This week marked the culmination of our 4-week Steps Summer Study program. As with many great experiences, it is bittersweet to say goodbye to this particular intensive. Still, I know the knowledge and information I gained during my time here will have a lasting impact on my growth as a performing artist.
Our intimate group of 11 was a talented bunch, and we enjoyed each others company as we traveled from class to class throughout our days. This last week we wrapped up our works for the final showcase we had on Friday for family and friends.
In Performance Skills, we explored our raw essence as human beings…both pedestrian and dancer. Heidi Latsky’s “On Display,” gave us the opportunity to investigate performance skills in the context of a classroom study rather than a formal “piece” one might traditionally be used to seeing at a showing. We were vulnerable and exposed as we stood in a line-up in front of the audience; we clearly knew we were on display for viewing. It was a very voyeuristic experience, just in reverse. We were seeing out, but the point was for us to embody a range of conditions within ourselves from neutral to fierce to vulnerable. How do we access these different colors of our personal palate and color spectrum?
Performance skills can include a variety of things including being aware of where we individually carry tension and how that manifests physically. Performing is a state of being, and it is important to enter it with an open and receptive instrument. Since our body is our instrument, we need to know how it looks and feels. How do we listen to our own bodies and also listen to the other bodies with which we share the stage?
Heidi challenged our physical and mental endurance with her bi-weekly class. It was always right after the Contemporary Masters class, so we would run from one thing to the next and have to drastically shift gears. This transition was often a challenging one for the group because of the time of day that it occurred (4:30pm). However, it only made us stronger to overcome the mid-afternoon slump. By bringing awareness to our inner conditions, habits and tendencies, we can become stronger performers because we get to know ourselves.
How do we react when we are tired or having trouble focusing? Why might this be? I find that it is best to not feel sorry for myself for too long because that type of mindset is not conducive to a creative environment. I know we are only human, and the struggle is real, but there is a time and place for hardcore moping. It helps to have your moment, experience your emotions, and then move on. This is especially important to understand in a professional working environment. I find that the more I get to know myself, the better I relate to others. It is hard, but I try my best to reset before coming to class or rehearsal. How do we do that?
One of the best tools Heidi offered us was the “sipping breath.” This technique involves utilizing the power of the breath through sustained and audible inhales and exhales through the mouth. It should sound like the ocean, and it is a very useful way to get centered, focused, calm, and energized. I have found it very beneficial, and it is refreshing to know we can always rely on our breath to bring us back home. It’s always there for us…and it’s mighty portable!
Connecting with our breath can help us achieve an engaged “neutral.” If we are not aware of our go-to stances (where we feel most comfortable,) then we may never challenge our habits. Sometimes you just have to step outside of your comfort zone and take risks. Everything is an experiment, and if you “fail,” c’est la vie. It probably won’t be the last time, nor the end of the world. Dance is the art of recovery, so a skilled artist will be able to rebound and handle any type of set-back.
The humanity in a performance is often what draws me in, anyway. I bet if we all just let go of our judgment and ego and trust our body-mind to execute everything that was rehearsed, we might just be free enough to really live in our performance. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it’s a goal, nonetheless!
Summer Study NYC Student
Photo: Courtesy of Vida Morkunas