Billy Siegenfeld is a former jazz and rock drummer; a present-day vocal-rhythmic theatremovement artist; a director of the performing and teaching company, Jump Rhythm®; a faculty member in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University where he is a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence; and a writer of essays and plays.
His artistic work focuses on creating 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, and rant about our species’ primary state of being: feeling that we never have enough; tampering with Nature to get more than enough; and then, after years of pain, misery, then enlightenment, 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. In the 2020-2021 season it will be seen in Berlin, Germany and on national tours in the Northeast and in Colorado.
Also working from the idea of honoring nature’s wisdom is his most recent essay, DEMOCRACY’S ENERGY. Its 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; warns democracy can only work when you practice it on yourself; and, along the way, relieves lowerback pain.” The essay will appear in a forthcoming book about 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 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, singer, and dancer in off-off-Broadway shows as well as the Broadway production of Singin’ in the Rain; and studied Meisner-based acting with Tim Philips and voice with Joan Kobin. After becoming injured from years of performing arts training that generally considers “standing up straight” and/or “core training” necessary to achieving strength, he studied the natural-posture principles of ideokinesis with André Bernard. Bernard restored his body to health by introducing him to moving and vocalizing in relation to gravity-directed relaxation. Inspired by Mabel Ellsworth Todd’s revolutionary anatomy book The Thinking Body and the teachings of Taoism, ideokinesis taught him to sit, stand, and interact with others by letting the body operate by giving in to instead of hypertensely resisting the downward-pull of gravity. This nature-directed process inspired him to create and develop Standing Down Straight® and Jump Rhythm®, both of which serve as foundations for the work he does teaching, performing, speaking, and, not least, engaging in the tasks of everyday living. They can be briefly described as follows:
- Standing Down Straight®: An injury-preventive approach to mind-body integration using gravity-directed relaxation as the source of postural, motional, and spiritual health.
- Jump Rhythm®: A communally engaged-in, rhythmically vocalized, jazz-rhythm-based approach to all performing arts training, guided by a combination of the Africanoriginated concept of full-bodied rhythm-making called ngoma (“drumming and rhythmic song-dancing”) and the gravity-driven laws of nature.
|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