Sunday, May 25, 2014

Isla Vista Reflections - and Dance

UCSB is my alma mater.

I lived in and loved Isla Vista while I was there.  Unfortunately, IV is not a stranger to tragic deaths.  But, the recent mass murders shake me and my memory of youth, freedom and learning to the core.  When I heard about the tragedy and read the transcript of Elliot Rodger's declaration of war against people, the first thing that I thought of was the insidious and pervasive isolation that our culture has created for itself.  The mental illness behind this event and those like it is worsening as our culture continues to alienate and perpetuate instability, loneliness, and hate through a disconnected society.

Obviously, I enjoy engaging in social media.  I keep this blog among others, tweet regularly and post the usual pictures of pretty flowers from my garden to Instagram.  Last month I gave a talk to dance educators about the need to get onto social media in order for dance education to catch up with the rest of the online world. 

But, I am first and foremost a dancer, a dance teacher and an artist.  I love the performing arts in part because I love the community I feel when I engage in them.  My private dance company is special because we are all friends - we love dancing with each other as people.  Performing together is an act of community and reminds us of being human.  

Our increase in electronic connections have come at a huge cost to our physical connections. We have abandoned most of our outlets for heart-to-heart and hand-to-hand connection that comes with being physically together and interacting through movement and touch.  The computer screen and the internet offer us a lot for the mind and even some for the spirit, but we are human and we need to feel embodied to feel real. And, movement and touch is our best means to finding that. 

I wonder if Elliot had more social dance in his life if he would have felt a stronger connection to others (especially women).  Social dance classes teach so much more than steps. Have you seen Mad, Hot Ballroom?  If you not, put it it on the top of your list today! Social dance classes teach us how to share the space with another person, how to respect them and yourself as you join together for a human experience: dance. 

We desperately need the arts, and we need opportunities for individuals to feel connected in a safe (non sexualized) environment.  Going out to a club and jumping around in circle or grinding on someone is not clearly the same.  It is not altogether bad, but it has a different appeal and is so unstructured (and usually intoxicated) that connections made are fleeting and confusing.  If we lived in a culture where all people learned to dance together, we learn compassion for each other and our differences.  I mean, there have been people in a social dance class who I have not preferred dancing with, but when the time came and we danced together, I inevitably learned something about myself and that person that I deeply value.  Even if we weren't a great match for each other (temperaments, style, height - whatever) I had a chance to connect to feel that the other person is real, that they have a personality, complete with struggles and strengths.   

Dance has been used for millenia to remind people of their humanity.  After the rock era we broke away from partner dance and formalized group dance as the common method of social dance. Perhaps the terror of isolation endemic to our culture could easily be lessened if we took hands, found the beat and moved together as equals - as one. 

If you teach social dance, please share your thoughts and experiences in a comment below.  How have you seen social transform your students? 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Burden of Expectation

Today is the first day of summer break. And, the first day of my year-long sabbatical.  Let's Party!

Or not. . .

Today already I feel the pressure.  How?!?

It's my first day off but I quickly realized how strongly I suffer from the burden of expectations. Of course I am excited about my sabbatical-- it promises a time filled with reflection, rejuvenation, possibility, and learning.  And, I know what is expected of me from others. I have a well defined project dealing with dance notation that is exciting and achievable.  (Expect more on this in the future)

But, what do I expect from myself during this time?

A lot.

. . and high expectations have been with me all of my life.  Occasionally people mistake me for a perfectionist.  I'm not. . . anyone who has seen my house or seen me in rehearsal knows that I enjoy improvisation more than controlled perfection.  But, I do have high expectations for myself. 

I have worked hard and achieved great things including a solid job (which has granted me a year long sabbatical), a national presence amongst dance educators and a rewarding marriage and home life. But, these self induced expectations follow me.  Today was my first official day of summer and my mind was reeling with the question "What should I do?" "What do I need to do?" and then I rested on "What do I want to do?"

This next year (essentially 16 months including both summers) will bring things I can't imagine. And, while I have some structure in place (with my notation project), I am not exactly sure what this year will bring. 

Of course, the lesson is that we can never know.  We encounter life moment by moment and expectations often get us in trouble because they so often closely align with assumptions.  I don't want to live this next year according to my expectations. My expectations are a burden that I no longer want to carry.  Instead I am ready to look toward intention.  Yeah, it's a somewhat corny (and ├╝ber-trendy) way of talking about life.  But, living according to an intention is the only way to live without becoming attached to an outcome.  When we live by expectation we are bound to either exceed, meet or fall short of them.  But, when we live by intention we are bound to discover the unknown as it unfolds in front of us and better enjoy ourselves along the way. 

This year will bring the unexpected.  But, I intent to take advantage of all that comes my way. 

How do you intend to spend your summer? Your year? Your life?