With my perceptions split wide open (with the floodgates of information that is downloading into my brain) including Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Philosophers Husserl, Butler, Foucault, Kristeva, all bodies and their labels, “The Explicit Body,” Daphne Brooks’ “Bodies in Dissent,” Drew Leder’s “The Absent Body,” readings on the complicated reality of empathy, perception and archive (and that’s just a few, mostly from my Performing Bodies Theory course lead by Dr. Nadine George-Graves), I am wondering where my ideas begin and if I even have any. Everything has been done. Things I don’t want to do, things I wish I thought of and things that I don’t even understand. It’s been done. I’ve heard this before, but now with my brain so full, it feels overflowingly evident.
This past week I taught my first full improvisation class and was evaluated by the chair of the dance department. I spoke and some of my thoughts landed in my discussion/theory course and I lead my “sandbox” which is part of my Interdisciplinary Research Studio class. Teaching, leading and talking out of my mouth (as opposed to my body)…higher stakes, yes…and done. I say higher stakes, but I’m not in the real world with these stakes. I’m in a safe little bubble where there are quite a few people that care about movement, embodiment, and dance in the way I do. It is also quite obvious they care about teaching and are very knowledgable in this field.
However, I do question the nervousness I feel when presenting in this environment. I have presented during two open works-in-progress showings this year and both have been in the middle of experiments with unknown destinations and/or purpose.
“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art
I’m going to try to hold strong to the idea that right now is about experiments and possibly failed ones. It’s about my education, my self-exploration and not about what others think of me. Self-doubt is my ally.
In class the other day we had to teach something off the cuff with two of these cards. We selected them face down and didn’t know what we were selecting. I like the idea of switching things up with these cards.
This semester has resulted in a real community of support. My grad-cohort is awesome and most if not all the preliminary tools I need to make, write, create, put forth work and fail have been introduced to me in our “Foundations in Dance Research” course.
“Laban Systems: Movements, Methods, and Analytical Frameworks” has been a wonderful addition to the writing kind of making. Not only do I have a new treasure chest of descriptive words specifically crafted for movement, but also a new way to look at movement and a toolbox of sprinkles and ingredients to add to my movement-making process. “Aboutness” can be applied to my whole first semester here. Trying to frame and understand specifically what I am interested in is the “aboutness” of my work and my-artist-self.
My body feels strong and smart. I am articulate in my joints and muscles in a way that I haven’t been for a while and it feels amazing. Crystal Perkin’s Afro-Horton technique class was an integral part in this strength and agency as was my Pilates course. I was able to apply Pilates techniques in Crystal’s technique class. The integration of whole body movement in Pilates is something I am still working on but I now have a practice to bring with me for the next two years. Pilates challenged my self-motivation in multiple ways and Crystal’s class was my grounding force throughout the semester. Technique class is my home, I know how to be a dancer and trust the movement and my body, so once I gave into the discipline and physical effort, this class was healing and got me through other more tumultuous moments.
I believe the next two and a half years will result in a confident, strong, maker who can own her place in an academic setting. This department has a professionalism built into it that is transparent but also ingrained. Research is what you make it. Figuring out what specifically interests me is the hardest part. There seems to be a fine line between what I’m interested in and what falls flat. In this academic context, it’s about framing your questions and spending time figuring out your project and writing it down before you actually get to figure anything out. This backwards approach is difficult for me but a skill worth developing. It’s similar to grant writing, but with a different flavor I can’t quite place.
In the moments to come, I’m interested in exploring some new practices of making, perhaps more improvisatory or contact-based processes, perhaps some making with friends/current grads, perhaps some non-mandatory uses of technologies. I’m still working on what I’m interested in, who I’m interested in doing it with and how to get it done in this still new environment but I trust the process. At the end of the day, it’s about coloring inside and outside the lines. It’s about appreciating all approaches and angles but also figuring out where you fit into them, how to best apply them to help you grow and how you want to approach your own angles or angle your own approach.
When I was teaching composition at a magnlet arts high school, the class would often revolve around a set of tasks designed to give the students creative tools to craft “interesting” compositions. When it was time to give feedback, I would always say to the students, “Take what you want and throw the rest away.” If we had showings, other teachers also proscribed to the “Take it or leave it” mentality. Even though I said that, I didn’t really mean it. I think I meant, “I’d like you to at least try to apply a part of my feedback to get a different result. If in the end you don’t like the result, you can always revert back to where you started or somewhere in the middle. In the trying, you might find something new somewhere along the path.”
I still had expectations about their products and as teachers we would often struggle with how much to lead a student to get a “good product.”* If the student was using the tools, testing boundaries and following their instincts I was always happy with their process and often their product was more successful, but not always. When mentoring the creation of a senior project, the students were struggling with figuring out what they instinctually liked, navigating what they thought “good work” looked like and how to make their work “good.” I gave the advice, “Stick to the process and the work will follow.”
I’m now the student and it’s interesting to see the teachers struggle in the same way. How much are they leading me toward their aesthetic or their style of discussion. Am I learning how to survive in the academic world or am I learning how to survive in their specific setting. I’ve decided in this moment that I will try to apply what I wanted my students to do. Try out some options revolving around the feedback given and see where that takes the work. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a setting where I’ve had to take into account constant feedback. It’s interesting that I am also still wrestling with the notions of “good work.” Stick to the process and the work will follow.
*A good product by definition is something created that is desired or approved of and is therefore all about perception and opinion. Not everyone likes the same things, that is why there are so many options and reasons for creating the art you want to make. Not everyone will like what you make, but someone will…somewhere.
One of the team building exercises we have done in the first few weeks of my MFA at OSU is called “Your awesome!” I think it’s a great way to open the space with positivity and help everyone feel, well, awesome actually. Norah said it came from a theater exercise.
You stand in a circle and jump up and down and one at a time yell out 3 things you learned. It doesn’t have to be the most insightful thing. It could be that you saw plants in the space. You label each thing as 1-3 and everyone repeats the number back to you, loudly. Then you say your thing, like “Plants!” and everyone yells, “Your Awesome!”
It was awesome to take a minute to recognize everyone’s feelings of displacement of self in location, field and humanness* and break the ice. The exercise made me feel grounded in a safe space for creating.
This would be great for any age group. We all could use a little more recognition that we are awesome. YOUR AWESOME!