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Animated Edition - Spring 2004
The possibilities are endless...
By Rosemary Lee
When I am looking at any dancer be they professional or non-professional, 4 or 74 years old I am looking for the same thing. What am I waiting to see? A glimmer of embodiment. A sense that the dancer is overtaken with the activity they are engaged with in such a way that every cell in their body seems involved. They are in synch, they are whole, they are present.

Watching my daughter dancing this morning I was struck when her teacher Kate Green said to them in preparation - "Can you dance this one? The whole of you has to dance, otherwise you just look like children pretending." This seemed a brave thing to say to nine year olds but so true and it seemed to strike a chord with most of the children who then began to find a concentration startlingly bright and alive which surprised us parents out of our more passive watching. It was Kate's comment and skilful teaching that helped me find a way to begin to write this article.

Fundamentally what I am doing then in making a dance or in teaching a workshop is finding ways to best activate that state of the dancer fully inhabiting the dance or rather is it the dance fully inhabiting the dancer? Writing that makes me better understand the depth of the much over used quote from W.B.Yeats poem Among School Children "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" It is that place of connection that I ultimately seek in anyone I work with in any context.

This is all very well and worthy but when faced with a group of strangers waiting anxiously to see what I will ask them to do, or a class full of loud children, or a draughty dirty church hall; reaching this state of embodiment does not seem to tally with the reality at all. Then my job is to get myself into the right state to be able to see a route through the present context and the obstacles to a fertile clearing as it were. I have to work fast on myself to get to a place where my senses are sharpened to the point that the merest whiff of potential and possibility grabs me and sends me speeding in the right direction. I need to be in the right state to recognise when I see or sense this potential in a group or in a situation. It's a fine balance of trusting my experience enough to let go a bit of any nerves or preconceptions but not too trusting that I become complacent and less alert to the present moment. It can be an invigorating challenge steering the course of a workshop or piece for that matter and wondering if the journey you are navigating will actually lead you to the destination you imagine or hope for.

I am trying to respond to the present, to the people in front of me, to their dynamic, to the situation in which we find ourselves. Visual artists often talk about the task for them being to become so familiar with their materials that the material leads them. Well, it is similar for me. I am trying to become more familiar with the dancers and their dynamic together so that whatever I might end up creating with them is theirs as well as mine because it has come from them. This is not to say though that I am only reactive to the present. It might be more accurate to say that I am reactive in order to be more successfully proactive.

If I am making a work then I am trying to find ways of enabling the dancers to inhabit the piece that I envisage without losing their identity or being dis-empowered in any way. Similarly in a workshop I try to find a way to help the participants find a state where they can experience the qualities I am interested in sharing with them. Those qualities are found within themselves not planted on them from the outside. My constant aim is to find a way to work primarily from the inside out rather than the outside in.

Think of a dressmaker draping cloth around the body of the wearer and pinning and cutting to their body until the shape arrives. It still has the designer's distinctive authorship but is made for and with the wearer and their unique body rather than a finished garment put on to the wearer. In this way then the movement that ends up in a final piece or the movement experimented with in a workshop comes from the dancers themselves in response to an image or task given. The effort of their engagement is of as much interest to me as a choreographer and teacher as are the resulting movements.

It is the transformative potential of dance that I find so intoxicating and I rarely tire of seeking it if I get the scent of its possibility. My most memorable and moving moments as a viewer have been watching participants in workshops. It is the beauty of seeing something unfold before you, happening for the first and only time before your eyes. Knowing the task that the dancers are engaged with alters your perception, allowing you to experience the dancers discovery in a similar way to them, you can appreciate and empathise with what and who you see more deeply.

All this, and still I cannot find a way to talk about methodology. There are so many methods that could be cited but perhaps it is better to try to generalise about the most important tools I consider useful in guiding people towards a receptive state where they can feel more themselves, fully alert and aware. In order to get closer to that place of embodiment one has to feel freer. To feel free one has to try to get rid of any obstacles to ease and relaxation. I have to find a way of making people feel comfortable in themselves but also with the group, the space and with me. This may be approached in wildly different ways from intense image based improvisations to playing and running riot depending on the group and what I sense their overall energy is and where it needs to go to.

It's crucial for me to see where I feel the flow of the workshop needs to go in order to release the potential of the dancers and the event itself. Do I need to keep going and push them to pass a threshold within a task, do I need to change things, do I need to encourage speed or stillness, listening or abandon? What words will most effectively allow them to find a qualitative state I am after? Some words seem to give the body a clue almost before the brain gets in the way to interpret it. It is those words I try to use to catch the innate intelligence that is in us all but that seems to get diverted or blocked by a more cerebral conditioning. Verbal language and the way that I talk are crucial tools. It is vital for me to create an atmosphere that can hold the group and I often try in vain to find this in a school, only for it to be broken by interventions and interruptions from outside the class. What touch, what music will best support the place I want them to find? When shall we break, how can I follow that, where next? I always have a plan of sorts but the best and most rewarding experiences are those where the flow of the workshop feels right and unhindered. These may have followed a plan or veered off somewhere following its own tributary.

Ultimately any workshop or session feels like a dive into the unknown however familiar the material to be covered. It is a failing on my part if I have not learnt something at the end if a session about movement, a participant or myself for example. There is so much to learn and discover, the possibilities are endless...

I would like to dedicate this to all the teachers and choreographers I have worked with who have shaped my approach and enriched my work in countless ways.

Rosemary Lee is a choreographer, film maker, teacher and an associate artist at Rescen, Middlesex University.

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Animated: Spring 2004