Inhalation and Exhalation


I am not being gratuitous in the least when I tell you I was blessed to spend last weekend taking a dance workshop with Anna Halprin at her Mountain Home Studio in Marin. Her dance philosophy, if it must be put into one sentence, is something like this: Rather than learn to imitate someone else’s style, dancers should be learning to dance from a knowledge of their own body in order to fully dance as themselves. Anna Halprin’s technique? Awareness.

What I can’t understand is why I didn’t study with her sooner!

It was her workshop that got me thinking about inhalation and exhalation. Lately I’ve become more acutely aware of my pattern of taking in information and then the need to output information, much like inhalation and exhalation. This cycle manifests itself on many levels but of course the level I want to discuss here is my art process.  If I’ve spent months on producing a project or performing sometimes I’ll find myself going inward – wanting to take in new information and not be putting myself “out there.” Now this can be a tricky state because it can sometimes look a lot like, “vegging out” and can turn into the guilty pleasure of hours of Netflix videos.  But what I’ve determined is that this hibernation of sorts, isn’t necessary a bad thing.  I just need to be more careful about what it is I choose to allow in.

Of course we are, all of us, all the time taking in info and putting out info.  In verbal conversation this happens literally, but also we are in constant conversation with the world, our environment, other people. Then there are bigger cycles.  I spent most of my life so far studying how to move like someone else.  About six years ago something in me said ENOUGH and as I listened more to this voice ideas and movements began to pour out.  It was like I’d been inhaling my whole life and was bursting to exhale.  So I exhaled for a loooooooooong time.  I exhaled so loudly I may have even been offensive in my flatulent beligerance.  This nice Indiana girl finally got her a healthy dose of rebellion.

It was a relief but it became clear to me that I shouldn’t wait so long to exhale next time.  I also realized I was going to need to inhale again at some point: “Take a deep breath Holly!” and that there may be a more balanced approach to all this. 

This project is like me learning to take deep regular breaths.  As I work with more and more people ideas gain momentum and I’m in touch with even more ideas and more people! They are all creative and interesting and I long to explore what they do (taking a nice inhale) at the same time I’m creating  myself (exhaling) every day.  So more than ever I am forced to balance the input and the output.

I’ve noticed that sometimes if I take too short a breath, then my exhale isn’t as strong. Like working on a salsa shine with Kirah right now:  She keeps telling me I’m doing great, but honestly salsa just isn’t deep in my bones yet.  I’m trying to collaborate with her but struggling a bit to keep up.  You see, I haven’t inhaled the salsa enough, so my exhale is weak.

One thing is clear, my approach to everything has been changing ever since that first enormous exhale years ago.  I’m still breathing in and out, but I’m learning more what fits me and letting go of what doesn’t.  I’m still open to new information and styles without being attached to serving them up and presenting them to someone else’s idea of perfection. I’ve been learning to dance like myself. And let me tell you. It’s fascinating.



About Holly Shaw

Holly Shaw is a San Francisco Bay Area dancer and choreographer who has performed as a soloist with Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos off and on for several years. Shaw is the creator of the Eve’s Elixir project, a platform for artists of contemporary world dance wanting to bring new ideas to traditional dance forms, and has produced several shows in San Francisco. Her flow between contemporary modern dance, flamenco and Middle-eastern styles makes her a unique choreographer. Shaw has spent years training Bay Area dancers in technique and improvisation, challenging them to dance from a deeper level and uncover their unique style.

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