Thursday 3 October 2013

Dance and the Ephemeral Moment

Years ago, after a breakup, I observed that the weird rough edges within myself--all of the hanging questions and unfinished lessons, emotional scars and unwanted reflexes acquired in less healthy times--would not work themselves out fully until I found myself again in a similar context. Being alone and introspective was good, even essential, but only when I re-entered the world of relationships would I be able to feel all the demons rise to the surface. Once they came out to play in a new encounter, I would be able to see them as they were, and I could single them out for eradication. Until then, I realised, I wouldn't really know who I was in a partnership; the best I could do would be to work on all of the day-to-day rough patches and get to know myself.

In dance, I feel there's something similar. Or maybe it's just that my approach to life has a pattern. I always feel like the real moments of learning about performance are extraordinarily fleeting, maybe five or six minutes of going out into a particular environment that has been crafted by all the participants to create specific experiences for everyone involved. While I think there's clearly great value in rehearsal, the repetition in a studio doesn't get to the nuances of what it feels to perform. To get at that stuff, I feel that one needs to be in that rarified space, get a feel for its contours and observe how sensations bounce around within it.

I'm a largely improvisational dancer, and so I may be especially sensitive to all of this. I don't take a lot of comfort in a routine; in fact, I sometimes find choreography distracting in performance, because my memory and muscles have a tendency to surprise me, and I'd rather integrate that into the flow than find myself outside the program. Even when I'm learning choreography, I often feel like I'm chasing after a train as it accelerates away from the platform. Sometimes my body gets it, but I don't feel or really know where I'm going next. I'm sure a lot of this is down to practice, and nailing down a way to drop into choreography is perpetually on my dance to-do list. So far, though, dance just feels like it's made of something different to me. 

Rather than coming from a place of familiar combinations and common language, I feel dance at a nearly molecular level. I teased apart the movements I learned from my teachers through a lot of obsessive self-observation, expanding and experimenting with the nuances of my own musculature.; it's not for nothing that these are called isolations. I actually think of the movements I do, when I think about them, in this way: pinpointing anatomical impetus and chasing it down connection points to transfer energy through cascading contraction and relaxation. I do these things over and over again, until the movements that are in my body are mine, as reflexive as my own use of language. It's not that I don't want to learn combinations and choreography, it's just that I'm a weirdo and I get hung up on the details. To borrow the analogy of not being able to see the forest for the trees, if choreography is a marked trail through the woods, then I find myself admiring bark patterns and climbing up into the canopy to see what the view's like up there.

My days of being frustrated with this are mostly past me. I think I've largely succeeded in making peace with the fact that I approach dance in my way, and that while it's greatly expanded my interior universe and interaction with the world around me, it also makes me difficult to work with and slow to pick up things that are second nature for other dancers. I aspire to develop these other skills; in the meantime, I enjoy learning what I learn and absorbing it in my sloth-like way. As a teacher, I enjoyed developing choreographic ideas and sharing them with a group, working with the symphonic arrangement that simplicity can build to with many people working together. But, when I dance alone, I tend to slip into that natural language, feel a moment and encounter that strange interaction between myself and the music of the world around me.

Performance sometimes feels like a cocoon I can only enter for a few minutes at a time. The transformation is gradual, the conditions and test very brief. I try to access that transcendent space to let dance happen, and I can't be on the outside at the same time to assess whether my interpretation of what's transpiring gets through to the audience. It's a strange art form; there's no thing to hold outside of time, to turn in the light and get a finite sense about. Video flattens it. The animal bits of us can feel the strange sensations of another person's poise, and similarly primal parts of our busy brains can be held hostage by a suspension of physics and animation of intent. In each of those dances, I breathe into that expanded space, feel the presence of the people around me, and try to be open to that big mystery before the song ends.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

In Honor of Exchanges

I've just come back from a wonderful expedition through Spain and Morocco, and I have lots to share about that very soon. However, something major has happened today here in the United States of America. Our government has ground to a halt, and, at the same time, we went live with a new, nationwide system of healthcare. This is a very big deal, indeed.

Despite this ridiculous government shutdown business, the United States took major a step toward joining the rest of the civilised world today. I have friends who can now access coverage, and treatment, for anything from chronic, life-threatening illness to minor maladies that would otherwise escalate into a debilitating issues requiring emergency room visits--and potentially permanent disability. People I know who have addiction issues can start to seek help, as mental health services and substance abuse treatment must be covered as "essential health benefits" under insurance plans and publicly funded treatment programs become more widely available under Medicaid. 

All of these changes come as a result of pooling risk, which one could argue we were already doing, albeit in a haphazard, cruel and expensive fashion. Leaving the people who most need medical care out in the cold to favor those who are already better-equipped to deal with emergencies has meant that we all foot the bill for care--at inflated cost--in a strained network of hospitals, left to provide all of us a level of treatment inferior to that of a country that would prioritize early, inexpensive and non-invasive preventative care.

This insurance-based solution is imperfect, but it was implemented in the name of bipartisanship and preserving choice. Our status quo has been shitty and harmful: ongoing market failure to provide adequate and efficient solutions to healthcare needs, because there's no money to be made in providing basic care to the poor. Aside from the moral failures of our previous shambles (I am reluctant to even use the word "system" for something so disconnected, ineffective and unpredictable), what we've been doing in this country with regard to healthcare is expensive--on federal, state and individual levels. We've spent more out of pocket and through our taxes than other countries that allow people to simply walk into nationalized hospitals and receive high-quality care for free.

For all of these reasons, we should resist letting perfect be the enemy of good. We can keep working on a better answer, even as we get more people out of lives of illness and fear by starting on some sort of solution.

One consistent tendency among developing societies is a commitment of resources to gains in health and education. This is us trying to live longer, healthier lives, gain wisdom and really reach farther toward the horizon of our human potential. And that transcends any fitful starts we have on the path.