Susan Petry asked our graduate composition class to think and write about practice. What makes something a practice? How does it serve our teaching and choreography? What non-dance practices to we have? Here’s how I defined my artistic practice for this course:
My artistic practice has always been in flux. A little choreographing here, a little performing there. A tangential period of literary research that leads to nothing of significance in the studio. Some writing. Some solitary outdoor expeditions. A lot of conversation with colleagues. Some of this has been due to my lifestyle as a wearer of many hats. On any given day, I might be teacher, a writer, a stage manager, a choreographer, an administrator, or a caretaker. What practice best serves a multi-disciplinary way of life? I doubt that no one practice is sufficient, but that many practices must be unified by a certain type of attention, a practice of noticing, in order to be useful. The poet Mary Oliver has said, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
The development of my yoga practice several years ago was a godsend to my physical and emotional health. Yoga both invigorates and stabilizes me in a thoroughly dependable way that I have yet to cultivate in dance. When I come on to the mat, I know what to expect but am always surprised. Safety and risk are placed side by side. My yoga practice brings me great joy, and in the moments when that joy is hard to find, the practice itself entices me back. I love the clarity of yoga. I find great relief in that yoga philosophy often articulates some of the ideas dance hints at, but doesn’t quite commit to. Where yoga connects to my artistic practice is fluid, and a little murky, but I suspect that yoga prepares my inner experience to engage with my social self, the aspect of my being that I depend on as a choreographer, performer, and teacher. Dance is a thoroughly, somewhat uniquely, social art form that requires me to stretch beyond my introvert comfort zone. Yoga gives me the support and care I need to do what dance requires.
I am trying to figure out how to make a practice out of collecting sensory experiences. How do I take that moment in the field with the wind and the smell of grass and turn it into something for others to witness? How do I create something from the rhythm of chopping carrots and slicing onions and the sense of sitting and waiting while I let them boil in the pot? I want to capture the sensations of daily experience. My artistic interest is in how this work of training and creating in the studio prepares us to engage more fully with our own lives, our own communities, our own environments. My artistic practice needs to prepare me to do that work as well.
For now, my artistic practice is a bricolage of training, teaching, creating, writing, reflecting, reading, improvising, meditating, discussing, drawing. I train my own body, and I think about how to train others. Teaching is where I test out my ideas. It’s a laboratory that gives back even more than I offer. In a creative process, I offer tasks to dancers and watch them problem solve. From their solutions, I find inspiration. From there, I can make choices. When I need energy or motivation, I chat with one of a few colleagues who remain as mesmerized/frustrated/enraptured with dance as I do. They propel me to keep digging. In the moments when I crave flow, I draw and doodle and journal. When I need ideas, I read. Returning to a student mentality always proves fruitful. When it all feels too difficult, I relax. I cook and eat and rest with a loved one and relinquish control, letting trust become a guiding force in getting me to the next idea. Practicing letting go is one of the hardest to do, but the more I do it, the more I get back in return.