I grew up a selfish dancer. Decades later, I remain one. I loved mastering the dynamics, shape, and timing of my fabulous moves. I could practice whenever, wherever I wanted, and I took complete advantage of that, be it under my desk at school, in the kitchen over a roast dinner, or in my friend’s yard while attempting a game of spud (best game ever, who’s with me?!). Still today, spacing and the movement of a particular section as a whole with all the other dancers and with all its working parts, comes as a secondary layer. Partnering and unique spacial arrangements are always harder for me to master, partially because it requires someone else to practice with me, but also because it requires me to think first about what movements would be ideal for another person, and for a group of dancers as a whole unit. It requires thought about the bigger picture, not just myself. And lord knows, I’m concerned with looking and feeling good under my spotlight. Oh, wait, I’m sharing this down pool? I had no idea! Must have been too busy perfecting my battement into my fierce strut…my bad.
I recognize this obsession with mastery of my own body in space and time, but yoga this morning brought my tendency forward with a new verve. Terrence Monte, one of my yogi faves at Pure Yoga, shed light on the necessity of others to achieve “success” or better put, enlightenment, aka peace, bliss, happiness – whatever you opt to call it. You can’t be right. You can’t win. How do you work better thanks to the group? Can you think of putting the group in front of yourself? Can the dance take precedence, rather than just yourself within the work? Or are you preoccupied solely with your dance moves over the vibe of fellow dance mates? You can’t be in a relationship alone. Being a good person and dancer, goes much beyond just taking care of yourself and fine tuning your temple. You need others to get to a higher place, to move forward, to advance. The advancements of a group are capable of so much more than you can possibly be capable of alone. Two voices, minds, bodies, are more powerful than one.
How can this translate and change the way you work in the studio and perform on stage?
Possibly, instead of adamantly expressing what the purpose of a certain section of a piece is, you take a second to hear what others have to say about it. And not just let them speak and then shout your peace afterwards, neglecting their words entirely, but hearing them, taking them into honest consideration, and being open to adapt if it is for the best. It’s not about not having an opinion. It’s about honoring your opinion amongst others.
What about focusing your energy on the flow of the piece? Or recognizing the piece is only as good as its weakest link? And let’s be honest, a piece isn’t going to translate unless every single soul on stage is working toward a common intention. Maybe you help another dancer, rather than showing off to the choreographer that you have the steps and the person to your right doesn’t.
Even if it’s a solo, there’s an audience out there that is a larger part of what you bring forth as an artist. What would happen if instead of having moments to yourself before you hit the stage, you put yourself in the position of your audience? I often hit the stage, saying thanks and gratitude: that I have functioning legs, that I have this opportunity to experience these works, that I own these sensations for my own pleasure. Self, self, and more self. What does the audience want to see? What might they need to get out of a slump? What sensations are they fiening for that perhaps they have difficulty reaching alone? I’ll admit, before Parsons hits the stage, sometimes we dedicate the performance to someone who can’t be there, but after that initial moment of sending them my well-wishes and passionate intentions at our pre-show whoosh (think giant hand circle, that has now encompassed a beautifully silly set of rituals), I seldom find myself thinking of that person once the music gets blaring. Instead, my thoughts can quickly get preoccupied with the tasks in front of me. My entrance, my new lift with my new partner, the edit I can’t forget that we made at half hour, my nagging bladder, my costume, my loose bobby pin, my pre-set costume, my tendonitis, my toe split. Sorry, but Pop-Pop watching down on me, wants to see the sight of selfless, unified perseverance and flight despite anything and everything. He knows better. And so does every single audience member.
When you take the focus off of just yourself, and place it on your family in the wings, and your family in the rows of seats, you put dance in its larger frame-work and alleviate pressures off of just yourself.
So, next time you dance, what can you do for someone else? How is the new dancer amongst you feeling? How can you help your partner? How can you have compassion and support for your choreographer? How can you change the mood in the studio? How can you nourish those watching?
May no dancer be left behind. I vow to work collectively before I work on myself. And my greedy, selfish-self is back, go figure; I’m already grinning at the prospect of getting something rewarding in return.