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'Florida Woman' gets her spot in the sun

What does "Florida Woman" have to say? A dance theater premiere at The Ringling's Art of Performance provides some answers.

Leah Verier-Dunn (Sarasota) and Rosie Herrera (Miami) perform "Florida Woman" March 22-24 at The Ringling's Art of Performance series.
Leah Verier-Dunn (Sarasota) and Rosie Herrera (Miami) perform "Florida Woman" March 22-24 at The Ringling's Art of Performance series.
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Google “Florida Man” and the first thing that pops up is a Wiki entry that defines the term as: “an internet meme first popularized in 2013 referring to an alleged prevalence of people performing irrational or maniacal actions in the U.S. state of Florida.”

What about “Florida Woman?” Now, granted, Google knows your location, but the first thing that comes up is a dance theater performance of the same name at The Ringling’s Art of Performance series. 

The work is making its world premiere March 22-24 in Sarasota at The Ringling’s Historic Asolo Theater. It was commissioned by Elizabeth Doud, the Currie-Kohlmann Curator of Performance at The Ringling.

Thanks to The Ringling and longtime friends and artistic collaborators Rosie Herrera and Leah Verier-Dunn, Florida Woman is getting her moment in the sun.

Like many, Herrera and Verier-Dunn are weary of reading about the antics of Florida Man. He has provided plenty of fodder for the media, thanks to the Sunshine State’s transparent public records. 

Surely, Wisconsin, which has some of the most lenient drunken-driving laws in the country, has its share of miscreants and wackos. But they are not as easy to find out about as Florida’s ne’er-do-wells.

The onslaught of Florida Man stories and posts prompted Herrera and Verier-Dunn to explore the well-being of Florida Woman through dance, imagery and costume.

How’s she doing? 

Florida Woman is feeling a little encroached upon these days, according to Verier-Dunn and Herrera, who met 20 years ago at New World College of the Arts in Miami. 

Why? Rising housing prices, rollbacks in reproductive rights at both the state and federal levels, competing political agendas about education and libraries and last, but not least, the Sunshine State’s vanishing wildlife. (That’s singular, Florida Man.) 

Now, one could argue that more development is just what’s needed to bring down home prices, but this is a story about art, not real estate. 

Based on the costumes for the show hanging on a rack in the Historic Asolo Theater during an interview with Verier-Dunn and Herrera, Florida Woman has cool clothes. 

To hear the Florida women tell it, she loves her family and nature. She also loves her friends. 

Both Verier-Dunn and Herrera are Florida natives. Verier-Dunn, who is Jewish, grew up in Sarasota, while Herrera was raised in Miami by Cuban immigrants. Since meeting at New World College, they have been friends and artistic collaborators. 

Herrera is a choreographer and artistic director of her eponymous dance theater in Miami, which Verier-Dunn joined in 2011. 

In 2019, Verier-Dunn was the first Spotlight Florida Resident at The Ringling Museum. She has continued as an artist-in-residence during the creation of “Florida Woman.”

When Verier-Dunn was growing up in Sarasota, she used to think it was boring. “There were empty fields everywhere. Half the buildings down Fruitville didn’t exist,” she recalls. “Now it’s hard to find parking.”

Verier-Dunn says she loves Florida, but she’s starting to feel like natives like herself are being pushed out. “I don’t like the way people are being treated, the restrictive laws on women,” she adds.

Herrera chimes in. “The people who are coming to Florida now are coming for their version of freedom. Part of that narrative is that people who were already living here are having their freedom more and more restricted,” she says. “That juxtaposition of people coming here for a sense of freedom and the people who are here becoming less free is the friction that the work (‘Florida Woman’) is interested in.”

Development and the arrival of newcomers are an integral part of Florida, which has a history of booms and busts fueled by real estate speculation. But COVID was a tipping point for Herrera because rents skyrocketed as remote work increased, while performing artists like herself were hampered in their ability to earn a living.

Herrera says she had some dark moments during COVID, but was sustained by the strength of friendship with Verier-Dunn and others. “The work, in addition to being a commentary on what’s going on in Florida, is also an expression of the need for deep female friendship,” Herrera says.

Asked about the costumes on stage, Herrera replies that the piece is “an aesthetic homage to the unique glamour, the unique wildness, the unique beauty of Florida.” 

Through their work, Verier-Dunn and Herrera draw a comparison between the conquest of open space in Florida and what they see as the quest for domination of women’s bodies. 

With “Florida Woman,” they are attempting to embody hyper vigilance in the face of feeling pushed out and a longing for what once was: Old Florida, if you will. 

One of the tasks Herrera gave her dancers was to imagine that their body was a piece of land being colonized. “The movements comes from the state of embodying these conflicts and questions,” she says. 

In addition to dance, movement and costumes, “Florida Woman” features imagery that the show’s creators fear may not travel well to other places. “We don’t even know if this show could tour because there are so many things that are Florida-specific,” Herrera says.

Like what? A Pub Sub, for instance. For those who are visiting or who just arrived in Florida, that’s the moniker for a submarine sandwich bought at Publix supermarket. 

One emblem of the Sunshine State that is widely recognized, the orange, is used to represent the body in “Florida Woman,” Herrera says. “Whether it’s juiced, whether it’s peeled, whether it’s consumed, whether it’s discarded is powerful on a symbolic level,” she says.

Herrera likens the orange to the womb and notes the “mother part of Mother Nature is a big part of the work,” since two of the four participants are moms themselves.

Herrera and Verier-Dunn say their goal in creating “Florida Woman” is not to make a political statement, but a personal one. “Our hope is to encourage people to find empathy for each other and all of the views that exist, as opposed to cutting off conversations that will help move us forward,” says Verier-Dunn.

So even if the Florida Woman wants to have her say, it turns out she’s a pretty good listener.

This article has been updated.



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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