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Billy Siegenfeld
Professor
Email:
siggy@northwestern.edu
Department(s):
Theatre

70 Arts Circle Drive
Room 5-177
Evanston, IL 60208

Billy Siegenfeld

Billy Siegenfeld is a former jazz and rock drummer; a present-day vocal-rhythmic theatre- movement actor; the founder, artistic director, choreographer, and musical arranger of the performance-teaching group Jump Rhythm® (www.jumprhythm.org); an author of essays and plays; and a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University.

He has created courses at Northwestern guided by two holistic concepts: Standing Down Straight® and Jump Rhythm®:

  • Standing Down Straight® (SDS): SDS is an anatomically fact-based, injury-preventive approach to body-voice training that uses gravity-directed, active relaxation as a way to work at any performative or everyday task with less physical strain, more emotional conviction, and greater connectedness to one’s own self and the people one works with.
  • Jump Rhythm® Technique (JRT): JRT is a vocal-rhythmic, jazz-rhythm-based approach to teaching theatre-movement. It is guided by a combination of 3 ideas: the African-originated concept of full-bodied rhythm-making called ngoma (“drumming and rhythmic song-dancing”); the gravity-directed laws of nature; and the practice of egalitarianism in human relationships both on stage and in everyday life.

The courses he teaches using these concepts are Standing Down Straight for Actors; Partnered Swing-Dancing as Source of Collaborative Decision-Making; Choreographing Music/Staging Action: Rhythmic and Dynamic Approaches to Creating Movement for the Stage; Jump Rhythm® Technique; Jump Rhythm® Tap.

His performance work focuses on building a “theatre of energy” out of primal human behavior. This process turns fusions of rhythm-driven motion, song, and speech into stories that laugh, cry, and rant about our species’ ongoing condition: believing that we never have enough; tampering with Nature to get more than enough; and then, when our overreaching human nature slows down and begins to behave with more modesty, realizing that what Nature has already given us is enough.

Springing from this idea is his 2019 play, What Do You Want to Be When You Give Up? It premiered at the Mark O’Donnell Theater in New York City and the Bathway Theatre in London. In the 2021-22 season his new play, Fortitude and Gentleness, is scheduled to be performed in a return engagement in NYC, on tour in the Northeast, and at theatres in Berlin, Germany and Toulouse, France.

The first of his most recent essays is “Democracy’s Energy.” The subtitle suggests its multi-thread narrative: “How the African-American gift to the world called swinging a beat beats back despair; says letting go is better than holding on; says no pedestal works better than the ground we stand on; teaches democracy can only work when we practice it on ourselves; and, along the way, relieves lower-back pain.” The second is “Standing Down Straight®: How to Make Gravity Your New Best Friend.” Both essays are scheduled to appear in a forthcoming book titled Democracy’s Energy: Getting Down to Go Forward.

Previous writing includes “Performing Energy: American Rhythm Dancing and ‘The Great Articulation of the Inarticulate’” (2014); “The Art of Misbehaving: Youth, American Rhythm Dancing, and the Need to Not Be Good” (2012); “Standing Down Straight@: Jump Rhythm® Technique’s Rhythm-Driven, Community-Directed Approach to Performing Arts Education (2009); and “Teaching to the Person Inside the Student” (2002).

Billy received an undergraduate degree in literature from Brown University and a graduate degree in jazz music and dance from New York University’s Gallatin Division with a thesis titled “Hunting the Rhythmic Snark: The Search for Swing in Jazz Performance.” When living in New York City, he performed with modern dance legend Don Redlich; directed the dance program of Hunter College; performed as an actor-dancer-singer in off-off-Broadway shows and in the Broadway production of Singin’ in the Rain; and studied Meisner-based acting with Tim Philips and natural-voice singing with Joan Kobin. After becoming injured from years of dance training that emphasized pushing the body beyond its anatomical limits, he discovered an approach to moving that uses gravity-directed, active relaxation to heal the body: ideokinesis, taught by André Bernard. Bernard – guided by Mabel Ellsworth Todd’s visionary anatomy book The Thinking Body and the ideas of Taoism – taught him to sit, stand, engage in the tasks of everyday living, and perform by aspiring to do what our fellow animals are experts at: grounding the body in the earth so as to launch forward into life with efficiency, vigor, and an acceptance that, more often than not, enough is enough.

Billy also works for the environment. As an Openlands® TreeKeeper he helps maintain park trees around Evanston and works with a group of volunteers to ensure the health and preservation of the town’s Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary.

Education

MA, Jazz Music and Dance, New York University
BA, Literature, Brown University

Recent Publications

Billy Siegenfeld is a writer on various subjects, including vernacular-bodied, jazz-rhythm-based performance; teaching to “the person inside the student”; and “Standing Down Straight®,” a gravity-directed, injury-preventive approach to both actor training and everyday behavior. His most recent article, “Performing Energy: American Rhythm Dancing and ‘The Great Articulation of the Inarticulate’,” appears in an anthology of jazz writings, Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches. His next article, “Democracy’s Energy,” will appear in a text on Jump Rhythm titled Democracy’s Energy: Getting Down to Go Forward.

Recent Awards, Honors, and Commissions

  • Commission by Millennium Performing Arts, London, England: director, choreographer, and vocal-rhythmic musical arranger of Variations on “I’ve Got Your Number,” premiered at Bathway Theatre, London, England,
  • Commission by Chicago Tap Theatre: director and co-choreographer of Tidings of Tap, premiered at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts,
  • “Best New Production 2016”: Chicago Tap Theatre, for direction of Time Steps, conferred by Dance Magazine,
  • Commission by Chicago Tap Theatre: director of Time Steps, premiered at Stage 773, Chicago IL,
  • Artistic Achievement Award, conferred by Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, 2016. Commission by Jump Collective Finland: choreographer and vocal-rhythmic musical arranger of god of dirt, and Too Close for Comfort, premiered at the Narri Theater, Helsinki, Finland,
  • Tapestry Award, conferred by Dance Inn, Lexington MA,
  • Inspiration Award, conferred by Chicago Tap Theatre,
  • Stone Camryn Lecturer on the History of Dance, designation conferred by the Newberry Library, Chicago,
  • Choreographer of the Year, awarded by Dance Chicago and Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation,
  • Commission by European Union and the City of Turku, funding the site-specific re-creation of Sorrows of Unison Dancing, premiered at Brinkhall Manor, Kaskerta, Finland,
  • Outstanding Choreographer: Body of Work, conferred by Dance Chicago,
  • Editors’ Video Award, for the production of Why Gershwin?, conferred by Dance Teacher,
  • Emmy® Award, Outstanding Achievement for Individual Excellence On Camera: Performer, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There,
  • Ruth Page Award: Outstanding Contributions to the Field, conferred by the Ruth Page Award Committee, Fulbright Senior Scholar, designation conferred in conjunction with a two-week residency at Turku University of Applied Sciences, Turku, Finland by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, and the Council of International Exchange of Scholars, 2005.
  • Jazz Dance World Congress Award: Outstanding Contributions to the Field, conferred by the Jazz Dance World Congress,
  • National Performance Network Creation Award, in support of a touring production of Sorrows of Unison Dancing,
  • Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, Northwestern University, 2002. Commission by Limón Dance Foundation, funding the creation of If Winter, premiered by the José Limón Dance Company at Mexican Heritage Center, San José CA,
  • Twentieth Century Timeline of Choreographers and Innovators, recognition conferred by Dance Teacher, 2000. Commission by American Theater Company: choreographer of The Mineola Twins, American Theater Company, Chicago IL,
  • Dancer recognition: “Billy Siegenfeld has used the components of the classic performances of jazz dancing as the basis of his Jump Rhythm Jazz Technique, successfully inventing the first genuine jazz dance technique in forty ” This recognition appeared in the February issue of the magazine, 1998.
  • Ruth Page Award for Outstanding Choreography, for Romance in Swingtime, No Way Out, and Sola Nella Mia Bocca,
  • Commission by Next Theatre: choreographer of Love’s Labor’s Lost, Next Theatre, Evanston IL, 1997. Commission by De Theaterschool, Amsterdam, Holland: choreographer and vocal-rhythmic musical arranger of Ellington Dancing, Opleiding Theater, Amsterdam, Holland,
  • Jazz Dance World Congress Gold Leo Award for Outstanding Choreography, conferred by the Jazz Dance World Congress for Getting There,
  • Sage Cowles Land Grant Chair in Dance, conferred by the University of Minnesota,

Recent Grants

In partnership with Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, he has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, and the Richard Driehaus Foundation.

Courses

  • Jump Rhythm® Technique
  • Jump Rhythm® Tap
  • Standing Down Straight® for Actors
  • SDS-Based Partnered Swing Dancing as Source of Collaborative Decision-Making
  • Choreographing Music: Rhythmic and Dynamic Approaches to Creating Movement for the Stage
  • American Rhythm Singing-Dancing and the African-American Performance Aesthetic