Ken James Teaching.

about.            dance works.          lighting design.    

Ken James teaching philosophy.

Moving is a way of seeing the world, just as seeing is a way of touching the world. Thinking, seeing, moving –none of these things happen alone. Our minds are wired for cross-modal perception where each sense carries perception to our other senses and sparks another set of understandings. Movement is at once visual, thinking, and sensual. Each physical exploration opens up a wider set of perceptions and opportunities for deeper understandings. A practice of embodiment delves into a student’s practices, taps into the histories of the body, historical and living, connects to the intellect, and feeds the creative. Utilizing all of the senses more fully helps a person understand how and why one moves and exists in the world allows a deeper understanding of physical range, understanding and expression of self.

UWM Dancemakers 2017-68

Learning, creativity and research are guided by curiosity. In teaching, I encourage a courageous creativity, where students are not afraid to fail or be wrong but are emboldened to explore new processes and ideas. Our emotions, histories, stresses and ideas are tied into our bodies. Our creativity in dance is a focal point, not only of our present, but the entirety of our person. It is a leaping off point, guided by our various intelligences, led by curiosity and fed by a unique understanding of our world that leads to conceptual intent. In movement and dance, from inside or out, there is a direct physical relationship between the woman or man and the dance. In each movement, in each dance there are the names, concepts, meanings, histories, contexts, and psychologies of movements. Any discussion of art without tying it to the power of communication, is a wasted opportunity. I teach the technical skills in dance, composition and movement as a part of, and bonded to the conceptual intent, contextual history and the emotion introspection which make movement human.

Ghosts - Ken James - photo Ken James 2

Movement intelligence is developed through somatic understanding of self. Deepening the understanding of how the individual body moves, over a ridged method of moving the body, creates a basis for self-knowledge and agency in class, performance, and all aspects of life. I work with improvisational techniques, encouraging body listening, and incorporating Feldenkrais methods in teaching movement to allow students to find their own way to the movement. Whether students are going into dance as a career or for a learning experience, an embodied understanding of self helps create a greater connection, confidence and ability to understand and communicate. The physical, historical, intellectual and emotional understanding of self can be accessed through the ideas and trends in dance and in music, technology, physiology, and a vast array of interconnecting fields. The knowledge, uniqueness, and experiences students bring to class add to the information and deepening of exploration of communication through a physical based art form.

contemporary dance works of Ken James

My own dance history and experience is varied.  I am influenced heavily by visual and literary artists (Wangetchi Mutu, Kiki Smith, James Joyce, Michael Chabon, Wallace Berman and many many more) and started moving through labor and endurance sports. I create dance works for stage, installation, site specific locations, and virtual environments. While much of my work is based in a Tanztheater style, I have performed with aerial dance companies, ritual/butoh based work, Tanztheater groups, contemporary and modern dance and screen dance. Influences for my movement come from Pina Bausch, Jose Limon, Joe Goode, Cunningham, contact improvisation, release techniques, and Kei Takei as well as rock climbing, yoga, action theater, and running. My current research revolves around site specific work, specifically understanding the dynamics of audience interactions and social structures around site and re-establishing the embodied elements in virtual and media installation work. These works are influenced by…everything. Nature, philosophy, poetry, prose, sculpture, paintings, walking, dreaming, physics, beliefs, political events, occasional deep breaths, and an acceptance of the merge of conscious and subconscious thinking that connects disparate thoughts and ideas.

Many years as a dance lighting designer and production manager also inform my work. All dance is seen through a lens of place, light, and technology. Each of these elements offer information layered on and around the movement. Understanding the choices of how much and how little influence these elements have on how movement is seen and understood is part of the puzzle of creating performance work.

No thing

Isn’t connected

To some

Other thing,

To some

Unexpected thing.

            Tom Beckett


Dance is a way of connecting and exploring our selves and  reveling in the spaces between what can be easily explained. I work with images to fully embody movement – deepen body connections and transform the space. Class is a personal exploration and community growth. As students move deeper into themselves, the connection to the artists around them also deepens creating a rich, supportive ensemble.

stage work of Fellow Travelers Performance Group

Teaching list


Contemporary Techniques I, II

  • Technique class creates an environment for students to deepen their somatic awareness, efficient athleticism, and creative voice through the medium of contemporary dance. Through floor work, inversions, classical modern, and improvisation, students are encouraged to a fearless exploration and understanding of their personal alignment, strength, flexibility, coordination, rhythm, dynamics and spatial awareness.

Partnering I, II

  • Investigates the visceral information, movement vocabulary and kinesthetic understanding through physical contact and weight-sharing between two or more dancers. This class focuses on partnering skills from rolling, falling, giving and receiving weight, structural systems, training, styles of partnering and use of momentum and weight. The class will examine what information is created and transferred both dancer to dancer and dancer to audience. Special consideration will be paid to creating partnering that is part of a larger kinesthetic/emotional/ intellectual dance over creating exciting moments.

Choreography/ Creating


  • This class seeks to develop and deepen personal creative exploration of movement and choreographic research. We will be examining time-based practice, performance, and other forms that emphasize process and conceptual rigor for stage, site, and installation dance works. Strategies to develop choreographic compositional choices, movement languages, and conceptual ideas for each individual’s creative projects. Class investigates and supports students’ developing language for addressing, critiquing and comprehending compositional choices and structures through verbal and written feedback practice.


  • This class seeks to develop and deepen personal creative exploration of movement while cultivating a constant curiosity for delving into deepening creative processes and venturing into unknown movement and thematic areas. Partnering somatic awareness and athleticism with improvisational practices, compositional and durational skills to find connections to concepts, intellectual and subconscious links in material. During this process, we will examine the work of historic and current artists creating work that reach across genres in new ways. Students explore the integration of processes and collaboration in creative projects while continuing to engage in an objective critical process of their own work and the work of others.


Improvisation for Performance

  • Improvisational performance is a field and skill that requires strategies, practice, and understanding to produce fearless, exciting performances. We will explore performance structures, movement vocabularies, choreographic practices, contemporary and world dance artists whose work is deeply involved in improvisation in performance and creation. Students will work with weight sharing, partnering, listening, and engaging techniques from action theater, contact improvisation, viewpoints and other forms through exploration of structured movement problems.


Dance and Place – site specific work

  • We will approach site specific and site adaptive work from a deeper understanding of site and place. We will be researching site from historical, community, political, and emotional aspects, engaging with the physical and architectural aspects of space, and pursuing a rigorous conceptual approach to the creation of work. Attention will be given to historical beginnings, intellectual and artistic approaches to site specific work and contemporary artists in the field.


Interdisciplinary Works

  • Introductory seminar/studio course challenging students with projects that incorporate time-based practice, performance, and other forms that emphasize process and conceptual rigor. While working primarily with movement based choreographic artists, projects emphasize content and strategy, focusing on a range of new genres approaches. During this process, we will examine the work of historic and current artists creating work that reach across genres in new ways. Students explore the integration of processes, technology and collaboration in creative projects while continuing to engage in an objective critical process of their own work and the work of others.


Dance Lighting

  • Lighting Design covers the full range of lighting practices from hanging and focusing to designing, calling and running a show. This course touches each of these skills exploring theoretical, technical and creative work in lighting design as it relates to stage, installation and site-specific work. We will examine historical and contemporary practices in lighting design, writings by choreographers and designers and examine designs of current practitioners. This course is very hands on, so we will be on the stage testing ideas, colors and designs onstage, as well as for installation and sit- specific work. For the final project, lighting a dance work, each student will be required to create a design from concept to performance, with cue sheets, and lighting plots. These pieces will be presented at the end of the semester.


Dance Production

  • We discuss the creative process of bringing your dance works from conception to the stage. Budgeting, funding, reading and understanding theater contracts and production basics are all covered as well as providing the dancer with an introduction to the types of performance venues available today, and their technical systems and equipment. It will also establish an awareness of how the full range and scope of technical theatre design arts may be utilized by a choreographer.