By Jeff Dodge, Writer and Senior Public Relations Specialist
It’s not obvious what the dancer sees in the distance, but there is a glimmer in her eyes as she leaps and twists and twirls. A flutter, a kick, then a new companion joins her, gliding in to meet her stage right. They ebb and flow together, lifting each other up, cradling and rocking in unison. A baby.
It’s dance as expression, dance as support, dance as prenatal connection.
That was the scene when a husband and wife who teach dance at Colorado State University teamed up with another faculty member and a university videographer to tell the story of having their first baby — all through their own choreography.
For Embodiment, Assistant Professor Madeline Jazz Harvey and Instructor Matthew Harvey choreographed dance movements to depict what they were experiencing during each trimester of Madeline’s pregnancy. The dance was set to original music composed by music student Eric Paricio and filmed by Brian Buss, CSU’s assistant director of videography.
The couple’s movements were inspired by their work with Zeynep Biringen, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and her colleagues, Marjo Flykt and Lia Closson. Each trimester, they led the Harveys through exercises in mindfulness, emotional availability and attachment. Those exercises, which Biringen is developing into a workbook for expectant parents, were used by the couple as prompts to write about how they were feeling, and the Harveys based their choreography on that language.
“We looked for ideas that lent themselves to movement,” Madeline says. “We had a lot of writings, but we had to narrow it down to the heart of each trimester’s experience and present sensations, like changes in balance.”
There will be a premiere screening of the resulting short film June 1, in an event that will include a performance by CSU dance majors and a question-and-answer session with the collaborators. “Embodiment” will be held at 2 p.m. in the University Dance Theater at the University Center of the Arts, 1400 Remington St. Admission is $10 but free for CSU students, and tickets are available online.
Madeline says her vision for the project came to her while swimming, before she got pregnant. She initially planned to find a professional dancer who was pregnant, and had approached Buss about the idea. But when she learned she was pregnant about a year ago, she decided to focus on her own journey, which expedited the project. After Buss got footage of Madeline dancing alone during the first trimester, Matthew joined them in the video shoots for the subsequent trimesters. By the third, he was crucial in the dances because he had to physically support Madeline during some of the movements.
“During my first session there was so much range of movement, and by the end I was saying ‘Hold me up,’” Madeline recalls with a laugh.
“I felt like it paralleled my journey,” Matthew says, referring to expectant fathers’ common perception that they are needed and involved in the pregnancy more and more as the due date approaches. In one scene shot during the final trimester, Matthew and Madeline are sitting on the stage floor, back to back, and she is able to stand only with Matthew’s help, by leaning against his back as they both rise.
They held their final video shoot on May 20, when Buss captured footage of the Harveys dancing with their baby, Aliya, born on March 22.
“Before she was born, we did practice once with a stuffed panda bear,” Matthew says with a smile. “But it was only a quarter-pound, quiet, and good about staying in one position.”
Madeline says the film offers an alternative way for expectant parents to prepare for their first baby.
“You can read baby book after baby book, and they can sometimes freak you out,” Madeline says. “This is an encapsulation of the process that you can experience in a different way.”
She says working with Buss was like having a third performer on stage.
“He has been amazing in this process, with his attention to detail and openness,” Madeline explains. “He was in his socks, sliding around the space with us. He became one of the dancers.”
Buss would begin by simply watching the couple’s dance movements, picturing his own ideal positioning throughout, then practiced his own movements without his camera before doing each shoot in one take.
“I essentially became her dance partner,” Buss says. “I had to do stretches for my middle-aged body and wear socks that I could slip around in. I needed to be able to move as fluidly as possible.”
He adds that, as a father himself, it was rewarding to be immersed in such a personal, intimate project.
“I tried to share my craft very openly, and they did the same, so we were able to experience each other’s worlds and see how they intersect,” Buss says. “We had to learn each other’s languages. It took me a lot of time to get in sync with them, because they were very aware of their bodies in space, and I was not. But I’ve got some moves now.”
Madeline says composer Paricio played six original compositions for her, then re-recorded the one they settled on, “Overcome.”
“I was just so impressed with his spirit and initiative,” she says. “It didn’t feel right outsourcing the music because this was becoming such a CSU project. I view all of the collaborators as co-choreographers.”
And that group of CSU collaborators grew. Dan Minzer, a master electrician in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, deftly handled the stage lighting, while costume technician Elise Kulovany sourced the performers’ wardrobe. Buss’ colleague in the Department of Creative Services, Kate Wyman, began attending the shoots during Harvey’s second trimester, lending a designer’s eye to the process as a co-director.
“It didn’t feel right outsourcing the music because this was becoming such a CSU project.” -Madeline Jazz Harvey
Biringen also brought in Flykt, a Finnish postdoctoral researcher, and Closson, who recently studied under Biringen while earning her master’s degree in prevention science. Both had done similar work with expectant parents.
Those three provided the Harveys with questions from Biringen’s workbook-in-progress each trimester. The questions were designed to prompt interaction and conversation about living in the moment, for example, instead of feeling anxious about the future. They were also designed to optimize bonding and attachment between Aliya and her parents.
“If you can work through some of these issues during the pregnancy, the baby comes into a more emotionally available environment,” says Biringen, a child psychologist who is a member of the Colorado School of Public Health and has enjoyed dancing as a hobby since she was a child. “Dance has always been a very important part of my life. When I saw Madeline’s email proposing this idea, I couldn’t believe she had the depth of perception to put all of this together. The dance piece really resonated with me. And she was expecting, so here was the opportunity.”
Biringen says she hopes to publish a case study about the project, as well as her workbook, after testing its efficacy with other expectant couples.
“It’s been a really nice collaboration,” she says. “This is my first time doing something this interdisciplinary. I think it will help families who are going through the pregnancy journey.”
“This was definitely a group effort,” Buss adds. “And it was a success because of that.”
As for the Harveys, who came to CSU a couple of years ago from the University of South Carolina, they are considering showing the video at film festivals and providing it to health-care professionals to be used as a teaching resource.
“We hope to develop a dance intervention for emotional availability, allowing other expectant parents and support persons to connect through movement during pregnancy,” Madeline says. “It demonstrates the power that dance has to transcend spoken language.”
“There were a couple times when I teared up,” Buss adds, “because I could see how Matthew was looking at her, with such love and tenderness in his eyes. We all formed a connection and trust. And now I’m Uncle Brian.”
For more information, visit https://dance.colostate.edu/events/embodiment/.