SLUG Style: Molly Heller
Molly Heller is a dancer and performance artist whose style emanates from her belief in improvisation as a way of making sense of the world. Heller works as an Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Utah and is also Founder of Heartland Collective, a multidisciplinary arts collective that uses dance-centered performance to encourage self-expression and reimagine collaboration. You can see Heller’s work at mollyheller.com or on Instagram @icantfindmollyheller.
Every month, “SLUG Style” features a distinct and unique member of the community and asks them why they do what they do. Exploring more than just clothing, “SLUG Style” is an attempt to feature the people who give Salt Lake City flavor through personality and panache.
What are your stylistic influences? This could be a band, decade, fictional character—anything.
Firstly, my grandmother. She appreciated (and rocked) stylized monochromatic outfits with just the right amount of embellishment. Audrey Hepburn’s bangs. Something old, something new. Breton stripes. Wes Anderson. Gold detailing in cathedrals. Flower gardens. Pants in the ‘70s. The colors of Cinque Terre. My friends.
Tell us about your dance practice. How does this affect your own self-perception and, subsequently, your style?
I value improvisation in my dance practice. It is a way of life. Improvisation is choice and another choice, followed (sometimes) by another… It is the acceptance of the moment. It is (and has always been) where I locate myself and find connection with others. This way of being with myself in dance also translates to my style. Style is a series of choices over and over each day. I’m always improvising to find what I desire, and yet there seem to be patterns that show up. For me, style is about paying attention to these patterns—knowing when I want to say yes to them and also when I want to challenge them.
How does your practice with dance affect the way you carry yourself outside of it?
Dance can be playful and whimsical. I love to move with that energy throughout my day. Dance also creates an awareness of how you navigate your body through space(s). This embodied presence (often a hyper-awareness) almost feels like I’m dancing throughout my whole day—locomoting, weight shifting, intentionally breathing, gesturing, etc.
Dance is movement. Life is movement.
Are you always “on” or would someone see you at the grocery store, for example, with less elements of your style?
I believe that style is a feeling as much as it is about clothing choices. So wherever I go, or whatever I’m wearing, it is a reflection of my essence. For me, style is not about replicating fashion trends—it’s cultivating what makes me feel more expansive in the world.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would those be?
Kind, adaptable and imaginative.
How has your personal style evolved over time?
I’ve always loved the same color palates and textures, but I’m becoming more honed in on what suits the needs of my day. Teaching dance during the day and then running to professional meetings requires layers and functional options that allow for both free movement and being comfortable sitting at a desk. I always wear a good pair of earrings and tuck in my tops. For me, this seems to tie everything together.
Tell us about Heartland Collective.
Heartland is a multidisciplinary arts collective that explores the terrains and experiences of the human heart through live, dance-centered performance. The collective is directed by myself, alongside Florian Alberge, Nick Blaylock, Nick Foster, Brian Gerke, Marissa Mooney, Melissa Younker and Mike Wall. Our collaborative way of working integrates the mediums of dance, visual arts, costume design and sound design. Heartland re-imagines a new company model where leadership is decentralized and creative motivation is a movable, non-hierarchical exchange.
Our work has been presented by: Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA), Beehive Concert Venue, Urban Lounge, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, CA, and Modern West Fine Art (April 2022). We are drawn to intimate and atypical performing spaces that offer opportunities for ingenuity and beckon audience engagement. Our approach to making work is to honor spaciousness, practice patience, listen to the needs of the moment, work with what’s already available and embrace our interconnectedness as humans alongside our differences. WWW.FINDINGHEARTLAND.COM
What led you to form Heartland Collective? What needs did you see being unfulfilled without a community like this?
The collective originated as a method of survival—a way to relocate myself in the world after a traumatic life event in 2018. After re-surfacing from the depths of grief, I began going to crowded dance clubs where I would disappear into exhaustion. Surrounded by strangers in these intimate, unassuming spaces, I was able to process my emotions through movement. I felt BIG. I belonged in my own skin again and my heart was whole.
This vibrancy led me to research the idioms, sensations and physical spaces of the heart. Drawing on the metaphorical language of the heart for inspiration (i.e. heartbreak, heavy heart, affair of the heart, heart of gold, etc.), a physicality developed which emphasized the density of my body, forces of resistance and my attempt to accept non-resolution. I wanted this language of the body to return to a club-like environment where experiences are co-created and the relational nature of music and dance is equalized. Heartland was born from a desire to cultivate connection alongside others through movement.
We began to create curated, themed performances that seamlessly shift to … an open dance party. This gives the audience permission to respond and interact with their viewing experiences immediately by moving and grooving with autonomy,
serving as an embodied processing of the artwork they’ve freshly experienced.
The Heartland Collective is a mutable, love-centered approach to art making where the evolution and well-being of individuals are nurtured rather than exploited or diminished. It is also an integrated approach to living life and healing—a dynamic continuum of growth where there is no arrival or fixed point. I am invested in people and the relationships that develop through patience, hard work (showing up together consistently), risk, and vulnerability.
The space Heartland curates is not an escape from reality. Rather, it becomes a mirror to examine the inter-workings and intra-workings of our hearts and to
celebrate how courageous this is. We don’t often choose our endings in life, but Heartland gathers people together to practice curating beginnings.
You recently went to New York. Tell us about this trip and what it was like for you! Any tips for dressing for the big city?
I was performing in NY for choreographer Joanna Kotze. ‘lectric eye is an evening-length dance work that premiered at The Space at Irondale in Brooklyn, NY. This work was very special to me as I’ve been working with Kotze for four years on iterations of the piece, and working with her has been a creative anchor throughout the pandemic where making dances and feeling connected to others is incredibly challenging.
Tip for NYC (or any city)… Be you! Don’t overthink things. Conviction is what draws people to you, not what you’re wearing.
What are your interests or hobbies outside of dance? What is the hobby or interest that you have that no one would realize to ask you about?
Rabbits, reading about human development and psychology, travel, listening to music while rollerblading, hiking (easy to moderate with a great view:) ), having tea with friends, writing cards to people I love, seeing live performance of any kind and organizing.