Author Archives: Madison '10

CRA-sia: a Conclusions and Farewell Blog

Its only competition being the tumultuous New Student Orientation Week, I returned home just in time for possibly the most eventful, chaotic and memorable week of college, “senior week” as it is called and graduation time. Starting with Llamapalooza, CC’s annual spring music festival that the entire school fantasizes about all year long which happened to start about 12-hours after my return, followed by days of soaking up time with all of the people that have been such influential and important parts of my life for 4 years that are redistributing themselves around the country (and world for that matter), having critical last minute meetings about my thesis, the incredibly over-stimulating graduation schedule full of thank you’s, goodbye’s, and plenty of glasses of champagne… not to mention my seemingly incessant daze caused by jetlag and lack of sleep that was unmatched by the activities set out for all of us soon-to-be-graduates who were willing to consume ourselves with just about anything that would take our mind off the inner-freight and anxiety about leaving college-life and being thrown full-force into the scary real-world. To say it plainly, I was immediately consumed in the vortex of the most exaggerated form of life at Colorado College, leaving me dumbfounded as to how to reconcile my experience in Taiwan and be present in my life back home during such an indispensible time. It seems it has taken me until now, a whole month later, to have both the time and concentration to sit down and write, and I suppose to have even digested the experience enough to write about it coherently.
The trip turned out to be quite an adventure, with very dichotomous extremes of highs and lows. Ultimately, it ended on a very good note and I very much appreciate my experience there. The time was in a sense two different trips, which even a half-a-world away mirrored the life of the CC block plan, split into very distinct 3 ½ week  “intellectual adventures” as they call them. I would more call them “unique 3 ½ week psychological, cultural, interpersonal and intellectual adventures,” but that’s probably too wordy (and heady) to advertise to prospective students and donors on the brochures…artist promo
The first three weeks (7th block) were some of the hardest of my life, challenging so much of the reality that I thought I knew— I call it my “Murphy’s Law and Madison learns self-preservation techniques” block. At times I was convinced I could not make it, that I had over-committed myself, that I was not strong enough personally to handle the web of unanticipated hurdles, that the last $100 to my name was not going to stretch far enough, and that my immune system (particularly digestive system) was too delicate for the highly glutinous and soy-soaked cuisine. I came out of it though with some very valuable self-engineered methods to promote my own survival and happiness, as well as some new travel “do’s” and “don’t” (don’t mostly), a decent start on the research, design, and implementation of my thesis, and oddly had grown accustom to my bug-bitten body and anomalous food digestion (of which happened to be a parasite, Giardia, I discovered a week after my return home after surprisingly having no relief after I restored my meticulous gluten, dairy and soy free diet).

kung fuThe last three weeks (8th block) were absurdly busy, but in a different way than the typical CC senior back home— taking their last class pass/fail (or not in one at all) and panicking about the future, yet numbing the thought of it by partying to each night’s different themed gathering as outlined on the 8th block Senior Calendar. Rather, I call it the “Mastering the (my) World Many Things at a Time” block. I think I felt more accomplished on my last day in Taiwan, when I turned in my final paper, did a presentation on the Dance and Disable Project, and submitted my 37-page thesis all in the same day, than I did the day I graduated college!
During the last three weeks, many things changed. For one, the sun came out… which after almost a month of clouded disarray made the world of difference. Having previously contemplated the progressive hubs like Seattle, WA or Portland, OR after graduation, I now know that being a Colorado native I can never live long-term somewhere that doesn’t see the sun at LEAST every 3 days! Having the other 23 students around transformed our involuntary isolation we felt at the beginning into a need to, at times, voluntarily seclude ourselves from the rambunctious bunch of foreigners. It provided us with a variety of fresh perspectives. Visiting museums, reading and writing, accepting guidance about food and activities, and people to help resolve the language barrier, gave us the opportunity to experience traditional culture in ways that we didn’t the first half of the trip… not to mention I got to study Kung-Fu, Calligraphy and Tai-Chi, which particularly Tai Chi, remain on my “Top 10 Things I Learned in Asia” list.

dance and disable projectThe Dance and Disable project, the most unifying part of the trip, actually turned out to be one of the most significant and life-changing experiences I believe I will ever encounter. Being so ripe in the present, it has been difficult to reflect on the experience in a well-articulated way. What I do know however is that forming cross-cultural relationships, developing creative and authentic means of communication in the lack-there-of conventional verbal language, participating in a social-welfare program, and integrating movement and meditation of my own western-raised heritage into a small community within a larger culture that itself is so centered on the philosophical beliefs of social concern, spirituality, community and personal well-being generated an unmatched experience. It solidified my belief in the healing potential of movement, touch, and creative expression, as well as illuminated the direction that I would like to take my life as an artist, educator, and conscious citizen. I can’t imagine it to have been better, for anyone involved.
So what next? Well, besides working at the front desk at CC for the summer, living with the parentals and taking a breath from the crazy journey of my CC career that accelerated on until the very end, I am working alongside the local Parkinson’s Disease group that my stepmother, Amy, is part of that participates in ‘Movement and Music’ and ‘Water Tai-Chi’ classes to help their condition. It is truly astonishing and has been the best part of being home so far. As I hope to be a part of continuing and expanding the program, my time in Taiwan gave me not only experience and a heightened passion for the field, but the confidence in my ability to take on such a project. Although I do not see myself staying in the Springs much past the summer, I would like to invest myself in being part of introducing the initiative to wherever it is that I go, which is yes… still TBA 🙂
For now, I am finally beginning to connect the dots between my time at Colorado College, my unique expeditions abroad, my unconventional upbringing, and my future aspirations. My hope is that if I continue to surround myself with people and pursuits that both enhance my well-being and that of the world around me, that I’ll end up somewhere good. I suppose that’s all I can ask for— so for now, I’ll end this blogging endeavor with a genuine thanks all of the wonderful people I know who were part of my life before, during and since this adventure (especially those who made it this far in reading my slightly scattered, sporadic, and often incredibly cheesy blog). THANK YOU!
Oh and I’ll also leave you with the inspirational quote-of-the-day I had e-mailed to me yesterday that so appropriately articulates the challenge and enlightenment I experienced in Taiwan….
“A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery, even on a detour.”
Mad love.
wow frog eggs

Almost 3 Weeks of Missing Words

Wow, it is daunting to finally sit down and try write about all that has happened since my last post. A combination of not having enough time and not having the ability to organize my thoughts has prevented me from writing along the way. I’ll do the best I can to illuminate the incredible adventure that has ensued the last two weeks. I’ll begin with some thoughts I wrote the other day on a train ride…

April 16:

After frantically packing our things for the weekend, inhaling a few bites of food that was undercooked, excessively doused in soy sauce and by normal standards much too hot to ingest, I am now comfortably on a train to Kaohsiung, a smaller city on the opposite side of the country where we will be performing tomorrow. It is our first performance here and only one of three coming up in the next nine days. The first consists of a dance for film that we each made and a 10 minute piece that we put together. The next two performances are in Taipei, and are the showcases of my Thesis, one for TNUA (Taipei National University of the Arts) and one for TAV (Taipei Artist Village). Considering the time, language, and money restraints, not to mention the fact that I have never been solely responsible for such an event, makes the whole thing particularly stressful for me, especially as I again find myself battling my relationship to dance, which I often question in times like this, times that exceptionally taxing both physically and psychologically. I find myself gaining critical perspective on what it is that I love about the field and what it is that I do and do not, just as we all do as we perform every craft we attempt. Being so far away from common comforts and escapes, though, seems to intensify these reflections. Other than having far too much to do, it seems, than sit and evaluate my feelings, what a better time to become fully conscious of such things, just before I enter the world as a newly graduated young adult faced with a plethora of choices as to how I want to live my life, at least the next chapter of it.

This morning, we woke up early to teach at the Jin-Long Center, which we have been leading classes at twice a week at for the last 2 weeks. I cannot fully express how incredible teaching these classes is, in fact it is one of the most joyous things I have ever had the privilege of taking part in.

On our first day at the center, we were as nervous as kindergarteners on the first day of school, entering into a completely foreign place without the slightest clue as to what to expect, who we were going to meet, or what our potential was. After our classes, we had a meeting with the staff and personnel at the center, discussing the structure of our classes, the participants, expectations, plans, etc. We were pleasantly surprised by the classes we led and the center’s reaction to them, as they were hugely complimentary and enthusiastic. They expressed actual amazement by some of the participants and truly believe that this program is going to make a long-term difference in these people’s lives. I do not know about the long-term effects of our efforts, but I do know that our classes seem to bring reciprocal joy and liveliness, at least for the hour we have together.

The first class consists of 5-7 adults that have severe cases of autism and other physical and mental impairments, and the second consists of adults with Downs Syndrome. Both classes, the first in particular, requires the help of two staff members from the center and our translator Wen. The first class has much more difficulty ascertaining even the most simple movement tasks. Many of them require two or three people’s help to crawl or roll across the floor, some even to lift their arms, or to lay down on the floor (which we do for 10 minutes at the end of each class in order to cool down, focus on breath and relax both the mind and the body.) The second class is considerably more capable, we are able to warm-up, do some simple across-the-floor exercises, a movement game or activity and a cool down. The favorite activity so far has been Freeze Dance, which at least two of them would compete for the gold medal for in Freeze Dance Olympics if they existed (oddly enough, one of them is deaf… the other has nervously learned how to tell me in English that I am “his spice girl”). It is fascinating how different the two disorders affect the body. It is clear each can benefit from movement, but in very different ways. The autistic students have extremely tense muscles and joints and are often immobilized by this tension and by their nervousness. In this class we focus on warming up and loosening the body, helping them to gain dexterity and coordination, and most importantly to relax their body and mind. The students in the Downs Syndrome class for the most part are incredibly limber and quite coordinated, so we try to focus more on strength building and channeling creativity and confidence.

In the last couple of years I have discovered and fallen in love with a new avenue of the dance field, very different than the conventional one. Ultimately, it has caused me to redefine my philosophy of dance and performance, and the direction I would like to go with it. Basically I fell in love with the intrinsic properties of movement, and the ways in which it can facilitate physical and emotional well-being. Teaching these classes is wonderful, because these people can benefit from movement in their life more so than almost any other group of people that I can think of. Of any part of this trip so far, I wish that I could share this with people in my life. Unfortunately we are unable to photograph or videotape the classes, although they are documented by a professional videographer for the use of the center and TAV… for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

April 18:

Exchange performance with Tsoying High School. This picture was in the newspaper. It proceeded a news conference and was followed by a bombardment of Taiwanese high schoolers wanting photos and kisses with us. Probably the closest feeling to fame any of us will ever experience, and one of the oddest times of our life.

Our exchange performance at Tsoying High School, with the students, the principal and the super intendant. The governor was also in attendance. This photo was in the newspaper, and followed a news conference. It was also, just before the bombardment of Asian highschoolers asking for pictures and “kisses.” To say it plainly, it was a bizarre and unforgettable day.

Last night we returned from our eventful weekend in Kaohsiung. Tomorrow starts the beginning of my last class of college: Chinese Meditative Arts. Twenty-three other CC students have now officially joined us in Taiwan, and I have a feeling the last three weeks of our time here is going to be very different than the first. We now have access to a whole slew of resources and guidance in which we lacked the last few weeks, which I’m sure everyone who has been dealing with my desperate attempts for comfort and communication from back home are happy to hear! My thesis piece is complete and almost ready to perform. My written thesis is not finished. I am healthy-ish… despite my friends- stomach and head ache who remain loyally at my side due the undetectable and/or unavoidable presence of soy and wheat. TAV got insect exterminated, so we are no longer infested with too many flees and mosquitoes.

It is near impossible to appropriately describe what has happened the last three weeks, especially to our newly arrived classmates. They have been some of the hardest, best and obviously (as I keep being reassured) valuable times of my entire life. As my survival instincts kicked in at full gear, my fight or flight instincts battled each other and I at times in fact considered quiting and coming home early. All in all, what was formerly almost too much to handle is now humorous to recollect, and of course I am glad I stuck it out during the difficult times. I know how obnoxious it is to hear as I report from across the world on scholarship and grant, I now see light at the end of the tunnel that has been clouded over for a considerable time. Whether that has to do with a couple more days of sunshine, the arrival of a giddy and curious group of college students, or the development of my thesis, I am unsure – perhaps a combination of them all. I do know though that if I were to describe the details of my escapades, my blog would go on for days (plus I am not sure that I have the compositional talent to properly illustrate their true colors). The last couple of weeks have included… our birthdays in Taiwan (yes, all three), our memorable trip to Macau (the Asian Vegas), our trip to Kaohsiung (the closest to fame any of us will probably ever get), friends, no friends, performing, exploring, and lots of other adventures.

CC Dance in Taiwan Community in Taiwan at my birthday dinner

CC Dance Community in Taiwan (Jack, Casey and Mauro)


Yunyu bought us massage mallets from this fabulous lady.

Strange art outside of Taipei Main Station... part of the International Floral Exhibition

Taipei is wonderful because there is art everywhere, although sometimes it is a bit strange. This is outside of the Main Station, and is part of the floral expo.

motorbikes everywhere blog

There are motorbikes everywhere… and they drive like maniacs!

Luxury McDonalds- blog
There are also McDonalds everywhere. This one was in Macau… quite luxurious I must say.

Macau 2

The three of us in Macau.

Macau Casinos at night

Macau at night.

Street Vendor-blog
A street vendor.

Just a great candid

Just a great candid.

April 19:

I am finally posting this. The fact that it has taken this long, says a lot about life here. My apologies for my absence up until now, I will try to be better about updating more regularly. Sending my love overseas, and hope you enjoy pictures (which are in the media library, I am working on getting them all uploaded into a post)! Now I have to go to class and the first showing of my thesis) Happy day everyone 🙂

Words on a Whirlwind Week from Across the World

While Rosey and Dolo are both occupied with calls from home, I thought I would take a minute to sit down and write. It has been a week since I left Colorado Springs and what I week it has been— full of ups and downs and everything in between.

The excitement and curiosity of the first couple days seemed to delay our jet-lag, catching up with us a few days later, right when you’d expect it to subside and right when our schedule was the heaviest. It was Monday that I returned home, after navigating the city for the first time alone, with tears in my eyes only to find the others in the same state, locked out of our room and feeling like we were drowning ourselves in water way over our heads. That day we had woken up early, taken the MRT (Taiwan’s version of the subway) to meet Allen, our partner in the Dance and Disable Project, and gone to visit the two centers that we will be working at for the next few weeks (although I only had time to visit one, because the rest of my day was filled by travelling to another side of town to go have my first rehearsal with the 4 Taiwanese dancers that I will be working with as part of my thesis). The Dance and Disable Project is going to be a big part of our residency here at TAV, which in collaboration with the Shin-Lu Foundation, we will be leading somatic movement workshops with mentally disabled adults of varying kinds and severities, mainly those with Autism and Downs Syndrome.

At the first site, we met with the head personnel at the center and observed some of the activities of the members at the center. The language barrier prevented us from having any sort of communication with either the personnel or the members, and only a fraction of the meeting was translated for us. Basically, we established our class schedule and who will lead which classes (Dolo and I will lead classes at one center and Rosey and Allen will lead classes at the other) and were given protocol and warnings both for teaching people with mental disabilities and for doing so as foreigners. Although Rosey and I both have experience working with people, particularly youth, that have experienced emotional and physical abuse and/or neglect, mental disabilities is a very new arena for us. This combined with the inability to communicate through verbal language with either the students or those we are working under is intimidating to say the least. Now we are in stages of solidifying the structure of the workshops and plans of how to execute them. Our first class is next Wednesday, which also happens to be my birthday. Despite our list of fears, I have a feeling that we are going to be fine, and that this project is going to be both difficult and hugely valuable in ways we cannot even predict.

The same day, as I mentioned earlier, I had my first rehearsal with Hsui-Ping’s dancers. Originally, I was to have between 6 and 10 dancers and have around 8 rehearsals before my showcase, but conditions now allow for only 4 dancers and 5 rehearsals, which is not very many, especially considering only one of them can understand me when I speak and my attempt at counting to eight in Chinese sounds like a dying cat counting down (or up I guess) to her death. One of them, Sylvia (the one who can speak English), so nicely met me at TAV and led me across town to the studio where I met the others and led a moderately productive 2-hour long rehearsal, considering the circumstances. I have a new-found respect and empathy for foreign choreographers and teachers, it was oddly one of the more difficult things I have ever attempted to do. An hour or more later, after losing myself in Asia both figuratively and literally, I finally found my way out of the Taipei Main Station and walked home to find my similarly distressed and hungry patrons waiting for me to unlock the room so we could fall face-down on our beds, cry a little and turn on some Grey’s Anatomy and probably some angry girl music. After a little while of sulking and venting, we re-centered ourselves and regained our capacity to appreciate where we were and what we were doing.

The last week has been so jam packed it is difficult to recap. Basically, the next few days hit us with some personal crisis’ from home, which being across the world during has been both a blessing and a curse. We have finally been able to start rehearsing for the show we are performing in a couple weeks in Southern Taiwan for a performing arts high school as well as the town’s governor, although we have been relocated to the mirror-less and carpeted piano room for our daily rehearsals because the dance studio has a hole in the floor. We go back and forth as to whether it or our concrete studio is a better rehearsal space. We have seen some of our Taiwanese friends that we know from the CC dance program— I-fen, Jeff and Mauro, and they have all been so great, helping us settle in and become culturally attuned. We have had more interesting food experiences, which although we finally found out that our location in the city, the governmental district, is an awkward place to find food, our taste buds have yet to adjust to the foreign tastes and smells that in all honesty we find mostly repulsing. I-fen and Jeff took us to a night market for dinner the other night. Unfortunately, the fantastic carnivalesque atmosphere, that in the states manifests itself on some annual occasions but in Taipei is an everyday occurrence, was sadly annihilated by the wretched smell of stinky tofu lingering over the entire area. Yesterday was Rosey and Dolo’s birthday, and out of desperation caused by a combination of hunger and homesickness, I ventured out early and came home bearing breakfast and goods from McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. Never in my life did I expect that either could be so satisfying.

I think it is fair to say that being here so far been quite an experience. My senses seem to be on overdrive at every moment I am awake, as there is so much to see, to feel… to experience. Though I know you learn a lot in school, I think I have learned more in a week being here than I do in a month of being in school: about myself, about relationships, about culture, art, language (to say it in general terms)… and most interestingly the intimate inter-workings of them all. I have felt the full-spectrum of emotions, from the highest feeling of ecstasy, to the lowest of fear, sadness, frustration and desolation. With help from supportive e-mails and Facebook chats (which I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate), my often overly anxious disposition is cooled by the reminder to keep the big picture in mind. Being in a place so far from home puts a lot into perspective, forcing me to re-evaluate so much of the tradition and resources I as an American am so privileged to have, yet am so disabled by; and at the same time reminds me of all of the minute details of home that I seldom or never take the time to think about, let alone appreciate.

So for now, at the end of week 1, I am missing home and loving being here.

Here — Safe and Kind of Hungry

Sitting jacketless in the courtyard of the Artist Village (TAV), I am enjoying the first sight of sun and blue sky since before the blizzard in Colorado, which hijacked our flight out of Colorado Springs a half-a-day before it even took off. Considering the circumstances though, our travels ensued fairly seamlessly. We caught the next flight out of Colorado Springs, and made our connections in both Dallas and Tokyo, and once arriving in Taipei, after a few rounds of trial-and-error, I managed to figure out how to work the pay phone and call our Taiwanese liaison, Jeanny, to help us find our taxi driver that had to be at about his wits end waiting for us in the Taipei airport. 900 Yen later and all three scrunched in the back seat (because the front seat was ungracefully conquered by my 73 pound suitcase), we arrived at our new home at about midnight, greeted by three fellow artists and Mr. Hwong, the cute-as-a-button security guard who reminds me of my Granddad. We were taken to our room/studio/apartment, a spacious concrete room attached to a bedroom and bathroom, resembling something between a flat in NYC and the Whitney Electric building (an abandoned warehouse near CC’s campus, which houses everything from homeless people, to concerts to art exhibits.) We were left to ourselves where, despite the time and the long day of traveling, we hurriedly began unpacking and settling in, like three twelve-year-olds who just arrived at summer camp.

Yesterday was our first full day. We went in search of discernible food that I could eat, and to explore. We apparently found ourselves in more of a ghetto than we realized, but our conversation with our new friend Jason the previous night in the bar downstairs assured us that we did not need to worry about our safety. In his words “we could walk downtown at 4 a.m. in bikinis and not be bothered… well maybe not bikinis.” After picking up some fruit from a street vendor and taking plenty of pictures, we found our way home more based on intuition than by following the map we picked up along the way that trying to navigate by reminded us that were in a completely foreign place even more than walking the streets seemed to.

Later we met with the staff at TAV and went over our residency schedule, we saw our dance studio, which is absolutely perfect, and ventured to try to find dinner, which among the options Dolo and I sadly opted for middle-eastern food (each vendor declined my paper request for food without wheat, dairy or soy), and Rosey ambitiously tried the pre-packaged sushi. I topped off the meal with my new favorite dessert— which I call gooey-rice balls, not knowing it’s real name.

It’s now morning, blue sky and beautiful (not to rub it into all of your freezing Coloradan’s) my computer is about to die and we are going to venture to find breakfast and have our first day of rehearsal.

The Travels of a Dancing Thesis: An Introduction

Waiting to board my delayed flight home from Cleveland, where I enjoyed a relaxing visit with my sister, I am ambitiously attempting to postpone my anticipatory anxiety and excitement of the fully-loaded two-months that await me. In only four days I will once again be scrunched in tight quarters with a myriad of cranky travelers, this time though, waiting to board a set of flights to Taipei, Taiwan. There, I will be spending the remainder of my Colorado College career.

Since I received my first passport in the mail last May, just a few days before my life-changing trip to the Kingdom of Tonga, I have fallen in love with the wonder of traveling. I cannot believe that for the second time in less than a year, I am looking the trip of my dreams straight in the eye (not to mention the fact that it is again fully supported by scholarships and grants from CC).

At this point I have a schedule in place and it seems as though I will have to write-in time to breathe between the numerous projects to be completed. Our home-base, the Taipei Artists Village, is where Rosey (a recent CC graduate), Dolo (a current sophomore) and I will be living and working as part of an International Artist-in-Residency program. In collaboration with the Hsin-Lu Foundation, we will be teaching therapeutic movement techniques to mentally disabled adults as part of the Dance and Disable Project. Additionally, our trio will be producing and performing for various audiences and venues around Taiwan. In the later half of the trip, I will be participating in a CC class titled “Chinese Meditative Arts,” which is an abroad block taught in Taipei by my advisor Yunyu Wang. Overarching all of this, I will be completing my senior thesis, exploring the cultural dissimilarities and relationships between Asian collectivism and western individualism from the lens of modern dance.

Naturally, the fact that I know very little of what to expect makes me nervous. Although I have a relatively detailed schedule, I have been repeatedly warned to avoid attaching to plans as they are likely to change in unpredictable ways. Seeing as though I have never been to Asia nor do I speak the language perhaps exacerbates my uncertainties— mystifying even the most seemingly simple tasks and accounting for the already plentiful amount of useful information that is lost in translation.

What is so extraordinary about this trip though is that I am going not as a tourist, nor as solely a student or as a worker, but instead as some inimitable hybrid of them all. I am going not only to teach, to create, to perform and to observe dance; but to explore passions, interests and possibilities that extend far past the conventional labels of “travel”… “dance” or …“thesis.” I am going to work both independently and collaboratively; to grow both intellectually and personally; and to solidify and expand upon the foundation that my quintessential liberal arts education has erected. My hope is that within this complex web of responsibilities and experiences, I will be able to live within and learn about a culture so far from my own in a very unique way.

All-in-all, I have a lot of demanding and exciting work on my hands, to say it mildly, and although I know I am a soon-to-be college graduate, I cannot conceal my youthful zeal, as I know that my nerves, excitement and gratitude can be sensed from a mile away. From now until my return on May 7th, I will be blogging as often as possible in order to document and share my experiences with anyone interested in reading and/or joining in the conversion.

More to come… next time from an ocean and a half-a-day away 🙂