For me, dance is a pathway, a method, not unlike Buddhist meditation or other spiritual practices, for knowing oneself, the world, the connection between the two, and the … ineffable.
There are two instances I can recall at this moment which epitomize this perspective. One is when I first knew dance was my calling, and one, several years later when working with CandoCo, a mixed ability company in the U.K.
As a teenager in the late ‘70’s, I strolled into a dance class expecting the usual series of exercises. Instead, the teacher stopped us in our tracks and asked, “What is one movement, just one, that can warm up your entire body?” A simple question. Or is it? Is there really only one? Is there even the possibility of one? Isn’t it all “One”? What is oneness? What is warm? How fun! My body, brain, soul and heart were fully engaged in the process. The other students found a movement. I couldn’t stop.
Dance then and forevermore became an investigation, a ritual of questioning, a path to knowing and then not knowing. I use this idea of investigation when I become complacent or too inside my own head, to shake myself up and remember to not know.
A time when an outside impetus shook me up in that way was when I began teaching at the Laban Centre, a dance conservatory in London, England, in 1992. My colleagues asked if anyone would “mind” working with David Toole, a man who started dancing in his late 20’s, who didn’t have legs. Again, how, and what, are legs, to dance? What is dance if it is not embodied by a body I know? How can arms become legs; how can his “dis”ability give him more abilities? Aren’t we all disabled in some way, big or small? My work with him led to a solo at a faculty concert; that led to a commission by CandoCo for that solo with a dancer added to make a duet. How does a more “normal” dancer’s body, in the second dancer, compare or connect with David’s body onstage?
I describe dance as a method or pathway. The vehicle is the body; the tool for the method is questioning. Not knowing. What could it be if …? Both of these examples have given me the gift of staying open to the deep wisdom of the unknown. Or perhaps what is truly known, on some level, but to our everyday selves, is, ineffable.