Kelsey Burns and Abdiel Jacobsen

Kelsey_Burns_Abdiel_Jacobsen_032Kelsey Burns (pictured right) started her dance training in flamenco in Princeton, New Jersey, with Lisa Botalico, and went on to train with flamenco greats Esperanza Fernandez, Carmen Ledesma, and Miguel Vargas and others. After graduating from high school, Kelsey continued to dance professionally. She was one of the featured dancers in the 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook and performed with Cirque du Soleil in the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kelsey and her partner Abdiel Jacobsen have worked with the NYC Dance Project. Kelsey is also a stage and film actor and is a member of Show Us Womanish, an all-female collaborative production of Julius Caesar. Kelsey will complete her BA in Bodies in Dance and Theatre Performance from Gallatin in May 2016.

Abdiel Jacobsen (pictured left) was born in Côte d’Ivoire and received a BFA in modern dance from the University of the Arts. In 2011, he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company, performing several leading roles and works by Nacho Duato, Larry Kegwin, Doug Varone, Bulareyaung Pagarlava, Richard Move. Both Abdiel and Kelsey are featured performers with the Cecilia Marta Dance Company.

Taking Up Space

In Taking Up Space, we take what we can from the traditional aesthetic of ballroom and use it to propel ourselves forward, generating new material with a nod to the technique that brought us there. My partner Abdiel and I spent over a year in the competitive Dancesport industry, most of which was made possible by the Dean’s Award for Summer Research grant I received in the spring of 2015. It became clear to us that we were not comfortable participating in Dancesport industry for multiple reasons, many of which are outlined in Juliet McMain’s critique/celebration of Dancesport, Glamour Addiction. We reject Dancesport’s basic premise of partnerships: man leads, woman follows. We feel this gender dichotomy in which power is assigned to men and submission to women is limiting for both sexes.

In this project, we reclaim our partnership as defined by more than gender. We want to use Taking up Space to reimagine how partner dancing looks and feels. We do this by passing leadership back and forth in our movement, giving and receiving equally.

This equality is notable in our footwear: both Abdiel and I dance in high heeled shoes. The history of the high heel reveals its patriarchal roots as a tool to objectify women (after it was no longer suitable for its original wearers—men). Yet I have always felt more comfortable, empowered, and secure dancing in heels. Here we face a paradox as dancers: am I required to reject that comfort if I want to reject its history? We believe we can embrace heels, and also push against their gendered connotations. Abdiel and I have found that the physical experience of being elevated has less to do with gender and more to do with taking up space differently.