breathing room

Breathing Room
Lin Snelling
Fascination with empty space leads me to dancing.  Twenty years old when I see an empty studio at York University; nothing in it, yet it holds so much power.  There is integrity to it that I recognize, and am now feeling.  So my fascination with dancing and empty spaces begins.
I am studying the written word.  I begin to study dance.  Place has always fascinated me.  Classes in an old church.  I want to be there dancing.  So I begin to connect the dots of my fascination.  Empty space and the written word.  Practicing dance allows me to discover empty space in the body and dancing allows me to be in vast, spirited rooms.  Eventually I realize they are one and the same.  The more space I give myself to be in, the more space I give, in turn, to my body.  Breathing room…a very old and appropriate expression of how I am feeling.  Breathing room also gives way to a desire to cultivate the imagination.  A desire to allow something to appear.  Something the body can describe, remember, and let resonate in an empty space.  I begin a continuing description of the present moment.  I become an improviser, building from the edges of thought to communicate.
The clarity I am seeking is running through my blood.  This is the voice I am after.  I am in pursuit.  There is a desire to dig into my body and give mouth to specific places in my body.  Stories emerge slowly and their rhythm pulses into the strata of muscle, bone and breath; and this is how my dance is created.  I am engaged in the rigorous realm of listening from within.  My intention is like a microphone inside the body, traveling into the storms and pools of pure energy.  The listening, shaped like a wave, is sensed from all over.  There are no straight lines.  I am in the midst of my own body, realizing how chaotic and vital its energy is.  I fall in love with discovery.  The dynamic nature of the investigation allows my vision to root deeper into the body.  The specific rhythms of the trembling and vibration that transform my body from moment to moment are my choreography.  The seven vertebras at the top of my spine transform into a creature simultaneously screaming and whispering.  These are my landmarks.  This engagement keeps me alive to the music of one breath, and then another.
We so often externalize the body, be it by way of filling or starving, sexualizing or intellectualizing.  These actions are all attempts to disown the inherent power the body possess.  It offers endless knowledge and mystery if we but pay attention.  We seek everywhere but inside and this is the place that holds a future horizon for dance.  The body maintains order, structure, chaos and mystery.  In the ancient practices of qi gong, yoga and tai chi, the body is understood by its breathing.  There is respect, rigor, and very ancient energetic knowledge of the body in the simple practice that each method puts forward.  These techniques see the body as an active entity with a precise, and at the same time, imaginative unfolding.  My own path into the study and practice of improvisation has led me into many areas where I witness the inherent wisdom of the body.  The now of the body is something I trust; even if I don’t understand it immediately.  The body is process and maintains a sentient landscape that is how we are. The I is not separate from the body.  The body is the I/eye.  Movement is what we are born into and what we are made of.  The body of the world is constantly moving.  And dance orchestrates this moving by choosing to listen to the constant flux of life that surrounds us and is us.
When we embark upon a dance; we become what we are doing.  And what we are doing is often a lovely foil to who we are.  Look, says the moving body…I am like you.  We laugh and cry together because we are confused by how similar we actually are.  We dance for one another because words may have failed, and we need to keep speaking to each other.  This process of getting underneath language, to a place where the dance carries us fluidly back and forth through time, this is the power and connective quality of dance.  It connects us to the stuff of the universe, the stuff we are made of and that we are constantly becoming.  There are no explanations for it. Dance can and cannot be described.  It can bore and it can lull; it can excite; and it can appear odd, strange and weird.  Even beautiful.  It can also appear stylized and coherent, full of technique and accomplishment.  The artistry of dance is how it remains a secret.  How it can hit us in the gut, allowing us to feel and dream. It holds our attention and it quiets or exhilarates the spirit.  We enter into a relationship with the mysterious quality the body exudes.  Through an odd mixture of planning, accident, luck and sometimes ill luck we find ourselves dancing.
I believe in the practice of dance.  I believe in the doing of the art.  The experience of a dance is given only if the dancer experiences the dance.  There is an arena between the audience and the dancer where anything is possible.  Even if the facts don’t add up and we don’t understand the strangeness; we connect to the hunting ground.  The hunting ground is the fluid body; opening the breath of the skin and connecting to a larger pool of energetic understanding.  If the dance is well rehearsed and perfect, then the experience of the audience will be the same.  The invitation to come with the dancer is given when the dancer ceases to control the medium so tightly and takes a leap of faith.
Come with me…says the moving body.  We have just met…we know very little except we are together for a brief moment.  Come with me … says the moving body.  We are walking together just for the sake of walking and we arrive with each step taken, until we part.  There are not guarantees that it will be as we planned.  But we are willing to suspend ourselves together … and step between time … we hope to open each other into a place where we forget and remember … where we have tricked each other and we believe in these ancient practices because we know something about each other by the very nature of our similar, and very separate, identities.  This is a dance we do together.  The moving dancer and the moving audience.  We met each other in tangible, yet invisible realm.
The fluid dynamic of the moving body, if captured, is without rival.  We are born from a similar ocean.  The wisdom of the body, on a cellular level, connects us one to the other.  When we look deeply, listen deeply, and play deeply, we feel deeply.  Energy follows thought in the body; and this depth can surprisingly lead to a buoyancy and lightness that brings transparency and even joy! When we harness this power, which is available to us, we become more active participants in the dance both as performer and audience.  We see and feel the vibrations of others because we are willing to see and feel them in ourselves.  Inside the body, every moment, cells are dancing and maintaining the body’s balance and health.  By paying attention to this flux of movement we engage in our own dance.  We succeed and we fail.  These magnificent and awkward glimpses become the now of the body and the lifeblood and spirit of our own sense of timing.
So the act of going to the theatre to watch a performance sets up a dynamic for a meeting.  Dancer and audience are both active in this exchange. Perspective and depth are possible, as we understand our differing and similar points of departure.  And the breathing room that we give to the other, allows for an exchange through space and time and story and dance.  We move through an imaginative field because we are in a room together watching and breathing and giving over to the room that we are in together.   Dancer and audience are active in this witnessing of the present moment.  Extraordinary dance reminds us of ourselves because it can take away our breath and give it back in a flash; a magic trick we see unfold all together in the same room.