Project Highway HabitUS – From Crazy Idea to #Vanlife

 In Dd Exclusive, Summation Dance: Project HabitUS

It was 2015 and Summation Dance Company had just finished its 5th Anniversary Season at BAM. Co-founders Sumi Clements & Taryn Vander Hoop sat across from each other in a dimly-lit corner of Alchemy restaurant in Brooklyn, a favorite neighborhood haunt. Relishing in the local fare and finding ease after a whirlwind production season, the conversation turned to a familiar one. What to do next? A seemingly simple question, yet one that somehow always simultaneously invokes, for us, the intoxication of possibilities and the deepest of anxieties. It’s nagging, it’s ever-present, and it’s powerful.

This scene and these feelings occur so often over the course of our existence, that it may as well be scripted. Rewind to 2010 and you would have found us in a similar setting plotting the inception of our all-female modern dance company. For us, good food and corner seating is essential for innovation!

The answers, unfortunately, are always far more elusive.

We both knew we wanted to do something different from the typical produce and perform cycle, a sentiment that was independently suggested and validated by our mentors. We had been running this NYC operation for five years, and while that may seem like only a short time to some, it felt like we had lived an entire lifetime.

Taryn had a bunch of ideas, none of them fully formed, which she began sharing. Sumi listened silently; simultaneously humoring Taryn, while mentally entertaining the possibilities, and chiming in when something landed. One such idea was to travel around the country doing the community work we facilitate here in NYC and across the nation. In collaboration with the 92Y Dance Education Laboratory (DEL), this project brings dancers and non-dancers alike together in a movement and performance experience.

A spark was ignited, though unrecognizable at first. In a haze of nebulous thought, and with anticipatory abjectness, Sumi said, “I wish we could just take the show on the road, and live out of a van like rockstars used to do.”


To Sumi, the suggestion was an implausible notion. To Taryn, we had ourselves a PROJECT. Therein lies the beauty of the artist/producer partnership.

We began discussing concept, and we knew the project needed to include, but reach far beyond, community service we had been doing. Both of us were inspired by our personal lives–Sumi, by her relationship with a man of fundamentally differing political views in the most divisive election of her lifetime, and Taryn, by her desire to better understand opposing viewpoints–and as artists believed the subject of the work needed to study Americans themselves: of all backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles, perspectives. To do this, we would need to go to the source, hit the open road, and engage with our fellow compatriots.

Sumi’s older sister Niki, a Professor at Rice University in Texas, listened to our proposal and said, “Oh.. This sounds like habitus.” (Habitus is a sociological system aimed at understanding why individuals perceive the world as they do, and how this, in turn, informs their behaviors and participation within society.)
The definition gave us lift-off. We spent the better part of this past year fleshing out the how’s and why’s. We now know that our time on the road will continue to shape, mutate, and inform these how’s and why’s and now, here we are, ready to go, with a Van and a malleable idea.

Like rockstars on tour? Perhaps not. But #vanlife nonetheless!

Until next time, here are some quick facts:

So what is it that we are doing?
We will be traveling around the country intermittently over the next year by Camper Van, researching ideas of how geography shapes cultural and political ideology, in conjunction with the social theory of habitus. We will also be visiting participating universities along the way to workshop choreographic material and set pieces on the students inspired by the greater concept of the project.

What’s the point?
Our goal is to observe varying populations of the country through an open lens. Our approach includes a breadth of strategies that range from:

  • researched methods of interacting–using listening/observe/reflection activities that transform into movement exercises along with questioning–with varying communities and the cultures that exist within them
  • conducting and documenting informal interviews with locals
  • offering free movement experiences at community centers, schools, etc.
  • volunteering with local community organizations
  • improvised attempts at engagement, i.e. attending organized rallies/demonstrations, or simply hunkering down at the local watering hole talking to people, face-to-face

This project hopes to chronicle real people in real environments, thus forming the subject of the greater work of art for Summation Dance which will premiere in NYC in 2018-19 (and most likely have many iterations).

Join us!
Our first leg is Oct 25 – Nov 22 – see our itinerary below! If we are in your neck of the woods, we will certainly give you a ride in the dancemobile and would love to learn more about your community! Drop us a line.

October 25 – Hofstra University in Long Island, NY
October 26 – October 29 – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California
November 3 – 10 – University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky
November 12 – 14 – NDEO Conference in Texas
November 15 – 22 – Journey Back to NYC from TX through the South
Any tips on where to stop, people to meet, places to teach/volunteer? Please comment below.

How can I get involved or support?

  • Read, like, comment, and share our posting on social media! Follow these accounts – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Blog.
  • Make a tax-deductible contribution to the company!
  • Introduce us to any community centers or leaders, dance studios, schools, or universities around the country.
  • We are currently seeking partners and sponsors for the project with brands who have interest. Please pass our information along.
  • Follow along and talk to your friends about the project.

We can’t wait to share our discoveries with you. Stay tuned for updates from the road!

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