Thinking about it in simpler terms: Anna Marie Shogren
interviewed by Katelyn Skelley
Interview date: 7.8.21
Anna Marie Shogren Photo: c. Isabel Fajardo
Anna Marie Shogren is a dance artist connected to caregiving, social dance, and touch. Based in Brooklyn for many years and residing in Minneapolis, her dances and dance-based installations have been seen at WAM, Danspace, Movement Research at Judson Church, Dixon Place and the Walker Art Center to name a few. She has performed with Emily Gastineau, Emilie Pitoiset, Body Cartography Project, Yanira Castro, Hijack, Morgan Thorson, Karen Sherman, Faye Driscoll, Laurie Van Wieren, Megan Byrne, Anat Shinar, and others. She has begun a master’s program in Interdisciplinary Art at Goddard College and holds a BFA in Dance from the University of Minnesota. Anna and I had our first interview in June 2019 when her son was 16 months. I was drawn to speak with her after reading her essay “An Aside. A Meeting with the DaNCEBUMS,” where she so cleverly interwove her experience of being a new mother into writing a review for a dance performance. In our first interview she described the experience of turning down a contract due to caring responsibilities, the sensation of dancing during pregnancy and after giving birth and a cultural push for more co-parenting. We caught up in August 2021 over zoom between Minneapolis and Frankfurt to speak about slowing down due to the pandemic, the realitites of searching for financial stability and the lasting impact of growing up learning through dance.
Katelyn: I would love to start with asking what you’re currently busy with right now in your work and life?
Anna: Yeah, it’s been busier than the past year and a half for sure, but also not so busy. I just finished a performance at the Walker art center by Goshka Macuga. I got to go through that piece where I really luxuriously got to sit and read for three and a half hours a shift. A kind of a sweet summer gig, a rare anomaly where I had essentially a beach day of the performance. I’m also working on a project with Emily Gastineau, a choreographer based in Minneapolis. She’s been running little residencies and little strings of weekly rehearsals. So, a really manageable rehearsal schedule. That’s been engaging and really fun work and a really nice group of people to work with. Other than that, I’m copyediting a friend’s dissertation for her PhD program. That’s a little extra cash and that’s been good. It’s been nice to have something to work on after bedtime. I’m also just scrambling and looking for more of that, especially as the numbers get higher with covid again. And just problem-solving a lot. So, yeah, that’s kind of what I’m doing for work and creative work and searching. I’m kind of going for anything that seems possible or appealing, trying to write some things to be published and hopefully for a little bit of cash.
Katelyn: Last time we spoke, you were starting your master’s. Where are you in that process?
Anna: Well, a lot has changed in this past year and a half. I had done a year of my master’s and decided just a couple weeks ago to withdraw for the semester. Mostly for logistical reasons and also for my own health and the health of my kid in our current situation. Late last November I separated from my partner. I think just the isolation and the pandemic kind of brought things to a heat. He was not really in a healthy place and it was becoming really unhealthy for the two of us. So, we moved in May. We’re kind of in the midst of all this legal craziness. So, I had too much on my plate and school was unfortunately the thing that had to go. Partially, I think that’s ok for now. I was doing a low residency program so I can still continue with the projects I was working on. I’ve been working and researching towards a project on the end of life. I did a death doula certification partially as research, but I would love to work in that way if I can figure out a way to add another fairly unpaid line of work into my whole life. (laughter) But I really think that’s a beautiful thing that’s really necessary – the way we leave the world and help each other leave the world. What I’m really slowly trying to work on, whether I’m in school or out of school, is to create a piece that’s relational and maybe not even super publicly documented. Where I’m helping self-selecting individuals to create a living vigil for themselves. A vigil that would be when someone is actively dying, and friends and family come together. That there’s a kind of sacred space for holding that person at the end of life. So, taking a chance to do that now. Just recognizing that we can use that kind of rest and that kind of love around us and really intentionally bring it forward in our life spans. That’s what I would have been working on in school, too. So, I’ll just kind of do it at a little bit slower pace.
Anna Marie Shogren Photo: c. Otto Ramstad
Katelyn: You mentioned to add being a death doula to your unpaid line of work. Could you speak about all of those things that are in that realm for you right now?
Anna: My little one’s three and a half, so he is still a full-time job. Like invisible, unpaid work, who is wonderful and well well worth it. But it is a full-time job. He’ll be going to preschool two mornings a week if everything stays safe around here but otherwise, I’m childcare most of the time. So that’s a big one. I’m getting hourly wage with the dance projects with Emily, which is great. She’s really working hard to make that happen for us. But it’s not a very supportive situation for a single mom. Everything else is unpaid. For the other art projects, the death doula work and the other piece, I’m searching and hoping to find a little bit of funding here and there. I’m hoping that the gift of creating that space for people will feel like enough to take compensation for their time. But it doesn’t get me groceries exactly. I’m really looking, and I have no answers about how to make the rest go right now. I’m just crossing my fingers so hard.
Katelyn: Do you connect to having a personal practice, something that you do movement wise or writing wise?
Anna: I’ve been writing a little bit but not in a very structured, practicey way. But when my little one is with his dad, I’m going to try to use at least a portion of that time for really unstructured studio time. To just be in my body and be in a big open room. I think that’s what I really need right now. But I do have this dorky practice that’s left over from a piece of choreography from, you know, fifteen years ago. It’s just jumping like big explosive jumps. I usually do it for the length of one pop song and it’s exhausting and sweaty and that’s the thing I probably do most regularly as a physical practice. At least I know it’ll get my heart pumping and it’s something.
Katelyn: I love that. These leftovers from 15 years ago. (laughter) And now, if you can trace back to the first lockdown in March 2020, how was this entire period for you? Professionally and as a mother. Are there different points that stick out for you?
Anna: At the very beginning of the pandemic, I had a little bit of an overly optimistic honeymoon period. Life slowed down and all of a sudden, my partner, who hadn’t been very engaged, was there and in this sort of honeymoon phase as well. We were able to give each other time with kids and also separate. I was getting a lot more time to myself and for my art and for my physical body, which was nice. I’ve been lucky to have unemployment for a good portion of this time. That has given me some relief and space to be able to attend to some other things, which has been really wonderful and surprising. Then in the winter we split and so things kind of took a shift because of personal reasons. But it was familiar because I have been the person who has primarily stayed home with my child. There were patches when he was a little baby, where the whole day was spent just kind of attending to that creature. If I got a little bit of time here and there that was sufficient. So, I kind of clicked back into that mentality. It kind of felt like baby again even though you’re playing really differently. In terms of movement, we did a lot of Zoom dance classes for kids. It was good. I just needed something a little more structured than we have at home together because he wasn’t getting any school time. I’ve got lots of friends who teach really amazing classes for children. And that was fun for me, too. That was a good Band-Aid.
Katelyn: Overall do you feel that there were any advantages to this whole pandemic time for you?
Anna: I think as a dancer you get to go on these little tours and get to know people in different places. Then you’ve got this little community here and there. I was in New York for a long time, so it was great to be able to click back into my classes I took there. But there’s also another edge to that. I have appreciated this forgiveness of not being expected to show up for things or participate in a world in a certain way. That I have permission and forgiveness about kind of simplifying and spending a lot of time reading books with my kid or not having such high expectations about what I should be doing as a dance artist or as a parent. Thinking about it in simpler terms. That’s been but nice, even though I’ve definitely been like, oh, if I could only go and do this and I can’t wait to see a live show, you know, that kind of thing.
Katelyn: What are your current support systems right now?
Anna: I am leaning really heavily on my very gracious mom. She’s been a superstar grandma and a huge help this summer. I’ve been hoping and promising her that I would have more structure in place through school and other individuals by this fall to ease up on her. It’s just great to not have that expense. And I’ve got a really cool group of moms that I text with. It’s surprising that it’s been such a support for this whole time. We all have preschool aged kids and it’s just been nice to have someone you can be like, a weird thing happened today, and then we all get a million texts from that. That has actually helped to keep me grounded and connected to the world outside of this house more than I would have ever thought.
Katelyn: What is on the horizon working with Emily?
Anna: We’re hopefully going to Montreal for a residency and we’ll see if that happens. And in talking with Emily, I was like, I don’t know if I can travel right now with my little one. I don’t feel ready to leave him especially in our circumstances. She was like, is this a crazy idea or a good idea, do you think we could just work bringing him along into the budget? And I was like, well, that’s a great idea. I just thought it was far too dreamy to ask for. She pointed out that if I had needed another accommodation, she would work that into the budget, and this is no different. I thought that was incredible and very surprising to me. She asked what we would need, and I said a room with a door and he’s over the age of two, so he would need his own plane ticket. I don’t really have the cash for that. Also, maybe we will not come for the full ten days. Maybe just for a week. She said she thinks she can make that happen. It was super amazing and strange to say all of that. I just feel like that’s not at all the response I’ve… I mean, I haven’t gotten a ton of offers for that kind of thing since I’ve had a kid. That’s just not what I have expected. I kind of expected that if I was going to bring him along at all, I would just have to foot the bill. So hopefully that works.
Katelyn: What would be some of the other things that you would need that someone without a family may not think of?
Anna: Well, childcare while we are in rehearsal. She offered to help add that into the budget, which was really incredible. He’s a pretty good traveler and we’ve got a pretty good routine outside of our home routine. He’s still really into routine. So, some of those things are just so simple, you know, like getting him some berries in the morning, a cup of milk at night. He wants to line up his shoes by the door and a certain order of brush teeth, books, sing songs. Just those simple things. Giving us space to do that is so much of what it would be. In terms of childcare, I toured a lot with Olive and Otto when (their daughter) Uma was young. I have a little bit of security just having seen them get childcare on tour. There are so many artists who are really natural caregivers and really sweet babysitters. They are connected to the space and have a few extra hours and are willing to make some extra bucks. I feel like you’re in good hands. And just the understanding that sometimes you’re going to duck out of rehearsal and have to make a weird phone call or you are going to get interrupted or the babysitter’s going to come into the middle of rehearsal – and that may happen when you’re in the middle of some moment. Emily has been really cool about just letting us be our fully human messy selves in whatever situation. She always talks about starting from there. I think there are artists that are really into that, bringing your whole self into that process. And I think there are artists that have that old school ballet like, leave it at the door, you know? (laughter) And I do think that there’s also something really nice about that, being like, ok, here’s a safe space where I can be in my body and let things go. There’s some logic to that. But also, it’s never going to be leave it at the door, you know? As much as we try, I think that’s not even possible.
Katelyn: Thinking of your essay on the soft skills of dancers (see: https://mnartists.walkerart.org/looking-for-workers-with-soft-skills-hire-dancers), do you feel that there are skills that you built as a dancer that helped you and are helping you navigate this period? Of the last three and half years of being a mother but in particular through the pandemic.
Anna Marie Shogren Photo: c. Galen Higgens
Anna: I do feel like I owe so much of what I am able to bring to the world or even to my home space to the way I grew up learning through a dance setting. I was talking about this the other day with another dancer, just about the rigor. We were talking about how you get a critique, and you are trained to say thank you. And everyone that gets a comment in the room, you take that on yourself and you internalize that as something that you need to also work on because it was said. That is a very deep value in me. Thinking about immunizations and wearing masks and being cautious of each other, it’s just preposterous that anyone could think differently to me. That’s been a huge, huge part of me. And just energetically understanding the situation and what the pacing of life requires of me. How to adjust myself to fit and to flow is something I definitely learned or practiced at least through dance. I’m grateful for that because we are in a time where we are not in control of our pacing, being a mother and coronavirus for sure. So, just being able to take it down, slowing and breathing and being as present as possible all the time. That’s been a constant mantra. I just find myself being like, be present. There’s been so much joy that has happened in this weird and kind of dark, dark time because of being able to do that. I’ve been very glad to find those times where just me and my kid are having some ridiculous, sweet fun and dancing together. Just because I don’t have my dance community close by doesn’t mean that I don’t have people to dance with, you know, figuring out how to do that. I think it’s almost hard to see the edges of what I’ve learned from dance and from other places sometimes, too. But I still believe that dancers have some good ideas about how to go about being in the world and people should pay attention.
Katelyn: What does it mean to you to be a dancer or a dance artist right now?
Anna: That’s interesting. Maybe this is silly, but I feel like dance feels so much my home. Even though what I’m making artistically is maybe much more about rest and definitely not about choreography, it’s about things that are in dance. A lot of my other creative energy goes into writing. I’ve thought about that as a kind of opposite side to the same coin is dance. There is a part of my brain that feels very much like there’s a translation possible. That there’s a way to write that feels like it’s going through me just the same way as it would be as a dancer. It’s really exciting to find that connection or that exchange as a way to express in these mediums that are very different. Even though what I’m participating in artistically or creatively are not necessarily primarily recognizable as dance, I still feel like a dance artist entirely. It feels so, so deep in me. I think there are a lot of people that have said this, a lot of art theorists have said, being an artist is just a way of thinking. It’s just the way that you engage with the world. I think that being a dance artist is a very specific way of being an artist. But similarly, it is the way you engage with the world. Even my parenting is very much rooted in a dance artist’s place for me. I think that will always be my… I don’t know, labels change but that feels very true to me right now.
Katelyn: Can you describe a little more about how that sensation between writing and dancing is exchanged? Where are you situated? Can you get yourself to that place or do you just notice it?
Anna: I think there’s kind of a link between poetic writing and expressing in a non-linear, physical, palpable, visceral communication. I think that can come out in chosen words or in a physicalized the way. So, there’s that kind of connection. There is also a physical state when you’re writing where you’re in a flow. I think you can get into that flow, that improvisational ‘in the pocket’ place that you can be in while dancing while writing, too. Some of the most satisfying things that come out of me on the keyboard come from that physical place. I think there’s something in my brain that comes out when I’m writing, like the embodied sense of where I am as a writer. Where you are as a viewer has to be physically understood. I want to choose words carefully that support that spatial relationship and what that means, socially or otherwise, and help the reader to encounter it in that way. I think that feels like a very dancey place.
Katelyn: It’s wonderful. Thank you so much for today.
Anna: Thanks a lot, and be well.
Gefördert durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Programm NEUSTART KULTUR, Hilfsprogramm DIS-TANZEN des Dachverband Tanz Deutschland.