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365Dances: What I learned this year? Lean Into What You Love

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When I began this project my intention was to make a different dance every single day.  Oh! The things I would learn about choreography! Oh the learnings and the amazing art which would follow! Well, after about twenty days when I was shaking from the exhaustion of not getting enough sleep (see the video Crossroads? That is a woman that needs to chill the bleep! out). I realized I needed to come to some sort of modified agreement with myself.  It was not really realistic for me, a single mother working full-time 30 hrs a week AT A DESK to create entire dances every single day.  Laundry has to get done at some point. What I could do is vow to create a little sketch every day. Ah! Yes! That feels better! A little dance sketch.  Could be a 30 second sketch off a gesture I observed during commute, could be an entire five minute improvisation, could be something I’d been thinking about in the back of my mind for days.  But whatever it was, I realized, I needed the freedom to just let it be and not judge it.  This is tough when you are putting your videos on youtube.  But that was important to me too.  We don’t make art to live inside of bubbles.  Art is supposed to be out there.  And so even when things weren’t WOW really good, I still liked posting them for the moments of value that I found in them. For the transparency of the process. When I began this project, I couldn’t have predicted how my life would change, but I did know on some level that it would. You can’t set a plan to do something every day and NOT change. It would be impossible for me to list all the things I learned this past year, but I’ve tried to highlight some of the major points:

Things I have learned this year:

Take It Seriously, but Keep It Light:  I noticed that in order to keep up with my 365dances challenge, I had to maintain a certain amount of discipline – which means sometimes I just had to make myself get in there, put down the other “busy” work of day to day life, and just do it.  Dance a little. Throw on some music and find out where my body is.  But on the other hand, sometimes if I pushed too hard on myself, I reaped very little benefit. Extreme frustration would follow. Disappointment. There is this important balance between fun and discipline. The optimal creative conditions are when you are inspired to work. You are in a playful mood, but feel compelled to do it. The “discipline” doesn’t even enter into it. The best work was when I was having extreme amounts of fun, so much so that I wanted to keep working at it.

When Taken Seriously, Ideas Keep Showing Up: The more I started listening to my ideas, the more ideas I seemed to have.  Nobody asked me to make dances you know.  Probably some would rather I stop. I decided that my dances were important. Once I made the decision to care about them, my ideas became stronger. Try it. Try taking your ideas seriously and writing them down for a week. It pays to take yourself seriously this way.

Work With The Best People You Possibly Can:  I think it is really important to try to put yourself in situations where you can learn from people who are much much better than you.  Often this is scary. Sometimes you have to be brazen and swallow your ego. I don’t pretend to know everything and I love to learn. I studied with some outrageously talented people this last year. Often I would be in a class and wondering what the hell got me into this situation and who did I think I was trying to do this stuff? I think it is a good check on yourself as an artist to challenge yourself. And you can really take your skills to a whole new level when you do this.

Making Dance On Yourself Is Limiting: Yeah, I got really bored with my dancing. I mean, not forever or anything. I’m still dancing and loving it, but creating work on myself is limiting. For one thing, it is really impossible to be impartial whatsoever.  I have a really healthy body image, but still got annoyed with myself for giving undue criticism. It’s tough to take yourself out of the art when the art is you.  Of course there is no such thing as being objective when looking at others either, but I have really generous eyes for dancers I create on and this tends to make everything work better.  The most rewarding experiences were working with other dancers and musicians.

Creating On Others Is Challenging and Rewarding:  As a choreographer I make work to enhance the individual I’m working with. Not everyone does this, but I do.  Maybe I’ve been on the other side too often, trying to make someone else’s choreography fit on me. But whatever the cause, I don’t think of a piece and then try to find dancers for it. I find dancers I’d like to work with and then begin imagining pieces made on them.  The work comes from their strengths and sometimes their weaknesses too.  Those things that will also leave them vulnerable and expose some of that real depth to the rest of us.

Making Art Is About Being Resourceful: Let’s face it. Nothing is created entirely “new.” Being resourceful matters. The universe is a place that is ridiculously abundant with ideas, art, people, things.  The San Francisco Bay Area is full of people making things all the time.  Rather than being discouraged by all of this, I find it a delightful source of inspiration.  I praise innovation everywhere I see it. Being curious is the engine of resourcefulness. I am both very curious about others and their art AND very resourceful.  This is part of the reason I study many different kinds of dances.  And then those dances become my resources. Some of my best ideas are when I realized there is one wonderful thing that has never been put alongside another wonderful thing. I put them together. I feel like a genius. Then I see a youtube video of someone doing the same thing fifty years ago the next week.

Give It A Break Once In Awhile: I love to dance, but bodies do need rest.  I’ll be the first to admit it. There were definitely some days here and there that I sort of “eeked” by on my intentions because I just bloody well didn’t feel like doing it.  Also, besides making a dance “sketch” I taught dance, took workshops, had rehearsals for performances, coached and worked with other dancers, and I did sometimes let that count towards the project.  One of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of rest. We dancers say that it’s important, but do we mean it?  On those occasions when I would allow myself a day or two of no real physical activity, I noticed a difference when I hit the studio again.  I’d be amazed after a lazy weekend that I actually felt stronger.  And my body and imagination would be itching to create and move again. Rest dancers. Rest!

And a couple more things I learned on a more personal level:

My Family is Awesome:  I never once forced Aleister to dance with me, but a few times did suggest it and he was game.  And I think that shows.  I love those videos with him and know I’ll love them even more as the years fly by all too quickly. I realize that he and I aren’t what most people imagine as a complete “family.” But this year, I realized we are. We are perfect.  His maturity and support of me as an artist is generous beyond his years. And I think this has something to do with the level of fun that we have with dance in our house.  Art isn’t just something I do.  It is something that pervades everything in our home life from the food we eat to the artful way in which we ride those scooters. I am really proud of that.

There Is Still That WannaBe Movie Star Inside of Me: This project began as just a dance project. The videos were supposed to be really very secondary. I initially imagined terse and perfunctory videos made in the dance studio.  Clearly, I very quickly realized the possibilities of my awesome little iPhone (I am still waiting for them to call me and offer an endorsement!) and the videos themselves took a life of their own.  At a certain point I realized that there is probably still that little girl in me that always wanted to be on film.

And Finally. . .

Lean Into What You Love: I discovered a million and one different “techniques” for creating and coming up with ideas: games to play with myself, exercises to do, different types of meditation.  This project taught me more about those creative pathways than I could have imagined. But all those pathways can be boiled down to one simple lesson: Lean into what you love.  What? you say. . . that’s it? Really? Lean into what you love? Yes really.  Every creative step is a step taken in desire. The more you follow that trail of what you want, the more you know what you want. The more you know that, the more it shows up. The more you lean into it, the better you become at feeling your way towards it. I will probably spend a lifetime exploring this and teaching this, and yet it really is that simple. Lean into what you love.