About Susan

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rediscovering Why I Dance

Dancing atop the grand staircase at the Asian Art Museum

It’s been another hiatus, but I’m happy to report that I’m back and going strong! After a somewhat low period, my love of dance has been thoroughly reinvigorated. How? By performing! In the months nursing my injury, I’d forgotten what I was working for. It wasn’t until I was called for a job performing for a private event at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco a couple of months ago that I remembered, with full force, just how much I love to dance.

I’d designed a program that spanned different ethnicities, in styles that would maximize the cultural breadth of China: Yi (southern), Uighur (western), and Han (northeastern). In terms of color, it was: bright pink, bright orange, and bright pink! It’s funny, because blue is my favorite color and I hardly have any costumes in that hue. Still, I’d selected dances and costumes that were diverse from one another and beautifully designed and made.  

I had four sets, from the moment guests arrived in the beautiful foyer to the very end, as they exited. Hello, and goodbye! I received numerous compliments and questions about what ethnicities my costumes and dances represented, which gave me such joy. Although, I do my best to limit any conversation with guests; when performing as a dancer at a function it’s important to stay professional. But, I didn’t want to be rude and ignore people point blank. And of course, I enjoy sharing with people the cultures behind the dance styles.

I warmed up amongst beautiful Chinese porcelains while waiting to perform. 

On the heels of this job was a stage show in which I performed a Yi ethnic minority dance from Yunnan in the south of China. Still on a high from performing at the Asian Art Museum event, I found a renewed energy during my rehearsals. Suddenly, instead of going through the movements, I was actually living the dance. I was ... dancing!

It’s really true; knowing the movements and being able to accomplish the technical requirements of a dance by itself does not constitute dancing. You could call it movement, or a series of linked movements. Dancing, however, is imbued with life. There is a breathing, an ebb and flow, a sense of direction embodied by rhythm and energy. There is a spirit that the movement serves to set free.  

I’d temporarily lost that spirit in the months before. I’d worked diligently on keeping in shape and learning dances, but my heart wasn’t in it. It’s hard to feel motivated when the the most basic movements required in my style of dancing causes sharp pain. Still, I’m glad that at least my sense of basic dedication (and the strong influence of habit) to dance, stretch, and exercise kept me going.

The difference in my experience after regaining my inner spirit for dance was palpable. When rehearsing, I felt my face break into smiles so natural and fitting for each moment of the dance. There was nothing premeditated or forced. I knew then, that the dance had finally begun to become a part of me, and that I was becoming the dance. 

Let’s just say I also knew I was doing something right when my teacher said at the end of my rehearsal one day, “It’s better. It’s improving.” She does not pay compliments when she doesn’t mean it, so even though she’d delivered the message rather tersely I was thrilled. And most important, it had felt *good* dancing the piece.

Just about to head backstage!

I had my usual nerves backstage, but once I was out there a strange sense of calm overtook me. It was just me and the stage again, the bright lights flooding me from the wings and above me, and the darkness out in the audience. In the back of my mind I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find center mark or the front of the stage after my series of turns, or that my slow front walkover would go wrong. But when I got to those parts, I felt no fear. My body knew what to do.

And when it was over, I lay awake at night going over my performance over and over again as I am wont to do. While I was tired and would have gladly welcomed more sleep, I knew what kept me up. I was excited. I couldn't wait to get back into the studio and work. Every chance, every moment I get to dance, is precious to me. My joy in rediscovering this knows no bounds.

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