Posts Tagged ‘Dance’

Yoga with Candoco

Candoco were the first professional dance company in the UK to focus on the integration of disabled and non-disabled dancers. It is a company that I have followed since the start of my own dance career back in the early 1990s, so I was absolutely thrilled when they recently asked me to come in and teach company yoga class.

With this post I would like to share my experience and some reflections.

The first thing I noticed  a couple of days before starting, was that the thrill of being asked was beginning to transform into some kind of angst bordering on terror. In fact it even crossed my mind that I should cancel I was worried I might not be up to the job!

My fear was borne out of some concerns and questions, which I was struggling to reconcile.  How could I possibly stick to the given brief of getting all of the dancers warm and prepared for a day of dance rehearsal when there would appear to be the need for so many individual adaptations? How does an able bodied teacher begin to presume how yoga postures or sun salutation sequences might be best experienced by people who use wheelchairs, wear prosthetic arms, or those who would appear to have only one leg? How ethical is it for an ‘able’ bodied person to make presumptions about what is or is not possible for those who are deemed to be ‘disabled’? Even if different sequences of yoga might be prepared for each individual, how do you deliver those sequences concurrently to everybody at once? What language does one use when the ‘normal’, “put you left foot here and the right foot there” might not be applicable? And how does one do all this, whilst simultaneously meeting the needs of the ‘able bodied’ dancers who should be prevented from waiting around and getting cold?

I felt a little stuck between going in with planned sequences based on ignorant assumptions of what might or might not be possible for bodies I had no first-person experience of, and going in without adequate preparation and the fear of being exposed without a clue on the day!

So here’s what happened. I acknowledged the fear and did it anyway. Much better to dive in with the hope that I would come out the other side a little wiser, rather than cancel. There’d be no prospect of growth with the latter!
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On ‘having enough’

In my last post, I wrote a critical piece about yoga teachers and the culture of ‘gratitude preaching’, a phenomenon that frankly makes me wince. I did acknowledge though, that it would be quite wrong to be against the practice of gratitude per se, which would surely be an untenable position. I do actually think though, that somehow, I managed to dwell in that untenable position for a number of years. When I was a younger (less reflective; more stupid?) man I actually hated the word content. I put it in the same bracket as settling (for less). And that wasn’t for me. I was aiming for amazing, perfection and more than. Only a loser would settle for content.

What I have realised, and sadly only relatively recently, is that this quest for perfection or more than is actually something of a thief. ‘Not good enough’ can rob you of feelings of satisfaction, achievement and happiness. Shame is a word I thought I knew, but I actually didn’t;  I never knew that it captured feelings connected to ‘not good enough’.

Paradoxically though ‘not good enough’ for many years acted as a kind of fuel. I was stoked up and propelled by it. I suspect many who have a background in professional dance know it quite well. It is part of our job description to not go wrong and do things right; to perfect movement through constant polishing and refining. More than this, a dance career is brutally competitive and an extremely difficult and gruelling career to do well in and sustain. I wasn’t even that naturally talented at it compared to a great many people I met along the way (in terms of bodily facility and technique), but as a result of being driven to do and be better I probably had a more successful career, based solely on the number of dance companies and projects I was involved in, compared to the vast majority of all the people I trained with at undergraduate level. There is no doubt that being a male helped too.  My ultimate dream was to dance for Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Tanztheater. Very few dancers get to talk their way into doing company dance class with ‘the world’s finest dance company’. I did. The week I spent with them; doing company class, learning the ins and outs of how the company works and getting to know some of the dancers, was a priceless experience. That week ended though with me being informed I wasn’t strong enough to be put in front of Pina for a private audition. For a number of years, this experience tainted my entire dance career. I felt that all of the other very considerable achievements I had attained were clouded. I wasn’t good enough to reach the pinnacle. How terribly sad. What a shame.

Learning to feel that you are enough or have enough can be a very powerful and liberating thing. But it takes practice. One element of yoga that recurs throughout the ages is the steeping of the microcosm in the macrocosm.  Taking the individual out of their normal ways of interacting with their mundane world and placing them into the larger framework of something bigger. There are a gazillion ways of doing this, which many people would not necessarily equate with yoga practice. An example in popular culture is portrayed in the 90s film Grand Canyon when one of the characters (Danny Glover?) tells us that he goes to sit in the Grand Canyon when he is low to get some perspective on his life. Becoming a part of something bigger made him feel better. For me, that experience can be called yoga. I go for walks in a beautiful local park for the same reason. It gets me out of myself. The feeling of connection (might one say communing?) with something larger makes me feel qualitatively better. Walking in the park is a lovely form of yoga.
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Memories of Dr. Marion North

A Student’s Tribute

In May of last year, Dr. Marion North, the former Principal of The Laban Centre sadly passed away. There were a few obituaries at the time, a couple of which I have linked to below, that do a much better job than I ever could of describing her work and listing her many considerable achievements in the dance world. The spectacular ‘new’ Laban Centre on Creekside is a truly fitting legacy that she leaves behind. This post is written from the personal perspective of a thankful former student who remembers her fondly.

Like she was with many students, Marion was very generous to me whilst I was studying at what was then, The Laban Centre for Movement & Dance. Pretty much the entire trajectory of my life changed when I met her in an interview whilst auditioning for a place at the school in 1994. She looked at me over her glasses that day and said, ‘You’re not quite as ferocious in the flesh as you are in this photograph, are you? [I had a shaved head on my application form photo]’. A few minutes later I think she had pretty much decided that she was going to give me a scholarship, which was absolutely crucial at the time as the Conservative government in the mid-90s would not provide any funding, at all, for students who gained places at reputable dance or drama schools.

Over the next couple of years we often met whilst passing in the long and winding corridors of the old Laban Centre in Laurie Grove and I, along with others, sometimes got called in to her office to talk about how things were going.

As a third year student things got difficult for me. My father died and I was evicted from the family home I had lived in for most of my life. In the last term of the third year my overdraft ran dry and with no parental support (my mother had died a few years before) and very little chance of finding other work (a typical Laban weekday in the third year is 8:45am-9pm with rehearsals for graduate pieces at weekends), I was in a pretty perilous position.

I went to see Marion in her office, she picked up her phone and summoned the caretaker and the buildings manager (Charlie & Lewis)  and informed them the building was looking shabby and that they could do with an extra pair of hands. She basically put me on the payroll; and for the final 12 weeks or so until graduation I did the early morning caretaker rounds and other general odd jobs. She really saved my bacon that day and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one that she helped like that, often out of her own pocket.

One such job, she also gave me was a ‘furniture moving job’ at her home just off Tottenham Court Road. I went round one Sunday and she asked me to move a chair from her living room to her kitchen. After I had done so, she told me to sit down, gave me £60 and poured us both a dram of whisky. We had a lovely chat about what Rudolph Laban was like – “A proper Austro-Hungarian gentleman”, her background, “I’m a Yorkshire lass you know” and Riverdance, “Ghastly. But it just shows you how much people like patterns”. Her husband, Mac, then turned up and he started reciting W.H Auden poems from memory – All in all it was quite a memorable day!

After our third year graduation shows I found out that I had been shortlisted for the Student Choreography Award, which I was pretty chuffed about. Marion called me into her office to talk about it, “Adam, I know the choreography staff like it, but I’m telling you, your piece is boring! You must stop doing all of this improvisation stuff and start crafting dance properly!’.

Marion was infamously direct, but I didn’t mind her ‘firm kind of nurturing’ as it was coming from the heart and she really cared.

After graduating we still kept in touch and I think the last time we met was around 2008 when I went to visit her. She had started to become affected by Parkinson’s disease, which must have been devastating for someone who has spent their entire working life analysing movement. As we were talking she moved her arm and there was a tiny tremor. “Did you see it?!”. I told her it was barely noticeable, which was the truth. But to her it was massive and I think upsetting. After meeting her that time I’ve heard since that she and Marina Benini, who she was very fond of, set up Musical Moving, a dance group for people with Parkinson’s at various locations in London.

I know Marion’s work was incredibly important to her, which is perhaps why she pushed so many people around her to go further and deeper into the fields of performance, dance education, choreological studies, dance movement therapy, Ph.D. research, etc. On reflection I think she might have been knowingly trying to do her part to build a community that would ensure the continued health of the discipline she was such a pioneer in.

Now that the baton has been passed on, I hope those of us who were influenced by her or directly touched by her life might continue to be advocates for movement and dance.

Obituaries

Trinity Laban Obituary

The Telegraph

* Thank you to Mark Whitfield for permission to use the photograph