Part of a Series
In this fourth edition of our ongoing series, we visited different forms of dance in Knoxville to simply record what we saw, profiling the scenes and lives that help define our city.
Once you're in the building, it's all good.
But I make the mistake of parking at the bank across the street from the Broadway Academy of Performing Arts studio on Broadway. Quiet here on a November First Friday. No one on the wide sidewalk, just a traffic light and the lit sign of a carpet store.
But through a huge window on the low-slung, bright-lit green store front, I can see the easy-going folk. They're patting native drums, milling around some table tops with dangle earrings and vibrant textiles, nibbling snacks—I can see the bag, Stacy's Pita Chips, multigrain. Surely this is the Sacred Hoop, Drum, and Dance Circle?
But I try the academy's door. Locked. I catch the eye of a long-haired blonde in a hand-dyed shirt. "Not here, the other door!" she shouts, pantomiming.
I gesture wildly, but I've lost her attention.
It's locked. I want in, where it's warm and light and lots of people have tie-dyed garments and flowing skirts!
Finally a woman in long pants and short hair with silvery earrings sees me and gestures. She scoots through to a room I can't see. I scoot the same distance on the silent sidewalk. Door open! I step through. I'm facing the back of a reception area. In a place that's a wonderful, soothing mix of light and burnished wood. There's a long dance studio, mirrored like for ballerinas, lots of strings of small Christmas lights—on the Victorian era piano, strung up on the artificial palm serving as a Christmas tree. On another piano, teddy bears dressed in red velvet perch; some floor to ceiling columns are looped with rich brocade; a giant vintage china cabinet houses an artful arrangement of marble horse bookends, Asian-look marionettes, a small Sony stereo system, a thermos, and books: Byron, Keats, Shelley; the Forsythe Saga, Gone With the Wind.
No one here is remotely official. Never is there an announcement, "I pronounce the Circle open," nothing like that.
Instead, two pre-teen girls on light feet make their way through the three rooms, seeing if anyone still needs to pay. A guy in work boots and windbreaker traipses by.
The drum circle, a collection of locals who also play for Kevin Meyer's Sacred Circle Dances, filter in a few at a time. First there's a man in an ethnic looking top—Mexican wedding shirt?—and another guy in a T-shirt with plain brown hair; they start the rhythm on native drums with bare hands.
They just seem to know what to do; no orders are articulated. Another fellow joins them across the circle; it's Eric from Green Earth Emporium, who also makes some of these drums. Then an older woman with a prim cap of white, waving hair and a gentle smile unfolds one of those blue vinyl cup holder chairs so popular with soccer moms and sits; a man in khakis and loafers settles in beside her, just outside the circle, to watch.
The floor show begins with just one woman dancing with a hoop, a tank top, skirt, and tights on her fit body. She moves the hoop wordlessly, in synch with the drums but not necessarily dancing to each beat, lit only by the Christmas lights twinkling against the long mirror. She keeps her circular partner moving; they're entwined, then the hoop's an extension of her, an appendage, or maybe more like her own hair. She swirls and slings for 15 minutes; then others join. One is Cathy, in a flowing knee-length garment with uneven hems—a handkerchief dress, she explains in a Southern accent before slipping off to the floor. She's here to hoop dance, a student of Charity Edwards, who has regular classes at the academy. Edwards is here, too, in the other room sporting the hair feather extensions she offers as a side line, and noshing on a fast food burger.
While the hoopers are on one side, a small woman slips onto a corner of the floor without a hoop. She's wearing an array of poofy skirts, with tight braids, and fetching stripped yellow pantaloons below. She ripples her arms, almost like an Egyptian hieroglyph, taut, commanding. She ripples her hips, just as strictly controlled, each beat corresponding to the drum circle. Beat. Shake. Toss. Shake. Soon it's almost like a cord, pulled tight, runs between her and the drummers.
They've been joined by a younger woman with a scarf and heeled boots, modish glasses, a tight woven cap.
In the side room, the tiny bazaar from pre-show is still going on. Across from a table of native drums, a woman in a gray shirt with, yes, a Star Trek insignia, is selling capes and clasps and other goods helpful for Medieval reenactments and other fantasies. She's forgotten she's wearing the Star Trek garb, but laughs easily when I'm not sure which character it would be. "Nurse Chapel!"
There's a slight snag on the floor; a hoop has spun out of hand and across the floor in a most ungraceful manner. Big laughs, more dancing.
Later, a few of the students perform an energetic dance with led lights and lots of arm circles; Edwards is mesmerizing, her lights snapping like lariats, her body weaving in and out; choreographer, commander of hoop and self.
Two tiny blonde children, with soft noises of joy, have joined the audience, watching from the edge of the tiny room to the side of the dance floor.
They're eating chips, and Pirate's Booty, and the little girl wears soft pink Uggs. They're poised like they're watching Saturday morning cartoons on a '60s console television.
But it's hoop dance. And, she doesn't know, tribal belly dance? The young, lithe woman is in the side room now, happy to explain what she's been doing out there. Those pantaloon pants are dance pants, something she bought on Etsy. She looks positively elfin, but Kristina Mynatt has graduated from the University of Tennessee, a philosophy and religion major, and danced her whole life. That dance, she probably picked it up from some dancing friend. She takes classes from Ali Blair, owner of Sol-Flow hoops, and takes every opportunity to dance. She's co-organizer of another performing group in Knoxville, Biz Cirque, with the aim of "Creating mischief, random acts of fun, slapstick comedy and spontaneous, thought provoking art."
In fact, they're performing Saturday, and she needs to talk to another woman who's here about it. "What time am I supposed to be there tomorrow, 9 or 10?" the other woman asks.
Mynatt's instant reply: "Whichever one makes you feel better."
In the other room, still dimmed, a hoop dancer stretches, then loops a few tentative circles around one shoulder before launching into full-body motion. The drum circle is picking up momentum again.
Who knows how long they'll be there, pounding, slapping feet on the smooth wood, mingling, laughing?
I've learned that the "real" entrance for nighttime performances is behind the studio, same as the parking, off Lamar Street. Permission is granted to exit on the wrong side, through the door beside the drummers, onto the Broadway sidewalk. There's a short-haired woman who may be in charge or may be just watching; she's been hanging around the feather-weave/reception table with a friend. I ask if she'll let me out and lock up after me; she answers with a smile and three short words. "Sure. We're easy."
Corrected: Kristina Mynatt does not take dance classes at Broadway Academy of Arts, but rather with Ali Blair of Sol-Flow.