We are moving. We are dancing.

Today’s performance at #TEDxQuincy was awesome! So many thanks to A House Unbuilt company members for making this come together so seamlessly and my support system at home in LA and MN. Love to you all at both ends of our Great #mississippiriver #relayofvoices #thegreatriverrun #ahouseunbuilt #tedx #tedxtalks


I am a social choreographer and this is my team of dancer-athletes. It seems obvious that we’re here today to move for you, and yet what I really want to do is move you—into action, into Dance… I want to take that figurative expression “move you” and make it real.

So let’s start that process by thinking about what, in our everyday lives, moves us?

What moves you to smile?
to laugh
to tears
to speak out
to hurry and run
to slow down
What moves you to change?

About three years ago, I was moved to change. I took up running as a practice. I had never been an athlete, but I needed new movement to break me out of a deep depression. When I first started my running I had this great opportunity to run with a blind man named Vicentes. He moved me with his speed, I steered his movement on a safe course. This dance we shared gave me sight into the expansive power of the moving body.

I am moved by the impossible, or what feels impossible. My team and I have been studying impossibility by reading fairy tales—there you’ll find quests, riddles, tasks requiring magic like spinning straw into gold… and we came up with our own list of impossible tasks to perform.

So while it may feel an impossible task to you to stand up and join us in movement, that’s exactly what I want you to do. Together we can all wade through the impossible.

If you are able to, please stand up, otherwise join in how you can. All you have to do is mirror the dancer moving here on the stage… Arm up, crouch down, turn around.

Now for the impossible part:
I’m going to give you a set of tasks, and we’re all going to find a way to embody them…

hold water,
meet a deadline,
get started,
get out of your skin,
shut your mind off,
walk in opposite directions,

It starts with these exercises, but soon moves into the field. We are dance explorers, but we are not discovering the unknown, we are just exploring existing terrain with new eyes.

The most familiar existing terrain is oftentimes Home. I have gone home many times to discover things, to be moved. My mother once told me when I was young that we were a water people—born and raised in coastal Louisiana, the rivers, bayous, lakes, inlets, swamps, and Gulf of Mexico, shaped our way of life. The backwash of the Mississippi River forms our beaches, the delta of that great watershed that gathers up rivers and rainwater from 40% of our country.

I moved away from home to Chicago nearly ten years ago to pursue my career as an artist. The opportunity of the city was undeniable. And yet the familiar terrain back home is where I felt most moved. I was trapped in an impossibility. How to connect these two homes.

The answer was right in front of me—in the terrain I grew up with. The waters there reach up to here. The Mississippi River spans 2,300 miles through 10 states of our country. It is always in motion, never at rest. It snakes and coils and flows with a great turbulence. Like running with a blind man, what better to run with than the River? It will take me home, but it will take me to so many other places along the way.

My team and I are currently exploring this long held terrain, this Great River and the people who live along it. 97% of the communities along this 2,300 mile route are small, rural populations. These communities have inspired our entire approach to building a social choreography for this region. We are slowing down and spending time with people, hours of time with individuals, to listen and witness how they are moved. We are building these relationships into a blueprint that can be scaled for any size town or city—even the urban centers—and creating customized performance experiences for their residents.

I have already traveled over 4,000 miles up and down the river, spent over 100 hours with folks from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Wickliffe, Kentucky, West Memphis, Arkansas, Vidalia, Louisiana, Quincy, Illinois and nearly one hundred other places—all in anticipation of my team traveling the River on foot next year.

This past May, my mother and I journeyed down the river finally reaching the end in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Upon request, we had carried with us a bottle of the crystal clear water from the headwaters in Minnesota to compare with the sediment-loaded water at the Mouth. Ready to receive this gift was James Madere the ring leader and map-maker in the Parish Office, Amos Cormier the bright-eyed visionary Parish President, Albertine Kimble the Duck Queen as she called herself, Captain Pete Vynovich the oyster farmer ready to serve us a feast, and Mr. Earl Armstrong the caretaker of Pilottown and the Mouth of the River, offering to ferry us there by boat. As I spoke about the project to them, Amos interrupted me to clarify that what we were doing was art. I started to back away in my response, thinking perhaps art is the ugly step cousin in a small community like this. But to my surprise, Amos interrupted again to say that “art is power,” and how wonderful to use this art to broadcast their concerns and make them heard.

The ideas of this small community, and those of over 100 others, are big and full and built from the everyday lives we encounter. We will run our Relay of Voices, our Great River Run, gathering 624 voices to share with people in the ten states touching the River and beyond. Through accumulation and physical effort and simply being present, we can learn from each other, we can move and be moved.

This movement in our everyday lives is a Dance.
I believe it needs to be looked at that way.
It needs to be understood through the lens of Dance, and put back into the body of Dance.
Through dance, I am working to tease out and uncover new dimensions, facets, truths, questions—the underside of life.

I’m a choreographer, not a mathematician.
But I like to think of the power of dance in the everyday as a functional equation.
For instance, the function of a sunset on a body x equals

slowing down, stopping to look, smile passing over, changing of pace.
slowing down, stopping to look, smile passing over, changing of pace.
slowing down, stopping to look, smile passing over, changing of pace.
slowing down, stopping to look, smile passing over, changing of pace.
slowing down, stopping to look, smile passing over, changing of pace.

Likely this would plot a curve, plot a movement, a behavior of a body in space and time, and that movement can create a shift in emotion, activity, energy. All this can create a momentum beyond an individual that can catch hold en masse.

We are moved by the sunset to slow down and change pace. We are moving. We are dancing.