Dyan Branstetter | March 2018

Creativity Personified: An Interview With Artist Melissa Goodling

There is a lot of great research on the topic of creativity. A quick search will produce articles on how to measure creativity, how to promote creativity, how creative peoples’ brains are wired differently and whether or not we can learn to be creative. This is one of my favorite topics to read about, however, I find that working with a true creative soul is just as educational.

Meet Melissa Goodling.

Melissa is an artist who lives in the quaint, historic town of Maytown, PA. She owns and operates a small dance studio in the most artistic way possible. In addition to being a dancer and choreographer, she is a visual artist, which is evident in many ways as she creates thematic performances for her dancers.Visually, she is a painter and sculptor. She also designs and creates visually stunning (and sometimes interactive) costumes from found materials for the dances she choreographs.

I’ve had many opportunities to dance with Melissa and to experience her choreographic process. I find it fascinating because it is so different than my own. With her background in visual art, she approaches choreography by sculpting shapes with movement in time to the music. I have a background in music, so I’ve always approached it from a musical perspective, creating movement based solely on what I hear. She has helped me realize that I can use dancers to create visual pictures as I choreograph instead of just stringing steps together to the music. A true integration of music, dance and visual arts.
I sat down with Melissa to chat about her process and to find out how she comes up with these creative ideas.

Q: How do you think of the ideas for your costumes?

A: Being on a small budget helps me to be more creative. I think about what I am trying to communicate. I picture the costume idea and whether or not the dancer can move in it. Then, I think what materials I already have and adapt them to my vision.

Q: What inspires the ideas for your choreography?

A: Usually the music is my starting point. I’ll listen to it over and over again in the car or just lying on the studio floor. I visualize ideas of shapes in my head and then I translate those into steps. If the theme of a piece is an animal, I’ll study how that animal moves and try to translate that with the human body while using what the music gives me.

Q: How much of a role does the costume play in your choreography?

(For example, does the costume enhance the dancing, or does the dancing highlight the costume, or do they both work together to create the masterpiece?)

A: The costume and the choreography usually work together to create the dance. I would never use something restrictive if the movement needed to be free. If I wanted to be restrictive in the movement I would pick a costume that made the dancer literally feel that. Sometimes it takes experimentation. Once I created a piece with two dancers connected by material, so it took a great deal of experimentation during the choreography to figure it all out. When the costume (or a prop) impacts or restricts the dancing, it is important to use it while creating the piece itself to make sure it is effective.

Q: How much does your background as a sculptor and painter influence your choreography and/or costume design?

A: It is always in the front, as they are one in the same for me. However, with dance, I do not have all of the control as the artist. The dancers are the medium and I have to deal with their abilities, sizes, strengths, and personalities.

I see dances in shapes and colors, not in steps and combinations. Of course, I have to figure out the steps in order to teach them to the dancers. The steps are my pencil on the dance floor, figuring and sketching out the picture. The costumes are the paint bringing it tone. And the shapes are the sculpture on the stage bringing the dance to life.

Q: What kind of advice would you give someone who is working with students if they want to create costumes out of found items?

A: Use what you have. Look at what you are trying to portray and then think about what you have or can get easily to create that. Experiment.

The Two Fridas

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.