Dance Dance Revolution

Pain and sacrifice are needed to be a good collaborator. You must check your ego at the door, give yourself fully to a new collective identity, learn how to give and take, choose trust over distrust, be ready to fail, and commit to the unfurling nature of process.

It is worth it.  A good partnership brings fresh inspiration, useful limitations and a supportive structure. The pushback of collaboration can carry you to places you never might have traveled to on your own. Most importantly, its challenge provides great training for any kind of creative intelligence.

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If collaboration is boot camp for creativity, then post-modern dance is boot camp for collaboration. In 1972, a dancer named Steve Paxton and a handful of his friends at Oberlin College got together, rolled around, hurled themselves at each other, practiced falling and improvised their way to a radical new dance form. They called their invention “contact improvisation”, which Paxton described as

“the communication between two moving bodies that are in physical contact and their combined relationship to the physical laws that govern their motion—gravity, momentum, inertia. The body, in order to open to these sensations, learns to release excess muscular tension and abandon a certain quality of willfulness to experience the natural flow of movement”.

Contact Improv (as it is often called), is a movement language that emphasizes responsive reflexes and generates choreography from the alchemy of bodies in contact with one another. Paxton’s experiments with this mindful movement of the body turned traditional dance on its head and laid the groundwork for postmodern dance as we know it today. Contact Improv has qualities both edgy and raw as well as smooth fluidity. Its influences are apparent in the work of Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Lucinda Childs and many many other seminal choreographers.

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My first introduction to all of this was in college in the nineties. My friend Abby insisted that I come to her contact improvisation workshop. Nervous to be out of my element, I was relieved to find myself in creative paradise. This was not the “five, six, seven, eight, chasse, two, three, four, and keep it pointed six, seven, eight…” sort of dance I had been accustomed to. Not at all. This was playful, unselfconscious and gloriously body positive.  We experimented with finding true responsiveness to touch and impulse, weight bearing and giving, and moving as a single entity.

Contact Improv is fantastic practice for becoming a solid collaborator. Yet, as Paxton points out, it is important to remember that we are always collaborating with something. Even when alone.

“Solo dancing does not exist: the dancer dances with the floor: add another dancer and you have a quartet: each dance with the other and each with the floor.”


CREATIVE PROMPT: SMALL DANCE

Steve Paxton created an exercise called “Small Dance”. It helps you to feel creatively attune, relaxed, and to realize that you are constantly collaborating with your body, gravity and the floor.

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Further reading and resources:

I highly recommend seeking out a class or jam session. Contact Quarterly has a directory of teachers and centers. Take it from me, you do not need to be an expert to engage in this practice.

American Dance: The Complete Illustrated History by Margaret Fuhrer, traces that richly complex evolution of Dance in America.  From Native American dance rituals to dance in the digital age, American Dance explores centuries of innovation, individual genius and collaborative exploration.

 

Contact Improvisation by Cheryl Pallant.
In most forms of dancing, performers carry out their steps with a distance that keeps them from colliding with each other. Dancer Steve Paxton in the 1970s considered this distance a territory for investigation. In this book the author draws upon her own experience and research to explain the art of contact improvisation, in which dance partners propel movement by physical contact.

Why Creative People Count Their Blessings

I am grateful that in doing research for The Creative Hours, I came across Milton’s exquisite words:

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

Creative people live on everyday epiphanies. We find muses in the mundane, and receive life’s variety as a non-stop blessing. Living with a “gratitude mindset” means being in love with the poetry of now.

Way back when, from John Milton’s religious 17th Century perspective, the stakes were high. His epic poem “Paradise Lost”, grieves the biblical expulsion from the garden of eden. Milton was plagued by the irrevocable nature of this tragedy, but found a redemptive key in the poet’s mind and the reader’s imagination.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”

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Unlike the romantic grandeur of Milton, the contemporary poet James Wright found rays of transcendence within the ordinary. James Wright (1927-1980) was a tortured soul who suffered with depression and alcoholism. His lonely poems often speak for the interloper and outsider. However heavy his heart, Wright found inspiration everywhere- even on the side of the road.

Wright’s friend, the poet Robert Bly explains the inception of the famous poem “A Blessing”.  He tells how at dusk, on a drive through Michigan  they spotted two ponies off the highway.  At Wright’s request they pulled over, got out and climbed a fence to watch the horses for a few moments.  Once back in their car headed to Minneapolis, James Wright opened his spiral notebook and wrote this poem:

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.


CREATIVE EXERCISE: THIS POEM IS A BLESSING

This creative exercise takes a page from James Wright and prompts you to jot down the vivid details from a moment in your day. This is a wonderful way to practice gratitude and nurture creativity

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TIP:  don’t worry about whether the poem is “good” or not.  The fact that you are writing a blessing is good enough!

Share your Blessing!

Send to thecreativehours@gmail.com or post with hashtag #TCHblessing


Further reading and supplies:

Paradise Lost, by John Milton.  Milton’s epic poem explores the struggle for ascendancy between God and Satan is played out across hell, heaven, and earth in the work the consequences of the Fall are all too humanly tragic, with pride, ambition, and aspiration being the motivating forces

 

Above the River: The Complete Poems, by James Wright. From his Deep Image-inspired lyrics to his Whtimanesque renderings of Neruda, Vallejo, and other Latin American poets, and from his heartfelt reflections on life, love, and loss in his native Ohio to the celebrated prose poems, Above the River gathers the complete work of a modern master.

 

Ampad Gold Fibre Retro Writing Pad, Red Cover, Ivory Paper, 5 x 8.  Carry around a blessing notebook!

 

 

10 Color Retractable Pens, I’ve always found these pens to be a blessing!

 

 

 


Thank you readers for the Blessings!

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