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ArtDate 16: Lee

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

I don’t remember exactly when my path crossed with Lee Fogel. As a fellow Philadelphia-based Oberlin graduate and contact improviser, I’ve been wanting to get to know her better for a while. The opportunity came when we carpooled back to Oberlin for an alumni jam. We talked about our experiences at school, our current artistic interests, and (a favorite road trip topic) our love lives. As we crossed the Ohio border, the sun began to set, and we both remembered that it was Friday, which meant we were also crossing into Shabbos. I tentatively suggested we sing some niggunim, wordless Jewish melodies to welcome Shabbos and other joyful or spiritual occasions. It felt vulnerable, but exciting. We taught each other, harmonized, and felt the vibrations of our voices mingle in our small, traveling dwelling place.

A few months later, we met for an ArtDate in Lee’s West Philadelphia studio. The overlaps in our identities came up quickly, how much our Jewish Oberlin post-modern dancer selves understood about the other’s practice and a desire to explore those overlaps. I mentioned that I’ve been playing around with making sound and moving a lot (it was the subject of my last ArtDate). In my solo research that day, I was feeling into my Jewish body and found joy and depth in improvising niggunim while moving. I suggested we try to develop that work together.

We improvised, finding imagery and sound that excited us, particularly moments where we felt connected to our ancestors or to some vein of Jewish ways of being. The repetition of the niggunim brought a cyclical nature to our explorations and an ease as we let go of performing or needing to “make it cool” by committing to the repetition and seeing where it led us.

As we worked together, the prospect of making a “product” came up. Lee told me that she had been worried about “making something,” but felt that I was well-versed in making things. I laughed as I’ve noticed this project and others I’m working on continually straying away from making a finished product. Lee also noted how the desire to make something, particularly something that others only participate in by watching or consuming, is super capitalist!

Instead, we decided to develop a score for improvised practice. We hope that anyone feels empowered to try out this score—you don’t have to be a dancer, singer, or improviser. The point is not to “make it cool” but to allow your voice and body to open up connection and exploration. Try it out and feel free to leave a comment or send me an email with feedback. This is a new practice for us so we’re very open to suggestions for alteration.

A Niggun Practice for Connection

This is written as a chevruta practice, a practice for two people. We also think it could work well in a larger community setting or as a solo practice with some alteration.

Find a place to be in your space and a physical orientation to your partner that feels comfortable.

looking each other in the eyes

back to back

or holding hands

are some options you might try.

Breathe and settle into your body where it is at this moment.

Think about your ancestors. If a memory comes up, feel free to share it verbally.

a memory can be a short story, an image, a word, or even just their name.

resist the need to capture or explain everything you describe to your partner.

what you describe is enough.

Listen to your partner’s words.

After you are both done, just listen

to the sounds in the room

to the sounds, sensations, and emotions in your own body

to the sounds, sensations, and emotions in your partner’s body

perhaps to the sounds of your ancestors as well, if that feels available to you.

Allow a wordless sound or song to emerge, like a short niggun

it doesn’t have to sound Jewish.

it doesn’t have to sound pretty, artistic, or cool.

Repeat your niggun, and keep repeating it

anyone can repeat any part of the niggun, in whatever timing feels right.

silence can happen.

movement can happen.

it doesn’t have to be accurate or consistent,

the niggun might shift, change, or evolve—let it, but try not to change it for the sake of

being cool, or if you are bored.

Live in the repetition for a while.

see what comes up

of your ancestors

your relationship with your partner

within yourself.

let this go on for as long as you’d like.

allow the sound to move you, if that feels comfortable.

Find stillness and silence again.

After you are both done, just listen

to the sounds in the room

to the sounds, sensations, and emotions in your own body

to the sounds, sensations, and emotions in your partner’s body

to your ancestors, if that feels available to you.

Verbally share an appreciation or a moment you’d like to hold onto from this experience of exploration.

After your practice, drink some water and perhaps eat something. Check in with your partner to make sure you both feel the practice is complete before parting ways or moving on to a different activity. You may also want to write down any next steps you feel called to do.

Here’s some video of Lee and myself trying out this practice. This is not a “How to” but rather a how we did it in this particular moment.

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