to see with two eyes

Standard

“Keep your eyes open.”

“Take in information from the room.”

In a Gaga class—especially if it’s your first class—the immediate instinct is to close your eyes.

“Float. Feel water around your flesh. Let it lift your bones.”

“Open the doors in your joints.”

“Feel the movement echo in your body from far away engines.”

To see the image in the mind’s eye, to translate it into the body’s physicality, is a difficult undertaking. Especially if the prompts are new—unfamiliar to the body and strange to the imagination—your mind wants complete focus. To reduce distraction, you let your eyes close softly. This after all, is a time for introspection, for individual research, for discovery.

“Keep your eyes open.”

 Dammit.

Though the impulse is understandable, to close your eyes is one of the (very) few no-no’s in a Gaga class (add to the list, no mirrors, no late-arrivals, and no stopping, and that pretty much covers it). While you grapple with continuously changing prompts (not to mention the layering of prompts), Gaga instruction encourages you to STAY HUMAN. Yes, the language of Gaga asks that you continuously see with the mind’s eye—see your seaweed spine, see balls in your joints, see the thread that connects one arm to other, traveling through the chest—but at the same time, the rules of a Gaga class ask that you continue to see what’s right in front of you, with your very normal, very regular, anatomical eyes. Take in your surroundings. See the other moving bodies in the room; see what information they give you. Remain curious.

When I first delved into a Gaga practice, this simultaneous “double-sight” was the sensation I most struggled to internalize. My mind wanted to live in a world of pictures: imagine melting flesh; imagine balls circling throughout your body; imagine engines in every unit of your body and ignite them. Even with my eyes open, I failed to see beyond the pictures, beyond the bounds of my own body. Only when I watched my instructor demonstrate choreography did I begin to understand the difference. Although the choreography itself was not and could not be Gaga, Gaga was the practice that informed her movement and you could see it in her every step. But where I saw it was her eyes. She had this look that I couldn’t identify; something that made it impossible for me to look away. Only after many rehearsals did I realize what the look was: even while she danced (with all the aliveness of Gaga imagery: melting flesh, floating bones, multiple engines firing at once) she continued to see—the walls, the floor, the dancers—with curious eyes.

This is what a Gaga class asks of you: to see inwardly (the images that elicit multidimensional movement) and outwardly (the world which surrounds you) with equal attentiveness. Such a feat is nothing short of very impressive multitasking, but I believe that’s exactly what Gaga is after. In an interview in which he was asked to make a choice—choose one person you would like to be stuck in an elevator with—Ohad Naharin responds by saying, “Whenever you choose one thing, it’s always the wrong thing. We should always choose more than one. Like one idea, even if it’s the best idea, is a bad idea.”[1] Although this comes in answer to a rather light, silly question, I believe it speaks to an important ideology that can be seen everywhere in Gaga. As you move from floating to shaking to grooving, you’re asked to keep each of the prior ideas in play. Float while you shake; float and shake while you groove. Similarly, in the concept of bodily engines, you are encouraged, as you awaken more and more engines, to use as many as possible, all at once. Surprise yourself. MULTITASK. Choose more than one idea.

[1] Lewis, Kristin. “The Elusive Ohad Naharin: A Conversation with the Artistic Director of Bat Sheva Dance Company.” Dance Spirit Feb 2006: 103&125.

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