“Practice becomes perception.”
Brian Massumi, in Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002)
Feeling the flow
~ Excerpt from journal notes post boxing session with Jackie (October 14th, 2016)
Jackie is holding the pads at eye level. We settle into a drill: feather light quick successive jab/crosses until her random signal to block a hit. I contract my right side to block, follow through with a hook and then resume the flow of the pattern. It’s difficult, the cueing is subtle and the pace is fast. I’m focused, trying to pay attention, stay grounded, stay relaxed.
“Now close your eyes,” Jackie says. “If you can’t see it, you just feel it” she tells me, adding “our eyes lie.”
I close my eyes and immediately my awareness shifts; I’m receiving information at a rapid pace independent of seeing. Slowly the awkwardness begins to fade and I start to attune to the changes in resistance when my gloves hit the pads. When Jackie signals to block, I feel her change in weight in my arms, it travels through my torso, my legs. My body is more awake, alert to subtleties I missed with my eyes open. I’m feeling and sensing more.
Perspectives of Seeing and Feeling
This month I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference of perspective between the sensory acts of seeing and feeling, both in choreography and in my readings at school. Seeing implies a sense of distance, while feeling involves an inner kind of looking–what Brian Massumi refers to as two different self-referential systems of orientation. Simply stated, ‘I see you’ and ‘I feel you’ express two different perspectives of orientation. And so from this month’s musing, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump/jeté into questioning the funhouse experience that is our relationship with the mirror.
Perhaps the price of admission to this funhouse is that our individual relationships with the mirror are often clouded with socially imposed standards of worth. And dance training–depending on which genre you study–brings with it a myriad of subtle threads that tether you to the puppeting effects of what we see. At least it did for me. The mirror can be a tool for learning in the studio, but it can also be a site of silent dialogue, a measuring stick, a battle ground, a reward and a punishment between the charged spaces of self and reflection. If our eyes do indeed lie, shouldn’t we seek truth elsewhere? Shouldn’t we be selective about the practices that hone our perceptions?
Just as the word ‘moon’ is not the moon itself, how we perceive our reflection mirrors back to us our notions of identity. Dance has been a wonderful mirror to me, and I’ve noticed how choreography has played a significant role in helping me negotiate new versions of ‘i.’ The following three excerpts trace how dance has helped me discover that the ‘moon’ is far more dynamic that I ever perceived it to be, and mirrors offer opportunities to break beyond the bounds of the limits they frame.
‘Moon’ 1: mirror as battleground
Helix Dance Project’s first show, Integration (2003), was a danced meditation on the habits I wanted to let go of at the time, and those I wanted to draw near. ‘Girl Fight,’ a duet between two women, was my attempt at an uncensored expression of my relationship with the mirror. Set to a soundscape of internal thought in which the words “look at you” looped mercilessly on and on, the dancers each fought to overcome the other. ‘Girl Fight’ marked a particular signalling of orientation towards identity. We created a piece that danced the urge to fight the limits of what is seen, tackle it to the ground in a choreographed fight for survival and freedom. Through a danced collaboration, I wrestled with my too small perception of self, literally. I’m ever grateful to you, the fearless dancers who danced ‘Girl Fight,’ and I hope its echoes have long since left your bodies. We don’t need to practice that limiting perception any longer.
‘Moon’ 2: metaphor as mirror
Further along HDP’s creative explorations were the projects titled Rain (2009), Unearth (2012), and The Waiting Room (2015) – all looking at various relational expressions of ‘i’ through the lens of metaphor. Rain engaged with self in relation to archetypes, Unearth in relation to the elements, and The Waiting Room in relation to transience. The choreographed mirrors of these works had us standing in the rain, digging in the dirt, climbing mountains, dancing a tango with change, watching clouds drift by, and sitting by the water’s edge. Those were the mirrors we danced for ourselves, practicing new perceptions of seeing and feeling, together. Again I thank each dancer, what a privilege to unearth these subtleties with you all.
‘Moon’ 3: movement as mirror
Far from familiar shores, in Iceland in 2015, I experienced such a simple moment of reflection that has stayed with me still. I went for a stroll to the western most tip of Reykjavík, at the shore of the Grótta lighthouse, and became entranced by how the vegetation in the water was moving; just a simple swaying to and fro in the currents of the tide. I recall how at first I saw only a plant in water, then I began observing the subtleties of its movement. After some time, the feeling arose in me that this scene might be the only curriculum I needed in life, and a subtle awareness began to bloom. I stood there for a while, sensing a familiarity with the movements of the plant and the water, how they were seamlessly interconnected, and how this was the most apt mirror I could imagine for myself. Before I left, I took a short video. And now, whenever I suspect my eyes are lying to me, or when I grow numb to the subtleties of how very interconnected we all are, I feel into the movements of this video and once again practice how to perceive anew.
I share these anecdotes in the hopes that if someone happens to be doing battle with the mirror, you might press play, go for a walk in nature, or better yet, close your eyes. And feel.