Posted by: sailingspirit | April 12, 2011

Repetitive and Yet New Every Time

I’m the kind of person who abhors monotony.  I require a pretty steady stream of fresh stimulation, the kind that stretches my brain a little, even while enjoying the comfort and reassurance of stability.  I guess I’m permanently that child who darts away from the parent’s legs to explore, but inevitably returns briefly to share a find before darting off again.  But I need those knees to be there.  Even if they’re surrogate knees–I just need the knees.

Anyway, it’s a bit perplexing, then, that I have tremendous tolerance for rehearsal.  Don’t want to hear the same song played on the radio twice in a day but can rehearse a dance piece to the same song for hours on end.  Why is that rewarding, not repetitive?

Someone once said it must be perfectionism, a drive to get it exactly right.  During the times in my life when I’ve danced for a living, I suppose that’s true enough but I would call it professionalism.  It needs to be excellent for a reason, a reason outside myself.  But that’s not entirely it.

The dancer’s skill level does matter some, but mostly it’s a purposeful focal shift.  Early on, it varies each time for lack of complete control.  The dancer thinks, “I’ll try again…let’s see what happens.”  It’s equally a participatory and spectator sport!  So the dancer is focusing on pattern recognition, cause-and-effect for effort.  At mid-level it becomes a more repetitive, drill-like approach because you’re aiming for consistency.  Accurate and skillful execution, on-demand.  The dancer may execute it correctly and therefore knows what to expect, but has not yet achieved precision control.  Equally importantly, if not moreso, when he or she tries layering this with other body part movements at the same time, he or she quickly realizes the amount of training that must occur in the brain as well.  Switch attention from one part to another, and the first falls apart.  At this stage, the focus is on attention division, primarily and acute body part feedback secondarily.  With each run-through, focus for improvement lands on a different area and thus the whole piece becomes a dance of that body part.  Different experiences.

dancing
Image by colodio via Flickr

But at the mastery stage, the goal shifts from physical to emotional/spiritual; now you are not just moving, you are expressing using movement as a tool.  I have done exercises with my (advanced) students to teach this very point.  I give them a short combination, and ask them to dance it over and over again, each time expressing a different given emotion.  For each one I call out, their movements indeed look different.  A subtle change in timing, emphasis, direction, sharpness, size, etc. and the whole mood changes.  Once you learn this, and begin to apply it freely, you are exploring your innermost self, deeper than the body, pulling it up and out to make it external to the body.  At this point you no longer remember what you physically did during that run-through, you remember how you felt at each point of that run-through.  What you have within you to express changes a little each time.

So when you really examine rehearsal closely, it’s the combination of the very nature of art and the very nature of being human: it simply cannot be the same twice.  As astounding as the body’s capability is, no complex movement can be repeated with machine-like precision.  (That’s why we build machines.)  And when you truly open your heart and your mind, to both express and explore, your experience won’t be the same twice.

So I am discovering that with dance, and some other things, too, I am a lover of things that are new, as well as a lover of things that never get old.

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