“The Church says: the body is a sin. Science says: the body is a machine. Advertising says: The body is a business.
The Body says: I am a fiesta.”
~ Eduardo Galeano
I'd like to share with you some of the most refreshing reminders I've had in a while about art/practice/life from the lens of my favorite dancer, Donna Mejia. Insert your craft, practice, etc., here:
1. Celebrate both newcomers and virtuosic practitioners for their unique and distinguishing aesthetics. Try to avoid letting dance become a weapon of status, social mobility, power, homogeneity, hierarchy, assumptions of attractiveness and general harm. Examine the ways in which your dance choices uplift OR bring down a community. When evaluating if your choices are sustainable to a healthy community, ask yourself where we would all be if everyone made a similar choice?
2. Don’t be afraid to make “bad” art! Experimentation is a crucial part of locating one’s inspiration and expertise. For every success there should be thousands of questionable attempts. Support others and reserve judgement as they take their own bold steps to towards their curiosities and fascinations.
3. Allow your relationship with dance to transform, change, shift, ebb and flow as time passes. Do not grieve the passing of one phase to the next. All possibilities have a nourishing contribution to you as a mover over time.
4. Do not, for even one nanosecond, believe that you aren’t a “real dancer” if you don’t get paid or perform in front of audiences. Neither is required to be a legitimate artist. A poet is still enduringly a poet even when washing dishes. Performance and payment is never an accurate barometer of success. Continuing that line of thinking, there is no sin in a day job. In fact, covering one’s basic financial needs and dancing on the side is a rather intelligent choice. Being “hardcore” for dance doesn’t equate to being foolish.
5. Seek education about the social/political/economic forces, historical influences, and contributing voices that have been pivotal to your chosen dance practice.
Conversely, know that many “great artists have found their voices in the arms of solitude." Hence, it is valuable to embrace chapters of deep, investigative inquiry in isolation, and without apology. These phases cannot be forced.
6. If serving as a teacher of dance, be generous in spirit. If you are not emotionally prepared for one (or many) of your students to eclipse you in stature or financial reward, then please get out of teaching. Remember that you are not responsible for all students’ blockages or challenges, nor can you take credit for their personal successes. Teachers are guides who point the way forward. If done well, students will always be grateful and teachers receive the respect that gratifies and dignifies all of the effort."
Thank you for the reminder, Donna.
What. A. Babe.
I know the voice of depression
Still calls to you.
I know those habits that can ruin your life
Still send their invitations.
But you are with the Friend now
And look so much stronger.
You can stay that way
And even bloom!
Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions' beautiful laughter.
Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From the sacred hands and glance of your Beloved
And, my dear,
From the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.
Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
That may buy you just a moment of pleasure,
But then drag you for days
Like a broken man
Behind a farting camel.
You are with the Friend now.
Learn what actions of yours delight Him,
What actions of yours bring freedom
Whenever you say God's name, dear pilgrim,
My ears wish my head was missing
So they could finally kiss each other
And applaud all your nourishing wisdom!
O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions' beautiful laughter
And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.
Now, sweet one, be wise.
Cast all your votes for Dancing!
I saw Rachel Brice dance for the first time when I was 17 years old in a crowded little theater in Albuquerque, NM. Matter stretched, time folded in on itself, and no one took a breath for the entire dance. I swear. I left that theater knowing not only what I wanted to be when I grew up, but what art could do for someone. This piece makes my heart ache for dance all over again. RB, you destroy me every time <3
"Any artistic pursuit whether it be music, dance, theater, or painting is infinite by it’s very nature. We are never as good as we can be. The art form is always bigger than our present ability or level of skill. The awareness of this ultimate truth can bring us a sense of drudgery as if we are on an endless treadmill of effort trying to reach a mythical point of perfection that in reality doesn’t exist. But it can also serve as an awakening, a freeing realization that we will never reach the end of our artistic “becoming”.
The Practicing Mind
T M Sterner
"I've always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colors when the sun hit the horizon. That's perhaps my only sin." - Joe from "Nymphomaniac Vol. 1"
"The mastery of Hatha Yoga unfolds in stages. By progressively cultivating the right internal conditions, the student will “arrive” at each subsequent stage of development naturally and organically, without force or imposition. This is similar to the way a fruit ripens by itself on a well-nourished tree, eventually falling from the stem.
The first stage of development, preparatory work, sets the stage for all that follows. Preparatory work is the most crucial stage of development. Its purpose is to strengthen and purify the student to a degree sufficient to provide a solid foundation for further progress. Despite its importance, an understanding of the methods and theory of skillful preparation are notably absent in much of contemporary yoga due to a misguided emphasis on quick results, accessibility, and mass appeal. For experienced students and teachers alike, eliminating gaps or rebuilding the foundation is often the key to overcoming persistent obstacles and entering new depths of freedom and competency.”
-Mark Horner, Shadow Yoga Teacher
I came to yoga as a dancer who had a lot of hang ups. I started dancing in my teens and when I fell in love with belly dance and West African Guinean dance. Years later my love of dance became so acute I started to pursue more classical training in ballet, modern, and improvisation. What was at first an honest pursuit of technical proficiency and further training became all consuming. I began to realize that having not started ballet from the age of 4 my body lacked the same range of motion as dancers who had been in classical training all their lives. Thus I turned to yoga.
My pursuit of yoga was an attempt to change my range of motion and to make up for what I honestly considered as "lost time." However, my range of motion hasn't significantly changed. Of coarse my body has opened up and changes are happening, but after years of both dance and yoga, I can honestly say certain parts of my body are anatomically tighter than other peoples. The the major value of yoga for me has been in having the permission to no longer believe that more range of motion will change anything. Who I am as a person will not be better for having more extension. My love of dance won't grow bigger. I won't experience greater compassion for others because of it. I wont even be that much better of a dancer for it. The point is no longer some fixed position in space.
What has changed is that I started to be quiet and grounded. This in fact has changed my dancing, but not in the way I intended. I find I am less goal oriented, and less concerned with where I'm going or how much I have improved. Instead, I am more clear headed. My mind wanders less in class and I am able to make subtle changes and connections in my body. As a perfumer I am more present and and more aware of myself. My message has changed form one of pure aesthetics, and into one of energetics. I find that in both watching and experiencing movement I am now more drawn to the moments of internal experience, and less to flashy and impressive things, though those are lovely as well. I am drawn to the subtle and nuanced and less to the extreme and forced.
It is for this shift that I am so grateful for yoga as a dancer, because it has nourished my passion. It has offered me my innocence back: I have permission from myself now to love what I love, and I am not being so driven by my desires and judgments around how that currently looks on the outside.
I am home in my body and able to breath and be there, regardless of my range of motion. This is the greatest gift to any dancer.
Sudhiro was old; wrinkled leather skin, carved-out face seeping into bone. His thick long hair hung gnarled down his back, and his eyes were the soft grey of the bottom of the sea. He lived a few miles from the reservation by the Chuyamungue pass.
Sudsy, as he was called, appeared in coffee houses and restaurant dives whenever he was in town. Sitting at Longevity Cafe drinking tea he would appear peripherally, blowing over bookshelves like desert clouds or walking across the cafe in slow methodical rocking steps like a walking stick on a branch. He was older and stranger than the gringos in town, and he had that feather and smoke look to him. He'd laugh, and sip his tea, eyes smiling in deep cracks across his cheeks and bones. He had a commune in Italy he lived at part-time, a group composed of mostly dangerously beautiful young women his son's age he always ended up in tumultuous and short-lived relationships with. He wrote a book once a few years ago; about watching his father die, the longest dream sequence of his life, an acid trip to the white sands with his students from the University of New Mexico, and six years of quiet by the Ganges river in a cave. It never sold many copies, but he doodled on the unpurchased novels he still had at his hideaway home in the canyon cliffs of Abiquiu. He made notes about the patterns wind make in sand and how spiders can imitate them on temperate days when it is not too hot or too dry for the living to brave the light on their backs.
He almost died on a vision quest one summer. Out in Abiquiu in June, when the sun sucked the saliva from the sand and everything beneath it; when the rains couldn't begin to gather because each drop suffocated on its way up to the sky. In June he walked out into the desert. The sky was swollen with that fertile emptiness it gets when it's ready for questions. It was asking him outside again. He had been slung out on his hammock, sipping mate and watching the horses quietly weaving through sage brush, smelling the earth for directions to buffalo grass and running water. The creek must have dried up, must have suffocated also, because the ground was sinking, the land's veins collapsing in the absence of ground water's invisible rivers.
He was looking toward the other side of the valley when he saw a new horse, a tall ravaged animal, chunks missing from his chest. He must have run into barbed wire, must not have seen the metal twisting through space. It had been so violent outside, the haze and the ghostly sweeps of light must have confused it. A gelding, domestic, tail trimmed and clean, shaved whiskers--ridiculous. He was accoustomed to his wild ones, the fierce little fuckers, who dragged brambles and sticks behind them, pieces of the valley were taken up with the wind when they ran; their eyes white, breath and bodies steaming, they seemed to evaporate with the water sometimes, vanishing into mirage. This little sucker, he thought, this little sucker won't make it too long.
That night at dinner his neighbor Mimo called to tell him a white buffalo had been born near the Pojoaque reservation. A good omen, a sign that the tribe had been blessed with the return of power. Mimo thought he should know, thought he was a decent old crow, believed that though his blood was not native of this land, he had the blood of someone possessing in him.
Later that night, Sudhiro dreamt of a spider weaving constellations. Behind the web wild horses ran across the stars, painting the milky way with their tails. On one side of the night sky a buffalo, the color of milk, soft, transparent; on the other the chest-less horse heart beating and pumping, palpitating through the muscles mostly carved away. The two creatures walked towards one another, began to bleed into one another even from a distance; they began to scatter into grains of sand and glass, they began to coalesce. Their colors changed from the cream of the baby buffalo and the red brown of the gelding, into a deep indigo blue. The fusing pieces began to crack and shatter, splintering into shards, and out of the shards accumulated two cranes standing in the river, laughing.
The next morning upon waking, he walked into the desert. He walked to the tallest peak, into the canyon walls, deep into the red of stone. There he lay down by a shrubby tree out in the sun to sit for four days and nights, to ask a question. The heat of June tore into him. It carved into his sockets and drained the moisture from his blood. It took the water from his breath, the fluid from his spine. The sun was angry that year, must have been upset by the death of Pojoaque's chief, who they lost to a car crash with two young men and their drinking. The sun must have been angry, because Sudsy--though sleeping--began to burn. On the evening of his final day he could not walk back to his house. He discovered his inability to climb back off the cliff he had perched himself on.
The coyotes were out again, scattering their voices in the night, singing their stories in the oncoming dark. The cooling stone and the coyote medicine helped him peel himself up off the rocks, and his four days and nights in the desert were done. He retreated back to his adobe dome in the hills where he waited. He came back only half alive, and drank water from indoors, laid out on his hammock.
For a second year I found myself in Vangelie’s three day Butoh workshop deep in shadows, lost in my own subconscious images of dreams, desires, and private terrors. Almost 20 of us gathered to plunge into our capacity for patience and to feed our curiosities. Even in the middle of so many odd sensations, uncomfortable thoughts and bizzare moments I am amazed at how many of us show up to dance for 4 hours straight and to dare to reach into our lost and hidden selves.
To Vangeline, the practice of butoh is the practice of travel. We use repetitive and and powerful techniques of breath and energetic compression to peel back the layers between psychic realms. To vangeline, dance is a vessel and a pathway and a journey. Each time I revisit Butoh, I remember why I move and once again my self-judgement, and technical limitation mind traps all fall away. I find honesty for a moment, and I remember I am a dancer because I dance and not because I belong to one technique/school of thought or another. That moving is authentic and essetial to me and many others, and this is why dance is one of four corners to build the foundation of life upon; dance, song, stories, and silence. Butoh is each of these.
Vangeline’s message as a teacher is a powerful one: Strip away all of the fluff, the meaningless movement, the decorations. Stop using movement to avoid yourself and sensation. Stop tryoing to feel only what is pleasant or tolerable. Stop denying our humanity, and stop denying yourself compassion in that face of struggle. "We don’t care about ourselves in a loving way and it ends up projected onto everyone around us," she says. "We struggle with others because we struggle with ourselves."
Butoh is a peek into our darkness and our light and we need each other to brave that journey. Dance is about community in its roots. Every person that manifests around this work is a gift to our own process. Each student brings the gift of themselves, their vulnerability, and their humanness. This point of view is such a different paradigm, and not just from the dance world, and ballet classes. In the Butoh process you meditate through emptiness, find peace and stillness on top of great discomfort and pain, and boldly expose your most vulnerable and hidden aspects and secrets. Butoh is human. This work is necessary in such a superficial time.
Each time butoh comes back through my life it strikes me that art is depth, vulnerability, and an honest offering of our humanity. It takes more than technique and virtuoso to change ourselves and each other. Art is about reaching out with our own fragile life to speak to the humanity in others. To make art is to break open and stand in all of your mistakes, your magic, and your honesty. Performance art is to offer all of that and not hold any of it back out of shame. It’s simple truth in every shade of our capacity to love, destroy, and heal.
"Your reality is paper-thin" the teacher says to me as I take note after note on the world inside me. Butoh class has dissolved the world into colored paper, brick, & sweat, and we have all changed Kunststoff Arts and ourselves into something distant. We are no longer desert dwellers, or city slickers, or neighbors, and the space is no longer a contemporary building on the corner of Market and Grove. This is a cave; a memory, a smoke filled dream and inside it we are walking. We are shifting forwards towards the walls, sifting the matter and particles we are made of, turning into molten potential, breaking at the seams. The paper and fabric of our identities is tearing and we are here together holding each other up as the world we know falls away.
In Butoh, we privilege the state of being over the container. We travel to altered states of consciousness through the body, and the breath, and imagination alone. Through the body you discover the truth, "I was a dancer all along." Inside of the subconscious there is nothing to fear because everything transforms. Everything is changing always. Moving farther inwards we discover our nightmares are simply untrue. Everything you are fighting for, everything you believe in and are desperately reaching for is alive in you. All around you are the places and people and communities you love, holding you up, loving you dearly. Your dreams are coming true even as you seek to understand what they are, even as difficulty grows you open, and makes room for those changes and shifts that carry you forward.
This is what dance can give you on a rainy Sunday. This is what the container holds.
I am but a world, some flesh and bones to keep it in.