Q&A: Through the eyes of Wendy Perron

Dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer and editor — Wendy Perron, sat down with A&E to discuss curation, improvisation, accepting limitations and a new book in the works.

Wendy Perron, a dancer, choreographer, teacher and recently became an author, speaks at the Barbara Baker Center for Dance on Monday, Sept. 18.

Ellen Schmidt

Wendy Perron, a dancer, choreographer, teacher and recently became an author, speaks at the Barbara Baker Center for Dance on Monday, Sept. 18.

Kate Drakulic

Last week, Wendy Perron — author of “Through the Eyes of a Dancer,” editor at large for Dance Magazine and adjunct teacher at NYU Tisch School of the Arts — was invited to speak to a stage full of University of Minnesota Theatre Arts and Dance students. Afterwards, students waited in line to have their copies of Perron’s book signed by her, and A&E had a chance to ask a few questions.

You’re a dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer and editor. Do you have any other titles?

Curator … I’m different things at different times, but the last couple years I’ve been curating. 

What did you curate?

The exhibit at New York Library of Performing Arts called “Radical Bodies.” It took three years out of my life. When you curate you don’t just curate, you’re writing the book, doing the wall text, you’re just involved in every part of it, and I was curating with two other people … and so I love the material, but that was three years.

Was that your first curating experience?

It was my biggest. I’ve also done other curating. I’ve kind of become known as someone who is an authority on dance in the ‘60s, kind of avant-garde dance, which is what “Radical Bodies” was on. 

When did you start to consider yourself a choreographer and a writer?

In college, I realized choreography was really hard, and I was really scared to do it. I didn’t think of myself as a choreographer, but I kept trying to do it because it was expected in the college I went to. I kept thinking, “I can get better at this,” and when something really worked, like some little phrase, it was like, “Oh God, I love that. Wow, that’s so me and it’s nobody else.” And I think similarly with writing … So, you find these things and you think “I want to do this more.” 

How has being a dancer and having that experience influenced your writing, and vice versa?

Dancing influenced my writing because of the rhythm, as I talked about [during the presentation]. I always had a very sure sense of rhythm and musicality. I always hated rambling sentences and run-on sentences because I feel like people who write those don’t hear the rhythm of it.

Have you always lived in New York?

Yeah, pretty much always. 

New York City?

I was born in the Bronx, and then I lived in New Jersey growing up, but I was always coming into New York for classes. Then as an adult I always lived in New York. I hated the suburbs. 

So, now you’re at Dance Magazine.

Actually, I was editor in chief from 2004 to 2013, and then there was a shift, and I became an editor at large. It opened me up to do other things, to go back to teaching … I don’t get into the studio and try to teach people technique anymore.

And that’s at Tisch?

That’s at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. It’s kind of a conservatory, not as pow-pow as Juilliard. Not as heavy-duty as Juilliard. It’s a graduate seminar, for people who have experience in dance and want to get their MFA so they can become more dimensional as potential teachers or curators or even choreographers. Editors, I would say, some way or another. So, I enjoy that, having that group of people to guide … I’m not full-time, which is perfect for me at this point in my life to be an adjunct. I’m working on this book now … [it’s] finally center stage, I’m focused on it. I’m doing research, I’m doing interviews, starting to write and I’m giving myself two years [to finish the book] in addition to all the other things I’m doing.

What is your new book about?

It’s about Grand Union, an improvisation group that was experimental, that was by the seat of your pants, that was extraordinary in every way, that was leaderless. If you look at American examples of leaderless groups, in any field, they were called anarchists. It was harmony but anarchy, both at the same time. I just loved them, I saw them in the ‘70s and loved them and was sad that they broke up … they all separated and became their own separate choreographers, so nobody wanted to preserve what they did with the improvisation group.

Besides the book, is there anything else you have planned or that’s coming up?

The Walker Art Center asked me to do something … I’m not really clear yet, but I think I might write something on how their archives are fertile in a certain way, and there are things I discovered in their archives that I had no idea about the Grand Union.

The fact that I don’t dance any more in the studio usually leaves me free to do other things … I do exercises twice a day and the reason I mention that is that mostly I do that because I have herniated discs in my back and that’s why I started exercising, but the exercise regime has enabled me to actually hold on to part of my dancer self. I started the exercises just so I wouldn’t be bent over, so I would have some strength in my spine … I have to be aware of my limits and I have to move not very fast, and I can’t get up and sit down very fast. 

Do you consider it a limit?

Yes, I consider it a limit because I used to do a lot more. But you know, part of aging is accepting your limits. I don’t hear as well as I did, I don’t see as well or dance as well, I don’t have a spring in my step as much, but it is interesting to get older and to be able to collect things, look back on things, so I’m not unhappy with that.

Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.