Amy Miller
Edited by: 
Allie Taylor

Q: How did you become involved in the performing arts?

I started in creative movement classes where we did a lot of jumping over farm animals. Mostly, I think I was just always kind of flipping and bouncing around the house, and my mom said, “Amy, I love how much of a mover you are, but I'd really love for you to learn how to do this a little safer. So, let's go and get some gymnastic lessons.” And then that led to ballet, and that led to jazz, Fosse jazz dancing, and that led to modern and character. I had beautiful opportunities to learn a bunch of codified techniques, which then eventually led more toward experimental and task based work. Then, that led to me redefining what movement and performance is, for me, in this moment. Thinking about moving ideas, and feeling a sense of fluidity and flexibility in my point of view is paramount. It's a skill that we can practice, because I’m not sure if  any of us are necessarily born knowing how to be flexible with our thoughts and our perspectives.

Q: What has dance specifically taught you that you've applied to your everyday life and how you engage with the world?

Dance has been like a rehearsal, in a way, for every moment in the studio,on stage and in our daily lives. I'm seeing now, and I think it's getting clearer and clearer, this idea that what we're practicing in movement spaces and dance spaces, has for me a direct translation to my daily life and my “human-ess”. As a dancer, I have had a chance to feel what hard work feels like, to feel something that seemed impossible at one point, and then feel it become possible. I've had a chance to come into a room where there was nothing, and to leave with something. We get a chance to choreograph something out of nothing. I've gotten opportunities  to work with other people and braid our ideas together to make something more holistic and smarter and more equitable than if I had done it on my own. I've gotten a chance to try to calm myself down in really pressurized situations; to feel my blood racing and my adrenaline pumping, and be able to calm myself with somatic practices and grounding techniques both on stage, and in the studio. So yes, these are all things that, whether or not we realize it, dancers are practicing every day. And we have a chance to translate that into our daily lives away from the stage and away from the studio. What does that look like in my relationship with my partner? How do those things I just talked about connect to other careers or other ways to see myself in the world?

Q: What have you learned from being a director / being in a leadership position? What have been some pivotal moments for you?

For a long time I didn't want to be a leader because I thought leaders had to know everything in order to be effective, and I knew that I didn't know everything! . And it wasn't until really hanging around with Gina Gibney and seeing how she used her sense of leadership, not to act like she knew everything, but to ask a lot of really great questions, and to be the person who acknowledged that she needed support, and asked for other people's points of view. I saw she didn't know everything, and that she didn't act like she knew everything. The definition of leadership for me became this entity, this energy that realizes that galvanizing a lot of different perspectives together could be leadership. It’s the hard work of sifting through all that complexity, choreographing it together, and then offering something to the world that hopefully is of service and hopefully reflects as many different points of view as possible, because no one person can possibly see everything. We all have perspectives we are unaware of , and we need to acknowledge that and realize that perhaps our areas of unawareness  are different, based on our experience and the wealth of knowledge that we each have. A friend of mine, Thomas Moore, just used the term “wealth of knowledge” today and it just blew me away, in terms of a definition of equity, realizing that we all have different needs and different wealths of knowledge.

I think that's what I've learned about leadership, mostly by being around Gina, Yasemin Ozumerzifon our Director of Community Action, the amazing Nigel Campbell  and around the ever-evolving community of folks who have been attracted to work with Gibney over the last nine years now. So, between the interactions, and the collisions of ideas, and the people that I've had the great pleasure and honor to be around, each person has mentored me in some way. Each experience has mentored me. I see myself now as a synthesizer of those ideas and hopefully am able to activate my leadership through the synthesizing of those ideas and then being in service.

Q: What is something that Gibney, as an organization, does that the general public may not be as aware about?

At Gibney, we talk all the time about how arts institutions, or artists who are interested in a lot of what could be considered intersectional issues, sometimes feel, and are sometimes told, that our work is hard to talk about. I sat with that for a long time, and something in my intuition was like, “I'm not sure this is a weakness, I think this is the thing. The fact that art institutions and activists are using different disciplines and all the intersectionality of our world, the complexity of all of that, and the overwhelmingness that often happens with all that, is the thing.” And I feel like we have isolated different aspects of existence into small packets with different labels in order to better understand it, and that's happened throughout the evolution of the world. Science has figured out, and broken apart, and labeled molecules and species and we've done all this labeling and codifying in order to better understand it all. Take science, architecture, religion, any kind of aspect of our lives. We've spent a lot of time separating it into different packets in order to understand it, and that needed to happen. And I think right now during this, what I've been hearing referred to as “the great pause”, the thing at hand is the act of not labeling and not separating so we can understand. But it is about how we find the connections and the relationships of all these disparate things. What do they all share? What are the overlaps? And that could be issues, that could be people, that could be experiences, that could be anything. But I think the overwhelmingness is the thing, and I don't see it as a weakness anymore. I see it as what I'm here to do. I feel like I've definitely tapped into my purpose as a choreographer. I feel that my purpose is to help choreograph those moments. For myself, it’s sometimes that I'm overwhelmed and I don't know what to do with all these ideas. I calm myself down. I take a breath. Feel how I’m connected to the Earth . Find my spine. And then enjoy the complexity of this. And then, figure out how to translate that to a meeting, or how to translate that to a rehearsal, how to translate that to a Zoom call with 100 people where we're all trying to mute and unmute ourselves. It’s important to stay calm, and not get overwhelmed or give in to any of the other reactions, like feeling overwhelmed or defensive; not giving in to violence, withdrawal, and some of the things that lead us into either harm or stuck energy from the lizard brain that tells us to protect ourselves and go into survival mode. But, how do we quiet those feelings and shut off those “fight or flight” mechanisms, and get more into our parasympathetic nervous systems that invite rest and recharging and creativity and synthesizing ideas. I think that's where I'm seeing Gibney go. That's where I'm seeing myself go as a human, and it's really hard to talk about. So to your question, there may not be a lot of people who see that right now, but I want to work with myself and every interaction that I have and then talk to our marketing teams and talk to funders and see if that can become more of the mission and the vision for Gibney. I think the tagline right now is bringing movement where it wouldn't otherwise exist, which I have loved, for 30 years. That has been largely the basis that Gina has believed in, that we need to bring more movement to the stage; we need to bring more movement and ideas and visibility to domestic violence shelters and work with folks who are rebuilding their lives—movement, that is, in terms of violence prevention and conversations around how we address violence before it happens. And then movement in the field, movement toward less isolation, toward bringing folks together, and toward creating sustainable platforms for artists to live safely and more in collaboration with other folks. And we practice doing it, so we get better and better at it, just like we practice dance.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

Is it possible in a moment like this to have possibility and horrific calamity right next to each other? I mean, I think we're seeing it. I'm bouncing back and forth between those sensibilities all the time, and knowing that has been a part of our life on this planet forever. I think sometimes I've just been in one or the other, and not realize that they really are all happening at the same time. How do we rationalize and connect them together? We've been working closely with the Community Action Team, and in these weeks we've moved to online platforms, we’ve offered workshops for survivors in the shelter system and with staff members as well. We're all experiencing trauma throughout our lives, and perhaps especially right now with the instability of this movement. So we’ve moved all of those workshops online either in live forums or with folks on Zoom calls, but also recording sessions so that folks can access them whenever they'd like. We’re also sharing small tidbits of self care practices that we're sending out to all of our partner organizations that we've worked with for so many years as they work with the school system regarding violence prevention and the healthy relationships project “Hands Are For Holding”. So, it's been fun to see that evolve. It’s important to be mindful of the present moment, and to be mindful of just how much things could be shifting right now for each of us. An invitation to keep in mind that even the small moments, the small victories each day, are the work, and how we  keep encouraging ourselves to see that as we continue to think about healthy relationships.

And then also, I've been speaking a lot to groups of young people in high schools and colleges and dance programs who have had their programming shifted, and that's been really amazing. I think it's a galvanizing moment right now. What I'm most interested in talking about is this translation from dance to life. But if we can't be doing what we want right now, how do we think about the essence of that and then translate it to a new thing? If we feel alive and powerful when we're dancing, what are some other “what's” that also bring us a sense of lightness and powerfulness? For me, it's throwing myself into this whole idea of what “product” is. Is the performance on stage with lights the only product for a performing dancer? I feel like this is a performance as I speak to you  right now. I've done my research, I have something that I want to express, you're nodding your head, you're validating it, there's this reciprocal energy of expression and validation, and that feels like a performance to me.! So I think I'm finding my voice, my expression as a speaker, and as a dancer who talks. And I wonder how many folks will find that for themselves and unlock the sense of “I can express myself and be powerful and alive as a dancer, through my words, and through many different actions.”

Q: What were your initial reactions and emotions to the shutdown?

We were in rehearsal with commissioned artists to get ready for our spring shows. And so it was a pivot from those performances to, of course, thinking about our personal safety right away. And huge respect to Gina for sensing right when that happened. We had an all staff meeting, and we decided we were going to start working remotely tomorrow. She galvanized the whole team, really emphasizing that we need to be clear about this and stay calm. So the staff moved online. Several days later, the classes were shuttered. We've been mindful of not saying canceled or shut and instead framing it in the mindset of suspending these moments while we continue to find other ways to work. I'm resonating very much with this idea of not just translating the work we're doing, but taking a moment to pause, taking a moment to soften the dizziness and the constant drive of expectation, and the assumptions about what the dance field looks like or what it should look like. At Gibney, we say “making space for dance.” We've now changed the end of that tagline so it can be literally anything like “making space for dialogue”, “making space for rest”, “making space for interaction”, "making space for complexity.” And that can all be housed. But I feel like we also need to realize that forward motion isn't always what's needed, or constant growth maybe isn't sustainable, and that we need these moments of breath. I think this is our pause moment. This is a chance to decide what we don't want to do anymore. This is a chance to acknowledge what hasn't been working, and to be transparent about challenges, to be realistic about what we feel is necessary and then talk to as many other people. That's why I love this platform and the work that you're doing, to talk to as many other people see where the patterns are that maybe we never saw before. I've had amazing zoom calls with folks who are just at the beginning of their dance career, to folks who are in leadership positions at large arts institutions, and I’m seeing a pattern of wanting to take a second and not just recreate everything and stay busy, but to allow ourselves to find a stillness, to find a still point and emerge stronger from this. Hopefully, this will never happen again in any of our lifetimes, but it is an unprecedented moment, a collective tipping point moment of deciding what we want the dance field to be. I largely feel like a lot of dancers and arts professionals may come out of this with very new job descriptions, new things that folks want to put their energies into. I'm feeling that within myself. What is part of my job description right now that is continuing to feel relevant for me? What could fall away? What else do I want to put my energy toward? I'm reading more books. I'm reading about a lot of activists and authors who have built resilience over time. I want to learn more about how they came through calamity. I’ve been reading so much about the history, even of the founding of the United States, and just how much has been erased and not talked about. So, history and activism across sectors as a way to help to galvanize where I'm seeing myself in the dance field. These systematic structures have kept us in assumption mode or in a mode where we just accept that that's just the way it is. No, it's not the way it is. That's the way it has been, but not the way it has to be. I'm thinking more about how to uproot those oppressive systems that maybe we're swimming in, because we're breathing them in and we don't even realize that they are exclusionary. If we have more spaces with more intersectionally diverse perspectives, I feel that, not only is it more comprehensive, but it actually is more sustainable, because we're going to become aware of more perspectives. All of us are missing out on something, unless we're talking to a lot of a lot of folks with a lot of diverse experiences. I have information that you need, so you need access to my information, but I also need access to your information, because you have a wealth of knowledge that I've never been privy to. So, what's that reciprocal nature that we're practicing all the time in the studio? How do we practice reciprocity, in our lives and in our activism too? Because that will get us to a sense of being more sustainable. I think diversity is life and death. Individually, through society, through the arts field, it's life and death. If we're not thinking in a diverse way, we will miss things. We think we know what the world is, but we don’t. What it actually is, is this messy amalgam of many different things that we are trying to synthesize over and over and over again, every day. All that awareness will help us all to make better decisions - decisions that benefit more people more of the time and reveal possibilities that have been hidden with each one of us and the world we all co-create.

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