I have wondered a lot lately whether ballet is part of my contract for being here on this earthly plane, something to which I agreed upon prior to birth. Is my contract with dance or ballet in particular? Have I fulfilled my obligations to ballet and is it time to focus on some other way to dance?
I went into meditation this morning and what I’ve written here was my answer. The funny thing is, while investigating how to get greater readership for my blog, I often came across advice to make lists of ten which I immediately shunned as tacky and simplistic. Then this! Well, I’m learning.
I invite you to take what serves you and disregard what doesn’t resonate. I don’t think this is comprehensive. I don’t really trust things that claim to be comprehensive. I wrote this with love for my students, for myself and for the dance goddess, whose love has shattered me. I’m sorry, my darling, that it has taken me so long to embody the one who could write this. Ashe. I love you, still.
1. Technique/Practice. I’m finding lately that in our modern age, the idea of technique (to those who don’t yet have it) is starting to be interpreted as a sort of magical door that once clicked will give you access to the golden room of dance. Students are looking for a shortcut. There is no such thing. Even when given the most detailed explanation, you still have to do the work. I prefer to use the word practice instead of technique. One who has a good technique is in other words one who has practiced consistently with discernment over time. It is a living, growing changing process of increasing subtlety. You may become well seasoned. You may become masterful, but beware of impeccability. There are no absolutes. We in the West interpret one of the Wabi Sabi aphorisms as “everything is incomplete.” This translation misses the mark. It is closer to describe this precept as “the master is one who embraces an infinite path,” or “a master is one who has practiced the newness over time.”
2. Parallel and Harmonious lines of energy. Generally, when we speak of line in dance, we are referring to the external plastique. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a line of energy that comes through your eyes, through your heart, through your fingertips and through your feet. These lines must move in harmony and awareness of each other or in a conscious disharmony which is sometimes used to make an artistic statement . You may think of these lines of energy as musical notes that ebb and flow, but must be sustained throughout the phrase of movement. You are dancing, channeling, these lines of energy. They come through you from the other world and the lines of energy, especially through your eyes, are rooted to your ancestors.
3. Perfection vs. Imperfection. Perfection is a paradox. We must strive for it, while keeping in mind that it is not the goal. Union with the divine is the goal and that does not require perfect turnout, perfect proportions or a perfect smile. Perfection can lead us forward, but we must not let it lead us astray. Our perceived imperfections are the doorway to our humanity. As a dear friend of mine once said, “Nobody gives a damn about seeing you dance. They want to see themselves through you.” Our humanity, our striving for what is unattainable, our vulnerability, allows others in. Perfection is superficially attractive, but ultimately alienating, sterile and boring.
4. Magic. There are two types of magic: that of the magician and that of the shaman. Both must dance together. The magician’s magic is that of creating an illusion. Drawing the observer’s eye toward what you want them to see. A principal dancer is not one without flaw. She is one who has mastered this art of illusion. Your dancing is not only about you. It is about what you can point to. This requires an active imagination. If you are preoccupied with thoughts of yourself, you will not be able to take the audience very far. You must create a whole world, a whole universe, and then take them there. Often, I will give a step in class and people will start doing it in a headless sort of way without giving a thought to the illusion. They want to do it right, but if you are not creating an illusion, no matter how “right” you do the step, it will not be dancing.
The next kind of magic, shamanic magic, is the magic of change. It has to do with moving energy around, drawing it into you, transmuting it and sending it back out again. Not only do you create the universe with your imagination, you are the universe. The shamanic magic cannot be so easily described. It requires faith. It requires one not to just imagine there, but to actually go there, to burn yourself completely and leave no trace, or, stated differently, to become a vessel to that which burns.
5. Fear. There are two kinds of fear: paranoia and authentic fear. The first kind is to be avoided. It is the fear that says you are not good enough, worthy enough, pretty enough,thin enough etc. It is the kind of fear that the media instills in us through doctored, medicated images of perfection which become exacerbated by a dancer’s natural vanity and obsession with the mirror.
The second fear, authentic fear, is good. Make friends with it. It is the kind of fear that leads us forward. It calls us to become our highest Self and may indicate that we are in the presence of spirit. It is the little voice inside of us that says yes when other external voices say otherwise. Say yes and see what happens. Do not make a problem out of authentic fear. It is not necessary to rid yourself of it prior to a performance. It is only required that you move through it. “If you go forward you die. If you go backwards you die. So go forward and die.”–African proverb.
6. Faith. As my teacher, Ken Ludden said, faith requires action. Faith is doing the thing you know to be true, even when you do not know the outcome, and even when you do. Faith is the essential ingredient that moves us forward in life and in dance. It is what must be present in order to transcend fear.
7. Stillness/Silence. We often think of dancers as people who move beautifully, but what is equally important is the degree to which we can cultivate stillness in movement and in our lives. We have to take a note from musicians who must be as equally aware of the sounds as they are of the silence. The movement, the sound, is what frames the stillness, the silence. And it is the space in-between that allows our presence to shine.
8. Compassion and Forgiveness. Have compassion for yourself, your teachers, your fellow dancers and everyone. A moment of compassion heals the whole world. Try to free yourself from expectation and learn instead to flow with what is. Compassion will soften the inevitable struggle that is dance. Forgive what might have been when it comes to the big moments in life and the little ones that occur in performance. Forgive your father, forgive the goddess of dance for her fickle, cruel nature, forgive being off your leg in that pique arabesque. Forgiveness is a big part of The Dance. If you can’t recover from a mistake, you can’t dance.
9. Competition. I have heard many people say that there is a good aspect of competition. If there is, feel free to write it here. I haven’t experienced it. Competition disconnects us from our internal voice and makes us reach outward. It makes us un-centered and breeds jealousy. It makes someone a loser and someone else a winner, but that is never the truth. It’s ok to want something that someone else has. It is good to feel inspired by others. But when that wanting leads us away from our own path, we get lost. Our purpose, our medicine, is unique in the world. It is our job to bring it forth, with the help of our community, nature, our ancestors and other invisible forces. Our culture spends a lot of energy cultivating competition instead of focusing directly on helping people manifest their purpose. Competing in a competition may indirectly point you in the right direction, but why not have healing as a starting point? Competition is therefore a primitive and inefficient means of moving forward. Love and nurturing make better flowers.
10. Fun. If I could change one thing about my career, it wouldn’t be to have had more roles, to have made more money, to have better feet, better extension, more turns, or any of that crap. It would have been to have had more fun. Laughter is great medicine for body and soul. It takes many lifetimes to master an art. We have a long way to go. Make fun along the way. It will keep your love for dance ALIVE.
August 28th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
You’ve written a beautiful passage with great wisdom. I just wanted to add something to what you said about technique. What I learned from Margaret Craske, Carmen Mathe and Margot Fonteyn was that technique is the recipe for a movement or series of movements. And like every recipe it has ingredients, a sequence, and a set of circumstances or conditions that must exist for it to work. Take a cake, for example. It has a list of ingredients: flour, butter, vanilla, eggs, salt, sugar, milk, baking powder, etc. It has a sequence: mix certain ingredients in a bowl, add more later, beat until smooth, etc. And it has circumstances or conditions: place in an oven at 350 degrees F, bake for so many minutes, etc.
If you follow the recipe, then you will have a cake. But if you use rotten eggs, forget sugar, bake it too hot, mix everything together at once, etc., your cake will be horrible.
Well, dance movements and choreography are recipes. The dancer must bring the very best ingredients: training, natural abilities and limitations, attitude, etc., and then follow the sequence precisely: do the preparation well, be in the right place at the right time, etc.; and embrace the circumstances and conditions: be on a stage, in a company, on the subway platform for the flash mob, whatever. When you do these things, you will achieve the choreography, or the step.
For my training, the technique is knowing the recipe, and being masterful enough to compensate for ingredients that nature gave you that aren’t quite right, practice and perfect the sequence so it becomes second nature, and then completely blend in with and become part of the circumstances and conditions. If you do this with a pirouette, you will do a pirouette every time. It will differ, as you say, in the living moment. But if you follow the recipe for a pirouette, you will get a pirouette, if you follow the recipe for Four Ts then you will get Four Ts, and if you follow the recipe for Giselle you will get Giselle. For me, this is technique. To refine these into their highest form? That is artistry..
August 28th, 2012 at 6:58 pm
thanks Ken!i get what you are saying. but even with all the information, one cannot do that pirouette without practicing it over and over again. often, i experience students who want the ingredients without having to practice, as if the ingredients will do the work for them.
August 28th, 2012 at 6:21 pm
As always, I love spending time with you. Ever consider that part of your contract (or relationship) with dance now includes the written word? I certainly feel like I dance when reading your blogs.
August 30th, 2012 at 9:57 am
This is a inspiring article Tai! Thank you for this, it is a great way to start a day of dancing:)
August 30th, 2012 at 10:42 am
Great insights for the “dancers” of life as well. These are applicable to all aspects of anyone’s life (i.e. – the dancer inside us all). Great read, thank you so much for sharing!
December 18th, 2012 at 3:29 pm
Tai!!! Its heather from THIS THING… 🙂 Was hopping around looking for inspirational dance articles and found this – love it! Am going to share it with them. Hope all is well with you! Sounds like you’re still in the Boston area but if you’re ever near NJ might be fun to do a master class… BE WELL!
December 19th, 2012 at 6:28 pm
Heather Warfel? How are you? I still remember your wonderful piece, picking something out of your foot…hope all is well from you and good to hear from you.