of being human. I watched the JGPG performers offer themselves so completely, and fiercely to feeling and that rang true for what I needed from an artistic practice.
Your beautiful singing voice is highlighted in many of the company’s recent works. What is your singing background?
Well thanks for the compliment – you’re making me blush. I don’t really think of it that way. I really love to sing but I don’t consider myself a singer. I don’t have an official background in sound other then singing a lot with my parents at home as a kid, and the occasional secondary school musical moment. But I love the freedom that the lack of context gives me – to just be really simple and totally fine with that simplicity. I am listening to the emotional texture that is available in sound. That’s what interests me.
Outside of performing for JGPG, you are also the company’s Education Coordinator. What are some of the recent program highlights?
JGPG wanted to offer some of the work we do as a company more regularly to kids. The work has continued to expand since we began the program in 2012. We have an ongoing class at the Boys and Girls Club in the Mission, now taught by JGPG teaching artist Caroline Alexander, we have a wonderful partnership with SFArtsEd through which we offer several programs, and we are now offering regular classes at Kaiser Elementary in Oakland and at Everett Middle School in San Francisco.
How do you see JGPG’s teaching method being beneficial and accessible to young kids? Is the approach similar to how the company works?
The methodology and principals that Joe created, and the way he works is applicable to all people, but with young folk there are certain considerations in structuring the ideas and context. We’ve been working on ways to make it easily accessible to a range of age groups, while maintaining the same approach and basic values of empathy, embodied awareness, community, and an emphasis on making art from a personal place.
Describe a stand out moment you’ve witnessed when working with kids using the JGPG teaching method.
Oh gosh there are lots of these. I’m always really moved when I see kids deeply listening and partnering one another with tenderness and a willingness to be vulnerable. Witnessing young people be so caring and also bravely releasing themselves into being held by their community feels big – like a life learning moment around what it is to be supported and supportive, and what it means to be a good partner or to trust others.
Other moments that feel special are watching kids illuminate from within – when they feel themselves access their own creative intentions and make their own dances or songs, or write their own text. We are providing scaffolding, pathways and techniques, for them to develop their own artistic interests, interactions, and expressions. We are guiding them in looking into their own imaginations and feelings for their source material. This feels radical in an era of immersive media.
What advice would you give young aspiring dancers who want to incorporate dance into their lives?
Find an artistic practice that makes you feel alive and vibrant inside. I challenge young dancers to reflect on what dance means beyond limited metrics of flexibility and technique. Dance can be so much more.
What are you looking forward to the most when looking ahead at JGPG’s future?
As a performer I am really excited about next year’s Poetics of Space. I really love being with Joe and the other performers in the creation process – wrestling with ideas and being in the act of discovery – it always brings me somewhere new in my life.
Click here to learn more about JGPG’s youth education programs.