Margie Gillis gets out the "ginches" at Harvard

by Mattie Kahn

Margie Gillis does not hesitate. We are seconds into her hour-and-a-half workshop Dancing from the Inside Out at the Harvard Dance Center, and Gillis is already moving. "We’re always dancing, whether it shows on the outside or not. Dance," she continues, "is just another part of the cinema of our lives." The walls of the center are lined with art and a new mobile, accompanied by a single embossed word: "ideas…" The word is a fitting introduction to the night's event, where Gillis is acquainting her audience with her creative beliefs.A master of modern dance, Gillis is not leading a class on technique or skill. Instead she’s exploring the field of dance she has helped pioneer—one that explores the connection between body and mind. Gillis was born in Canada but her career as a choreographer and performer has taken her across the globe.This night, it has taken her to Cambridge, and, quick to point out how fleeting an hour-and-a-half is, she doesn’t waste a moment. "I talk a lot in class," she warns a rapt group. "But hopefully when I’m gone you’ll hear your own mind chatter." Listening to oneself, to one’s urges, desires, fancies and feelings becomes a theme of the evening. Gillis espouses a theory of "universal vision," which she describes as a "looking open," at the world, instead of "out, up or down." She encourages us to take in everything that we see around us and react to it. She assures that we needn’t like everything, but we do need to see it all."Do what feels good." "Be enamored of what feels good." "Let it be there. Then, let it change." These are some of Gillis’ mantras, and she repeats them often throughout the night’s exercises, which range from the meditative to the wildly silly. We bang on our chests, dip into metaphoric cold showers, improvise often and stretch out today’s "ginches," Gillis' word for stress."Let the body talk," she instructs. It’s a lofty direction, but somehow the whole room manages to do so. Not every artist is a teacher, but Gillis excels at it, corralling the group into abandoning self-consciousness. When one participant struggles with an exercise, Gillis asks, "Are you doing it with your head or are you doing it with the sensations of your body? An entire person is dancing right now—a life, with a future, a history, a love. You have to shift out of being self-conscious. Give yourself the humanity that you’d like the world to have." The dancer moves a bit more, and changes under Gillis’ watchful eye."Yes," she says smiling. "There you go. You’ve got it."

[Caption: Margie Gillis taught the workshop "Dancing from the Inside Out" Thursday, Oct. 6 at the Harvard Dance Center. Photo: Mattie Kahn]