Silas Riener

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Photograph: Anna Finke


Why did you start dancing?
I took my first dance class when I was 19 at Princeton. It was the second half of my freshman year and it was with Ze'eva Cohen. I had joined a student dance group in college because I was an athlete in high school, and I had been looking for something to do that was physical. I had decided not to be recruited for sports and I wanted something else to take up the time. And before that I had been in a couple of musicals in high school and I had done gymnastics when I was very young, very briefly. So there was physical information that was latent.

What sports did you participate in?
I played soccer for 18 years and I was a runner, but the dancing came much, much later and I really took to it. I really enjoyed the physical information—especially at that point. There was so much I could see that I wasn't getting because everyone was so far ahead, so I saw that there was a lot of room to grow, and I wanted to get it much faster than I was getting it. That made me work pretty hard. I really liked the combination of an artistic medium and physical challenges.

Was it modern dance?
I started with Ze'eva and I started taking ballet classes a couple of times a week at the same time because the American Repertory Ballet has teachers that come and they offer just an extracurricular class at Princeton. Ze'eva was teaching mostly Limn-based modern dance. Capital M. Feeling it. Breathing. Weight.

Which is not terrible when you're starting out.
Yeah. I actually think it was a great place to start. It was also—they're not used to having that many men and I had all the wrong questions in a way because I was coming from a blank slate, and it took a while. I don't know. It's been an interesting entry point for me in the dance world and into dance-practitionering and training, both coming from an academic background and a athletic background.

It's an interesting perspective.
It was. And after that, I was mainly taking classes with Rebecca Lazier. She was the person who really trained me, in a sense of timing, but also how to look at things, how to take a dance class. So I had her for the three years. And she teaches a class—some of it from Limn, but a lot of it just her own technique class, which is incredible. It was great for me at that time.

You said that you asked all the wrong questions. What do you mean by that?

I feel like I didn't know how to go about anything and a lot of times in a dance class, the asking of questions is not always how you progress through the class. I think that a lot of times, people are taught to not ask questions, just to do it and do it again and learning by rote. I did not have that burned into me at a really young age. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know how. That sometimes caused a little bit of tension.

Were you a dance major at Princeton? Is there such a thing?
There's no dance major. There's a small program in theater and dance. You can't have a minor at Princeton. You have your major and then there are other programs, which you can get a certificate in, and you can have more than one, but you have to satisfy the requirements as though it were a minor. So I took a lot of dance classes.

What did you study academically?
I studied comparative literature and creative writing and linguistics. The comp-lit major requires intensive study of two languages other than English and you have to do a lot of your independent work with those two languages in comparison to each other.

What were they?
Spanish and Arabic. For the Spanish, I went to bilingual school when I was younger, so I grew up speaking Spanish and English. We learned them at the same time at school. Arabic came in college. I did an intensive-immersion program in Cairo.

Where are you from exactly?
Washington, D.C. 

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