I fall down a lot. Sure, many of my falls are intentional, a key part of my modern/postmodern dancing.
But I also have a noteworthy number of unplanned stumbles, trips, totters. All of which have gotten me to think a lot about what falling is…and is not.
As dancers, we need to learn how to fall well, i.e. take risks while avoiding injury. It’s a fine, ever-shifting balance to navigate–one that can leave our body parts (and our egos :)), skinned, bruised and… sometimes worse.
Spending so much time, energy and observation on falling has led me to appreciate what a gift a good fall can be. A good fall being one in which we are fully present, push the limits of possibility, and don’t get badly hurt. It’s hard to achieve all of that!
When we do, we discover untold treasures by our descent, arrival on, and departure from the floor. Treasures similar to the ones we often discover when we “fall” in life outside the dance studio.
Like gaining a whole new perspective from the ground; appreciating what it takes to remain upright; understanding what is required to regain being upright. And grasping how releasing into the fall can often be the best thing we can do. Another instance of ease and humor being key ingredients to wellness and “success”- even when the success is falling down.
In Dr. Brené Brown’s recent, wonderful book, “Rising Strong,” she relates the story of one of her contributors who identifies some of the gifts of the inevitable falls we take making ourselves vulnerable as we pursue living wholeheartedly:
“…It’s so hard to be face down on the arena floor, but if you open your eyes when you are down there, and take a minute to look around, you get a completely new perspective on the world. You see things that you don’t see when you are standing tall. You see more struggle–more conflict and suffering. It can make you more compassionate….'” (p.138)
Our falls can provide us a wide range of information like this. Today, for instance, I successfully improvised some dancing and public speaking at a nearby school, with no injury or mishap. Yet, I subsequently tripped over, well, myself, in the parking lot on the way back to my car, immediately launching into chastising yours truly’s clumsiness.
The stumble, rather than being the failure I immediately considered it, was in fact a source of helpful information-my body signaling me that I was going too fast and wasn’t grounded, still flying high on post-performance adrenaline.
Don’t get me wrong. I know full well that a fall can be a failure, i.e. “lack of success” achieving a specific goal.
Yet, I am increasingly aware of how we too often equate falling with failing, or worse, being a failure. In the effort to avoid the latter two, we don’t appreciate the gifts of the former, and don’t live as fully.
For contemporary dancers, pushing movement so far that we fall is often valuable and desirable, because we then know that we’ve gone to the edges of possibility with the dancing. This is gutsy, serving as an indicator that we are testing limits and yielding useful details about how far to take things. As the redoubtable philosopher Joseph Campbell said: “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
For me, the key is staying in the game. Easier said than done, and requiring courage and tenacity, I know. Many times this means simply getting up. Again. And again. Brown’s book provides powerful insight on the process of getting back up.
Other times, we need to stay down on the floor for a spell: to reap the benefits of the fresh landscape.
Either way, the process of falling, meaning “moving downward,” shouldn’t necessarily have a negative judgment attached to it. On the contrary, it can provide a bounty of riches that support a more vibrant, passionate way of being in the world. We just need to be open enough to appreciate the jewels offered to us.
Photo credits: Top and 4th: Rich Davis; 2nd: Jane Shauck; 3rd: Paula F.