Dance Is Love
My only tattoo is a William Butler Yeats quote, from the Poem: ‘Among Schoolchildren’. It sits in worn Courier font on my right rib: How can we know the dancer from the dance?
I paid $100 for the ink, 13 years ago, in a loosely planned rite of passage with my younger brother, who had come to visit me in Vancouver, BC—the first place I ever moved to pursue dance as a career. The “How can” at the top of the quote sits just a single, rolling droplet of sweat away from my right armpit, and I’ve been contractually forced to cover it up with patches, powdered makeup or strappy fabric for most gigs. The tattoo itself represents my love of literature: I have been calmed by the simple act of reading right to left, top to bottom since I can remember, and the concept of a Poet Laureate like Yeats—a government appointed word artist—always tickled me. I have come to understand my personal relationship to Yeats’ words more deeply as my dance career has progressed: at 33, I am no longer a separate entity from dance itself.
Perhaps dance and its vast scope of mental, physical, and emotional effects were never truly separate from who I am. My body, now, is a creative communication device. It comes alive in both structured performance and casual conversation. I adjust my body with gentle clicks and pops to meet the needs of the day. I stretch and massage and consciously relax the tension out of my jaw, shoulders, glutes, calves—places that carry my stress around like hard shell luggage. I see a kind of dance in the way my fingers brush the keys as I type, in the swell of my 6am yawn, and my tucked, crisscrossed legs in the bottom of a furry papasan chair - probably my favorite writing pose, although I am never static for long. My unending dance training has sharpened my body awareness, both outer and inner. I feel the subtle bodily outcome of a quick jog to the mailbox, a nap in fetal position, a slice of almond buttered toast with raspberries, a cold shower, or the day’s first coffee. I feel the release of dopamine in the first stretch under the covers, the breathless, smiling final bow after a 3 hour show, and the silly late night wiggles in my bathroom mirror. I feel the energy in spaces: the spaces between bodies, the spaces between musical beats, the spaces between thoughts. I use my breath to push through a performance, to pass through stress, to search for deeper answers, and to sink into sleep. I use my mind-body connection to navigate crowds and hikes, kitchens and shop aisles, the shuffle of furniture on moving days and the endless drag of suitcases through airports. I make cocktails and scratch tacos with a kind of rhythm and grace, alternating dominant hands and shifting my weight from right to left to maintain body balance.
It’s pretty much all dance to me at this point. The mover and the movement have coalesced. I am irrevocably changed by this nearly three decade pursuit.
And for what? Labor statistics say most dance careers end between the age of 30 and 40. This leaves a question mark on the other half of our lives, but we still do it. We keep following the pull of our inner desire and calling ourselves dancers whether we’re compensated for our work or not. We trudge on, self employed and independently contracted, with ever more technique and charisma to give and so little income to report. We show up, expensive head shot in hand, outfit primed, makeup flawless, ready to throw jazz hands and pirouettes and jump splits, and when we get cut because of our ethnicity, height, or body type we head straight for class to sweat it out. We would rather take a slow and steady beating doing something we truly love than whatever the alternatives are. We are told the statistics early on, but we answer the call anyway.
I think dancers of any genre, trying to carve a dedicated, lasting life out of the art, have tapped into a kind of genuine freedom and powerful spirit that has not yet been societally accepted and properly cared for. When you think of the word dance, what conjures in your mind? Ballerinas? Reality TV contests? Gene Kelly? The popular moves on your social media feed? Have you ever tried to really define “Dance”? Even the word ‘dance’ with its origins in 14th century France, is a new label for something 9000 years or much older (records of dance discovery are pretty impossible to pinpoint since dance leaves behind little but a feeling in the moment). I think dance is probably as old as human beings. I think dance evolves relentlessly in infinite ways. Dance eludes any quantifiable descriptions. Dance is an innate human translation of feeling and sound. The vocabulary of certain dance styles is not as important as the sheer desire to move, and how that movement manifests is as unique as the individuals themselves. A journey through dance is like learning to play an instrument—a body with incalculable possibilities for expression.
Imagine your body encased in a sphere, a sphere that represents every possible point in space you could reach with some part of your body. Then choose a single point within, or on the outskirts of, that sphere. Choose a body part to place at that point: your right elbow, left shoulder blade, right pinky toe, or nose, for instance. Choose a speed (a relationship with time) at which to arrive at that point in your personal sphere. Choose an intention or adjective for the movement (sharp, lazy, sad, muted, strong). Choose how winding the path will be to that point—will you take the shortest possible route or will you carve a story of twists and turns to arrive at your destination? All decisions made? Beautiful. That’s one note of dance. That’s one swish, pop, hit, look, caress, or reach on the three-dimensional sheet of space. The pitch and resonance of dance possesses no established mathematical scale. Dance, from the marathon full length piece to the short celebratory outburst in the street, is a limitless opus of creative exchange. It is free for all to explore. Anyone with a modicum of motion capability can plumb the depths of dance. Have you ever explored all the ways just one index finger can move? What about to music?
Try it now. Put on a song that makes you feel good. Forget your arbitrary opinions of 'cool' and 'weird', 'right' and 'bad', and just move all or part of your body in space. Choose one of nearly infinite possibilities. Release your judgment of that choice and just feel it. How does it feel? What move feels like it would be fun to do next? Something faster or slower? Something with the opposite side of the body? If you can answer this question, you are literally choreographing.
Dance is play. Dance is love. Dance is part of us. Dance is freedom.
Dance is so much more than your first impression.