When I look into the mirror, I see a dancer. Dreaming about my dissertation, in the studio with Kyler: when you are anxious, stop. What will last? What will you learn?January 23, 2013 – 9:41 am
Last night I dreamt about my dissertation for the first time. At least I think I did; it was a long, intense dream full of lessons, and my dream-self kept thinking “oh, I must remember that I’ve learned this about life!” Of course, now that I’ve woken up, I don’t remember what they were. But in part of that dream, I was writing out the design for an ethnographic study. And there was a voice — I don’t remember if it was mine, or a classmate’s, or a faculty member’s — that kept pushing at me as I wrote and wrote. It went something like this.
“What will last? What will last? This will come and go and fade; experiments, no matter how caught up you are in them at the time, come and go and fade; experiences happen, you are in them, and they’re done, they’re past, they go away. You cannot keep the experience here forever. So what will last? What will you keep from this? What will you learn?”
I spent last night with Kyler wolfing down a potato-vegetable dosa the size of a small child. He’s got dance auditions at OSU this week, so he drove to Columbus with me and we found an amazing little northern Indian cuisine restaurant and stuffed ourselves silly with samosas, iddly, vada, bonda, and a massive uthappam whose leftovers will serve as both our breakfasts in a little while. I quaffed a mango lassi. We thanked each other for our short friendship — we met in late August when Kyler was looking for dancers for a duet he was choreographing (which became my first dance performance), and will part ways in 2 weeks when he moves to New Mexico for a dance apprenticeship.
We’ve spent a lot of late nights in the studio along the way, cajoling and prodding each other out of our comfort zones; I kept poking him about applying to MFA programs and cheered him through the grad school process, he choreographed increasingly ambitious phrases until I found myself flinging and kicking across the room with abandon, doing things I never thought my body would be able to. I saw him as a scholar; he saw me as a dancer. Sometimes our friends see who we can be before we can see it ourselves, and their seeing helps us become that person.
And I have. During jazz class yesterday, I looked in the studio mirror and saw a tall dancer, long neck perched atop a poised body, limbs stretching and flexing confidently from plié to relevé to plié to tendu — and thought: whoa, is that me? And then we dropped into a fast-paced hip-hop phrase and I had no time to wonder — but afterwards, Kyler (who had dropped in to watch the class as preparation for the teaching part of his audition) commented that I’d gotten to the point where I could do complex moves cleanly at high speed, and nudged again: get into harder dances. Talk with a choreographer who’ll challenge you. Your body’s looking good.
And it is. I’m moving well and learning fast; Mary Beth makes more subtle changes to my alignment now, and I’ve even been called to demonstrate and model moves in class. I’m still a novice; my body still has a long way to go, and I could be taking care of it better — I’m not preparing for a performance right now so I’m not pulling out all the stops. Plus there’s a lot about life to enjoy; sitting in Mark’s condo eating homemade gnocchi and sipping wine is a great way to spend an evening; getting a haircut with Megan is a surprisingly fun (though expensive — why do people pay $40 for haircuts? Sticker shock!) way to spend an afternoon, and using a $3 discount box of hair dye to highlight Randy’s hair… well, it looked good afterwards! So I’m not being uber-hardcore about my physical body at the moment, and that’s ok; it needs its down-time too, and it’ll be training for something else soon enough (though I don’t know what that will be).
It feels good, though. I feel embodied in my bones and in a place. Late-night text messages from friends: hey, wanna come for dinner? Hey, what’re you doing for lunch? Tuesday at 5? Sunday at 8? Talk narrative analysis at 4:30? I bring the books, DeLean brings snacks; another time, Farrah cooks vegetable pot pie. We’re always hungry here, always grasping for food.
And then the ones from Kyler: hey, wanna go to the studio and dance? So I spread my signal processing problem sets out on the studio floor and grade them while he works on his solo. And we pump Peggy Lee on high, through his iPod and my Bose speakers, and I work us through jumps and twists and prompts; now I’m going to leap on your back and grab for the book and fall off with this kick-turn, then you stride to center stage, four counts, then freeze — and then long stretches of improv, tangling elbows and limbs and jackets, figuring out what “contact jazz” looks like, whether we need a chair as a prop or not for this stretch of the piece, if you rise on this leg can you get up faster — until we’re covered with each other’s sweat and I am panting, leaning against the barre, looking at my first choreographed piece, effectively complete (or as good as it’ll get until I have a cast). It feels safe to move. It’s amazing how it can feel safe to move.
I’m surprised at what I’ve learned. One week ago: Kyler is crouched on the studio floor, eyes closed, brow wrinkled. I am attempting to un-knot his shoulders; he is overtraining, anxious about his audition. I tell him that, name his tension and his fear, speak it out loud. He is silent for a moment, then swallows and admits I’m right. “I don’t know what to do,” he says. Then stop, I tell him. The answer to not knowing what to do is not to overtrain yourself. If you are anxious, stop and pause and breathe and do something to center yourself; don’t just work harder blindly. (I’ve tried that. It fails. You break.)
Trust yourself. Pace yourself. Simplify, and let what you already know come out. But stop. When you are feeling pressed for time and think you can’t afford to stop, that’s when you need to stop the most. Easy to say and hard to do; I struggle with it constantly, it is a lesson I am learning. You cannot prepare for all possible futures; you can prepare yourself to cope as best you can with whatever future does come up, but to do that, you have to rest. He nods. A little of the tension goes out from his neck and shoulders.
Later that night, as we are walking to his car, I turn to Kyler. “And if you feel yourself getting anxious — oh no, I’m not prepared — what will you do?”
“I… um… meditate?” he stammers.
“I was looking for some variant of ‘stop,’ so I’ll accept that,” I grin. “You go have yourself a nice weekend, Kyler. I’m going home to hang out with my family.”