Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shall We Dance?

This is a short description of a workshop I will present on March 4th in Tokyo to 300 members of the Dance Federation. In Japan they are known as Social dancers and BodyChance has been developing a relationship with their community. In 2009 I wrote a series of 6 articles describing the Seven BodyChance Movement Principles.

There - betcha didn't know that?

Oh there's a lot going on in Japan that you don't know about. I kind of like it that way actually. But Brendan recently cajoled me on FaceBook to start using my blog to post things I am writing. I am prolific these days - in the last week I think I have written about 15,000 words in the form of Sales Letters, articles, emails to my students - it's all blah, blah, blah from Jeremy these days.

Anyway, enough of that for now. For my Japanese friends who love to read my English blog, this is a advance preview of the talk. Of course it is being translated into Japanese now, and will be published in that form eventually. So this is the only English version around at the moment, and probably ever.

Enjoy...

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Which is First—Artistry or Technique?
A Radical New Viewpoint
Based on the Discoveries of F. Matthias Alexander

In the worlds of music and dance, there is a constant debate concerning the balance between artistic expression and technical excellence. For example, Japanese are known internationally as having the highest technical standard of social dancers in the world, yet some argue that their artistry suffers as a result. This debate pits technique against artistry – which should take prominence?

But are we asking the right question?

Could it be that the problem is not between artistry and technique, but rather the problem only arises because you divide something that is indivisible? Can you separate your self from your shadow? While you may be able to think of "me" and "my shadow", that does not mean you can actually separate them, does it?

The Seven BodyChance Movement Principles that I explored in my series of articles in DanceWing are based on the discoveries of F. M. Alexander, originator of the Alexander Technique. Alexander had a lot to say about our alarming habit of dividing where no division exists. This debate between artistry and technique echoes our tendency to divide between mind (artistry) and body (technique) – but can mind and body be separated from each other, any more than artistry and technique can be separated?

I have worked as a performer, so I understand the need to divide technique and artistry in your thinking. Van Gough, for example, would go to the art museum and copy the brush strokes in the paintings of many different Masters. Was Van Gogh only doing "technical" work, or was Van Gogh developing his "artistry"? I have been asking myself this question for many years. It is profound question that exists in all human skills, not just social dance.

So first let me demonstrate the problem we have when we divide these two…

DEFINITION OF DANCING "TECHNIQUE"
1. To make something consistently the same
2. Regardless of the situation, to meet the same standards of excellence
3. To meet precise angles, speeds and spatial forms for figures and amalgamations

DEFINITION OF DANCING "ARTISTRY"
1. To create something consistently original
2. To connect authentically with your music, partner and audience
3. To be fresh, responsive and spontaneous within figures and amalgamations

Consider those two definitions carefully – they do seem to be in conflict with each other, don't they? When you realise how contradictory the aims of both seem to be, is it any wonder this is an area of major concern within Social Dance?

So how can you reconcile two opposites?

That is simple – stop dividing them! Alexander had the same problem with the division of "mind (artistry)" and "body (technique)". Of course you are able to imagine them as separate within your thinking, but then your thinking no longer reflects reality. You are assuming a false view. And it is this view that creates the problem you are seeking to fix!

Can you start thinking in a new way?

Yes, of course you can. And what is this new way of thinking? It is the view that does not add separation to unity. I will need to demonstrate this with an example.

[At this point Jeremy gave a presentation of Social Dancers making an entrance]

How can this idea be put to practical use in the teaching of Social Dance?

In this case, we can learn from the way that Alexander himself thought about human movement. How did Alexander think in a way that did not add separation to Nature's underlying unity of all movement? First, he stopped thinking in terms of "body" and "mind". So for the teacher and social dancer, this is the first step – give up thinking in terms of "technique" and "artistry". Secondly, Alexander found a new way of thinking to express what is happening.

What follows is a description of Alexander's way of thinking. To start speaking in your lessons this way will be an exciting and challenging journey, but a journey that my experience shows me can have a profoundly beneficial influence on the effectiveness of your teaching and your dancing…

What is the New Thinking?

1st Step – Let "Now" Be Number One…
In Alexander's case, to avoid thinking in terms of body and mind, he began thinking in terms of the "critical moment". We can also call that moment "now". Now is the only moment that you can perform in. You can not perform before "now" and you can not perform after "now" – you can only perform within "now".

It is quite simple, and obviously true. Does anyone disagree with that? Of course not. So thinking in this way puts you back into Nature's way of being. Whenever your thinking aligns with the reality of how things exist, you will experience harmony. (Alternatively, whenever your thinking falsely represents Nature's way of being, you will experience conflict.)

2nd Step – Continue With Your Attention In Now…
Many dancers have told me an interesting fact: the only time they injure themselves is when they are not paying attention to their dancing. Is that true of you? So this step is a subtle point, but one every social dancer is familiar with: when your attention drifts from the moment of "now", the expressive quality and precision of your movement diminishes. I am sure you have all noticed this fact.

Many things take our attention away from now: fear of a mistake, lack of confidence, doubt about a figure or amalgamation. In every case the mechanism is the same: your attention is no longer placed on what you are doing. Instead, your attention is away with the fairies, hallucinating on some idea that has no concrete reality in the current moment. So, ensure that you continue with your attention in now, then…

3rd Step – Choose To Let Your Dance Do Itself
This is when "technique" and "artistry" could distract you most. You imagine what you want, then try to impose that idea on the movement of your self. Your "idea" does not emerge from "now" - it is not in response to the situation you are in right now - instead (usually arising from fear or doubt) a "mind" imposes itself on a "body". This comes from your abstractive thought. But abstractive thought has no place in the moment of "now".

Every great dancer, athlete, scientist, teacher or craftsperson will tell you the same thing: when they are at the peak of their ability, there is no abstractive thought present. Sports people call it "being in the grove." I am calling it "let the Social Dance do itself." I am sure you understand this, and if you don't - talk with other dancers about it. Many understand this point clearly.

4th Step – Do We Trust Our Own Self?
We can never be better than the best that we are. Our 'best' can only be expressed when we give full trust in our own ability to be our self. As soon as we doubt our self, we have opened our thinking to unhealthy separation. Out of fear we "impose" solutions on our body.

So what are we trusting?

1. Your motor skills – trust the skill you already have. You can not make your self get more skill in the middle of a final performance!
2. Your sensory system – let the music and atmosphere influence your movements
3. Your Partner – connect with them and support each other
4. Your Audience – invite them to be included in your field of attention

Of course these all happen simultaneously, not sequentially. Remember the first step? We only have "now", and everything is mixed into now. The heart of this process is trust, and, most surprising, compassion towards your self.

Artistry Comes From Trusting Your Whole Self

In my experience of over 40 years of being in this work, I have found that the more tension a person has, the more hostile they are towards their self. You can only be hostile towards your self by imagining you actually have two separate parts: a mind that can tell a body what to do. This artificial separation of mind and body creates an unhealthy freedom to brutally manipulate your body.

Artistry is the very opposite of this separation. Artistry happens in the absence of abstractive thought, in the absence of separation. We can not make our self be artistic, because artistry is an expression of the unity of life. The hallmarks of artistry are authenticity, spontaneity and originality. The only "original" moment is the moment of "now" – when an audience feels that we are connected to them, connected to the music, connected to our partner then they too forget their separation, and become one with you in your dance. This is the height of artistry.

Which brings me to a surprising ending – self-love is the antidote for separation. When you care your whole self, and treat your whole self as one, you actually create the best conditions for the blending artistry and technique to the point, where each becomes a complimentary expression of the other.