The Dead Shall Be Raised

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Written 2/1/17

Wednesdays are slow. Getting to rehearsal zaps what little energy my thighs and body think they have left. The two flights of stairs up to the studio seem like four, and at the top I pant three times as much as usual.

But being tired actually helps with the dancing. I stop thinking and I allow my body to move. Fatigued, my limbs and core go where they’re comfortable, where they want to be. Everything becomes more efficient and precise because I stop deciding and start doing. When the extraneous thoughts leave, so do the extraneous steps.

It’s backwards, but being tired propels my focus in our explorations – our investigative improvisational exercises that bridge classwork and movement generation and choreography. They are hard for me because I think too much. I try so literally to feel a ping-pong ball ricocheting through my flesh and I get stuck in all the thinking. If there’s only one ball, how is it in both ankles? Should it get caught on all my internal organs? The answers are all bits of useless information for the explorations. The exercise is about feeling. But when I get tired my concentration becomes less intellectual and more kinesthetic. I find my groove.

After three hours of dancing, I leave revived! My body more open, my mind running, my eyes glowing, my blood zooming, I leave the studio awake! Somehow expending energy energizes me more. The harder I push myself, the more I want to work.

A true embodiment of the clichéd reminder, “You get out of it only what you put in.” Although I feel like I get so. much. more. Yes I’m sweaty and slightly bruised, more dehydrated, and quite hungry; but I’m also brighter, happier, and stronger.

Mother Tongue Exploration

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Written 1/25/17

Amanda asked us today: “What spice are you adding to the pot?”

Well instead of dancing in my kitchen or feeling groovy with cousins, I was at home in my bed. Home is solitude to me (of the best kind) and closing my eyes during the exercise was like the first few moments of waking up. Before I really do wake up at all. The biggest feeling was against. Pillow against hair, sheet against face –

So the spice I add is cinnamon. Applesauce without cinnamon is flatter, less warm. Cinnamon has a little tickle. It’s the feeling of cinnamon, not the taste, because growing up I used to sneak into the drawer in the kitchen – I don’t know why sneak because it wasn’t off limits – and smell the slightly old sticks that we never seemed to use. Cinnamon is an addition to me, not a main ingredient, and my movements were deliberately selfish, smooth, and a bit luxurious. Although still young, still in the moments of the day that rest on the edge of coming into consciousness. The other thing about cinnamon is that it can very easily be too much. I added a little too much cinnamon today and drowned out the clear flavor of the beat.

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.

looking back and looking forward and being pulled forward

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i reached a moment in the middle of this process when i was told that i was judging my movements before i made them, and that made me think about a question my friend asked me about whether or not i allow myself to take up the space i need in order to do the things i want to do. (no, i do not.)

so it began, a process of prioritizing my SELF in all that it is and does – emotional, physical, mental, and everything in between and wrapped in each other. this process required me to open up so as to allow my Self’s expression to be communicated, shared, showed, understood, celebrated, felt, seen, heard, loved – and first and foremost by myself.

so i thank urban bush women and the ydt members i have had the luck, honor, and privilege to move and learn with – learning through our movements, sharing our embodied knowledges, mother tongues, stories, concerns, fears, truths, and offerings. there is no feeling like letting yourself do exactly what you want to do, and learning that it is exactly what you NEED to do. i plan to move forward open to my Self and all that it offers, offerings that i need to acknowledge, allow, and encourage to grow, excite, scare, express, love, move, breathe, change, and live.

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.

Flexibility

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This week, we  participated in an exercise in which we had to imitate each other’s “ mother tongues”, that is, the rhythm and dance moves that come to us most naturally, the ones that remind us of home – wherever that may be. Mother tongues are pieces of ourselves that I find very intimate, as they  showcase to the world who we are through how we move. This is powerful, because every individual’s mother tongue is extraordinarily unique, just as they are. A part of this exercise of “deep listening” was having different people “showcase” their mother tongues, and having the rest of us imitate it in a sequence. This took a lot of courage, because not only does this require  placing a “pin” of some sorts on the exact movements that make your mother tongue unique, but it also involves replicating them so that others may seek to understand it. Completing this exercise taught me the beauty and importance of closely listening to one another. I may not be able to execute a person’s mother tongue in the exact way that they can, however, I can do my best to understand them by moving beyond the evident,  closely observing intricate details such as  their facial expressions, weight of their feet and variability between breaths. It is INCREDIBLY important for us to practice this idea in life as well. Without adaptability, we become obsessed  or only able to listen to ourselves, and this is what causes wars, damages families and destroys friendships. Deep listening is a skill that is not only intended for dance, but for the vastness that lies beyond four walls and a marley floor.

Fall/To fall

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During our Saturday rehearsal, Amanda wrote several words and phrases on the board that were meant as points of focus for the day. Power words/phrases. First on the list, she had written Fall/To fall, which was meant as a further exploration of the “tipping” phrases we had been working on leading up to that rehearsal. While spending half of rehearsal relearning the art of falling, I found myself thinking about Amanda’s choice of power words. Fall/To fall. Most of the other words she chose existed on the board alone. So why would she write both Fall and To fall? In my eyes, the difference lies in the agency. When you Fall, you lose control. If you Fall, it’s something that happens to you and there’s not much you can do except hope that you catch yourself before you hurt something. To fall returns the agency to the faller. You can decide To fall. You can plan To fall. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but To fall means to release yourself and trust that you know where the floor is, trust that you have control over your body, trust that you can work with gravity To fall without harming yourself, and trust that the agency To fall will give you the momentum to continue to the next portion of your movement phrase. We are learning To fall.

tonight, tonight, tonight

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I released tension in my back. I am trying to focus on how to use my core and when different parts of my body need to lead me. Oh dance – the more you learn one technique or movement, the more possibilties but also the more questions, curiosities, open paths to explore, but you also have to stay grounded in the task at hand. All the questions that come up about your body and how you are using it — but you have to keep moving. A lot of thinking goes on. And then it’s funny because only when your body has processed and taken all of your thoughts and explorations and answers to those questions in, can you not think so much and only translate this knowledge through your movements.

I need to move with more intention – use my eyes more instead of looking through my hands or feet or not looking at all. My eyes are the end of my spine, as Renee used to remind us. I need to keep them open and keep energy flowing out of them so that it can continue running through my body and help me carry my movements.

At least I have made a new friend – the floor! I know I’m not the most graceful when it comes to traveling across it or dropping onto it, but my body is familiar with it now, so I am going to work on melting into it – letting it hold me and allowing my body to move with the freedom that the floor gives me by holding my weight.

 

Dancer as RNA Polymerase

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To be honest, the first thing I think of when someone says ‘transcription’ I think of RNA being created in the cell. At first I tried to get myself to stop thinking about that, to focus on the prompt we were given and not worry about the RNA polymerase moving down a strand of DNA. I was listening to Jay-Z trying to stop when he did and continue when he decided not to take a breath. No matter how many times I listened to that song, even after learning the words, I still felt like I couldn’t capture the texture of his voice. However, when I allowed myself to think and behave like an RNA polymerase with the voice of Jay-Z or Coltrane’s horn as the DNA, I was better able to see my role in the transcription.

My job was to generate movement that was mapped out by the specific part of the song, but I didn’t have to replicate it – not exactly anyway. I was to use the song as a template, creating a complement to the section I was focusing. When generating a complement, I am following the path presented by Buju Banton, stoping when I encounter a pause (or for the RNA polymerase – a break in the strand waiting for it to be fixed before continuing) or falling off when I reach the end. A key component though is that I am not producing an exact copy of the strand; I am incorporating my own bases/movement suggested by the template. From my transcription, the phrase that I create can be used to recreate the original template. This is exactly what Amanda and Courtney have been trying to get us to understand/do. They have asked us to perform and observe phrases to “Giant Steps” without the music being played to see if we can hear the horn in the movement of the dancers alone. Our movement should produce the timing and texture of Coltrane’s horn, while staying true to our personal movement style. Each time we have worked on this, I have seen and felt improvement from everyone and can hear Coltrane’s horn as we move together. I look forward to our continued work on transpiration and seeing how we capture the essence of RNA polymerases.