10-Year-Old Girls Helped Choreograph Gal Friday, a Dance Piece About Femininity in America

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The term "Gal Friday," slang for a female office secretary, originated in the '40s. But on Saturday Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) will place it in an entirely new context. The company's artist director, Joshua L. Peugh has given that name to a collaboration with Girls Inc., a nonprofit that teaches leadership skills to young women. The dance performance will explore the American woman’s experience in the home and workplace.

Peugh founded DCCD six years ago when he was living in Korea, with the mission to “show humanity in all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies.” Now entering its fourth season, the company has established a reputation for provoking dialogue about important, and sometimes controversial, topics.

One of Peugh's priorities has been to make his art available to young people and not just longtime patrons of dance. The company usually has an in-studio showing of new work for the general public. There are no lights or costumes, but there is a Q&A segment following the performance when the audience can ask questions. In the case of Gal Friday, the preview will be held at NorthPark Center in order to ensure it's seen by a larger audience.

“Modern dance, which started as a way to talk about what’s happening in contemporary culture, has turned into a museum piece where people feel like they can’t understand it, and we’re trying to reverse that by making it as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible,” Peugh says. “Movement is the most basic form of human communication … I know this from living in another country where I didn’t understand a word of the language.”   

Peugh wants to make it clear to the average person that dance is no more than a decorated version of the basic movements we use every day to communicate our needs. He says that from the beginning of the company, DCCD were always more interested in “seeing people, rather than acrobats.” While tricks, glitz and glam can be beautiful aspects of dance, Peugh's company is more concerned with highlighting how dance relates to the everyday and to our shared humanity.

Collaborations like this one with Girls Inc. are another critical part of DCCD's work. The girls who work with the nonprofit have been at the center of the creative process for Gal Friday. “We go for two hours on Monday mornings and we’re working with the 10- and 11-year-old group, which has been really fun," Peugh says. "We’ve been going in and doing movement games with them and sort of getting to know them. We’ve been creating some of the vocabulary for the dance together with them.” The movements he and the girls come up with in their sessions are studied in the evening DCCD rehearsals and translated into the full piece.

Although the girls from Girls Inc. will not perform the piece, Peugh says he was very impressed by their talent. “This particular group of girls is so creative," he says. "They’ve really helped create the piece and we want to give them ownership of the work.”

Just like Girls Inc. gives girls courage to follow their dreams, Peugh hopes Gal Friday will ignite something in its viewers. He wants the audience to leave unsure of the piece's meaning, so they're more likely to continue to reflect on its subject matter. “When I go see art I want to leave with questions," Peugh says. "I don’t want to leave feeling like I got it.”

See the preview of Gal Friday at 3 p.m. Saturday, August 7, at NorthPark Center (8687 N. Central Expressway). The performance is free and open to the general public. Find more info at darkcirclescontemporarydance.com.

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