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A Collaboration on Movement

Margaret Gaenzle with Sara Dotterer at the Whitney Museum in New York City

This story is about me, Margaret Gaenzle and is absolutely central to my identity and my future plans:


“1, 2, 3, 4 tendu close, plié stretch.” The eight count rhythm and French words rang through my ears and were absorbed into my brain and body everyday at 1:30PM. Each morning I woke up eager to put on my pointe shoes and practice the same ballet steps I first learned with my pre-school classmates in our sparkly princess tutus and tiaras. The discipline, repetition, and intense focus turned some people away; but for me, performing for people, learning from inspiring instructors, surrounding myself with aspiring performing artists, and embodying the choreography of creative people was important. It started a long time ago. Now, I can’t stop.

I first realized this at six when I ran through the stone lobby of my apartment building waiting anxiously as my mom collected the mail from the little black box, hoping the letter from School of American Ballet had arrived. I tore the paper open not knowing that a skinny envelope was not usually a good sign. As my eyes dropped and my hand slowly moved the paper away from my face I looked up to my mother wide-eyed and exclaimed: “So, when can I try out next?” After a year of working to improve my ballet technique, I was finally accepted. I relished my school friends, friends in my apartment building, friends I made on the playground, “friends” I encountered on city buses, and now found a new world of peers who shared what I loved to do—ballet. My most cherished memory was skipping along three city blocks after completing my homework to enter the stage door of the New York State Theater for twenty-six Nutcracker performances. It was all joy for me to be part of this world.

As I have grown up, ballet class has become more to me than just another afternoon spent with my friends and teachers. It has become deeply personal with my own connection to the interpretation of the music and choreography. A few winters ago, I walked onto the stage of Richmond’s Carpenter Theater prepared for the season finale of Swan Lake. I was one of the eighteen swans who had spent the previous four months perfecting formations and synchronizing little motions. As the smoke drifted from the wings and the strings of the violins started the fourth act, my body ached from exhaustion. My pointe shoes were soft as slippers, and my eyes blinded by the bright spotlights. We all locked eyes with confidence. We each took part in recreating an iconic ballet with hope that the last run would go smoothly. Tchaikovsky notes filled my ears and my heart as we started to dance the steps that had become automatic. When the curtain closed, an eerie stillness filled the stage as tears rolled down our faces from the exhilaration of completing something magical together.

Some believe dance is a selfish and solitary endeavor. In actuality, it has opened up the world to me. Ballet has allowed me to make connections internationally and build my friendships worldwide. One summer I traveled to London to study at the Royal Ballet School. Over the course of the program, I made a group of friends from the Netherlands, Panama, Scotland, Russia, and Finland. My ballet partner Ivan and I had to master the complex coordination of a pas de deux with humor and no spoken words. English was not the first language of most students in the program. It was clear that the movements were a universal language that all of us understood, no matter our origin or native language. In dance as in life, I continue to be energized and inspired by those around me.


When my parents were asked to describe me during an interview in the pre-school admissions process, they thought exuberant said it all. I skipped through the park to get to school unafraid and joyful for the day. Always curious to know everything about everyone, I was one of those possibly annoying children who constantly asked questions. But I didn't stop there. It became a series of "whys" and "what ifs," attempting to get the root of every piece of information. Years later, I'm just as curious but have learned to talk less and listen more. I thrive and live for interacting and communicating, collaborating and conversing with people. I directly relate this passion back to being born and spending my early years in New York City where I enjoyed having small interactions with strangers and was thrilled by having throngs of people around me.

I was recently asked “If you could create your own college course in any subject area that interested you, what would it be?” I laughed to myself because I am not a professor and I thought it was an odd question. I came up with an answer through movement. I lived with Sara Dotterer this past summer and watched her conduct research on pedestrians and smartphones around New York City, a subject I have essentially been interested in since birth! I was and still am extremely intrigued by her video footage and findings (which can be found all over her blog and website). Her project and my attraction to patterns of strangers on the street came to mind the second I started thinking about my answer to the above question. I would name my seminar course: “Your Pixilated Face.” Technology and evolving social media has increased dramatically during my lifetime. I remember the pre-iPhone days when a picture wasn’t required at every event, when having a phone at the table was completely rude, when humans actually interacted on the street and on public transportation like I have described in my own personal experience, and when wearing headphones was more uncommon than not. I watch my 16 year old sister and her friends obsess over their phones and social media pages. I feel people, especially girls, feel the need to prove how good their lives are to the world, while the person who remains behind the glass screen is unknown. As amazing and essential technology is especially for the PR and Communications fields, as well as for organizations, it saddens me to watch the use of technology increase dramatically and see the change it has made in peoples lives including my own. I would create this seminar course in hopes that I would learn more about technology and more productive ways to use it without letting it take remove me from my “real” life. Smartphones have potential I can’t even imagine, and maybe a course to learn how to use it in the most effective way would help younger generations thrive in “real” life.

As an avid dancer and choreographer, this past year, I created a piece called “Mind The Gap.” My initial idea was definitely inspired by pedestrians in New York City, and smartphones that come with those humans. I have always found it fascinating how in big cities individuals come from all different places, have all their own baggage, shit, lives and stories, and there is ALWAYS a certain level of disconnect while having a physical togetherness during a moment they are either riding on public transportation or passing alongside one another on the street. Everyone’s world revolves around themselves. The only time I’ve ever seen this change on the subway is when some sort of artistic moment occurs. Artists start playing music in the musky and hot subway station in the middle of June, spectators stop and listen all together. They participate in that beauty as one and might even make eye contact and interact in that moment. To me, this is one of the reasons art is paramount to humanity. When each human’s world becomes about themselves again, they go back to their original path and start this process all over again. I think it’s fascinating.

Sara and I have explored and discussed collaboration between the arts and how important this is for humanity and the art world as well. For “Mind The Gap” I collaborated with other artists to write a spoken word script, a musician who played a version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” and lighting designers. I hope that someday, Sara and I will actively collaborate and help others do so as well.

-Margaret Gaenzle

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