From taking dance classes to teaching them, Lynn Panting has been expressing herself through movement all her life. Interview and photo by Ryan Davis.
How did you get your start with dance?
My mom’s best friend, Pauline Emery, was a dancer and she made me my first tutu when I was four. Every day I would ask my mom to go to dance lessons but she thought I was too young. Finally, she let me do a summer session when I was five. I loved it so much. More than the tutus, the tiaras and the shoes—the aesthetics of dance—I very much loved the music and the idea that dance class was a place to go and move to music. Sometimes we’d have a live musician, like a percussionist or someone playing the piano, and I thought that was the bees’ knees.
Are there any standout moments in your life as a dancer?
Probably moreso than the actual dance moments, I think it’s the moments that surround the dance—the kinds of communities that are built in dance classes. With this studio community, you grow up with a group of girls and end up spending more time at the studio than at home. You may not talk to them much, but your body is sharing the same space with them for hours and hours a week. So you get to know them on a more intimate level. It’s a really interesting connection. But in terms of performance, I formed a group of dancers in 2006. That stood out to me because, growing up, I was never the best dance kid in class in any kind of a way. I knew I wasn’t going to go to the National Ballet and I wasn’t going to dance on Broadway. Dance was not going to be my career, or so I thought. But then I got this group of people together and when we started dancing I realized that I was making dance my life. And although I had been a teacher’s assistant, that’s different from making art and saying what you want to say with your dance.
What are you trying to say when you dance?
A lot of my dances are about very everyday, mundane things. I’m not doing a piece about world peace or devastation. Rather, I’m focusing on one-on-one relationships. Maybe it’s about sadness or joy or love or loss, but on a very simple level. Those are almost the hardest things to express—those things that everyone feels and knows. So the piece I was speaking of with that group in 2006 was called Particulars, and it was about an individual’s relationship to a group. How you can feel a part of something and yet apart from something. And the ideas surrounding group dynamics which I was feeling very much at that time, being an early twenty-something finding where I fit in and how relationships affect a larger group. Now it’s more about hope or finding something quite joyful. That’s what I like to dance about, as cheesy as that sounds when you say it out loud. But that’s why you dance it, I suppose. Maybe it’s why I didn’t write a poem or a novel.
You’re a dance teacher too. What do you hope students will take away from your classes?
I hope they love it. That’s all I hope for. I would like them to learn to point their feet. That would be quite lovely. But it’s not essential. And I hope they appreciate their own body for whatever it is. Everyone has issues and obstacles in terms of their ability and their movement. Even if it’s your own movement patterns and breaking out of those. So I really try to get people to embrace those limitations. It’s the only way to work with them and even move past them. But most importantly, not to think of them as limitations. For me, what I’ve learned is to really embrace what you have and what you can bring to the movement