‘Exit Strategies’: A Poem and Solo Dance from Amanda Sieradzki

Nearly six months after the February 2018 shooting in Parkland, FL, I developed exit strategies. Intermingling personal stories and firsthand accounts of national tragedies, the choreography moves through a poem of the same name. It pulls gun violence into sharp focus. It questions the role of artist as citizen. It questions a social media-driven society that recycles hopes and prayers in the face of real-world actions. But who am I to tell this story?

“Dance didn’t suddenly become political in the span of one tumultuous year,” Siobhan Burke writes in her 2017 The New York Times article, “Making (and Seeing) Dance in the Politicized World.She interviews Tere O’Connor and Beth Gill, asks them how their processes have changed since the 2016 election. O’Connor talks about a “nervous motor” running underneath Long Run. Gill speaks on her line-blurring attempts to neutralize stereotyping of performers in Brand New Sidewalk.

Modern and contemporary dance history is littered with dances that reconcile political unrest and trauma: Anna Sokolow, Katherine Dunham, Paul Taylor, Pearl Primus, Alvin Ailey. The post-moderns said “no to moving or being moved.” Critics blasted Bill T. Jones’ work Still/Here in the wake of the AIDS crisis for being “victim art.” Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez was crucified for a “leaked” dance video, Donald Glover both praised and persecuted for his music video This is America.

Dance involuntarily offers up the body as a site of politicization. As an interdisciplinary maker, I seek to heal widespread loss and anger. Dance-making and poetry become the weapons wielded against the routine tragedies that barrage every online newsfeed. It offers solace, but to whom and for what?

Since 2016, I’ve felt at a strange impasse with dance. It was all well and good to make dances about time, space, energy and identity, but given our current political climate, what was it all for? I toyed with creating a political work, and that too provided another existential crisis. I first spiraled into the mind trap—if all dance is, at its root, political, then what do we do with works that respond directly to specific current events?

Redha Madejellekh, a San Francisco based choreographer chose to respond to Donald Trump quotes with carefully crafted movement vignettes on camera. The video’s premise appears simple on the surface. These quotes will likely live in infamy. I still wondered what to do with choreography that speaks to events that are inextricably tied to a time and place. How long after a tragedy do you wait to respond? And who is allowed?

In a 24-hour news cycle where another tragedy swoops in to replace, another tragedy swoops into replace…is there an expiration date on adding your voice to the mix? Are you allowed? What right do you have to speak on these events? Is being a concerned citizen enough?

I woke up on Valentine’s Day 2018 to teach elementary school students the joys of ballet. I drove home as the news flooded in: a fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Just a few miles up the road from my partner’s parents. It was his high school.

Exit Strategies

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

I’m driving on a bridge when the road gives way to ocean.
I make the jump onto a tiny landing strip. The omniscient speaker
overhead announces that while they’re excited I’m so eager
to try out the new bridge, I need to turn around as it is not yet completed.

I maneuver my car in a three-point turn and realize all too late
that the landing strip is too small. There’s not enough road
to get the speed I would need to make the jump back to land, back
to safety. I do it anyway and I fall and fall and fall. Blue, blue,
blue ocean coming closer. Choppy water. Licking whitecaps.

I shoot out of bed. It’s 2am and my heart is still revved up
to 100 mph. Blood in my ears, rush of wind as I find the cold
wood floorboards and meander to the bathroom.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

There were seventeen men and women that woke up
to cartoon hearts, candy balloons, consumer cacophony.
There was the wide eyes, the eye rolls, the Hallmark holiday rants,
the swelling teenage hormones.

There were women who carefully arranged their face,
clasped buttons, slipped into sandals. There were men
who combed fingers through stubborn coifs, clasped
buttons, slipped into sandals. They all marched onwards,
the routine the same. Hush hearts, pink hallways, pop, pop,
pop of a balloon caught too close to the halogen light bulbs.

Shot down after flying too close to a fluorescent star.

There was a fire alarm. Another routine. Evacuate
to a field where maybe they’ll stand a few feet away
from someone who will say you look nice today or will
politely ask about the weather or will just sulk and wish
that an entire high school could be swallowed into a Florida-famous sinkhole.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

Running into my parent’s bedroom, I curled up in the purple comforter,
cried into my mom’s nightshirt, “There are twenty attics full
of Christmas presents that are never ever going to be opened.”
Never met with sticky candy cane smiles, never ripped and thrown
aside in search of that one wishlist gift.

There were twenty empty seats in class the next day
and the day after that. There were moms and dads who sat in attics,
catatonic. Maybe they hadn’t wrapped anything yet.
Maybe they were like my dad, holiday insomniacs, last minute
Santas, on missions in fleets of purple Plymouths.

Or like my mom, calculating sheets of reindeer paper, meticulously
finessing plastic bows, penning big bubbly letters, hoping no one
recognizes her script, loses innocence too soon, uncovers the secret.

She herself has said she was a naughty child, Nancy Drew methodical,
mapping her house until she found her presents tucked away
in a dust-mite corner of the attic. She never opened them.
Only peeped the holly paper, shook
and rattled and rolled for size and content.

I wonder which of the twenty had already located their hidden
treasure, counted down days in a suspense only felt
when a classroom seems like a Crayola covered cavern
and regulation is still a word too large for spelling test lists.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

Shot awake, 2am again, but he’s the one buzzing
like a broken alternator. White-lit face, frenetically scrolling text.

“Where is your sister?”

I thought she was at a friend’s studying
or staying up late in the library, praying
that, like the sun in an Alaskan winter, finals
would never come. He called her when she didn’t come home.

She was in a friend’s dorm, safe. She wasn’t at the library that night
when another man will never walk again. What good
does that full ride scholarship do, a collegiate olive branch to stop
a lawsuit, when all you wanted was an education uninterrupted
by hospital beds. It’s a gold star for a gouge, a gash, a gaping, a gasping

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

How when I sit in a dark theater, given the choice, I want
an aisle seat. I want twinkle light landing strips at my feet.
I want red orange glow to glare across the screen.
I want to dance near the club’s door, stand at the back
of the mosh pit. Exit strategies.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

How your hopes and prayers are smoke screen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

How my fury, my fear, at the unjust, the insane, the inane is futile.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

How you can’t say it’s going to take something huge, like the orange
beast himself being taken out for something to change. How you can’t
spew such blasphemies when there’s so many white and red
and blue monsters thrashing and burbling and sliming over every inch

of capital, of virtual, of live from your trusted news team,
of live from the scene of the crime, of live on your newsfeed,
of talking and talking and talking over each other of trying to get the facts,
of wanting immediacy, of stating the obvious, of I can’t imagine
what these parents these grandparents, these churchgoers, these students,
these teachers, these marathoners, these gays, these legislators, these human
beings what they must be going through right now in this time of tragedy,
of horror, of shock, of awe, of celebration, of protest, of resistance, of time.
There’s no silence there’s just this tickertape of chatter that won’t shut up
they won’t shut up, the bystander effect, the copycat killers. We keep feeding
the beast, we keep feeding the beast, we keep feeding the beast
and he will never be full, never satisfied, because he doesn’t exist.

There is no catch all no scapegoat no one
person or place to blame because the beast
is in all of us, its you and its me
and we’ll never tire or be full
or at peace.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tragedy this morning.

I’m driving off a bridge, giving right of way to an ocean. I fall
and fall and fall. Blue, blue, blue coming closer. Choppy
water. Licking whitecaps. Blood in my ears, a rush
of wind as the cold finds me.

I can’t think any more about tragedy this morning.

Would you be interested in ordering a limited edition print of one of Amber Sieradzki’s illustrations seen above, with a portion of the proceeds going to an organization intent on ending gun violence? We are gearing up for pre-orders now. Contact us with your favorite illustration and/or your preferred organization.

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