A Meditation on Injuries, Airplanes, and the YDN

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How do you access your mother tongue when you have an injury? What if your mother tongue is moving, all the time nonstop as much as possible, and you are required for the sake of your injury to sit still? What level of frustration is useful? What level of challenge is safe? What do you do to not go insane? All questions I am asking myself.

Most of UBW class is geared towards safe strengthening, shoring up our bodies so that they can withstand the challenges we throw at them. It is also geared towards learning at which angle to approach challenges so that they remain challenges and do not become landmines – an opportunity for growth, not an accidental self destruction. For the most part, the line between ‘getting stronger’ and ‘reckless endangerment’ is quite clear, and the risks associated with the latter are incentive enough to keep us on one side of the line. For me though, there are many risks I do not take in the (conscious or unconscious) name of self preservation: falling all the way, for example. Letting go completely. Opening all the way up. Stretching beyond what I think is possible. This kind of self protection is limiting in some ways, and it is definitely something I’ve been working through during this project – just how much of myself am I trying to leae on the stage with the audience?All? If the desired answer is ‘all’ then maybe a reason I close up is because I don’t trust myself to push further/let go completely and still keep myself safe. Do I always need to be guarded about where I push myself and how? Is that a feasible or fruitful path towards improvement? Or do I need more practice approaching challenges healthily or sustainably, so that when it is time to leave it all out on the floor, I can let go and my body will know where (and where not) to go?

I’m on an airplane right now and I’m thinking about Amanda’s question, of how to care for the body while in transit, or while working over a computer. I’m partly relieved that right now my movement limitations are not self-imposed, and that I don’t have to sit still and watch while others move around. But I’m partly going insane because I can’t sit still and being up in the air in a metal box moving at high speed does not particularly help me remain calm in the face of restricted mobility. Part of the way I’m following Amanda’s vein of thinking is physical – small ankle circles, breathing exercises, giving some love to my neck and my jaw – and some of it is in between physical and mental: writing this post. I’m using this writing to do some deep thinking about my body memories from rehearsal and my current state, picturing and feeling my current body in the memories from rehearsal. It keeps my movement-self active while it otherwise would feel trapped. Even thinking about dancing does wonders for cabin fever.

Speaking of the positive influences of dancing, movement, and physical activity, here is a belated treatise on the idiocy of a recent YDN op-ed, one that asserted Yale should stop offering admissions slots to athletes basically because they are not “qualified” to be here. Among the MANY discouraging and frankly immature aspects of the article, there is one particular glaring yikes for those of us in the dance community: the author, making an argument for the intellectual integrity of Yale’s student body, has entirely overlooked the fact that there is more than one way to be “smart.” Body knowledge is once again dismissed, and relegated to the bottom of the intellectual ladder. The author privileges book smarts, traditional academic acumen, and, implicitly, artistic talent over physical intelligence. Students who possess incredible body knowledge are apparently less deserving of the title “smart” or of the title “Yalie.” This has major repercussions for the dance community on campus, which though operating under a different administrative framework than Yale athletics, relies on the physical intelligence of its members, regardless of their training or ‘dance’ experience, for the richness and depth of its academic inquiries. If you say athletes don’t belong at Yale, then you also say dance isn’t a valid academic pursuit, and you would be wrong on both accounts. The author clearly has taken no time to consider the agency and intelligence his own body possesses, otherwise he would not be making claims about Yale’s mission (as he imagines it), to further intellectual growth among its students, deteriorating with the recognition of body knowledge as a legitimate form of intellect and the inclusion of physical geniuses. Absurd.

H(ear)ing

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I have come to the conclusion that my body does not hear very well.

During our footwork passes across the floor/transcriptions of jazz music into movement/generation of music-derived, musically specific, highly personal grooves through space, I do not hear quickly enough for my body to move. Before the note can find its way into my body, it’s gone, another in its place. I try to grasp onto known or anticipated patterns in the music, a rhythm or a repeated phrase, but the jazz slips and slides through my ears’ fingers like quicksilver and refuses to be held. It is not formless, hardly, but shifts between forms as rapidly as beans fall through a rainstick, and I become drenched in the meantime of the rhythmic downpour because if I cannot move quickly enough, I do not move at all. If I do know a song well enough to follow its twists and turns accurately, I find that I stop listening to the music playing and instead listen to my memory of it, and transcribe a remembered song into my body instead of the heard song.

It is not the immediacy of transcription, its demands for real-time somatic decision making. I have no problem transcribing, for example, the way one of my peers is moving through the space, nor is it difficult for me to take a texture or sensation up into my body as an impetus for improvised movement. Seeing and feeling are my listening. I remember being ten years old and unable to grasp the sailing of a boat until I saw the ropes in my hands and watched them feel the pull of the canvas in wind. I remember refusing to go new places by myself if given verbal instructions because I couldn’t accurately reproduce them for myself unless I had seen the lefts and rights of the hallways or felt an intersection receding behind me. When I listen to someone talk, their words lodge in me as emotions and vague color swatches, and if I am to respond I respond with words that match in image and feeling, not in sound. Letters to me are small pebbles of varying shades and glosses and a sentence is what happens when you arrange them on a table, not when you cup them in your hands and shake them against each other. Reading aloud leaves my mind blank like a clear sky. Words stick in my head best if they are inked across the page.

When we cross the floor transcribing the music, I more often transcribe my peers’ transcriptions of the music. They hear and then move; I see and feel what they are hearing, and move based off that. I hear the details of the music but they must travel through pictures and amorphous sensations before my body can use them for movement. Listening is not a full-bodied project for me yet, but it requires my fullest concentration.

Specify

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= mushy vegetables

= tough steak

= when there’s no salt you can tell       is missing

specificity is interacting with the music but

on your body àhonoring the music’s

t,e,x,t,u,r,e ph ra   sing & temporalstops         but in your mother                                                                                                                                                   tongue.                                                           what spice are you adding. when you’re clear, we can taste it.

Amanda gets to the ground and up before you even realize she did it.

I hate   p   n       p   n

i    g      o   g, i don’t want to imagine a specific ball moving around i want to move everything at once. Trying to see the thing knocking around in the tubes of my body changes how i make the movement happen, makes it feel duller, or just feel less. ‘You flow like water’ but what’s lacking is the moment when winter water turns to ice in midair. Crystalline pause, the exact shape of the droplet and its motion, clear and cold. Lacking that freeze.

 

specificity is not just knowing when to stop, how to stop, why to stop, but knowing

to stop at all.

the running joke in A Different Drum, that holly doesn’t know how to choreograph to music, is an extension of my love of movement as its own music and its own rhythmic determinant. it is also an extension of my perfectionism in light of how difficult choreographing ‘to’ music actually is. i like intricacy, i like connective-tissue, i like intention. how could i possibly keep all these things truthful not only for the movement but for the music too? i am not

a multitasker.

i am a fixator and an obsessive and i will not stand up from the table              until i have put all the p i e c e s of the puzzle into place but

i can’t hold a con vers ation

while

doing it

 

i like making cLuTter but not C

h                                                          a

                                                           os.

and for that reason, choreographing ‘to’ music without giving as much meticulous focus to sound as to movement would be a violence against both parts. a rubbing down of both from the slight friction between them as they slide in against each other almost smoothly but not quite. a shoulder in the socket.

this project requires intense musical and physical specificity, that attention to both parts*i thought gaga was hard, trying to pay attention to my whole body at once. now there’s the music’s body a s w e l l

what does it take to be specific? what kind of listening is required? what kind of modal transposition, (sight into (hearing into (kinaesthesia into (hearing again), what translation?

it occurs to me, Walking with ‘Trane is a physical moving through the space with John Coltrane, the music is a body, his intentions, danced with and chased across stage. all the more important to listen deeply, figure out who it is i’m dancing with.

Gaga: Dance as Means of Surrendering Control – by Kathleen Voight

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Gaga encourages losing control – giving in to gravity, to one’s body, to the external forces. It is this loss of control that epitomizes the stark contrast between Gaga and all other dance I had previously encountered. Frequently during our classes, Saar directs us to “Give in to the forces. Let go.” He urges us to move without thinking or predetermining our movements and, instead, to rely on that which is innately driven. It is the movements that arise when one gives up all control that reveal the most authenticity and vulnerability. For myself, many of these movements form as momentum builds and I continue in paths naturally appearing from each preceding moment. To move with the things that move me is to relinquish all consciousness of control, to admit these forces upon myself.

Today, we were instructed to capitalize on this feeling of giving in: to release one’s body “into water,” indicating a lessening of bodily effort, and to use the movement gained in this moment of release. We collapse our boxes, our centers of structural support – chest, ribs, pelvis, shoulders – and fold inwards, riding on the wave of travel gravity provides. Gaga work with these forces – natural laws of the universe, bodily desires, naturally ensuing movement – instead of attempting to counteract them and, thus, the innate human joy of dance flourishes.

From Nailah Harper-Malveaux:

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My very first impression of Gaga actually wasn’t in this workshop. I had come across it while taking a class on experimental writing and performance. We went to see Sadeh21, choreographed by Gaga’s creator, Ohad Naharin. When I first saw it, I remember thinking: this is not your average professional dance company. The athleticism is astounding, the lines impeccable, and the musicality breathtaking, but it looks nothing like any other dance I have ever seen in my life. There is a sense of spontaneity to it. The dancers bravely play on the margins of danger. They seem to take things a bit farther, completely unafraid of falling. In fact, at the very end of the performance, the dancers one-by-one fall behind a screen as the credits roll. The act of falling takes different shapes: a cannonball into a kiddie pool or a limp drop, your body turned slightly by gravity’s affinity for your good side. The fall can be shared, lovers falling away from each other, yet still holding hands. Your can leap majestically into the air as you fall to the heights.

As I started these rehearsals, I felt like so much of the pressure of dancing was taken out of the equation. It was not about getting the moves “right.” It was not about looking a certain way and following a prescribed technique. It was about listening to your body, allowing your body to be available for the impulses that you feel. It truly is about finding your own groove. As one of the dancers in the group who has had less technical dance training, I actually think that I have an easier time at points, because I haven’t been taught to move my body in a regimented way. I’m used to dancing at parties, feeling the groove of the music and changing it up. My friends and I dance casually and often, never forgetting to involve the pelvis, the pika and the lena, even though I didn’t know we were using them.

I feel Saar pushing us towards this spontaneity, reminding us to not be afraid of falling. Perhaps it is the falling itself that can be beautiful. We often try to let go. We use our engines from far-off places in our body. We yield to different parts of our body and allow our limbs and appendages to extend and become bigger than they are. We don’t stop, but always keep pushing. Our joints are balls, our legs trunks and there is an invisible thread that runs from hand to hand through our chest. At times, I find myself overwhelmed trying to think of all these different images and terms, but then I just remember to follow what my body wants to do and focus on being present. When dancing Gaga, I feel my body open up to all of the possibilities of movement. I feel less constrained. It is encouraged to “fuck it up.” It is encouraged to be a “crazy motherfucker.” There is pleasure in pain and beauty in your inner demons. Gaga is about letting go and truly feeling free.

From Mary Chandler Gwin:

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There are the finest crests and troughs on the white washed walls of BRL. Rubbing my hand, thigh and shoulder blades up and down and traveling along the back wall, I have run into countless door hinges, a fire alarm, a first aid box, and almost hit a red emergency button. I have become very familiar with the wall but am always relieved to finally make contact with another body. The wall doesn’t receive my weight or give me any of its weight, except for the force exerted due to Newton’s 3rd law. There is a divide between our surfaces; they do not melt or morph into a joined being. Without the wall giving me weight, I have been unable to fully lean into the wall while doing my phrase. I remain two to three inches away, putting just enough pressure to trick myself into believing my lena is committed to the action and the relationship. However once I have contact with Holly’s skin, the movement changes. We continue our phrases, leaning into and wrapping around one another. Holly and I move closer increasing the thickness and intimacy of our movement as we press our lenas together. This is an intense exchange of information. During this moment I am reminded of my own humanity as I interact, listen, and receive information from a fellow human.

Saar prompts us in class to give and receive information to and from the space. Holly and I are able to put this into a tactile practice as we give and receive weight and movement. Experiencing the difference between doing the same phrase against an inanimate object and a human allows me to feel what Saar and Lee mean when they say, “be human.” To be human while dancing is a concept that I have been struggling with since I took a post-modern dance course last year. A main part of being human for me is trusting my body to perform actions, to stop thinking about the movement and the aesthetic and do what is natural. It is easier for me to be human when I am engaging with another person because I am able to trust them in our shared performance space. I look forward to exploring the idea of being human both in groups, with a wall, and as an individual.

From Liam Appelson:

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I want to write about the empathetic kinesthesia of this movement language. How is the audience’s perception any different in watching pieces developed through Gaga any different from those developed in traditional movement languages? It seems a bit contradictory to think about audience response with a language that focuses so heavily on sensuality, where the dance occupies a space entirely within the body. In class, this contradiction is in many ways confirmed.

Although we are encouraged to watch other dancers and experiment with their ideas, the focus of watching still feels incredibly personal. Their ideas cannot just be watched, but must be danced to be understood. In fact, there seems to be an absolute refusal toward voyeurism of any form. Mirrors are not allowed, watching a class is not allowed. The focus revolves entirely around the notion of the inner self. Furthermore, a lot of the movement, while allowing the performer to explore their own truth through movement, can be very hidden to those who watch. Saar often tells us to “hide” our movement, or at least the beginning of it. So, though we may make every effort to reveal the actuality of our movement to ourselves, it seems that we intentionally obfuscate it from the audience. However, there are some ways in which this does not hold.

Although we hide our movement, it does not necessarily mean we must hide our energy as well. Watching Saar demonstrate what the movement is supposed to look like, it is incredibly honest. Kinesthetic information is shared between the artist and the viewer. Even if he hides the beginning of his movement, one can see the effort, and see the energy growing within him. It builds tension the pervades the room. It makes me wonder what the performances will be like. So far, we have been studying, honing our movement and our ability to wrap our minds around the complexity of Gaga’s instructions. However, this has been done in a completely closed space, in which any transfer of information is either taken in or shared, but never freely given away. So far, we have in no way focused on pure generosity in our movement. Perhaps this will change as we become more proficient in our movement styles, but it also may not. However, I am also willing to believe that perhaps it is not necessary to be generous to create an intriguing performance for the audience. And perhaps, the we may not be deliberately sharing our information with audience members, that may not stop them from reading it.

In terms of the way that audience will interpret this information, it is hard to tell. From watching the work done in class yesterday (1/30), what became obvious is that emotional subtlety comes through quite well with work developed in this language. However, the kinetics can still remain a mystery. I believe this will change as we become more comfortable with the Gaga language. As I do not yet fully know what it can look like to see an entire group, well-versed in the vocabulary, it is still very hard to tell what this kind of movement could eventually be seen as.

From Lindsey Bauer:

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“The imagery in Gaga reminds me of the imagery used in Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais. It is so rich and descriptive that I can actually see the forces at work, changing the way that I move. 

 
Gaga asks me questions about my habits. I don’t have the answers yet, but I am exploring.”

From Kellie Ann Lynch:

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I’ve not had much exposure to Gaga in the past, but I have a lot of experience with improvisation and dance. For me, Gaga is bridging the gap between sensation based explorations and improvisation as a tool to make choices. It feels almost like a somatic practice by way of the language and imagery used, yet it asks you challenge your physical threshold; and it’s extremely rigorous, because Gaga asks you to explore movement pathways you didn’t realize your body was capable of finding. My body is feeling pushed, energized and sometimes exhausted. My whole self is deeply appreciative of the emphasize on organs, tissue, bones and deep bodily sensations. For me, Gaga is bringing together two aspects of dance I sometimes feel like I live in.

Gaga Thoughts (initial mush)

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1/31

I get really overwhelmed by how much I need to keep open, or keep on. I haven’t figured out how to keep things on while I’m not paying attention to them, and as a result I’m either constantly trying to monitor everything or neglecting parts of myself. Keeping the thread of the arms connecting the palms to the heart and softening the chest, these are only the doings, the outcomes, visible results, but it’s only a small percentage of what is needed, what the body speaking gaga needs. So much traveling stuff! Inside, blood obviously, but also small tingles very lightly and finely forming channels down your limbs. Glittery traveling stuff. And then there is the traveling stuff that is much thicker, deep red-brown, raw meat. There are probably others but these two are the ones I find most consistently. It’s difficult to experience even just two kinds at once. Immersive. Submersive. Submarine tour of your own body, sink down into it and float along.

2/6/16 this is right after class with Lee.

“You can think of flowers, yes, but also steak.”

Gaga class: listen to the traveling stuff, be available, ball movement, in water, floating, thick, feel more flesh, soft in the chest. It’s overwhelming, this awareness. So much to feel. We aren’t trained to feel very much in our culture, so this is doubly difficult because we are so under-prepared. We don’t listen to our bodies, we don’t listen to our emotions. The two are wound up in each other. I am bad at feeling, at least. I think that’s going to be how I start my writing entries: body check in, emotions check in.

Traveling stuff. On first check I’m fine, which means I’m not digging into the wet leaves to feel what is beneath the fine-ness. Why not. I’m afraid. I’m not sure. Maybe I’m daunted by the volume, which I don’t really know since it’s all buried, so why I think things are so huge underneath I’m not sure. Maybe because of the thickness of being fine. It is a very thick layer. Don’t be afraid of the effort, connect it to pleasure. I think I’m afraid of feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort. Like having eaten “too much”, fullness, I am afraid of fullness. Can I connect fullness and discomfort to effort so that I can find pleasure in them? Yes, there is effort in accepting discomfort, sitting with discomfort. Not distracting myself so that I can move past it. Sitting with it. Moving around in it. Like moving around in your clothes and feeling the cloth against your skin.

So that’s my project for this spring, then. The translating of bodily effort into emotional effort so that I’m not afraid of the digging or the feeling. This is my first try, I don’t really know where to start. I think I’ll write about the movement to see if I can get to a starting place.

Movement: I feel blocked in my hips and pelvis. I find the outer limits very quickly and haven’t figured out how to break the pattern my pelvis normally moves in. It’s frustrating. Engaging from the inside of the pelvis helps radically, actually. I can’t do it for very long right now, those muscles are not used to being engines. But engaging from underneath, the pika and the yoyo relaxes my femurs in the hip sockets and lets my pelvis float. Sometimes I knock my own breath out of myself when I source my movement underneath my pelvis. It’s like, oof, something warming and unsettling how forceful it feels. One heck of an engine.

I have found a lot more availability in my arms, shoulders, and back. I have to constantly check to feel my chest soften and my shoulders relax (I just realized they were hunched right now) since they just float upwards naturally. Using the shoulder blade as an engine and using the rope of the arms has made me feel like I’ve added six inches to my wingspan. I see myself as a bird actually, or some sort of stretchy reptile where you can see its ribcage when it reaches all the way. I feel the flesh of my arms wrapping around the bones. I imagine it and feel it, both. Same with images of doors opening in the joints and balls spinning, being in water, magma and lava pouring in and out of butter-like flesh. I imagine them as I move, in a way I haven’t done since I was a child; earnestly, wishing to see. It helps me feel. Which helps me move.

I sweat so much but it is pleasurable, I’m not sure how. It’s not like running on a treadmill, or even like the effort of ballet which I prefer to running or yoga – it’s everything on, all at once, you have to fight for that awareness, you feel each muscle moving, you aren’t worried about form in the traditional sense, just feeling the information move through your body. It’s a different kind of thinking. It’s not monitoring, like a checklist, am I turned out, is my chest lifted, are my hips square, like in ballet. It’s like sinking into a bean bag chair and trying to have your whole body touching it at once – constantly shifting and relaxing and exhaling and trying and trying all at once. Or running through a whole field of horizontal pinwheels trying to keep them all spinning at once. You just run around spinning the, and if you see any slowing down, you reboost them but there are always more to spin. I’m not very quick running through the field yet but I imagine with practice I’ll be able to keep the awareness, and therefore the engines, on.

2/7

I’m not really functioning properly right now but I feel like that kid who tries to “clean” their room by shoving everything under the bed or in the closet and the mom opens the door to the closet and everything spills out onto the floor. I’m running out of places to stuff things. Reaching capacity, I gotta put some of this stuff away otherwise I’ll lose sight of my own floor. Also I think I’m angry but not sure because I don’t get mad that often and this is unfamiliar. I have so much to do before tomorrow and can’t quite justify taking the time to sit in this uncomfortable place. It’s going to be worse later and I am not looking forward to that.

This is where I am.

Gaga is the first movement vocabulary that has felt good in my body. It feels so good! Pleasure and effort. Ballet is very obviously a poor fit for my body, at least as my hamstrings are currently reminding me. Modern too often has shape-making at its core and is rigid in terms of those shapes. Postmodern I love dearly but don’t always feel my body engaged. Gaga feels like I was born doing it.

I wonder if everyone feels that too.

Also there is so much pleasure in constantly moving, continuing to move, no stops. No stops! You don’t ever drop the groove or go dead or cold or even need to relax because you are relaxed and just easy. Dropped into water. But it has to be the thick kind of water, that you wade through, not light splashing water. You know what it’s like? It’s that strange moment in high school when all of a sudden the image popped into my head of being suspended deep in the ocean, dark blue and quiet and thick, and talking to God, who was a whale in the distance so He looked small. Peace is underwater, which means it is no stretch for God to be a whale. In that suspended place it was quiet and yet still moving, and there was some deep sound, low or unhearable or imagined, and I had never felt so close to God. And never felt so safe. I used that image for a long time in high school and into college when I needed security or comfort or a break or forgiveness or whatever. God is pretty chill as a whale, and beautiful. I can’t believe I forgot about that. That’s my healing image. How poetic that gaga is also in water, and used for bodily healing.