I started out with the intention of writing some thoughts about my perspective on what tradition and classical form means to me, as these are topics I talk about a lot in my teaching. However, as those who know me would probably expect, it has turned into much much more. So, I am going to start at the beginning and do this in parts and just see where it goes, and yes, I will get to the part on classical form and tradition…eventually.
I first have to start with the artist and what that means to me so that when I use the word artist in this post and future posts, it is somewhat clear as to what I am expressing in my use of that word.
Artist = Human Being. Every human being is born an artist. To create is the essence of our beings, our soul, our spirit. Whether or not we honor that, develop it, or commit to that path is another story, but we are all born with it. It is the beginning of us all.
To live as an artist is to be committed to seeking out and listening to our higher self, our truth, and then living that truth unapologetically, in all the little things every minute of every day, without needing to be validated, or right, or better than anyone else. Acknowledging and honoring fear, and then waving at it and wishing it well as we stroll past it in pursuit of love, light and truth. Every human is capable of this, but it is a choice. You do not have to paint or dance or make music to be an artist. An artist comes in every form imaginable and can exist in our everyday lives. The way we prepare a meal, take care of our loved ones, or make eye contact and smile at a stranger, or the way we treat the earth and animals.
The universal and most common answer when you ask a dancer, especially a student, why they dance is, “to express myself”, and my question to that is but why?…What service are you offering by expressing yourself? because after all…when you choose to journey the path of the artist, you choose a life of service. As a committed artist, it is not only our responsibility to seek and express our truth, but it is also our mission to understand and relate to the truth of our fellow beings, and the conditions and environments that we all live in and create. There is a distinct difference between being heard and being understood. Being heard tends to be one-sided, while being understood is an ongoing exploration and collaboration. I will give this example; Let’s say you are devoted and passionate about a cause and you wish to fight for that cause. One of the first things we will often do is express our anger or outrage about something we feel is unjust, but if our wish is truly to make a change to or impact the cause, then we have to think about this question; Does this expression of my emotions or thoughts alone actually create the change or connection I seek, or is this expression only seen, heard and understood by those who feel or have experienced the same as I have? If we are only having conversations with likeminded people that share our view, then are we actually contributing to the change we desire? Yes, the emotion needs to be expressed fully, but then it has to be transformed, it has to evolve. There has to be hope with it. We cannot just express anger and then hold onto it, we have to release it and let go of it if we wish it to transform into understanding, change and ultimately...love. As an artist, we are not just expressing our truths so that we can persuade others to agree with us, but instead, we speak as if we want to be spoken back to with the same level of clarity, compassion and truth we hopefully use in our language. I guess this is a long-winded way of me saying, we get what we give and we create what we ask for. We inspire, learn, teach and create by being... by brazenly embodying our essence, our artist.
This is why I still teach through the medium of dance after all these years. For me, it is a means of creating environments that encourage and support youth to fully uncover, develop and illuminate the artist that they are. To be accountable for and live in their power, to seek truth and love, and most importantly to develop the perseverance, courage, compassion and resilience required to share their power and love with the world. That last one is probably the most challenging and most crucial in the world that we all face, especially for our youth. Dance is simply a channel, a vessel for me. I hesitate to put it this way even though it’s true, as it makes it seems as though I do not care about dance. This is not at all the case. I love dance, I love classical form, I love how it feels to share truth with my own body and to witness and be a part of it happening in someone else’s. It’s rare and beautiful, and there is nothing quite like it when it really happens. In my opinion, it doesn’t happen in that way often enough in the current dance education climate. The current climate, as a mass generalization, feels driven by ego, profit, fame, external validation, competition or being judged as more of or less than someone else, and putting on a mask instead of taking off the mask. If feels like too often, it creates prisons for young people rather than portals, mirroring the education system in general in America. This is pretty much a complete contradiction of my definition of an artist. I know this is a controversial and multi-faceted subject with many perspectives and triggers for people, so I will just say this about it for now;
Have you ever watched a seasoned teacher or choreographer watch the dancers in the studio and noticed that they are not actually looking directly at the dancers? When the language of dance is really being expressed from the artist place, they do not actually watch the dancer. I know I don’t. Yes, I see them, but I do not really need to watch them, I mean, how many battements or pirouettes do I really need to see in my lifetime? When we only watch and when the dancer is only dancing to be watched, we only see form, bodies, technique, superficial fleeting beauty... or not. We admire, but we don’t relate. When a dancer or being, is really in their artist power they illuminate not only their own vibration but they awaken and often transform all the energy around them creating a never-ending and interactive landscape. It becomes something seemingly unearthly yet completely connected to earth, fire, wind, water, space and spirit. Therefore, it becomes human connection, because we are all inherently connected to these elements. (This is really what I am talking about when I talk about classical form, but more on that another time, I promise). We are transported into the core of our being, our own artist is awakened. We as the observer and participant create within ourselves in that moment, inspiring a catalyst for connection, conversation and evolution. We feel and we experience something. We are pushed outside of our ego selves to access our higher selves. We feel a kinship in that moment even if our stories are completely different. It’s like opening a portal to our own truth. It is human connection and collaboration through energetic exchange and without words. It’s the perfect conversation. It flows harmoniously and without judgement or fear, and it is boundless. That doesn’t mean it always makes us feel good, but it always makes us feel. It provokes, it rages, it roars, it honors, it laughs, it cries, it loves… just like us. It is us, honouring and illuminating our light. The artist inside us activates and acts like a supernova exploding into millions of star particles lighting and paving the way on our interconnected and collective journey in this world and beyond.