Dance to your own [heart] beat this Valentine’s day - Molly Heller and Moth Closet present HEARTLAND + Dance Party 

06 February 2019 Published in News and Announcements
Photo by Marissa Mooney Photo by Marissa Mooney

This Sunday, February 10th at 8:00 PM, dancers will fill the Beehive Concert Venue in downtown Salt Lake City. It’s an all-ages dance party created by Assistant Professor Molly Heller, with live music by Assistant Lecturer Mike Wall. HEARTLAND, Heller's current body of research, lives inside the dance party, manifesting in three performances throughout the night. No dance experience is required to participate, and the invitation to this performance/party resembles a valentine. A 'space curated around the heart,' arrives just in time for Valentine's Day. 

HEARTLAND is an umbrella for Heller's many ways of researching the 'idioms, sensations, and physical spaces of the heart.' There is no subterfuge or subtlety in Heller's current work. She has extreme clarity, drawing on the literal language of the heart. Heartbreak, heavy heart, heart-stopping, affairs of the heart, and flexible heart are just a few turns-of-phrase that frame her work. Heller talks about HEARTLAND as a process, a continuum, a movement practice, a series of solos, and a way of finding herself. 

Creative projects often make themselves known through surprising and unimagined ways, and this one is no different. During several residencies in Summer 2018, Heller began going to crowded clubs to dance. There, she found a new physicality surrounded by strangers, experimenting with resistance and tight spaces. Upon returning to Salt Lake City for the fall semester, Heller worked in two parallel processes to develop the solo + trio version of HEARTLAND. In her personal practice, Heller collaborated with Tami Riaz who she had met through a class at the Huntsman Center. Riaz is a writer and had taken Heller's movement class, through which the two forged a personal bond. 

Riaz joined Heller’s creative practice shaped around investigations of specific idioms of the heart, such as 'flexible heart.' While Heller moved and improvised with ideas of an idiom or sensation of the heart, Riaz wrote from the same text-based inspiration, influenced by Heller's movement in the studio. With the cast of Performing Dance Company (PDC), Liu Chang, Troy Martin, Bayley Smallwood, Heller repeated this process; magnifying, exposing, and moving the heart.

Watching Heller and dancers work in the fall, I was struck by the unique physicality emphasizing density in the body. The HEARTLAND movement vocabulary was born in dance clubs without much space, surrounded by many vibrating bodies, and reads as an attempt to make a connection. The dancers hold and release, leading with the heart, experiencing the weight of their hearts beating in their chests. The work shifts quickly between states of holding and letting go, becoming more than a physical experience. HEARTLAND becomes a place to examine the internal workings of the heart, and that which we keep in it. 

The Fall 2018 PDC performance at the University of Utah, was a trio of three overlapping solos, performed by Chang, Martin, and Smallwood, set to bassy house music and a Mike Wall cover of Mazzy Star's “Fade into You.” The PDC iteration of HEARTLAND included a 6-foot tree constructed of tiny glass fragments on stage by artist Wendy Wischer. Collaborating photographer, Hillary Goidell, documented Heller’s work in the studio, something that Goidell calls 'processing,' an appropriate way of referencing work that is intrinsically personal and visceral. Goidell has been documenting much of Heller's practice through the process of discovering HEARTLAND. During the fall, Heller performed a solo iteration of the work at the Shawl Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, CA. 

HEARTLAND + Dance Party is just one piece of a larger picture that Heller continues to create. This weekend’s iteration includes dance performances by Heller alongside Brian Gerke and long time collaborator Marissa Mooney. The three have been practicing weekly, continuing to develop and discover studies of the heart, even taking the practice out of the studio. Sunday will be an experiment, a dance within a dance. "It could be amazing, or it could be a flop, but either way it will be an experience" said Heller in an interview. 

If you ask me, there is no way this dance party is going to be a flop, but I appreciate that Heller acknowledges the unknown while continuing to dig into the work of HEARTLAND. In this way, she models navigating a creative and academic life for the students of the School of Dance. As a teacher and mentor in our school, her research interests seep into her teaching practice, linking the dancing body and healing through connectivity. In 2019, when we are so often forced to compartmentalize our duties and our desires, Heller shows us a different way. HEARTLAND requires vulnerability and integration as a way of finding self, and we can all engage with our integrated selves on the dance floor this Sunday. See you there. 

 Follow the development of HEARTLAND at

Written by Hannah Fischer
University of Utah
School of Dance  
Modern Dance MFA Candidate