“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire….”~Martha Graham
Showtime. After years of work and floods of physical output, emotion, creativity and sweat, our new, evening-length dance piece premieres this weekend.
As a dancer, I think about “practice” a lot. Often, we think of it as involving repetition of actions or thoughts to attain proficiency. While that component of practice is, of course, crucial to dance and countless other endeavors, that isn’t the meaning I have been musing over lately.
I’ve been focusing on the deeper facet that Martha Graham depicts above. The part that entails tenacity, passion, and ultimately, a fuller understanding. Of whatever it is we are practicing, of ourselves and of something beyond ourselves.
I look back now over the years of rehearsals–the thousands of miles driven through all kinds of weather; the hours and hours of artistic exploration; the exhaustion, confusion, frustration and also the epiphanies, the camaraderie, the exhilaration and transcendence–and I realize how much I have garnered. About dance, creativity and artistry, of course.
But just as significant, if not more so, about honesty, constancy, perseverance and human connection. And as Graham so eloquently articulated, about vision, faith and desire.
This group of artists shares a passion for dance and a fierce commitment to the vision that art and dance are profoundly meaningful and important. We’ve lived that passion and vision week after week in long and taxing rehearsals, despite injury, serious physical illness, deaths of close family members, sickness, severe weather, and lengthy travel.
While I’ve noted before the spiritual aspect of dancing for me, I recognized awhile ago how much rehearsals with these folks have had an intensity that evokes faith. When I look up the definition of “devotion” in the dictionary, I am not surprised to read that devotion is “love, loyalty or enthusiasm for an activity or cause” that entails fidelity, care, and dedication.
So, as much as we will be performing a beautiful and challenging dance this weekend, the kinesthetic aspects of which we have practiced innumerable times, we will also be continuing what I consider to be a practice of devotion. Or, as the poet Rumi stated unforgettably, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”