Shall We Dance?

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Monica Bill Barnes & Company in SUDDENLY SUMMER SOMEWHERE. Photo by Jane Hoffer

Monica Bill Barnes & Company in SUDDENLY SUMMER SOMEWHERE. Photo by Jane Hoffer

When we’re good at something and do it often, it’s easy to slip into autopilot and lose track of the real essence of what we’re doing. Then when we do get stuck, we don’t know how to extricate ourselves: we’re too close to the thing; we’ve lost our sense of perspective. So how do we break free? As a young dancer, I learned the answer the hard way—that is, physically.

I used to practice contact improvisation, a postmodern partner dance form based on communication and shared points of contact. I would take on my partner’s weight, he or she would take on mine; we’d charge, lift, roll, and balance each other in a state of constant awareness, tuned in intensely to one another’s subtlest movements. But sometimes we’d get stuck. Locked into a position. Communication breakdown. I’d want to move one way, my partner would want to move another, and instead we’d end up like Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: “They do not move.” And if one of us tried to force the issue, to make a unilateral decision, it wouldn’t work: cooperation was necessary for progress. So I learned, over time, to stop pressing. Continue reading