The Truest Thing

I am humbled to have been a guest on Jenna Zaffino’s podcast, Pilates Unfiltered. Jenna is a force in the world and I am lucky to know her. She is inspiring because she does good work but more so because she MAKES THINGS HAPPEN.

Here is the link to Jenna’s website, specifically to the Pilates Unfiltered podcast.

And here is the wave washing over me right now.  For Brené Brown readers, there may be a little vulnerability hang-over mixed up in this. (It might make the most sense if you are familiar with my work in Creative Self-Care and/or listed to the interview.)

The goal of my work is to reach the truest thing.

Jenna and others have described my work as pioneering. Maybe- I am not convinced.

If it is, it is because the value of what I do is placed on– no, offered to– the general person and not the “dancer”. The seed of my work is honoring the person, in their most revealed form, and in individual and collective contexts- through movement. My offer to them is space, time, and a guide for how to articulate to themselves and others, WHO THEY ARE RIGHT NOW told through physical means. Multiple movement vocabularies are used so feel free to read pilates and somatics into the following use of the word “Dance”.

Dance, to me, is supposed to shine a light on the human experience told through the body. Dance, for me, needs to reflect the collective human experience when placed onstage- but in the studio, needs to shine a light on the human being(s) in the room. The movement vocabulary does not, for me, define dance. Dance defines life.

In that sense, life is most useful when lived out loud. For others to take in, and to move in response to (hopefully rising above typical comment threads and small-mindedness). In this way, I think of my work along the lines of Alain de Botton’s School of Life– in that I want movement to be the vehicle by which people understand how to live and how to make living artful.

As a field, I think Dance struggles with credibility unless you reach a tier of Artist (big name, big reputation, big company).  I think the entertainment lens has something to do with that, as well as the distractions of athleticism and the reward of compliance in training and discipline over projection of most authentic self. The same could be said for pilates and the fitness lens.

When I think of professional dancers, this is what I hope to see– those who simply are their best selves and are sharing that identity through live or recorded performance. It is a transformed existance, a willingness to investigate that existance and share it. People who bring all of their intelligences with them wherever they go.

Yet we are often openly defining ‘professional dancer’ (or swap ‘educator’ here) status to those earning a paycheck or who have completed a degree or have passed some measure of compliance and external achievement. Without much personal inquiry beyond the superficial:  “I feel best when I am dancing”, “I want to teach (dance) (pilates)”, ” I want to help people”, etc. We all start there of course, but that is just it- that is the starting point, not the end game. So what then?

I think the question is WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE, not just what do you want to do.

For me right now, my “what then” includes how to develop the credible work while living in a small midwest location and not a major city- where people aren’t necessarily used to having access to people with big ideas nor how to interact with them. To do the work which is at par with the company I would like to keep (Artists sharing deep work in a variety of disciplines) without having the privileges of big name, big reputation, big company. How does one build a body of work which has a philosophy and an ephemeral domain? How do we give evidence to the credibility of the work?

I am going to start with one dynamic breath, one session, one group class, more inquiry, and more conversations.

What do you think?

What you waiting for?

I keep finding myself in conversations with people who are telling me what they want to do, somehow not realizing they have the resources they need at their disposal right now.

I have started saying, “What are you waiting for?”

I have started saying it to myself, too.

With the shifting of my career and the new responsibilities I have taken on, I sometimes feel myself get stuck in the comparison of tasks I am doing now versus the work I want to be doing.

One of those areas has been to get back to writing. So, here I am.

Another has been developing new creative relationships and exploring merging of my varied interests. It means finding ways to share projects with people who work in other disciplines so I have a range of interesting endeavors.

I think sometimes we lose track that we hold the agency to create the life and the work we want.

What are you going to stop waiting for?

Stop Shoulding

I would like to remove “should” from our vocabulary. There are so many better ways to make a point, suggest improvement, make an observation than “should.”

Whenever “should” appears in a conversation, my guard tends to go up. Not all the time and not with everyone- but with many people, and always with specific people.

“Should” falls so easily into shaming (you should do that, because whatever you are doing isn’t good enough). “Should” implies there is more to do, that the reasoning behind whatever is being done is lacking somehow, or that the person who is using the word knows better.

People think if they say it with a laugh, or playfully offer it is advice or encouragement, it makes it okay. I don’t think it does.

Truth is, I am guilty of it too, though my “shoulds” are very consciously not directed at others. They are directed at myself. You know, usually in some form of negative self-talk. “You should lose weight.” “You should do that differently.” ” You should stop this. You should start that.”

This morning I tried on bathing suits for an upcoming trip. I walked in expecting to “should” again and again. “You should lose weight. You shouldn’t have put on those pounds after losing them, how could you have let that happen….”.

But you know what? I didn’t. I didn’t try to avoid it, I just really looked at myself.

I realized I have the body I have earned.

A body which has carried two children. A body which has danced and moved with many motivations- sometimes in performance, in healing, in repetition, in connection. A body that has expanded and contracted in size, shape, line, and time- not to mention courage, patience, acceptance, grief, peace, and humor.

Just as my sense of purpose, clarity of direction,  professional and personal goals have morphed through time- my body has and will continue to do so.

So, what if I chase what feels good and follow that instead of allowing “shoulds” to dictate my actions.

What if we treated people with the same courtesy- the compliment of interacting with them wherever they are and not where they are not.

What if we released the responsibility of telling people what ought to happen and invite them to wonder what could happen next.

Do we have the courage to practice this ourselves? I am trying.

 

Myself When I Am Real

At 21, I created a solo to Charles Mingus’ score, “Myself When I Am Real.” This morning, my husband played the record knowing it remains close to me, perhaps sensing the nostalgia might bring me comfort in this annual season of personal grief.

At 21, I felt the depth of the dance depended on the depth of the musical composition. I returned to Mingus time and time again, and have continued over the years.

In my early 30s, I made dances with story and identity in mind and have continued over the years.

At 40, the dances are about experience but experience is also calling me into inquiry -doubt, examination, revelation, reflection and the like-of my understanding of dance, and my needs of it. The contexts. The purposes of moving.  The relationship to audience and participant. The label of dance to meaningful and intentional movement as a vehicle or a distraction. The weight and the strength of humanity in motion. How I want this to appear in my life and specifically, my work.

For me, the dance no longer only exists solely for performance on stage, in-studio, but in witness of being, no matter the reason or venue. Acknowledgement of presence in teaching, in moving, in living. These days, I occassionally find myself wondering if I am interested in making dances again. Not dances for students, but dances for me. For inquiry. For knowing. That feels surprising, tentative, and curious. Maybe confusing.

I am watching and reading about others’ metaphoric dances- their journeys, calling into their inquiry (or not) the choices which have made or unmade their lives. I am aware of the perspectives others share from their vantage points- judgement and critique is so easy and covers up so much, or so it seems. It doesn’t, to those willing to look and see and respond. What is my role in those interactions and transactions?

Every season offers the inquiry of “myself when I am real”. It is an evolving practice. The challenge comes in organizing a life- a career and relationships- in which the realness carries you through and earns you a living. What is the most efficient way of not getting wrapped up in the distractions of noise and the illusions of people?

Every dance offers the inquiry of what it means to be real- not in the training of the dancer, but the authenticity of the movement- where the truth comes from the body and through the movement, where motion is clearly generations-old, and the soul is cast beyond the soma for all to connect with, not just see. The challenge is coaching movers to admit their realness, to live in it physically and experientially. People are hiding in their physical actions, their  habits, their silent quests for approval. Inhibiting examination, honesty, and growth. It is hard for me to understand. It impedes progress.

Weight and strength. Waiting  for the weight and strength of realness. I am waiting desperately to see people act with weight and strength of realness so I may feed on it and take it back into the world of every day folk, and so each of us knows we are not alone.

Stop hiding. We want to accompany you in your realness. We hope you’ll do the same for us. What might connection be like, really?

 

 

 

Following the Interesting Questions

There is a wonderful young woman, who I am mentoring, who continuously pushes me to reflect on my experiences and offer her advice. While I hope she knows advice is always subjective, the process of reflecting on the over-arching themes of my career has been really satisfying and its has prompted great conversations with like-minds who have experienced very different pathways.

Lately, I keep coming back to this:

My career has been about following the interesting questions and very few of them have turned out to be where I expected to find them. It turns out, I held a lot of myths about dance, education, and satisfying work.

Myth #1: Higher Education is where the thinking happens in dance.

Fact: Thinking can happen anywhere in dance and in life, if that is what you want.

I love intellectual stimulation and physical expression. The connection of those things is where I find my “flow” where I lose time and feel most alive. Working in higher ed has been where I felt this, actually, the least. Perhaps due to the programs I was teaching in, we were able to promote students taking their work outside the studio and stage contexts, but very little of that was in practice when it came to the work of the faculty. At several points of contract, when deciding to take a job or not, I found myself wondering if I wanted to teach about why should be done in non-traditional ways, or if I wanted to actually go do it.  As it turns out, I want to do it AND teach about the why.

Myth #2: K-12 Education is for the people who couldn’t cut it as dance majors.

Fact: I didn’t actually hold this myth myself, but I know plenty of others who do. I do think K-12 Dance Educators are robbed of the benefit of professional immersion into the creative process and performance opportunities often reserved for those planning on a performance career.

Myth #3: The “real job” is the one with bureaucracy, salary steps, and health insurance.

Fact: I now work for a non-profit. It is as glamorous as the reputation of non-profit work suggests, but I must admit, it is rewarding. My CEO has joked that in watching me in other postitions within “institutions”, she thought I had the real job, as if she was just playing house. Now here, I see this is where the “real work” is- the real questions, the real needs, the real problems in which we are able to develop creative solutions. We are able to do as we like, as we see it best, for those we serve.

Following where the most interesting questions are- has brought me to the people, in the community, and servicing the field.

 

The Water

A few weeks ago, a friend was describing a teaching residency themed about water dances in which she and a collaborator worked with three classes. Two of the three classes flowed through the project and the curriculum as planned. The third class resisted, wanting to return repeatedly to their personal (and social) definitions of dance with social dances I don’t know how to spell.

As she disclosed the turning point in which the adults eased into relaxation and allowed that class to function differently than the others, our conversation turned to the brilliance of the learning for the adults and the value of that brilliance for the students.

I said something along the lines of:

You became the water. Turn that into an intentional conversation with students about perspective, resistance, flow, obstruction, and all else- and you have still nailed your learning outcomes but in a more meaningful way.

Since that conversation, “become the water” has been a running mantra in my head. I have been teaching the difference between “flow” and “fluidity” in several of my classes. I am riding the waves of transition and taking note of movement (read: change, transition, growth, expansion…) being the only constant in life.

Just as I think I have a plan and a trajectory, a carved path- life seems to put me back into the water. Over the last 18 months, I have made several clear-ish decisions to move away from the path I have known. Interestingly, I find myself being brought back in. This time the known path is putting me closer to my goals outside the familiar landscape. That has been a surprise.

With it comes the usual vulnerabilities- am I selling out and choosing strengths out of safety, am I giving up, blah blah blah. I have to redirect my thinking- be the water. The path is shifting but the truths are not. My opportunities to do The Work I want are surfacing they just look different than I had predicted. That is not a surprise.

When I get anxious, I tell myself to become of the water.

Here’s to a return of documenting this dancer’s life in movement. Through text.

Mid-Leap

I am nearly 9 months into my career leap. Here’s what I am noticing:

1. Vision is sometimes clearer from a distance.

My leap was prompted by the desire to:

  • do meaningful work full-time, in environments which recognize and embrace the need I seek to fill; moving to improve the quality of one’s life.
  • strip away the pieces of my teaching that others can do well and to focus on what makes my teaching specialized.
  • engage with communities that could benefit more from my work because they are open and willing, and ready to immediately apply the work to their lives in real time- not down the road. It is the difference of working with people engaging in their lives versus those that expect life to start after college or expect that somehow learning is for future use and not the immediate present.

Up close, sometimes the minutiae of making the work possible can over-shadow the work inside the studio. Sometimes I wonder why I need to invent my own path and not merely complete the certifications that are close to the work I am developing but do not quite hold the whole picture.

I think this is partially the plight of the pioneer, as a mentor described it, in that getting the work off the ground and into the awareness of our community takes so much effort and can elicit so much groundlessness….

There are times I need to remove myself from the immediate proximity of the “job” in order to reconnect with the “work” and remind myself how other methods don’t quite fill the void I see. Taking the time to zoom out, reconnects me with why I chose to leap in the first place, then informs how/where to zoom-in again now.

2. Grounding is necessary.

My grounding has revolved around:

  • drinking from the well of others. For me, this has been monthly interactions with a cohort group at McEntire Pilates, deep conversations with my colleagues in regard to the philosophy of what we are doing and why- identifying the company we’d like to keep, and accessing professionals in other disciplines negotiating similar challenges.
  • saying “no” to the opportunities that do not add spark nor new experiences. My latest filter has been, “does this opportunity reflect where I have been or where I want to go.”
  • writing. I haven’t figured out how to make it happen consistently but I am acutely aware of how not writing makes me feel isolated and insular. Writing helps me organize my roles and identities- which sometimes feel inwardly conflicting and competing as I create new work locally but with a vision that could scale universally.

3. Starting over is humbling. And freeing.
It can be hard to shift from having a reputation/routine/role within one context to entering another with what feels like complete anonymity. The perk is that you are also allowed to reinvent yourself.

You have a chance to, as Seth Godin says, “Be personal. Be relevant. Be specific.” You don’t have the obstacle of preconceived notions about you or what you do, you can assert yourself with a relative freshness. You also have the opportunity to allow your new experiences to continue to reshape this new image. It is all fluid until it is not.

Mainly, I have experienced this:
When you are committed to a vision and open to possibility, people appear to help you along your way. Doors open where you never thought to look. And life is richer than you could have imagined.

How’s your leap going?