When it is time to start working on a new piece, there is time set aside to work on its design. I have to think about many things including what I am going to get out of it. I have to know that this piece is going to change me even if it is just a small change. That change can be due to many things. It could be that it pushes my physical boundaries of technique and physicality. It could be that is pushes my emotional boundaries and helps me explore disturbing situations from my past. It could be that it pushes my intellectual boundaries and helps me explore a concept that I have not yet wrapped my head around.
When it comes to physical boundaries, this is often the easiest boundary to push. It is one that I already know exists. Going after than boundary is easy because I can identify it and find someone who can help me break it. This is one of my favorite boundaries and not just because of its ease of identification. I love to push myself and be pushed beyond what I thought I was capable. I like questioning my technique and finding a new way to do something that I hadn’t thought I would be able to accomplish. This only helps me grow in the physical part of my dancing.
When it comes to emotional boundaries, this makes for pieces that define my life and career. Being able to lay my heart open on the stage for people to understand, judge, and discuss is vulnerable. More vulnerable than me talking about it. Expressing it physically exposes more than words can express because it touches the audiences at such a level that is hugely unconscious. There is a visceral response just as I had when I was going through it in my past. Sometimes in discussions after a performance, I feel like a little kid with a secret because I know what my show was about and I do not want to give away the true story. I prefer that my audience had an experience that they cannot quite explain. This is how I like to experience art as an audience member.
When it comes to intellectual boundaries, this is the hardest for me to define. I am not a know-it-all type. I know I have a large capacity for understanding. Defining what I do not understand takes inner work. Sometimes starting with what I don’t like about it is easiest as my dislike might be a defense against a lack of understanding. Once that is identified, the research starts. The research explores expression of that disliked part. It involves reading. It involves discussing with my partner or partners about their insight into it. Bringing a cluster of artistic minds together on a topic and having all of us explore it can make for interesting and varied work.
The journey through a new piece of work enriches my life like nothing else. At the beginning, I am very excited. When I hit roadblocks, I feel discouraged and have to dig deep to find a way to carry on. Those are the pieces that make me the most proud because they are a complicated journey. They usually evoke the greatest change in my thinking, my physical body, and my intelligence. I am always sad when difficult projects are completed because they touch me so deeply and it feels like I am breaking up with them when done. The lovely thing about pieces is that I can revisit them, so they are never really gone. Revisiting often brings new insight as well, so it is something I practice on this journey.
There are many talented people in my community. There are those who come by their talent naturally. There are those who have had to put ten times the work to get to a similar state as their natural friends. There are those who put in a tonne of work but know that they will never keep up. Those who have to put in the extra work to just keep up or lag behind, are usually those who are enthralled and enamoured with what they do. If dance was not a true love of theirs, it would not be worth all the effort and sacrifice they invest.
Those who are naturally talented at dance, may enjoy dance. They may be okay with doing it. Often, they aren’t as invested in it because they didn’t have to put as much in to get to where they are. Have you noticed that those who have things handed to them in life are usually not that attached to it. Be it coming from a rich family, they may not try to work as hard once they are employed. Those who come from poorer families often make the most of financial opportunities and will do whatever it takes to get ahead. Be it naturally good at academics, they get by on their natural affinity to regurgitate information, but may not be that motivated to invest in their studies. The same thing happens in dance.
Dance is not an easy thing in which to become accomplished. There are so many factors that play into accomplishment – how many hours are put in on the dance floor, natural ability, access to competent trainers, and self-discipline are among the many. Much of it has to do with your attitude and willingness to get to where you want to go. There are so many facets of dance to pursue though. It can make the path quite winding and lengthy. If you are a chameleon in your dancing, this can make the path muddy as well because it becomes easy to get involved in too many different forms of dance.
At the end of the day, whether you are a professional or an amateur dancer, if you are loving what you do, you will feel gratitude for the ability to do so. Everyday I wake, I am grateful that I can touch a dance floor and dance my heart’s desire. Do I have natural ability? For sure I do. Do I have a support network to keep me competent? Absolutely. Do I have the discipline to put in the time? Most definitely and that is was has kept me still dancing at my age. The same goes with those who are dancing past 30 years old. We have to have the magic combination.
We also have to still love what we are doing otherwise we would have moved in a different career direction because dance is hard, especially as a profession. Those I talk to in my age category think the ingredient that has best served them is gratitude for the opportunity to have this career. We are lucky, and having made it this far, we know that it could be so easily taken away from us as well whether it be a health issue, an injury, or a change in our relationship with dance. I think that is part of the draw to this career – unpredictability. I am grateful for that as well.
So what happens when you have a flash of inspiration? Do you do anything with it? Do you hope that you won’t forget what it was? Do you jump on the opportunity to go deeper with that inspiration until you have wrung all meaning out of it? Feel lucky that you had one. Some people never have one. Some people have a handful and do nothing with it. Some have few and run with them. Those who put their vision out there are the ones who mark our industry.
So how do you get from an inspiration to a piece that you will let someone see? The ability to do so is a talent for sure. It is also an act of courage. You know that when you do so, you are leaving your soul on the floor for everyone to see. Maybe those who see it will love it. Maybe those who see it will hate it. Maybe those who see it will just think it is okay. Any option is an emotional risk for anyone who lays their work out there. The fact is though, if you do anything less than authentic, people will know. Whether they can verbalize that identification, something will feel off about it and will hit them the wrong way. Thus, authenticity is the way to go.
There are many choreographers out there creating beautiful pieces, visually. When you walk away, you may be in awe of what you saw, but you may not be changed forever by what you saw. When I see a piece that everyone raves about, I want to come away from it haunted by what I witnessed. I want to be daydreaming and have the vision of what I saw flash before me again throughout my life. I want to know that I witnessed something that changed me and that I want to see again. That I want to try to understand mentally even though I may have emotionally been moved. That cognition may never happen, but I crave to get it. I think my lack of truly understanding the story, but being deeply moved by something is what I like best. That is what creates the haunt. What makes me want more.
Many have tried to choreograph their inspiration and it ends up going nowhere. Maybe it is a lack of understanding how to create a piece that wrecked the process for you. Maybe you were unable to dig deep into it in order to develop it. Maybe the inspiration just fizzled. It happens to everyone at some point. If you are lacking experience in the creative process though, find someone who can mentor you. Up and coming choreographers are often happy to run with someone’s inspiration and share their process. Those coming up on retirement, may also be looking for someone to mentor. If you are stuck and truly believe that your inspiration is worth putting out there, find a way to see it through. You don’t want to end up retiring from dance thinking I should have. Fight to make it real.