How Do You Make Performance Art Less Stuffy? With Step Aerobics

Portland’s Physical Education hosts readings, curates shows, and offers free dance classes. And now they’re throwing a dance party to help fund it all.

By Fiona McCann February 25, 2016

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Physical Education's fresh

Image: Yvonne Porta

It started out as a reading group. Then along came a grant through the Precipice Fund, and a group of Portland dancers and performance artists found a way to expand their remit, calling themselves Physical Education. Now they host lectures, curate performances, and even offer free dance classes to members of the public willing to sweat it out to some DJed beats. But they need your help.

“Our funding is gone, the grant is over,” explains Allie Hankins, who co-founded the group with Lucy Lee Yim, keyon gaskin, and Takahiro Yamamoto. Which is why they’re organizing a dance party fundraiser on Wednesday, March 2, featuring DJs including Daniela Karina and Rap Class, and pop-up performances all night long from the likes of Pure Surface (Danielle Ross and Stacey Tran) and P.E. members themselves, among others. 

Physical Education Presents: NOTHING TO LOSE (A FUNDRAISER) from Allie Hankins on Vimeo.

Now in its third year, Physical Education has expanded its reach annually, from its origins as a group of performance artists looking to explore and discuss critical thinking around their art. “It was really myself and Taka and Lucy and keyon, just wanting to be a bit more rigorous in our reading and research practices about the larger conversations going on about performance art,” says Hankins.

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Transcendentaerobicourage in progress.

Image: Taka Yamamoto

Once funding came through, they began to engage with the visual art community and the wider public, hosting popular reading groups with preselected texts (on the professionalization of performance art, or about globalization and contemporary art, to name two of last year’s offerings) and curating performances. Then there were the free dance classes. Hankins describes the classes—dubbed Transcendentaerobicourage—as “high-energy improvisation with a touch of step aerobics and a lot of interaction with your fellow classmates.”

If funding is secured—Physical Education is looking for $5,000 for the coming year—Hankins hopes to put the classes on with more regularity, while also showcasing local performance artists and bringing in performers from Europe and around the US.

“The whole idea around Physical Education is throwing out any sort of hierarchy or stuffiness around this art form," she says, "and making it a very casual way of engaging with it and talking openly and transparently about it."

Nothing to Lose, a Dance Party Fundraiser for Physical Education, takes place at Holocene, Wednesday, Mar 2.

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