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New N.H. Artist Laureate, Amanda Whitworth, Is First to Represent Dance

Peter Biello/NHPR

At the start of this month, Ashland resident Amanda Whitworth began her tenure as New Hampshire’s newest Artist Laureate. She’s the first dancer to hold the title. Whitworth is the director of dance at Plymouth State University, and the co-founder of the New Hampshire Dance Alliance.

She spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello earlier today about what she plans to do in her time as laureate.

Editor’s note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

So we are in NHPR's Studio D. We are standing, just to give us the option of moving around if we want. You're already moving around a little bit. This seems to be something that you like to do, obviously, you're a dancer. But before we get into anything else, I want to ask you what it's like to be the first artist laureate who is a dancer here in New Hampshire.

Well, it's really exciting. It's exciting and it's overwhelming. The laureates who have gone before me trend toward visual arts. So having a mover, someone who is physicalizing art and stories and experiences is very cool. I'm delighted to share dance movements, somatics and make a space for that. So this is a great honor and I can't wait to see what blossoms from the opportunity.

What will this platform as artist laureate enable you to do as a dancer that you wouldn't otherwise be able to do?


Credit Ryan Smith Visuals
Amanda Whitworth.

That's a really good question. What I hope it does is put dance on the map. So nationally, dance is the most underrepresented performing art. In New Hampshire, we do have dancers, but we don't often have a chance to see dance as much as we might see music. Or theater. So it's exciting to sort of walk the walk as a dancer and showcase the power of dance there.

My goal, I think for the next two years is to get dance in more rural spaces and make dance for rural communities... a voice there. I'm an Ashland resident, which is the geographic center of New Hampshire, and I'm really inspired by the work that's happening in the North Country. I'm connected with the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, and there's some real opportunity there for arts and culture to make a mark on setting priorities for economic development and rural revitalization. So I've got my thinking cap on about that. 

If you had infinite resources, infinite money, what kind of project would you like to take on?

So this is... I have a project that I'd like to take on. I'm drafting it up in my mind. It's called Body Stories. It is taking a team of artists, dancers, videographers, playwrights, and coming into communities and meeting the people and learning about the history of the infrastructure, the people, the natural landscape, and creating work for those communities in those spaces. And being able to do that all around both our urban and rural communities, our suburban fringe communities, all of those things. But ultimately that could be archived as a sort of experience for New Hampshire through video and then ultimately could become a larger sort of performance that reflects our culture and our people and our place long term.

Well, we're standing around in Studio D. You've been sort of moving around this whole time. Seems like you want to get some movement in. So let's indulge that and do what we can to make dance appear on the radio. So, I mean, you're a teacher. So is there a dance move that you start dance students off with? Maybe there's a warm up or sort of beginner dancers trying to get used to the space and their bodies. Can you show us something like that? And also narrate?

Yeah, sure. So I am a teacher of dance, but a lot of times I don't actually work with dancers who want to be professionals or Broadway people. They tend to be just regular old people. People who love moving, people who want to move through the space. And so a lot of times I think about how people can start to shift and transfer their weight. So from one foot to the other. So right now, I'm shifting my weight to my right foot and then to my left and my right and my left. And inside of that sort of experience, you get some natural rhythm.


Credit Ryan Smith Visuals
Amanda Whitworth.

And then once you start to feel that groove, you can start to add on. This is like you go grocery shopping and you put things in your cart. I might start to add on one arm that moves through the space by reaching out and coming back, reaching out and coming back. So you can imagine if you're listening to this, that I'm shifting my weight from my right to my left and sort of like a 1970s disco I'm reaching my right arm up and then bringing it back down. And then I can expand that by adding rhythmic patterns to it with sound. So I might stomp. And I might add some sort of hand clap. And then I might even add breath.

So I'm trying to get people to understand what it feels like to move through the space, what it feels like to make sound in their body and how their breath is connected that way.

Seems like it's important to you as well to make sure that people know that dancing can be accessible.

Absolutely, 100 percent. I really believe that art belongs to all people. So dancing, you can do it in a variety of ways. You can be a professional and kick your leg to your head. But you can also have fun dancing in your home with your family in social settings. It's wonderful. It's exercise and art all together.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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