One evening after work, a few weeks ago, Alison and I sped through Ithaca to catch the sunset. Alison had kids to take care of and I wasn't able to leave work till after 5:30pm. We just wanted to do a little dancing while the sun was setting. We missed it -- we couldn't get there on time. We were also hoping to find nobody at the park, but we failed at this too. There were lots of people there. We forced ourselves to do it anyway. We danced after the sun had set and, we just ignored the guy watching us from the red pickup truck and the students smirking nearby. We ran our pieces, rehearsed, and played. Dancing at twilight turned out to be pretty wonderful after all. We found deep inspiration and were in awe of the beautiful night (even after the sun had set). The dancing spirits were with us. We are pretty proud that we just pushed through the obstacles and made it happen anyway!
Lately I've been improvising with my 12 year old son. We just decide the moment is right, with or without music, at home or in public, and we start dancing. Sometimes it is spontaneous, and sometimes it is planned out. We almost always video it so we can talk about it, learn from it, and share it afterwards.
There are a few important rules we follow:
1. We can't criticize or make fun of ourselves
2. We recognize that 5-20% of the movement is going to work beautifully and the rest is probably not going to be as useful
3. We know that on some days the muse will be with us and on others she won't be with us - and this has nothing to do with our worth as dancers
4. We are willing to be vulnerable and share the improv with ourselves and others
The one thing that will kill creativity and shut off all hope for interesting movement in improvisation is judgment. It's a bit like mindfulness meditation - the idea is not to place value on the moves that you bust out - but to just accept them as moves. They are not good or bad, they just are what they are. This lets us go deeper and find more inside us. We're going for spontaneous fun--letting go and being in the moment. The minute we decide that we look stupid or put value on our movement we kill it. We go into our heads and out of our bodies.
The cool thing about doing it with my son is that it holds me to the rules. As a mom my instincts make sure that we are creating a judgment free zone. If I start to criticize myself...I catch myself. I don't want him to see me putting myself down or feeling like a dance impostor. I don't want him to do the same. Yet, I might not do that if I were working alone.
Sure, some moves will work better in some flows than others - and figuring that out is part of the work -- part of the process. But we will kill the process completely if we start judging ourselves when we are at our most vulnerable -- working from the spirit instead of the mind.
This video is one of our first attempts at dancing outside in winter this year. It was a challenge to ourselves to shake things up. And it did wake us up. But, when we saw the video we hesitated...the dancing was pretty crappy and the music was not perfect. Why would we put it out there? Why share it?
We created the video to remind ourselves to not take ourselves too seriously and to share the process. This was just an exercise to break up the routine and become beginners again in a new place -- beginners not set on dancing the same way over and over.
We also learned that tequila shots are helpful when dancing outside in 25 degrees. And ... we can still do handstands and forearm stands after sharing a drink (sort of) . Try it!
It is a reminder that it is easy to criticize ourselves and it is hard to allow ourselves to become vulnerable.
Last week, on a dark and gloomy Tuesday in late February, Alison and I were feeling particularly stuck. We were supposed to rehearse - but we were feeling uncreative and uninspired. That's when Alison said to Karen, "Let's meet at the park!" I could think of a thousand excuses, "Oh God, it's too dark... It's cold...I'm in my work clothes...I'm tired..." But, I didn't say anything. And we did it. We met at Sunset Park just after the sun had gone down.
One of the things that we have found will really jumpstart our creative juices when we are stuck in a rut is to play. It's hard to play when you are an adult. If we want to do yoga we go to a yoga class or if we want "learn" to dance we go to a dance class. We almost never just experiment on our own. We want someone to teach us or guide us. We feel we aren't disciplined enough to have our own practice or knowledgeable enough to learn a certain move or string of moves. But no one knows our bodies like we do. We are our own true experts!
Alison and I will sometimes choreograph by just improvising to Joe's music. We'll let the music move us for a while until we get into the groove - until that little part of our brains that is constantly judging us quiets down. It quiets down because we go into play mode. We laugh, we do things that are definitely awkward and probably look pretty stupid. We goad each other and challenge each other. Joe will change the music up a bit to remind us to move differently. Ninety five percent of what we do is really just playing, fooling around, experimenting... but 5% ends up being a gem. A tiny bit of gold that we can keep and then grow into something else. Sometimes we'll video ourselves and then watch the video over a Margarita or two, laughing, hoping to find something that will inspire us.
And, sometimes we'll go to different places, a park, the woods, our kitchen, or a bridge to explore movement. The change of scenery tricks our minds into coming up with something new. And it tricks our minds into temporarily throwing away judgement, because if that part of our minds is on alert, then it becomes impossible to create anything.
Playing is easy if you don't think about it too much. It's simple, productive, and it can get you out of a February, winter funk!
Do you feel anxious about your creativity and how to explore it? We do too! That is why we do this. We push ourselves to quiet our critical inner voices and just play and create. We'd love to share with you some of our creative process. We will highlight some of our struggles and stories about our journey, and what we have learned. We often question each other. Karen sometimes says to Alison, "That was dumb - what is the point?" And yet we keep doing this. We keep showing up to dance together every week. We keep following our desire to create something new, even if it feels risky and stupid. Creativity means that you have to become vulnerable, you have to be okay with ridicule...or with the fear of being irrelevant. We'll share videos and photos and stories of failures and triumphs. We'll also share things have we have found inspiring from other sources.
We went to Dewitt Park to dance in the snow in the middle of the cold winter -- in February. Why did we do it? Because we felt a need to jumpstart things! It's been a long winter and we are beginning to feel stuck. It was time to bring 'play' back into our practice. Notice at minute 1.40 where Alison rudely kicks Karen in the head... and yet Karen persists...