Or as the late visionary, choreographer Pina Bausch, stated perfectly:
“To understand what I am saying, you have to believe that dance is something other than technique. We forget where the movements come from. They are born from life.”
Since I posted “It’s Not About the Steps” awhile back, about how the art of dancing is so much more, so much harder, than just doing the “right” steps, I’ve had countless opportunities to mull over and apply that notion. Both as I dance and observe other dancers.
I asked this before and I’ll keep asking, why do we latch on so fiercely to getting the steps? Is it because that’s what seems achievable, if we’re lucky, on a good day? There! we say. Pat ourselves on the back and check it off the “to do” list. Dance class (or rehearsal)-done!
Maybe in this highly visible performing art, there’s a part of us that still doesn’t want to stand out, but would rather try to prove that we’re real dancers because we’re doing what everyone else is doing. We’re with the pack. Hmmmmm. Is that art?
Or maybe we consider that doing the steps is tangible evidence that we’re artists because we’ve got the form down. But then what about the content? Ah, yes, the content. “…[T]he expression of what is beautiful, appealing ….” or meaningful. Also known as art.
This reminds me of the epiphany I had in class years ago with master dancer, teacher, and Limon expert Nina Watt, who urged us to focus on the “principle” of the phrase. Sure, we were also aiming to get the rhythm, weight shifts and directional changes, along with warming up. But the key was to get the nugget, the essence of the movement.
That means that right here, right now you’ve got to discern what the movement is about, what is its heartbeat. Not the form, baby, the content. The elemental expression. And you need to add the ineffable ingredient of YOU in the context of that material. That’s hard.
I suggested last time that the art part of dancing is what and how the dancer expresses through the movement using some alchemical potion of the dancer’s uniqueness and the dance. I still believe that the dancers whom we want to watch and who we yearn to be are sorcerers who cast a spell of themselves kinesthetically.
They reach into their voluminous capes, wave their wands of life experience, swirl in some soul craft, and MOVE! They move, and they move you. It’s magic, alright. It surely would be a whole lot easier just to have to count “5,6,7,8” and figure out how high your leg has to go.
Of course, I recognize the importance of developing skill in our art and I acknowledge that there are times and dances in which the precise form of the “steps” may be the content. But I believe many of us squander so many opportunities to dig deeper into our artistry by focusing on the surface. And clinging to the surface, merely treading water.
As I said recently before I started teaching a class, we were about to create dance, not do an exercise class. Yes, folks, we’re moving poets, not automatons.
Same for the other arts, most importantly the art of living. Our lives are novels or rock operas or oil paintings, not form letters and Muzak and paint-by-numbers. At least, that’s what I’m aiming for.
So, I’ll be reminding myself to dive in, mine the depths. Even when it’s lonely and dark and I may look foolish or be lost for awhile, swimming in the wrong direction. Because down there, down here, is where the shimmering riches await.