When I hear the clichéd phrase play like a girl, I can’t help but remember the movie, Little Giants (1994), where Becky “Icebox” O’Shea tackles the boys who tell her she plays football like a girl. But I don’t exactly think that’s what University of Idaho artists, Belle Baggs (dance), Alexandra Teague (poetry), Stacy Isenbarger (art/sculpture), and Kristin Elgersma (piano) have in mind. Or perhaps they do. Perhaps they plan to metaphorically and mentally tackle the idea of playing like a girl—not in football but in arts—in their collaborative project The Bask Collective.
I had no idea what to expect when I entered room 110 of the Physical Education Building Tuesday evening. A community workshop dealing with how women project themselves and their art in society is what I could grasp from the website. Oh, and to wear comfortable clothing and be prepared to “leave your shoes at the door.” Can we say abstract? But I was quickly grounded in some semblance of the physical as I walked into the large multipurpose room, lined with a mirror on one side and a dance bar on the other, and signed my life (or ankles) away on the bottom line.
The thirty participants (including five men) and the four instructors formed a barefoot circle and began the workshop with introductions. No, this wasn’t the first-day-of-class, syllabus, I’m-majoring-in-blank introduction. Instead we were instructed to say our name as we demonstrated a gesture of strength. A gesture of strength? Did they mean physical strength? Mental? Maybe both, but a gesture that embodied our personal idea of strength. My personal idea of strength is the inner strength of being comfortable alone—living alone, eating alone, moving across the country alone—but I didn’t know how to illustrate that in body movement.
I chose to attempt Crow, a yoga posture that takes both mental and physical strength; a posture that, when I can accomplish it, I feel the embodiment of strength. Others chose different yoga postures, some flexed their biceps in squatted positions, and some opened their arms and arched their back.
After the introductions we were divided into groups of three: strangers, friends, acquaintances, whomever you happened to be standing beside. The four artists turned up a playlist of eclectic music, often upbeat and clubby switching to foreign and primal. During the songs the groups of three had to continuously perform various gestures of strength in relation to the other two participants’ chosen gestures.
At first, this was awkward, at least for me. Although I am an outgoing person, I am very private and respectful of personal space, but during this exercise we were supposed to mingle and intertwine, intentionally disrupt each others’ spaces. Many women shared my apprehension at the beginning, describing it as first getting to know your partners and then finding a rhythm within. Jamaica Richter, a MFA alum and current UI lecturer said, “I noticed how completely out of my comfort zone I was and how rarely women in our society are welcomed in situations outside of this zone.” Comments and reactions such as Jamaica’s sparked the intended conversation that Belle, Alexandra, Stacy, and Kristin had in mind—figuring out the boundaries and meanings of strength and aggression.
The idea behind the BASK Collective began when colleagues criticized Stacy for being too “aggressive” in her art. What does that mean? She asked herself and called Alexandra to discuss this criticism. Their conversation eventually involved Kristin and Belle. Kristin often wondered why, as a pianist, she was encouraged to play like a girl because too often she played aggressively. The four began to collaborate on a movement to “create space to explore issues for women in the arts.” The goal of this project is to “increase student and community awareness of women’s position in the arts, prompting active investigation of social definitions . . . to interrogate the implication that [to play like a girl] means being weak, and [to] consider alternate, more empowering meanings.”
Tuesday night’s workshop initiated the quest to find the answers to the questions that Belle, Alexandra, Stacy, and Kristin are exploring. A 2013 Fine Arts Grant is helping fund this year-long project, which will “culminate into performance that features each of their artistic roles; a commissioned work by major American composer Eve Beglarian; and participation by selected students and community members.” The workshop ended with a second gesture-game which included all of the participants and props. It was a time to let our personal and societal boundaries down and express our inner strength with ease.
For more information on the four artists, their backgrounds, the project, and future events please visit www.baskcollective.com.