FINDING YOUR BODY
Just this past Saturday during one of my choreography classes, I paused long enough to set the tangos music we were using for our dance when I found myself saying "this time through, find your body."
In that moment it made perfect sense. I felt that I knew exactly why I'd said it, what it is that I was trying to communicate with it. I was self-satisfied and quite pleased with a good day of teaching.
Then class ended, everyone went about their day, I packed my things, got in my car and somehow I had no idea how I got to my destination. During the entire drive I was thinking "what the hell 'does find your body' mean?? My body is right here, it's attached to me.... it takes me places, it does stuff!"
So I thought back to what was happening in the moments before it occurred to me to make that ambiguous statament... I remember looking at one of the dancers and thinking that the movement was there, it was being performed exactly as taught, there was good isolation in the shoulders and rib cage, the feet were pivoting correctly: yet somehow it felt empty, I could see the movement but it seemed detached, like those paper dresses you attach to cardboard figures by folding the little tabs around the cut-out body.
Why was the movement not enough? Because it wasn't fully inhabited. Because what I really wanted to see was the person, the dancer, the enjoyment of their own body while performing that movement, the utter satisfaction of being so present, so completely absorbed and consumed by their limbs moving in space, that the technique and instruction became completely secondary.
I realize that every time I watch a performer I greatly admire, flamenco or otherwise, I see the whole person and any given movement is so completely drenched in their personality, their passion for the art form, that they seem to forget themselves while being so present at the same time. They own their body, imperfections and all. They never seem concerned, as we so often are, with how their butt looks at a certain angle or whether they're too old or too skinny or too musicular to wear that dress, because they know that their body is a vehicle for expressing something greater. And that requires time. Time for the technique to settle into your body enough that your conscious brain is not so involved and concerned with telling your body what to do every second. It also involves letting go of pre-conceived notions and self-judgement.
At some point, after years of study, of pounding out your frustration into the floor with your heels, of thinking through the minutae of every step, of small victories and moments of clarity, you have to connect with what you're doing. Really connect.
Let's take a simple movement of the arm rising up from a resting position at your side. There's all kinds of brain as well as muscular activity that takes place in order to lift that arm correctly. Most people can do it and make it look just fine. The arm goes from point A to point B in a nice clean sweep. Simply lifting it is biomechanics. Keeping your shoulder down, your back neutral, your tailbone slightly tucked under without tension is technique. The "art" of it all is something not quite so visible and tangible as biomechanics and technique, and yet it makes a far greater impact.
The art is knowing that lifting the arm initiates somewhere far below the feet with a deep connection to the earth, with your legs feeding energy to the torso in the same way that the trunk of a tree delivers stability and nutrients from its roots to the tips of its branches. The deeper the origin of the movement, the greater the potential for expression. There are times when lifting the arm can be a slow release that extends far beyond the fingertips and it seems to be suspended in time and last forever, other times when it's so sudden that you sense the energy being cut off at the hand right before it moves on to something else.
The art is never taking a movement for granted because it always has something to say. And that something is personal to you and no one else.
A movement is a living, breathing thing and that's why you can see the same flamenco solo performed by the same dancer two days in a row and it doesn't look or feel quite the same.
The art of it all is in "finding your body" within the art form: settling into it, getting comfortable in its bones, figuring out how it naturally wants to move, what makes it feel good, finding the soul that feeds its every movement, and enjoying it because the movement is yours, it's coming from within you and it doesn't look like anyone else's.
One more thought: after my class and my auto-pilot drive with a mind full of jumbled thoughts, I met some friends to go sailing. After hitting some rough patches where the boat struggled with a temperamental wind that seemed to come from every which way, we hit a nice stride and sailed through the water at just the right angle and speed. It felt effortless and exhilarating.
The skipper turned to me and in the most casual way said: "we're in the groove now, this is how this boat was meant to sail."