Billy Siegenfeld is a former jazz and rock drummer and a high school actor; a present-day jazz- rhythm-based actor-dancer-singer (or, a “vocal-rhythmic theatre-movement artist”); the director, playwright, musical director, and choreographer of the performing and 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 where he has created and teaches communally engaged-in classes like “Standing Down Straight® for Performing Artists”; “Jump Rhythm®”; “Gravity-Directed Partnered Swing Dancing as Source of Collaborative Decision-Making”; and “Rhythmic and Dynamic Approaches to Creating Dramatic Movement for the Stage.”
His creative work focuses on building what he calls a “theatre of energy” out of primal human behavior. This process turns fusions of rhythm-driven movement, singing, and speech into stories that laugh, cry, rant, and sing about our species’ ongoing condition: feeling that we never have enough; tampering with Nature to get more than enough; and then, if we’re lucky, accepting that what Nature teaches us is enough.
Springing from this idea is his most recent play, What Do You Want To Be When You Give Up? In 2019 it premiered at the Mark O’Donnell Theater in New York City and the Bathway Theatre in London. An expanded version is scheduled to be performed in NYC, Berlin, Germany, and Toulouse, France in 2021. Also working from the idea that yielding invites enlightenment is his most recent essay, “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 works best when we also direct it toward ourselves; and, along the way, relieves lower-back pain.”
This essay will appear in a forthcoming book about Standing Down Straight® and Jump Rhythm® titled Democracy’s Energy: Getting Down to Go Forward.
He received an undergraduate degree in literature from Brown University and a graduate degree in non-fiction writing about jazz music and dance from New York University’s Gallatin Division. When living in New York City, he performed with modern dance great, Don Redlich; directed the dance program of Hunter College; performed as an actor-dancer-singer in off-off-Broadway shows as well as in the Broadway production of Singin’ in the Rain; studied Meisner-based acting with Tim Philips and natural- voiced singing with Joan Kobin. After becoming injured from years of body-training that emphasizes “standing up straight” and “core strength” as necessary to stage work, he healed by studying the gravity- directed, relaxation-based principles of ideokinesis with André Bernard. Bernard – guided by Mabel Ellsworth Todd’s anatomy book The Thinking Body and the teachings of Taoism – helped Billy re-learn to sit, stand, engage in the tasks of everyday living, and, not less, perform by doing what our fellow animals are exemplars of: actively relaxing the body into the earth and then, from this grounded base, moving forward into life with efficiency, vigor, and acceptance. This nature-directed process led to his creating and developing Standing Down Straight® and Jump Rhythm®, both of which serve as the foundations of his teaching and performing. The two concepts can be described as follows:
- Standing Down Straight®: An injury-preventive, eco-psychological approach to mind-body integration using gravity-directed relaxation as the source of postural, motional, vocal, and spiritual health.
- Jump Rhythm®: A rhythmically vocalized, jazz-rhythm-based approach to performing arts training, guided by a combination of the African-originated concept of full-bodied rhythm-making called ngoma (“drumming and rhythmic song-dancing”), gravity-directed laws of nature, and egalitarian interaction.
Billy also works for the environment. As an Openlands® TreeKeeper he helps maintain trees around town. he also volunteers with a local team to ensure the preservation of the Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary.
|MA||Dance, New York University|
|BA||Literature, Brown University|
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 and Honors
- Registered Trademark for “American Rhythm Dancing,” granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (2014)
- Tapestry Award, given by Dance Inn for making contributions to the art of tap dancing (2013)
- Inspiration Award, given by Chicago Tap Theatre for serving the company as its artistic consultant on the company’s story shows (2012)
- Stone Camryn Lecturer on the History of Dance, conferred by the Newberry Library, Chicago: “The Art of Misbehaving: Jump Rhythm Technique, American Rhythm Dancing, and The Aesthetics of Not Being Good” (2012)
- Choreographer of the Year Award, given by Dance Chicago Festival and the Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation, citing three works: “There Never Was A War That Was Not Inward”; “You Do Not Have To Be Good”; The Sumptuous Screech of Simplicity” (2011)
- Registered Trademark for “Jump Rhythm,” granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (2011)
- Registered Trademark for “Standing Down Straight,” granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (2011)
- European Union/City of Turku Choreographic Commission, funding the site-specific version in Kakserta, Finland of “Sorrows of Unison Dancing” (2011)
- Emmy Award for his work as performer-choreographer on the PBS documentary Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There (2007)
- Ruth Page Award, given by the Ruth Page Foundation, citing “his vibrant dance artistry” and “development of a unique dance vocabulary” (2006)
- Fulbright Scholar, conferred by the U.S. Fulbright Commission to introduce the theory and practice of Jump Rhythm® Technique to the students of the Arts Academy at Turku University of the Applied Sciences, Finland (2005)
- Jazz Dance World Congress Award, given by the JDWC for “contributions to the art of jazz dance” (2005)
- National Performance Network Creation Award, funding the creation of “The News From Poems” and “Sorrows of Unison Dancing” (2003)
- Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence (2002)
- Limón Dance Foundation choreographic commission, funding the creation of “If Winter” for José Limón Dance Company (2000)
- Outstanding Choreography Award, given by the Ruth Page Foundation, citing two works, “No Way Out But Through” and “Romance in Swingtime” (1997)
- Gold Leo Award for Outstanding Choreography given by Jazz Dance World Congress, citing “Getting There” (1994)
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.
- 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