Billy Siegenfeld is a former rock and jazz drummer and a present vocal-rhythmic theatre-movement artist, a teacher of the same, and a writer of plays and essays. He is also the founder and artistic director of the performing and teaching company Jump Rhythm® Jazz Project. He was given an Emmy® Award for his performance in the HMS Media-produced documentary Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There. Since 1990 Jump Rhythm has served as his and his colleagues’ lab for building fusions of rhythm-driven movement, song, and speech into a theatre that celebrates the expression of inside-generated energy rather than outside-designed space; of less-is-more, nature-honoring human behavior than more-is-more superhuman virtuosity. (Mantra: Connecting to the earth. Connecting to oneself. Connecting to one another.)
His most recent play—to be premiered in 2019 at the Actors Fund Mark O’Donnell Theater in Brooklyn NY and Millenium Performing Arts in London—is WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GIVE UP? Its subtitle is: A new play about letting go—with snatches of song, a handful of dances, rants about life, and impassioned appeals to both the moon and Jane Austen.
His most recent essay is “DEMOCRACY’S ENERGY.” Its subtitle is: “How the African-American gift to the world called swinging a beat beats back despair; says letting go is better than holding on; warns democracy can only work when you practice it on yourself; and, along the way, relieves lower-back pain.” It will appear in a forthcoming book about Jump Rhythm.
He teaches at Northwestern University where he is a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of Theatre. His classes for career and non-career performing arts students focus on two concepts that guide students to base all performance work in gravity-directed, instinct-driven human behavior:
--Standing Down Straight®, an eco-psychological approach to mind-body integration using gravity-directed alignment as the source of postural, motional, and emotional health.
--Jump Rhythm®, an earth-grounded system of performing arts training inspired by the African-generated concept of full-bodied rhythm-making called ngoma (drumming and rhythmic song-dancing).
He received an undergraduate degree in literature from Brown University and a graduate degree in jazz-writing from NYU’s Gallatin Division. When living in New York City he performed in Don Redlich’s company; directed Hunter College’s dance program; acted, sang, and danced in off-off-Broadway plays and musicals as well as in the Broadway production of Singin’ in the Rain; and studied Meisner-based acting technique with Tim Philips and “singing-is-only-speaking-in-rhythm” voice technique with Joan Kobin. Following a dozen years of being continually injured (because of dance-training-related training as well as muscle-worshipping “core” and “stretch” regimens), he discovered and studied ideokinesis with André Bernard. Based in Mabel Ellsworth Todd’s The Thinking Body, Bernard taught him how to stand, move, and be by giving in to the force of gravity instead of using human-created, mechanically false notions of “good” posture to resist it. A supporter of environmental non-profits, he serves as an Openlands® Tree Keeper in Evanston and Chicago. His politics spring from E. M. Forster’s thought: “I believe in aristocracy, though – if that is the right word, and a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and privilege, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky.”
|MA||Dance, New York University|
|BA||Literature, Brown University|
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 performing arts training and everyday behavior, Billy Siegenfeld’s most recent article,“Performing Energy: American Rhythm Dancing and 'The Great Articulation of the Inarticulate,'” appears in Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches, edited by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver and published by the University of Florida Press.
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 asitsn 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 Misbehavior: 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;
Partnered Swing Dancing as Source of Collaborative Decision-Making;
Choreographing Music: Rhythmic and Dynamic Approaches to Creating Movement for the Stage;
American Rhythm Dancing@ and the African American Performance Aesthetic