In my last post I mentioned that in playing catch-up with myself I wasn’t sure whether to try and post chronologically or write about the present and jump back in time as it feels relevant. Now that I sit down to write I find that after all, the beginning is a very good place to start (thank you Julie Andrews). The beginning was a long while back now – late 2020 as I write in August 2021 – and the process has since taken me in a certain direction. But getting started was a huge hurdle for me and hopefully revisiting that stage here will lend some context to the project or be useful to anyone who can relate to my struggles.
I had the means to get started long before I actually managed to. I’ll admit to being a procrastinator, and I had plenty of valid excuses coming out of the 2020 lockdown, but ultimately I was daunted by the prospect of the empty studio – the dance equivalent of the blank page. My past projects had all grown out of certain situations – a group of collaborators thrown together or a commission for a particular type of work with prescribed themes, structures or settings. This time I wanted to return to practice and begin a new project of my own, but I had no idea how to choose what that one thing would be to pour my energy into. I could have gone straight into the studio to have a play without any plans or obligations, but for some reason I felt like I needed to have a grand idea (or at least be working towards one) before I got started. Any obligations I had were entirely self-imposed or imaginary, but they still held me back.
For the better part of two months I had many conversations with friends and peers trying to explain my conundrum, feeling guilty about not making the most of my privileged opportunity and frustrated with being unable to articulate why. Some of these conversations really highlighted to me that, even within my relatively small network, people have totally different philosophies and approaches to arts practice, making and performance. I struggled with advice that was well-intentioned, but not quite on the same page as where I was coming from.
It was after chatting to my Queensland friend Courtney Scheu that things began to clarify (if not quite coalesce) for me. Courtney and I studied dance concurrently at different institutions before collaborating on a couple of projects, and as well as being very talented, she is one of the sunniest people you could meet. We had a great chat about process and creative fuel, and she reminded me not to try and do or be everything all at once.
Courtney began to send me daily scores (instructions or concepts) for short, improvised dances to try at home, suggesting that I film them and send her the videos. This little bit of structure and accountability was the impetus that I needed.
My initial reaction was that I would definitely make these dances part of my daily routine, but I would NOT be filming them. Yet when I responded to the first score the following week, I did indeed record the dance and send it through. It was only between the two of us after all, and we know each other well enough that I could send her my responses regardless of how I judged their quality. In the end, not only did I send through videos for each of the 13 scores she sent me, but I have used some of that very raw footage to support grant applications and I have a funny feeling I will be sharing a bit of it here too...
What was fantastic about Courtney’s scores was that each one was completely different and gave me the opportunity to discover my inclinations towards more abstract or narrative scores, internal or external stimulus, music, text or silence. The scores also elicited certain tones and textures in my body, some of which were outside my habitual movement patterns. Some movement qualities I have come to avoid over time because of some internalised idea that they are less valid or ‘contemporary’, but these scores gave me a reason (or excuse) to revisit and experience how those qualities feel in my body. The videos also allowed me to see how they looked from the outside and may
be rethink some of my internalised movement prejudices.
Most importantly, they got me dancing – even for a few minutes – every day.
I also need to give a shout out to Eliza Sanders and her Motion Poetry podcast produced with Belco Arts. This interactive podcast is designed to allow the listener to respond to abstract, poetic language about dance, and access creative movement in their own time and space. As a podcast lover this was right up my alley, and as someone working alone it was so useful to be able to have someone else’s instructions in my pocket to plug in and respond to at any time (and get out of my own head). Motion Poetry got me moving and writing, reminding me how fascinated I am in the relationship between dance and text.
Several months down the track, I have developed a structure for my style of practice and I haven't had to rely so much on external stimulus. However, these tools - the scores and the podcast - gave me a great head start and helped me transition from dancing in my loungeroom to returning to the studio.