Inspiration Sensation

8 Aug

I went to see Julie & Julia today, and I liked it a lot.  It’s my kind of movie; light humor, vivacious personalities and unfettered by…crap.  You know, like people acting like they have something to prove.  Not that Meryl Streep has anything to prove to anyone, but she does a pretty damn good Julia Child.  But the movie got me thinking about inspiration and passion, qualities that are so critical in dance.  Julia Child was such an approachable, charming and unabashedly warm personality that you can’t help but like her.  The fact that she made an empire out of cooking so late in life breathes hope into my complaining muscles and bones…that life isn’t completely dependent on timing; it is a choice to pursue our passions and it is a choice to be in control of our own destinies.  We just have to be open to an unexpected end result…like pavlovas being too soupy and cracking in the oven when they’re not supposed to (don’t mock me, I’m no pastry chef.  Or an Australian).  Or how about deciding to go to a movie all about food when you skipped lunch…and let me tell you I was DYING.  I never skip meals but somehow ran out of time today, although I must say that the stuffed chicken breast with Yukon gold mashed potatoes I had at Bon Vie, all circumstances considered was one of those most satisfying meals I’ve had in a long time.

Anyway, as I said before, I love that she found herself later in life, especially when it seems like in our generation there’s a rush to know who you are as soon as you graduate (or even before).  What’s the hurry, really?  Why not live for the present and grow as people as we do, delighting in the now?  Ironically, when I went to see the Julia Child kitchen at the Smithsonian earlier this summer, it was my dad who was cranky and fed up with the museum visit, and he’s also one of those people who thinks I have to carve my life goals into stone now.  I get that people need to get jobs to get money and I need to be among those people, but unlike him, I can’t bear the thought of living so far into the future to render myself a Wilis in the present.

I recently had the pleasure of reading an essay by Rob Dobson, entitled Dance Liberation, and he puts into eloquent words how I feel about dance and how it does indeed put us in the present:

Dance is one of the tools for ‘stopping the world,’ for helping me to enter the eternal present, letting each moment be fresh and new, exploring the infinite universe, making endless discoveries, untainted by anything I’ve ever been told about the nature of things.  It’s like what Walt Whitman says about trusting nothing but your own experience.  It’s my favorite kind of play and also my favorite kind of work.  Both.  Nothing more enjoyable, nothing more serious for me.  It’s immeasurable therapeutic, of course, but I don’t like to focus on the benefits only.  They just seem to come about as by-products of the creative efforts.

Wow.  And here I was thinking that the juxtaposition of super-serious and super-fun made me a tempestuous nutcase.  We’re trained from the beginning not to mix business with pleasure, but why the hell not?  I think for some people, it’s the right thing to do…necessary even.  Apparently I feel this way because I’m an “erratic and emotionally charged” person according to my parents (based on my refusal to enter the corporate workforce).  But in truth, some of us can’t survive without harmonious relationships between the biggest things in our lives.  It has to work that way or we lose sight of the big picture and worse, suffocate.  We can’t sit in cubicles and offices not because we are incapable, but because it will crush our souls.  Just thinking about that kind of work makes me want to find the closest ten-story building with an open window, and pretty much every friend I’ve ever had that was worth having laughs at the idea of me working in an office.

Dobson elaborates further:

Dance is the language of awareness.  Human bodies, their movements, and their shapes and postures (which are formed by their movements) are more immediately, potently expressive than words or any symbols or representations could ever be.  Dance is not an interpretation or a translation of life; it’s the experience of life itself.  People who understand this can share the experience together.  They can speak to each other with movement, exchange energy with each other, and celebrate life in and through their bodies.

Clearly, this guy is a modern dancer (which he clarifies elsewhere in the essay).  One of my personal tests for identifying a modern dancer is to hold up a blue crayon and ask them what color it is.  If they say something like “it’s the space between two sunsets” then you know you’ve got a modernisto on your hands.  They might mask their true selves and answer with “blue” or hint at their true identity with a “cerulean” but don’t let that dissuade you.  I myself have only dabbled in modern, and find it easier to relate to his words with modern as the vehicle rather than ballet (since classical ballet is kind of stuffy and conservative), but I think his words resound across the board.

I highly recommend his essay to any dancers, because he really puts into words the way I think most dancers feel about their art.  His essay is also a good read especially for gay men in dance, because he addresses issues of identity and saying that there is more to dance than clubs (where movement is codified and restricted) and dancing professionally in a company (which sometimes just requires an innate talent and certain physical attributes).  I found many of his experiences to parallel my own (it’s almost creepy…although uncanny would be the nice way to say it I suppose):

Why hadn’t I been doing this all my life?  I realized in a flash that dance could be the means of going beyond self-consciousness tied to my body.  I had always thought that dance would only enhance nervousness about my body (one-two-three, point your toe, and does it look pretty, am I doing it right?).  But through improvising, focusing on letting the impulses come from inside somewhere (how much of that first year did I spend dancing with my eyes closed?) I felt good about my body for the first time in my life.  I was the kind of skinny kid who got C+’s in gym class and nearly died there in the competitive macho jockworld.  No one ever told me that there were ways for me to enjoy my body without straining and exercising and fighting and comparing myself to everyone else.  No one ever told me that coordination and sensitivity and expressiveness counted for much of anything.  Consequently, when I began to dance I suddenly felt strong, empowered.  Here was something I could do, and I could do it well, simply because that meant doing it in my own way, meeting no one else’s standards.

Praise be to Billy Elliot!  I was a tree branch (still am) but I’m on the same page (p.176, more specifically).  Modern classes always made me the most nervous because improv freaks me out, but he’s right.  I was good at improv when I decided to be.  Although, that wasn’t very often…sorry modern, but you always injure me and my brain speaks classical.  I dabble in you, but cannot fully commit at this point.

Meanwhile, I love what he says towards the end, because it’s true…dance has never ceased to make me feel better:

When I’m feeling the most ineffectual and overwhelmed by the world, if I manage to get up and start moving I feel better instantly.  For me, every time I dance from my inner impulses, it becomes an affirmation, not only of my own worth, but of life itself.  The introspection, the self-criticism, the endless mind games fade as the movement gently dissolves my self-consciousness.  It seems that faggots especially could find value in this experience, being so burdened as we all seem to be with the ‘I’m ugly and worthless’ syndrome caused by so much internalized oppression.  More than any other activity, dance makes me feel good, makes me feel whole, makes me feel like a living thing, like a healthy member of the world community of beings.  Dance reminds us.  The Zuñis say, ‘We dance both for pleasure and for the good of the city’

This essay is over thirty years old and I find it one of the most inspiring things I’ve read in a long time.  Thank you, Mr. Dobson!

(And you too can read the entire essay in Lavender Culture, edited by Karla Jay and Allen Young.  Ohio State students could check it out from the library if I didn’t have the book still.  ::cue trombone:: waah-waaaah!)

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2 Responses to “Inspiration Sensation”

  1. Tuesday August 9, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    Hi, great post. I found you via your link on DDN.

    I am a painter with a teenaged dancing son. I found a lot of these excerpts from the essay related to my painting practice, with the exception being the much more physical nature of dance. There is something about dance that is so essentially human, and speaks to all of us in a way that we can’t necessarily elucidate with words, but it is very special nonetheless. I feel painting and other fine arts are able to connect with other parts of the human “soul”, so to speak, but there is something else about dancing–the physicality and the sheer humanness of it –that other arts can’t reach.

    I admire dancers greatly, and love to see dance, whenever I get a chance.

    Cheers to you and all the other dancers out there. I respect and appreciate you all greatly.

    –Tuesday

    • youdancefunny August 9, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

      Thank you for your comment!

      I agree that there is something about the physicality of dancing that makes it unique, and the author elaborated on that by saying how out of touch with our bodies most people are, because of socially produced movement inhibitions. He brought up an example of a boy being told not to skip like a girl or “move like a sissy,” and how many of us are told something like “don’t make that face” etc. and that a big part of the liberation through dance is simply allowing us to be human and experiment with ourselves.

      Although I have to say that I think for some people, painting or music is more important than dancing. Just as people need to train their bodies they must also train their eyes and ears. I was lucky enough to have a strong background in visual arts and music before dance, so for me the physicality is what I crave, but there are people out there who I think need the visual and auditory aspect more in their lives. What separates dance is that it encompasses the physical, visual and auditory, but even dancers can be “unmusical” and benefit greatly from expanding their experiences in the arts.

      Art is so awesome.

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