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Dancing feet

How does one infuse dance and spirituality? With every breath and movement, according to Jose Limon, the world-renowned Mexican-American choreographer and pivotal figure to the modern dance world.

In Tuesday night’s lecture, Nina Watt discussed the spiritual essence of Limon’s work. His death in 1972 did nothing to stop his pivotal contributions to the dance community.

Watt, an acclaimed dancer and choreographer for the Limon Dance Company, USF drama majors and other students from the Tampa Bay area demonstrated the ins and outs of Limon’s choreography. Performing excerpts from their upcoming rendition of Limon’s classic, Missa Brevis, they showed how simple movements represent the core of the human experience.

“It can reveal the great tragedies and ecstasies of man,” Watt said. “It’s the drama of life in motion.”

Breathing is what sustains life, Watt said. With each inhalation, the body rises and is supported by the breath, Watt explained. With each exhalation, the body sinks and releases. It’s a cycle, like the cycle of emotions one experiences throughout life, she said.

With each breath, the dancer emphasizes the rise of the body, stretching out the limbs. While exhaling, the body sinks fully and falls to the ground. After each fall, there is a recovery, and with each recovery, there is another fall, Watt said.

“The fall is beautiful,” Watt said. “It symbolizes ecstasy. It is the preparatory for an exuberant jump.”

Another key move in Limon’s choreography is referred to as the “oppositional pull.” He learned the movement from his mentor, Doris Humphrey, which he later expounded upon.

“The oppositional pull draws energy from the center of the body and sends it flowing in opposite directions,” Watt said.

Watt said Limon made a connection with this physical opposition because he was dealing with his own internal opposition. He was not in full agreement with his own religion, Catholicism, but wanted to lead a spiritual life. He found that he could not do anything with his strong emotions except “dance them out,” Watt explained.

“He dances as an act of faith,” she said.

“He said, ‘I tried to be an atheist but it was too hard. God is what drives you to aspire beyond yourself,'” Watt said.

The USF School of Theatre and Dance will be presenting Missa Brevis and Other Dances from Feb. 18-26. The show depicts the rise of the human spirit after the catastrophe of World War II.