From Gas-light to Go

Gas-lighting. Have you heard of this?

I read an article last week that brought it to my attention and I have been thinking about it ever since. The term was made popular by a 1938 play, Gas Light, which was later made into a movie starring Ingrid Bergman. Guess what we’ll be watching soon.

Here’s the gist- it is a form of mental abuse in which a narcissist manipulates situations (dimming the gas lights) to disorient and confuse their victim by lying, denying, or changing information (no, the lights are just as bright) so that the victim questions their perception, memory, and ultimately, their sanity. It is about gaining control and keeping people in their place. Under their thumb. Quiet. Small. Insignificant.

I can think of a figure or two that have walked through my history with behaviors that could reflect this. One was even in a professional setting- how unfortunate and potentially dangerous.

But what this REALLY makes me think of (thanks to Brené Brown, of course)- is shame and fear. If you are unfamiliar with Brené’s work, watch this. Then, this. Then read all of these. Seriously. Then thank me. ;)

Anyway, I have learned that shame/fear is the voice that- when you are embarking on something new, deciding to teach something in an innovative way, or following your gut to challenge the norm- whispers (or shouts) things like, “what makes you so special to be an outlier?” “What makes you think you can teach this is a new way and not the way technique has been taught for hundreds of years?” or “What makes you think YOU are the person to lead?” I could go on, and on, and on. But it comes to this, my mind is playing tricks- to keep me in my place, to keep me small.

I don’t know of a single person that doesn’t go through this.

Usually, this is my own voice. For a while it was the voice of the gas-lighting person I worked with, even though it was the look on their face and their sneaky actions that did most of the talking. Regardless of the sound of the voice, when I am able to label it as fear or shame (Literally, stopping and thinking or saying, “this is fear”). I can let it pass. (Thank you Jon Kabat-Zinn).

When I accept not all of my thoughts are truth, I am able to produce again. To take the risk, to teach in an innovative way, to be an outlier of the norms that hold us back. To write. To move. To get back to who I really am and the reason I do what I do.

Are you?

Going Rogue

I have been teaching for a long time. As in, over twenty years long.

Somewhere along the way, within the last four years especially, the needs of my students changed. I became aware of their personal needs out-weighing their technical needs. Their needs are for a safe place to learn and explore, gentle support when taking risks, generous space and time to generate something personal and authentic, and then trust to receive feedback objectively and honestly. Yes, all of these are relevant to the creative process, to artistry, but are not innate to dance training, or school in general. When I have provided these things, students have verbally expressed their gratitude. They have validated that I am on to something.

My work has changed dramatically over 20 years. My work is with the person, then the mover, then the artist. We are all artists; our lives our greatest evolving masterpieces.

I have broken with the systems that have been holding back my work and this break feels like “going rogue”. It is empowering and feels like the right thing to do. It is necessary. It is also unsettling, scary, and I am feeling really vulnerable. I am attempting to live on my edge- guided by my gut, my knowledge, and in response to where I see the need. We need space and time and methods for reconnecting with ourselves, with our communities, with the world at-large. I know how to help.

Which systems are holding you back from doing your best work or the work you feel is most needed?

Biting Your Own Teeth

According to Pinterest (I know, I know) Alan Watts said, “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

I have written about defining and labeling at several points over the years on this blog as well as for Dance Advantage.

I am in the midst of change with my relationship to dance and the proportions of focus through which I see and do. I think I write that every summer.

In my graduate study, I explored a movement curriculum as a method to alleviate symptoms of PTSD. Over the years, my teaching has taken principles of that work and implemented it into the structure of my classes as I worked with at-risk youth and others. I am finding myself currently drawn back into that world as I embark on some projects this summer. More on that to come.

This year, Daria Halprin’s book The Expressive Body in Life, Art, and Therapy: Working with Movement, Metaphor, and Meaning has never been far out of reach.  It has been influential and it brought me to this (page 64) about dance therapy pioneer Mary Starks Whitehouse, “She first called her approach movement in-depth and later authentic movement. She remarked that a significant turning point was the day when she realized that rather than teaching dance, she was teaching people. More than theory or philosophy, the inner life of the mover was of primary interest to Whitehouse. For her, movement was a way of becoming conscious more than a way to “act out”.” And here I am.

I have many friends navigating the waters of change right now: people leaving classrooms, leaving traditions, leaving fields, leaving relationships, leaving countries.

Change equals movement.

Once upon a time, I wanted to use my teaching to produce dancers. Then it was to also produce thinkers. Now it is also to help guide people to the knowledge they already hold. Do you see it? It is and, and. Not either/or.

Movement changes what we think and how we think it. What we think changes how we move.

I am observing the consciousness surfacing through my own movements. I am curious about the consciousness of inner life for these friends of mine as they move. I am finding the more I drop the labels and definitions, defense and offense, I am able to honor more of who I am rather and what I offer. My inner life is more thoroughly realized. I wonder if they are feeling the same.

I have spent years, decades actually, defining.            I want to stop.

I think the challenge of change hasn’t been about the change itself- the tasks, the environment, the affiliations. It has been about the shift in definition. If I am this now, does it mean that I am no longer that? No. At least not in my situations. It is altering the proportions, gaining more dimension by accumulating “ands”.

How are you moving these days? What is surfacing? What are you accumulating?

Where in this Moment

I am standing at the gate of opportunity; a wide open space.

I am here thinking about a post by Seth Godin about how it isn’t necessarily the how or the why that matters most in your journey; it is where. Where is the fear?

Where is the fear that is holding me back?

Fear  is where I think I am not able to define what it is that I want to do…

It is where I think I am not able to do it because somehow I am not enough…

It is where I think I am not finding the right “place”…

It takes me to the how…

I can feel what it is I want to do. How do I act upon it?

I know what it is I want to do. How do I explain it? Ship it?

I am where I am and we aren’t planning to move. How do I make this work here?

And the why…

I want to help people connect with themselves, with ideas, and with each other.

I want dance to serve as way of healing, self-discovery, and expression.

In looking back at that list, it seems fear is where I think I am. But where am I really?

For now I am imagining this open space as a sheep meadow. It is green, vast, and beautiful. There’s nothing scary about sheep.

Where is the fear that is holding you back?

What is it holding you back from doing?

And

I have recently been in a situation dominated by “either, or” and it has prompted me to think about this in terms of dance education.

In (dance) education, consumers- and many providers- seem stuck on classifying everything. Rating everything. Judging everything. (Read my article for Dance Advantage on why I refer to the current generation of dancers as “The Hybrids”. ) I find myself frustrated.

Why either, or? Why this and not that? Why what I like and not what I could use more of? Why me instead of you?

What about “and”?

Liz Lerman has been the the most recent “guest thinker” in my classroom. (By this, I mean that I shared some of her words from Hiking the Horizontal, described her work, showed video excerpts, and some of her lectures available online). As a class, explored dance as a means to connect to self, self to group, group to group. We were examining what we have to express and how how go about expressing it. We entered conversations about value, purpose, and measurement.

I shared this talk by Lerman at Simon Fraser University.

In it, Lerman talks about shifting the spectrum of measurement from top down or bottom up to sideways- making room for everything to be seen and valued. She also beautifully explains the catalysts for her varied aspects of work.

I used this as part of the students’ final exam. Create your spectrum- what is at the polarized ends? How do you measure it- vertically, horizontally, circularly? Where do you fall right now? Why? Where have been before and where are you headed next?

There is power in “and”.

My career has depended on it. My experience has depended on it. Hasn’t yours?

Getting to the Point

What is the point of (dance) education if not to help students connect with themselves, connect ideas, connect to others, and connect to action.

What is the point of (dance) education if not to produce citizens that can think and express in multiple modalities.

What is the point of (dance) education if not to help others to leave their egos for enlightenment and become better people and not just better at tasks.

What is your point?

in the company of others

This semester has been great. I am digging my students, my new teaching environment, the content in which I get to delve, and look forward to structuring our experiences differently over time with the wisdom I am gaining on a daily basis.

Here’s the depth of my satisfaction. In a letter to my company dancers the day before break, I said this:

Dancers,

I have spent countless hours trying to figure out where I most want to dance or most want to teach; where my family and I most want to live, and where we most want to spend our time.

I am fortunate because I never had to start with the “what”- it has always been dance for me. Really it has always been about education, too.  As I chased a performance career, what I was really doing was mining my teaching philosophy and collecting experiences and strategies to share with students. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

At long last, though, I have come to understand I have been asking the wrong question. It really isn’t  about the “where”: should I dance in big cities or mid-western cities, should I audition for companies or projects, should I aim for big programs or little programs, higher ed or K-12….the list goes on and on.

It is really all about the “who”.

In life, you must be in the company of others. This can be tricky. Sometimes the “who” that inhabit the “where” you THOUGHT you most belonged make you miserable. Sometimes the “who” that inhabit the “where” you thought you DIDN’T most belong, change your life and open your eyes to things you never considered before. I have experienced both.

Now, I have the distinct fortune to be in a “where” that stimulates the dancer-side of my self (working with dedicated and talented dancers), the “teacher” side of my self (working with students that love dance for what it adds to their lives though not necessarily their careers), and the “professional” side of my self (working with people that are professional and passionate).

I recently found something I wrote while I was living and dancing in NYC (and working a lot of retail). I wrote that I wanted a small life, one deep in meaningful work. I wrote that I wanted to live in sweat pants and bare feet. As I recall, that was a time that felt like a constant hustle. Securing jobs, juggling jobs, always having to prove my worth or potential within minutes. Days of wearing emotional armor while I paved a career that seemed to be largely based on chance yet built upon decades of hard work and striving. What changed for me was that I stopped trying to be suitable for others- wanting desperately to convince them to take a risk on me. I started deciding if they were worth the risk.

As it turns out, all jobs are a little like that. Relationships, too. You could spend your life trying to live up to the standards of and for others, or of and for yourself. When you do the latter, the “right” things emerge.

This year has been a risk for me, and for my family. We have had to adjust to new schedules, new budgets, new demands of time and responsibility- but it has been a risk worth taking.

It has been worth the risk because of the company of others that I am able to enjoy daily. Hourly. Semesterly. Yearly.

My wish for you is that while you are so focused on making the “right” decisions, you remember the who– your sense of self, your value, your self-worth. I hope you continue to find the company of others that help you recognize and maintain that perspective and allow you to do meaningful work and share the love– whatever that means for you, in dance, through dance, or beyond dance.

Have a restful break and thanks for everything.

Always,
hvs

I share this with you, readers, because in the larger scope I am in your company as well. I appreciate you.

As I think about the blogs that I frequent, the authors I enjoy most, the people I consider friends, I am drawn to the dimensionality of their lives. As I reflect on the most meaningful experiences of 2014, they have all been when we have been real, open, and engaged. While I consider this mainly a professional blog, and therefore don’t discuss much about other aspects of my life than dance and feelings related to my experiences in dance, I recognize that perhaps you are interested in knowing me differently.

I recently joined instagram (hvsdance). I was inspired to do so after listening to a great knitting podcast (Woolful) and wanted to see more about the work of these fiber artists. What it has done though, is inspire me to create (knitting, cooking, writing, documenting, moving) in ways that other forms of social media don’t necessarily promote. I enjoy seeing the images of lives very different from my own, but also of those that are similar. It helps me not compare in achievement but in shared love of the little things. The things that make life great. It helps me feel connected to people that like the same things I do because I see how they feel. Just be warned that I post a lot about my knitting and won’t post photos of my students so I am unsure of how dance will present in my feed, if at all.

I hope the new year brings you peace and love and movement and creativity. We plan to “keep it simple”;  #livethelittlethings, #authenticliving, #simplify (a few of my favored hashtag searches).