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  • Writer's pictureashlee

Safe is Not an Interesting Terrain

A dancer with wavy light brown hair, a blue t-shirt and black pants dances in a studio with white walls and curtains. She is stepping her left leg across her right, leaning forward and extending her right arm to the side
Olivia Wikner Photography

I’m here, back at the computer and ready to write the next post. And I’m now realising that I’m sitting to write about a day that was now TWO WHOLE YEARS AGO – or, to be exact, 1 year and 362 days ago.

Time to accept that this is no longer so much a documentation project as a retrospective.

When I first considered blogging about this residency, I naively thought I would be posting every week or two. It would be no big deal to write a few lines to summarise what I was doing and thinking, and publish them along with a snatch of footage, right? Ha. I should have known that was not even slightly realistic. Or at least guessed as much.

I was in the studio again this morning, moving through my practice. In some ways, today was quite similar to those sessions in May of 2021, but of course it was also totally different, because I have been doing this for over two years. I am a different person in a different place with my practice and work and my life.

In continuing to write these posts, I’m not going to pretend to be able to separate hindsight from the immediacy of my notes from the time, because I’m sure I cannot. I’m figuring out how best to share the story as I go about sharing it!


Day 14, Tues May 18

A tricky day for a few reasons. I arrived to find QL2 all locked up as the staff were over at Canberra Theatre bumping in their Playhouse season. By the time I arranged and picked up a key I was running about 40 minutes behind and the space was VERY cold. The digital clock’s thermometer read 11°c, and while the old heater was making a good deal of noise, that number did not increase the whole time I was there. None of this helped my achy SI joint. When it came to warmup, I was torn between the need for a small dance to keep my body safe, and the need for a big energetic dance to generate some heat (and keep my body safe!).


Not happy or unhappy with this dance today, but I was feeling ineloquent after last week’s word explosion in my notebook. At this point I had given my trust to the practice: trust in the value of each day as a day in a series of days, and this helped me avoid another disaster day like Day 2. This is something I have mentioned in previous posts, but I had written this in my book on that day almost word for word, so this may have been the first day I actually articulated it to myself.

There was a small wheat bag in the theatre that I tucked into my clothes to keep me warm and stop my pelvis from locking up. This originally affected my movement – keeping it more contained and upright, though by the third dance it became a prop in its own right. I enjoyed this point of difference today, as otherwise it was an underwhelming session. It was a ‘safe’ dance, and while I wrote that ‘Safe is not an interesting terrain to explore’, I needed to stay safe today.

I did manage to stay present, but it was a muted kind of presence – not bored exactly, but flat, low in energy and vivacity. The 2-minute stillnesses were not meditations, chances to check in or fill up, but simply rest moments. The feeling of wearing several layers of clothing to keep warm didn’t help – it gave me a frustrating feeling of disconnect, like there was a barrier between myself and the space, and it restricted me from finding full freedom of movement.

Today I was also distracted from the dance by thinking about the fact that after the dance I was going to sit to write a reflection on the dance. Still with me? It felt like yet another layer of the Observer Effect (the act of observing an experiment alters the outcome) on top of the presence of my camera. I kept thinking that although I’d intentionally woven the writing into the practice, and it was serving me well, anticipating this step was somehow affecting the practice.

I’ve included clips from across the whole safe and underwhelming 4x5+2 event. Arguably, it gets more interesting later in the video when the heat pack is no longer attached. The movement changes from cautious and balanced with warmth-generating shimmies to resigned daggy-dad boogies oddly broken up by ballet shapes.

In hindsight, the older and wiser me sitting here two years on realises that it doesn’t really matter that the presence I felt that day was muted or flat. Just because staying ‘on task’ or ‘in the zone’ didn’t make me feel joyfully energised, doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing my best with what I had in that moment. I possibly could have been more generous with myself when it came to judging the success of that day.

Day 15, Thurs May 20

Back in the cold theatre again. Today I had a little blow heater with me, which at least helped when it came to sitting to write, meditate and stretch! It was a similar day to Tuesday in that I was cold and sore, with the added fun of period cramps (that old foe) but this is what showing up looks like.

A screenshot of the chapters of the book My Body the Buddhist, by Deborah Hay. Chapter 1, My Body Benefits in Solitude, is highlighted in yellow

I had just managed to get my hands on Deborah Hay’s My Body the Buddhist and read the foreword. I was pretty sure this book was going to be required reading for this project, and was only more convinced after taking a peek at the chapter titles. Check out the title of Chapter 1 – a few lines of which appeared in my first post introducing this project!

Like Tuesday, warmup was about trying to find freedom and play whilst keeping warm and safe. Some moments felt better than Tuesday, but I still felt the frustration with the cold and all the layers of clothing removing me from the space. My doubled socks made me feel less grounded and weaker, but perhaps I was actually just lacking strength in my body today. I wrote that I felt I was waffling, and this was a result of ‘doing too much with all of my body all of the time’ – but I needed to do that to get warm!


My sleepy imagination took the wheel and I dropped into a strange land, an underwater (or perhaps subconscious), old fashioned, abandoned cinema, like a scene in a book I had read. I dropped deeper into the mystery and the murkiness where I found more noise to listen to, fewer ideas to articulate, but more sensations to explore. It wasn’t exactly joyous or even quirky, but engrossing – in a weary kind of way.

There was a lot of background processing happening while my mind was submerged in this dance. A few thoughts from my pre-journaling stood out – the weird dream I’d had last night, a recent discussion with a friend about our ability to be comfortable with discomfort. I was pulled up and out by thoughts of the upcoming development of LESS with ADP and receiving the results of my grant application...

It was like my brain was in two disconnected places, operating on autopilot:

‘Have my many layers of clothes become this metaphor? The lack of contact I have with the soles of my feet and palms of my hands remove me from my environment. The lack of air and floor on my skin. I am submerged and everything is slower and heavier and somewhat less clarified, but I am gliding around and gliding in and out of relationship with it. …It is almost harder to have stopped to write than to have just kept swimming…’

In watching the footage back, the underwater theatre concept feels like more of a headspace than something that came through a lot in my physicality, though peeks of it do emerge. I also get a sense of that heaviness in the last dance, the feeling of submersion.

In dance #3 I began to vocalise my thoughts – something I hadn’t mentioned in my notebook and so had completely forgotten. I can’t quite tell what I’m saying over the buzzing of the heater and the electrics – I wasn’t trying to project for the sake of the tiny mic on the camera – but the occasional word I can pick out does seem to be on theme. It has been quite surprising discovering this moment of speaking aloud in my practice from two years ago as it’s something I’ve been intentionally trying to cultivate more recently. I’m interested in what happens to improvised movement, its tone and quality while the brain is divided between physical and language-based tasks.


The clips I’ve uploaded in this post are a bit longer than my usual so far. For both days’ events I felt like I needed to share clips from across the full half hour to help tell the story, rather than focus solely on one of the four dances. Without meaning to, I've edited both to a similar length, which is interesting. Every time I come to put one of these posts together it seems I have a different approach to sharing the footage – 90 second clips, an entire 5-minute dance, a sped-up version of the 5 minutes, a timelapse of the whole day and now this. I don’t know if 7-minutes-something is too long to hold your interest, dear reader, or if you appreciate the opportunity to witness the more of the arc. I would really love to hear your thoughts.

Are you out there, dear reader? I realise my posts are irregular and quite niche, and while I’m happy to use this platform as a means of self-imposed accountability, or support material for my portfolio, I’m very curious to know who might be following along! I’d like to find out if the comments function on this site even works, so please say hi! :)

What Next?

My last couple of posts have jumped between this retrospective documentary of my residency and more recent happenings in my practice and work. Plus, of course, these retrospective posts include my thoughts from two years ago as well as the thoughts I have as I reflect back now.

To neaten all this up, I’m considering setting a loose format for these posts, perhaps with subheadings to break-up but include ALL of these things in every post: an update on recent happenings, a continuation of the residency story (chronologically) and any upcoming plans and events. Plus, reflections on the blogging process itself! I don’t follow many online content creators, but one of the things I like about someone I do follow is how much ‘behind-the-scenes’ planning and thought processing they share. I’m so interested in content about how they make their content and all the creative and practical decisions that go into it. I don’t feel quiiiiite right in comparing myself to them, but this is why I’m explaining my thought process in the post, and also to invite you again, dear reader, to please let me know what you think!


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