This summer, Forklift Danceworks created Givens Swims, the final performance of My Park, My Pool, My City. Givens Swims featured the everyday movement of the people who maintain and swim at Givens Pool. From neighborhood teens to community elders, the story of the pool was told by people who have long lived, worked, and played around this historic place. In this series of blog posts, hear from four interns who joined Forklift’s artistic team for the performances.

From Lilley Gallagher, Environmental Studies and Dance Double Major at Wesleyan University, Summer 2019 Artistic Intern

Gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Devote your time, share your talent, and donate your treasure. My elementary school used to say this to us during morning meetings, in the hopes that this alliteration would inspire young community volunteers to enact change. Until now, sitting down to write this reflection, I had forgotten about this slogan. It hadn’t stuck with me because I couldn’t understand it before. I always felt I was too young, too inexperienced to do something impactful –  make a change or make a difference. Sharing my talent for ballet dancing, how could that help other people, help a community? 

I’ve been a ballet dancer for close to 16 years. Dancing over time became a competition I had with myself to achieve unachievable perfection. My mantra hadn’t become time, talent, and treasure. Instead, all my time was spent working on perfecting my talent.

Something changed at Wesleyan University. My freshman fall Professor Chernoff, my Environmental Studies professor, invited Allison Orr and Gretchen LaMotte from Forklift Danceworks to work with six students on an experimental final project. I was curious about using dance in such a different way. Forklift’s collaboration approach to making dances is very different from classical ballet, in that the goal is not perfection. The goal, instead, is to come together as a community and collaborate on something that is larger than yourself. Because of this, I found immediate relief in Forklift. The other students and I learned from Forklift how to job shadow, show up to someone’s place of work and go through their workday with them. Our assignment was to job shadow and then create a project highlighting the daily work of Wesleyan Physical Plant. I spent 33 hours shadowing Dean Canalia, the foreman of the Plumbing Department. During this time, I learned a lot about mechanical plumbing, but I also learned that Dean voluntarily comes in on the weekends because the department is understaffed. In my presentation, I wanted to relay this information, so we calculated and shared the number of utilities each plumber would roughly be responsible for on campus: 366 showers, 668 sinks, and 418 toilets.

Lilley Gallagher with Plumbing Foreman Dean Canalia at Wesleyan University

After this project, I gained a deeper appreciation for all of the maintenance staff on my campus and encouraged everyone to say hi to and thank these employees when they saw them. I built a friendship with Dean, and he told me he was proud of the way I was sharing my time. Feeling grateful and inspired, I wanted to continue, so I interviewed for this summer internship.

In Austin, I joined Forklift for the final year of My Park, My Pool, My City, which shares the story of Austin Aquatics in part so that the community audience can recognize how hard the maintenance team works to keep pools open, often battling aging facilities and dated infrastructure. I jumped at the idea of job shadowing again and asked to shadow Marcus Gutierrez, an employee Forklift was hoping would join the performance. I wanted to see what he did to take care of and maintain East Austin pools. 

Riding out in the truck with Marcus to check on his assigned pools, we talked about my work and his work, but also we talked about movies, food, climate change, politics, and life. I spent time learning what he did every day, checking pH and chlorine levels of his pools among a plethora of other things. Relationships are built through this process. Job shadowing became a bridge to ask Marcus to be part of the show. I felt comfortable inviting him to join in on, with his experience, what I was doing every day with Forklift in making the daily motions of maintenance employees into choreography. We were both able to insert ourselves in each other’s work while simultaneously feeling like a beginner and yet still feeling welcomed and included.

To create some of the motion for the performance, Allison asked the employees how the water comes in and out of the pool. The hand motions and body positioning they did while explaining this to us became the choreography. The way they take chemical tests also became part of the choreography. They do this work when no one is watching, and they do it tirelessly without much recognition. I thought of Dean. I thought of how he would have loved to see what I was doing now. In rehearsals, I counted the music with them and helped them learn their cues. We would keep going until they said they had it down. We sent them recordings of our choreography with music, and we heard that they were even practicing outside of rehearsals in their shop. I wanted all five of the employees in the show to feel confident during the performances, so they could just enjoy the feeling of being recognized. By supporting them to practice choreography and holding them to a high standard in rehearsal, I was able to apply my experience and passion for ballet in a way that I never could have imagined.

Photos by Jonica Moore

This was my first summer collaborating with Forklift, and through it, I witnessed that this organization exemplifies the three Ts in pinnacle form: time (job shadowing and being in community), talent (dance and movement), and treasure (investment in community arts) which also plays a prevalent role. With this show, I redirected my talent from self to community and redirected my time to learn about community and what people do in it. I made a change in myself, in the hopes to help and inspire others. I urge you – share your time, talent, and treasure with your own community. You’ll be part of something that makes a difference. 

Aquatic Maintenance Staff performers with Lilley after a performance. L – R: Marcus Gutierrez, Jonathan “Tap” Tapscott, Lilley, Juan Hernandez, Paul Slutes, Allen Catterson.

Featured image by Justin Humphrey

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