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  • Writer's pictureashlee

A Structure Evolves

Picking things back up again in March after my admin break, things started to come together. The question of documentation had been on my mind for some time, so I decided to jump in. The camera started accompanying me to the studio. I started toying with the idea of a blog. Most excitingly, I fell into something like a structure, or a framework for my practice, and this is what has sustained me through the intervening months.

I had been slowly developing a warm-up ritual designed to allow me to check in, tune in, limber up and see what kind of movement (if any) is flowing freely each day. I would start with a quick mini-journal, acknowledging what’s going on at the moment, what I’m thinking about, who I’m spending time with, what might be frustrating me, what I’m looking forward to and what media I’m currently consuming. I might also read over my last entry and other notes from the previous session. The physical part of the warm-up changes depending on my needs each day (and how cold it is!) and usually includes a short meditation. Eventually, this evolves into a little dance in which I attune my attention and drop into an explorative headspace. I might write a short reflection on this dance and then I feel ready to move onto the meat of the day’s work.

I mentioned in my last post that I use a timer rather than music to help divide my practice into chunks of dancing. I use the Insight Timer app, which is a meditation timer. It has a variety of gongs and bell sounds – much nicer than my phone’s alarm tones! The other great thing is I can use this app to preset timers with specific interval bells. So, if I wanted to structure a warm-up sans music, I could for example set a 30-minute timer with interval bells that allow for a 15-minute warmup, 5-minute meditation and 10-minute improvisation. I now have quite a list of warm-up timers like this saved in the app!

During one of my sessions in March, I decided to try a similar approach to structure the ‘meat’ of the day’s session. I created a half-hour improvisation task comprised of four 5-minute dances with 2 minutes of mindful stillness before and after each one. I’m not sure exactly how I settled on this structure, but, very descriptively, I saved it in the app as ‘4x5+2’. Many months later, I have completed this structure, or something very like it, almost every session since that day. In silence, I stand, sit or lie for 2 minutes in stillness and then dance for 5 minutes. I repeat this 3 more times, ending with another 2 minutes of stillness. After the final bell, I sit to write until I have finished writing.

Screenshots of preset timers

Working in this way provides me with a loose sense of safety or security within which I can go nuts experimenting in any way that I like. Each 5-minute dance might be a complete, discrete exploration with the interspersed stillness allowing one dance to fade and the next to arise. Or, the entire 30-minute event might have a singular identity, with the 5-minute dances becoming different chapters or opportunities to delve deeper into what is interesting me that day.

Breaking the dance up into bite-sized portions allows me to stop and let go of something completely if it’s starting to bore or frustrate me, and yet knowing that each dance is short and the bell is approaching often allows me to stick with it and follow an idea through for just a bit longer. If I’m simply cruising along, the interruptions of stillness give me the chance to refocus and enliven my attention. If I’m loving it and the interruption itself is the frustration, I take it as a chance to note what was happening and what is currently reverberating before re-entering the dance - possibly from a slightly different angle.

Another reason I love working like this is because I can (in theory) put my planning/director hat on to set it all up, and then as soon as I press start, I can swap to my dancer hat and (in theory) stay present in the task without having to decide when to stop or what to do next. Theory does not always translate directly into practice, and some days it is still challenging to stay present in one task at a time, but I found using this simple tool gives me the best possible chance to achieve this.

The things that have come up for me within this dancing and writing improvisation practice could fill many posts. I have learned a lot – I am still learning a lot – about the ebbs and flows of my creativity, physicality and attention, and the development of this framework for practice has become as important as the practice itself. I am repeating myself, but I am still torn between continuing to post chronologically along my narrative and jumping ahead to fresh takes on what I’m up to right now.

The upshot is that I will be doing a bit of both. I am currently in the middle of a particular stage of the residency in which I am working officially with Courtney Scheu as my provocateur and Sara Black as my mentor. Where this all leads is still a bit uncertain (which is, I remind myself, exciting!) but there have been many interesting conversations and twists on the focus of the structure that I am keen to post about. I will do my best to share where I’m at while also filling the gaps since March and how my practice has evolved and sustained my attention.


Showing Up and Finding Focus

A Contemplation and an Emergence

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