Julie Cunningham

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Right. So I've heard.
Yeah, I mean it makes sense. You've been there for years and then this new person is trying to tell me how to do this.

Were you a good teacher, do you think?
I don't know. I mean I taught a lot to children and to adolescents, so I sort of knew how to deliver information in that way. At that time, because I had just arrived, the company would make fun of me for my accent. They would laugh at me in an endearing way.

So Cunningham was teaching you phrases. Can you tell me anything about the process?
It was just such a brain fuck. Because of all the counts. I feel for that time period, the count thing was really intense. And we did this phrase called "popcorn," which was actually the first phrase that he started to teach us. It was counted like: 1, 2, 3, four . 1, 2, 3, one . 1, 2, 3, 4, five . 1, two . 1, 2, 3, four . 1, 2, 3, 4, five . 1, 2, 3, 4, five . 1. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, six . 1, 2, three . No little thing was the same as the one before so you just had to know it. But we did it so slowly, like we would do one thing and then do it over and over again and then add one more and then do that. So it wasn't like you couldn't really remember it; but it was just amazing. How the hell is he doing it? And then when it came for us to teach it to the company, and we were doing these counts, the company was [ Sighs ], "Are you kidding me? Why are you counting like this?" And apparently Robert went over to Merce, and Merce said to him, "Oh, the RUGs must have made up those counts up. It wasn't me." He blamed it on us! We were like, "You really think that we would make that up? That was pretty funny. We still laugh about that.

Why is it called the popcorn phrase?
I think that the company made that name up at the time. I think just because it's very jumpy and you hold and then it's kind of explosive. It's a fun phrase. We would write down notes at the end of the day. It was also maybe the first time that I'd seen anything where we would do torso to the right, but head to the left. So there would be even a separation of the torso and the head, so it'd be "twist left, but turn the head right" or "twist right, but curve the head." And then there was "arch the back and curve the head." There were a lot of strange-looking shapes we were trying to make sure we got. So we took notes, and it's probably good that we did that because now teaching the piece to the new people—for us who learned originally, it's so in our bodies and not in our brains. We'll just do the shape and then the new dancer will copy what we're doing and they'll be like, "What are you doing?" So we can look.

Did you do that with every step?
Yeah. We sort of felt responsible for getting the correct information across. It had to go through us and then to the company.

Would Merce be there watching you teach it? How did you feel about that?

Yeah. I always felt that just knowing he was watching me made me work harder than you could ever imagine. I feel I'm pretty good at pushing myself as far as I can, but I feel with Merce there it was further than you thought that you could go. You just try it, just do it. It was definitely really hard without him around to get there. Like in class. The only reason I could get through his class was because he was right there staring. It was really hard. It was more a test of will than technical elements.

Tell me everything about his class.
Well it was definitely difficult to figure out what he was doing because he couldn't really move anymore. But after a while it was as if he had a key to each movement, if that makes sense—if he turned his head, you were like, Okay that means twist. And even though he couldn't really move his legs, if he put his foot to the side and was shaking it around, you knew it was a rond de jambe . So I think that you just had to really look closely at the subtle movements that he was doing to translate it to what he meant and then he would tell you if it wasn't right. It was also very extreme—really, really slow leg extensions that you just wanted to die, but you just did it anyway because that's what he wanted.

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Robben "Gwynn" Wainer
Robben "Gwynn" Wainer

I remember watching the hard bodies back in the days of performance, and how Van Damme made his way through kick boxing. There were less attraction to acrobats who danced as a livelihood, since we were still thought of as circus acts. I think to be breathe taking you must provide the stamina. Julie Cunningham has always proven she goes the distance on evenings of opening nights , to close with a finale that is inspired by her debuts.