A conversation about dance and communication

Rachel Marciano
April 20, 2017

For many people, the word communication evokes images of people talking to one another, telephones, emails, social media and text messages. But for Miriam Engel, artistic director of the Angela Dance Company in Jerusalem, communication comes in the form of dance.

Engel and her husband and dance partner, Sergey Shamota, visited DePaul last month as part of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity President's Signature Series, "Celebrating Women and Multiculturalism through the Universal Language of Dance." In addition to giving a master class and workshop for classes in The Theatre School, they also created a piece with selected dance and School of Music students for a concert, which included choreography by DePaul dance faculty member and director of the event, Lin Kahn.

Newsline sat down with Engel to discuss why dance is important.  

How did you get your start in dance?

I started when I was three years old. My grandmother was a dancer. She originally was from Bulgaria, and because she was from a respectable family, it was considered, during that time, inappropriate for a girl to dance. But eventually she did it and she was around during the transition from classical ballet to modern dance. So I just sort of smelled it when I was a child. It immediately was a big part of my life.

Why is dance important?

I think we all dance, in one way or another. Looking at the history of human kind, it's one of the primary ways of communication. It's a way to communicate, celebrate, mourn - it's been done in ceremonies and traditions for centuries.

It also brings people together. Just coming back from this class I taught - you have every background in the room. They're psychology majors, acting majors and every other kind of major, and they all come together in one room and suddenly they're all speaking the same language. There's a common ground, because everybody has a body, and we all have challenges with our bodies.

What can people learn from dance?

I find dance to be very humbling. You get confronted with things you can't do, which usually are more mental blocks than physical limitations. For example I always tell my dancers, balance is a mental choice. As I said before, dance is communication between people, but also it's a lot of communication with yourself. You learn to be self-aware and humbled, and you have to take care of yourself. From dance, people can learn to not think as hard about things, which can be difficult. We often have so many processes in our minds - thinking you are not able to do this certain exercise, going back and forth on how this looks or that looks. We learn to let it rest, come back to it tomorrow - again with that idea of mind over matter.

Has teaching dance influenced your own dance?

I'm drawn to teaching because it gives me an amazing way to communicate with people. I love giving, and teaching is a lot about giving. I always say I'm giving a class, not teaching a class. Immediately, as a teacher, you become a better dancer. It's the obvious "you have to be an example," but also it's because I find dancing to be so mental that as you teach, you think less. You're showing the movement not thinking it; the body is reacting to the mental state.

Angela Dance Company today is a company and a school, and for me those two aspects have a bond that cannot break. Just choreographing and performing has too much to do with myself. Teaching balances things out. You have others around you, and you're giving and taking with them, exchanging energy. It's amazing.

Your husband is your dance partner. What came first: dance partner or husband?

We met in 2010 in a dance company. I was actually the rehearsal director. He arrived in Israel as a guest dancer from the Netherlands. In the beginning, it was strictly professional. Then I wanted to create a duet for the company, so I asked him to dance with me for this piece. We had known each other for a long time, but through the process of getting to know each other through dance, we fell in love. It was very unintentional and unprofessional of us. But like I said before, dance has a way of bringing people together.