From spectacular images of fall foliage and summer sunsets, to avocado toast at brunch, Instagram has captivated the social media world through carefully curated visuals.
When the platform progressed to video, its unique digital structure brought to life “Exquisite Movement.”
Exquisite Movement is a series of dance videos, one each from various users. Each video starts with a single dance pose that the next participant must end with in order to keep the work flowing and continuous.
The collaborative essence of Exquisite Movement draws from all skill levels, from former professional dancers to participants simply grooving to what moves them on an ordinary afternoon. The channel features these movers in nature, at home, in their cars, under blankets and sometimes underwater, creating motion that connects them to where they are at a particular moment in time.
“It’s many people making one thing,” says Exquisite Movement creator Hannah Ayasse. “There’s an element of the unknown to it, so you don’t see the entire piece when you contribute your piece.”
Nearly one year in to the project, the ongoing Instagram dance has been offering community and artistic connection across the world, as far away as India and Switzerland and from all over the US.
“Right away, I thought this concept could break down the cyber walls that people can so easily put around themselves, and really open the door for artistic growth,” says Lesley alumna Laura Kathrein (M.Ed. ’17), a dancer and early collaborator on the project.
The birth of Exquisite Movement
Ayasse dreamed up the concept as she was getting ready to graduate from college, and felt anxious that, without a daily class, she wouldn’t have the chance to dance anymore.
“I had this fear that without an institution, I wouldn’t be able to create work,” says Ayasse, a dancer from Oakland, California. “Then I realized, if you want to create work, you just make it on your own and the structure will appear.”
Already an active creator of daily online dance videos, Ayasse sought a storytelling space that would connect her with like-minded movers. She reached out to dancers, including Kathrein, via Instagram’s direct message feature and was happily surprised when collaborators responded to her idea.
Ayasse, Kathrein and five other founding contributors – hailing from Oakland, Los Angeles, Texas, Connecticut, Washington, D.C. and Boston – spent months discussing logistics and getting to know one another virtually to prepare for the launch of Exquisite Movement.
“We decided to dance like each other for seven weeks,” recalls Kathrein, who has a master’s in arts, community and education from Lesley. “Each week, we went through people’s personal videos and got to know their styles, their effort, their movement qualities, their weight that they use - Do they reach far? Do they reach near? Then we danced like that person.”
She reflects, “Unknowingly, we created a virtual workshop.”
The group launched the Instagram account in October of 2016, and the dancers have been posting a daily video ever since.
“Do you, be you.”
In addition to the core group of seven dancers, Exquisite Movement welcomes new movers for one week a month, putting out a request for videos through their Instagram feed and through their own personal dance connections, reaching literally across the country and the world.
“With ‘New Collaborator Week’, even if people have never danced on Instagram in their life, they submit a video and we post it that day,” says Kathrein. “We give them some guidelines: it has to be square, there’s specific timing and we give instructions on the first pose. Other than that, we don’t care. Do you, be you.”
For Ayasse, it’s vital that the project is inclusive and features dance first and foremost.
“I love that we all feel like it’s much more about the dance than any one individual person,” she says. “The idea is that we’re creating something that anyone can work on. It feels really good to be creating something larger than yourself with a bunch of other people. It’s important for us to let people know that this is open.”
Breaking down cyber walls, connecting with people
Recently, the founding movers started focusing on specific kinds of videos in order to bring a more cohesive feel to the project, such as integrating props like limes and tennis balls.
“We’ll pull an artist or an idea from a hat each week,” says Kathrein. “For example, one week we were all dancing to Bon Iver.”
Sometimes, themes occur naturally and the week evolves from an unplanned incident.
“‘Dad Week’ was great,” recalls Ayasse. “The dad of another Exquisite Movement dancer, Brooke, showed up in the back of her video. She was the first one that week, so I decided to have my dad come into my video. Then Laura Skyped her dad into hers, and it went on from there.”
As the group marks its first anniversary, it plans to keep moving. Kathrein, Ayasse and their fellow Exquisite Movers hope to use social media and their growing community to reach a larger audience. Ayasse also believes that the dance can serve a larger purpose.
“I think the first step to creating a more just society in general is breaking down isolation and trying to connect as many people across socio-economic status, race and geography as possible,” says Ayasse. “As a broad goal, Exquisite Movement feels like a small little tool to break down isolation barriers.”
Kathrein adds, “It would be awesome to have some sort of conference or symposium with dancers, yogis and movers on social media to explore how we can best use this platform and how to create community within our own worlds.
“Maybe an Exquisite Movement conference in 2019?” she muses.
In the meantime, viewers can set their Instagram scroll to “feed” for the opportunity to see Exquisite Movement in action.
You just might feel moved to dance along.