Tell me who you are . . .

There is always going to be someone better at what you do, than you are. There's always going to be someone prettier, or smarter, or faster, or stronger. That's the way of the world. But no one can be you, better than you. Get a sense of your self, who you are and the way you are in the world. There will never be anyone else exactly like you - so get that right.

From March 28, 2010. Notes I never published, but meant to, from an amazing lesson with Darryl Gaston and Phyllis Williams.

Darryl was standing in front me, scowling slightly, searching for the right words. He felt like he was looming over me, though truly he's not that big. He just feels big. He fills the room, he's so present. I fought the urge to back up. (Like so many followers, I was "forward phobic" - I couldn't walk forward into my partner without hesitating, or back weighting.)

"When you walk forward, I want you to walk into me," he spread his fingers over his chest, "into me!"

His voice was low and quiet, but it felt like a roar. I looked down. I was becoming very familiar with the floor boards. This was precisely what other teachers had told me, and I couldn't figure out why I was having so much trouble. I continued to hold back my own energy.

"Don't look for the space, take it! I opened it, it belongs to you so walk forward like you mean it. Walk like you own the space."


He embraced me again. It was hard to feel anything but enveloped, contained - but that's not what he was asking for. Before he stepped back he inhaled a deep breath and as he stepped backward, it felt like he was breathing into my chest. My body felt like it was sinking into the floor and forward, like I was caught in an undertow. But I still didn't take control of it. I let myself be swept by it and almost pooled into the space, rather than deliberately moving into, and taking the space. At least I didn't hesitate this time as I had been.

"Better, but you're still letting me carry you. Bring that energy forward. Fill the space. Try again."

The embrace. The undertow. But this time he moved very, very slowly. He wasn't letting me 'fall into place', I had to take it. I let my weight sink slightly into the floor and pushed forward from the floor boards with all of the energy I had as I exhaled. I felt him smile against my temple and a "swoosh" as I took the moment of my step forward and turned my around 180 degrees.

"Yes," he said, "like that. Now do it again."

Every step and movement we practiced, he challenged me to stay with him, to be assertive in taking the space he opened, to move as if I owned each movement. I thought of Gavito's words as written by Terence Clarke, as Gavito led Susanna, Clarke's partner for the lesson. She too, had looked at the floor, avoiding Gavito's gaze.

"No! Look at me. Tell me who you are. Make me work for your attention," said Gavito.

Now, 7 months later - I get it. I give my energy to my partner and to the dance, instead of guarding it so anxiously. There was so much fear in really letting myself feel that much energy through my body - and even more fear in letting someone else feel it. While there will always be dancers far more skilled than I am, no one can bring my particular energy to the dance. Only me. All I will ever have to give in this dance, ultimately, is myself.

And if I don't give that, what is the point of dancing?

"This music is for you. It always had you in mind, your habits, your twitches, the tiny blood vessels bursting inside you when you hide what you feel." -- Enrique Fernandez, Piazzolla's Zero Hour Liner Notes

3 comments:

eylem said...

Thank you for taking my attention to this post. Active following seems at first as doing something which you are not led. This is partly because "active" here looks like a modification of "following", as if being active is a kind of following and not the essence of it. The difference which is nicely put in the anecdote is helpful to disperse this first impression: being pulled into the space made for you versus taking that space which is meant for you. Here by taking the space, I am being active in the sense being autonomous, being the agent not the patient of the step. Although the step is lead, I am the one who is taking it so I am the agent and in that sense active. This sense of being active is the essence of being the follower. By being active in this sense, I become the follower of this very step, not an arbitrary body which is pulled into it. So being active is not an extra thing which is done while taking the step but taking the very step in a way making it yours.

I find it helpful to think through concepts to improve my dancing. But understanding what dancing is through concepts brings me back to one theme: self. But that is a topic of a longer discussion.

Mari Johnson said...

@eylem - yes, exactly. Another teacher told me that if I don't have any of myself, my own energy, my own feeling for music and the movement in the dance, "then I'm being pushed around like furniture." lol It can be a very misunderstood term I think, active following.

Joy in Motion said...

I have always struggled a bit with forward steps, and I think this may be a big part of it. Thank you, Mari! I imagine how wonderful it must feel for the leader when he gets this from the follower (I'm guessing it's a place of uncertainty for many ladies). I know how good it feels to get his energy when I am stepping back, so it must be a similar sensation for him.

Our weekly milonga is tonight, and Rebecca Shulman is teaching class as well as workshops all weekend. Can't wait to experiment with this!