Missoula Beetle Dance Workshops – Summer 2022

This summer, I am  an OpenAIR Artist Resident at the UM Emlen Biology Lab, which studies evolutionary biology and animal weapons through the lens of insects and specifically, the Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle. As part of my research and creative process, I am leading a series of 2-hour workshops that use movement to explore and model some of the evolutionary adaptations and pressures that drive animal weapon development.

Workshop Details

Thursday July 7, 2-4 pm

Tuesday July 12, 12-2 pm

Thursday July 14, 2-4 pm

Tuesday July 19, 12-2 pm

At the West Side Theater (1200 Shakespeare St., Ste. 2)

– Join one, some or all of the workshops

– No prerequisite science background

– Designed for experienced movers and dancers

– Free to participate

What does a ‘Workshop’ Look Like?

Generally I split ‘workshops’ into three phases. In the first, we get warmed up and settled in the space and with the group. After that, I will introduce the research questions and lead the movement prompts and activities that we will use to explore them. Lastly, we will cool down and have a de-brief and feedback session.

Some research I am curious about right now includes:

  • Examining the rituals of confrontation (i.e. ‘sizing each other up’ instead of automatically going full tilt)
  • comparing the selective pressures of female choice versus male competition
  • balancing competing selective pressures (eg. balancing speed and maneuverability with size and strength)

AQ’s (Anticipated Questions)

When you say this is about bugs, do you mean…? No, I will not be bringing bugs to these workshops although the rogue studio fly is out of my control.

Will there be a performance? Due to time constraints in this residency, my focus will be creating and recording material, not necessarily performing it. 

Do I have to go to all the workshops? These workshops are designed to be independent of one another, meaning you can come to one, some, or all of them. 

Do I have to be a dancer? No but I ask that all participants have a movement background that allows them to explore and create freely and safely. If you are unsure of how you fit in that criteria, please reach out and let’s talk!

I’m interested, but would have to show up late/leave early. Because this is a lot of material and a limited amount of time, I ask that participants are present for the full duration of the workshop. 

Other questions that I didn’t anticipate? Write back and ask!

E-mail to RSVP or with questions!

‘Body in Motion’ Spring 2021 Community Workshops

I’m super excited to announce a new series of workshops for my 2020-21 Intrepid Fellowship, ‘The Body in Motion.’ In each of these community workshops, we will dive deeper into the profiles of various characters and the tales they tell in the film. Each workshop focuses on a scene from the story, introducing the community to the story, its characters, and the research behind the scenes. 

These workshops offer an optional performance opportunity for those who want to provide movements for the final film.

Each workshop is two 1.5-hour evenings and a 2-hour Saturday filming opportunity, times TBA

In-person space is limited and online options are available. 

Workshop #1: The Dance Class
Tue 5/11 and Thu 5/13, 5:45-7:15.
Filming on Sat 5/15, time TBA

Linda is a sifaka who teaches an 80’s style dance fitness class.The attendees of this high-energy workout, however, are not as bipedally gifted as Linda and perform their workouts instead on all fours or on their stomachs.

With a liberal use of imagination and humor, we’ll experience the spectacular and unique movement capacities of animals specialized to their environments and occupations. We’ll look at basic orientations, directions, ranges of motion, and more as we try to figure out things like: what would a successful grapevine be for a sea otter? How does a crab salsa? Can a turtle do hurdles? 

Workshop #2: The Art Class
Tue 6/1 and Thu 6/3, 5:45-7:15
Filming on Sat 6/5, time TBA

Draca is a mantis shrimp who teaches a paint-and-sip style art class and whose unique eyes bestow her with a vibrant color spectrum including ultraviolet, infrared, and polarized light. Draca’s class is filled with pupils (pun intended) whose diverse eye structures make for very different interpretations of their subject, ranging from  dichromatic to high contrast to panoramic and everywhere in between.

In this workshop, we’ll dive into the visual life of the different animal participants in Draca’s painting class. We’ll use painting and visual arts to take a look at the different eyes and visual receptors in the animal kingdom. We’ll research different structures of eyes including compound eyes and chambered eyes, rod and and cone receptor cells, pupil shape, and we’ll use visual arts to express and explore these differences in perception. 

Workshop #3: The Imp
Tue 6/22 and Thu 6/24, 5:45-7:15
Filming on 6/26, time TBA

The Imp is the human phenotype, that is that specimen which is the epitome of the species homo sapien. Throughout her dance, the Imp un-develops in a movement retrograde of features that make the quintessential human: what differentiates humans from apes, apes from other primates, primates from other mammals, mammals from reptiles, etc. 

We use movement to understand how the capacity of our human bodies has developed over time and its connections to our evolutionary and genetic past through two lenses: The first is rooted in the Laban/Bartinieff fundamentals of movement analysis. The second is the study of genetics, exploring how different expressions and mutations of genes affect speciation and also allow us to map to our convergences with other animal life.

*Use this registration link to register for any or all of the workshops.

Wild Geese – Rehearsal

For Cohesion Dance Project’s and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church’s 2020 Winter Solstice Celebration

Poem – “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Dancers – Nina Murphy and Julynn Wildman


“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

“Body in Motion” Community Workshops

A group of students from Helena Public School's PEAK program participate in a school movement residency
A group of students from Helena Public School's PEAK program participate in a school movement residency
Photo by Thom York

“The Body in Motion” is a year-long fellowship that explores a theme of human evolution, biology and experience through writing, sound, and movement. These workshops will introduce participants to the social and scientific research supporting the work of “The Body in Motion.” In each workshop, participants will be immersed in a specific theme and engaged in a process of creative writing and movement.

Workshop format

The format of these workshops flows from play to inquiry to creation; each day begins with guided writing and movement exercises, followed by immersion into research relevant to the day’s theme, and concluding with a creative integration of information, writing and movement. 

Please note: The movement aspect of this workshop will incorporate elements of dance but will be largely self-driven and exploratory. No dance experience is necessary to participate.  Any element of the workshop can be modified or altered to fit the needs of participants. 


Each workshop is a sliding scale of $5-$25 at the door. Walk-ins are welcome, but space will be limited to 18 people, so RSVP to [email protected] to reserve a space. 

Workshop 1: Jaw and Pelvis
Monday 11/30, 3-6 PM

These two bony structures encasing the distal ends of our digestive system have rich scientific and social relationships. This workshop explores their evolutionary similarities as well the social and emotional connection of these two areas. Inquiries in this workshop include:

  1. Radial, bilateral, and asymmetry

This section explores three different symmetries found in life: radial symmetry (symmetrical around an axis [eg. starfish]), bilateral symmetry (eg. symmetrical across a midline), and asymmetry (not symmetrical on any line or axis). While bilateral symmetry has inconclusive origins, we will use animal morphology to observe how shifts in radial to bilateral symmetry often accompany the elongation of a digestive tract and its structural complements (i.e. spinal cords, jaws, and pelvises). In addition to this external symmetry, we will also explore the asymmetry of human viscera through this digestive elongation.  

  1. The development of the jaw, upper limbs, and lower limbs from vertebrate gill arches.

While theories are still contested, researchers propose that paired fins and jaws may have evolved through modifications in gill arches. This means that the mechanisms that shifted gills to jaws mirror those that shifted gills to ancestral arms and legs (seen as pectoral and pelvic fins in contemporary and fossilized fish). 

  1. Tension in the horizontal diaphragms of the body, bookended by the cranial base and pelvic floor.

The two structures that cradle the ends of our digestive tract are notorious sites of tension. As the structures that are gates from internal to external, the experience of holding in these areas has been a fascination pathologized by the western psychological cannon in the footsteps of Freud (perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the colloquialism “anal-retentive”). Experiences such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) are popularized as a physical manifestation of stress, tension and anxiety.

Workshop 2: Eyes, Ears and Balance
Monday 12/7, 3-6 PM at the Holter Museum
  1. The movement of bones of the jaw into bones of the inner ear.

The first appearance of the complex inner ear is from ancestral mammal-like reptiles. The same hinged bones that allow for the gaping jaws of reptiles are those that create a hammer mechanism in our inner ear that give us auditory acuity. 

  1. The development of visual sensory stimulation as it relates to the vestibular system orienting creatures up to down. 

The first appearance of ancestral eyespots blurring the distinction between plant and animal and were likely an adaptation after absorbing DNA from symbiotic algae. These eyespots were the first indication of photosensitivity, responsiveness to light that occurs in plants as photosynthesis and in the structures of eyes that dominate the animal kingdom. 

Our vestibular system has origins in invertebrate ancestors whose lineage we share with jellyfish. Sensory organs developed with heavy crystalline structures falling towards gravitational force. When shaken or turned upside down, these structures facilitated a return to an upright orientation to gravity. 

Understanding that our ancestral eyes are a response to upward light and our primitive vestibular systems are a way to orient towards down, our verticality is essentially informed by these primitive sensory systems. This orientation became relevant in our development again as humans transitioned into bipedality. 

  1. Generation of a complex three-dimensional space. 

We are generally familiar with tetrapod eyes, the front- or side-facing eyes embedded in the skulls of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles; the variety of visual sensors in the animal kingdom are diverse. The compound eyes of insects commonly wrap around their heads or are prehensile to enable a huge field of view. Jellyfish have eyespots on their bells which detect lightwaves 360 degrees around their bodies. 

Similarly, ears have a variety of placements, and ‘ears’ doesn’t even cover the whole category of mechanisms through which life perceives and interprets sounds waves. 

With this diversity of these sensory functions in mind, how is three dimensional space perceived to meet the needs of different beings? 

Workshop 3: Body Stories
Monday 12/14, 3-6 PM at the Holter Museum

Movement is deeply individual, a complex web of biology, cultural and physical environment and lived experience. Sensation and perception are also uniquely ours, inseparable from how we experience the world and who we are. This workshop is a deep sensory exploration of the social influences on our bodies, including subjects like taboo, industry, beauty, creation stories, cultural and religious values, and body images, asking questions including:

  1. How does your culture interpret body conformity or nonconformity? In other words, what cultural narratives exist about the ‘normal body’ and how are we encultured to respond to bodies that deviate from this norm? 
  2. How does the taboo and/or totem of bodies affect our relationship to our own flesh? How does cultural and social shame affect our relationship to our bodies and in turn, our relationship to ourselves?
  3. How does the economic culture impact our bodies? How does the ‘structure of our day’ translate into the ‘structure of our lives’ in an essential, physical way?

Using case studies in addition to offering time for individual reflection, this workshop offers an opportunity to deepen the ways in which we understand how outside forces have the power to impact bodily experience, offering us the opportunity for intentional relationship to these forces. 

E-mail [email protected] to reserve a spot.