Sunday, December 11, 2011

All Warmed Up

On Friday night I stayed up late, writing and working on this blog. I went to bed well after midnight. On Saturday morning my DH asked me if I dreamed about dancing last night.

I don't remember, I said, a bit groggy. Why?

Because you did this, he said. And he described how he woke up to turn over, only to see me reach toward the headboard, left arm overhead, body extended, before I snapped to a sitting position and looked around the room. Then I slumped back to sleep.

I wondered if your toes were pointed, he said.

I don't remember the dream. I'll bet it was good.

***

After two solid hours of class and rehearsal on Friday, I didn't want to leave. I was just getting warmed up.

Physically I was warm exactly 35 minutes after walking into the studio. In this particular class, the warmup does not change. In the same way that Ashtanga yogis practice a series of postures in specific order, my classmates and I embrace the familiarity and routine of what we all simply call "the warmup." I estimate I've practiced it over 350 times since August 2008, when I first set foot in a Broadway jazz class at Ballet Austin. 

Though my dancer routine includes a mix of yoga, ballet classes and lovely Kathryn's "jazz funk" class once a week, this particular class is my bread-and-butter. My steak-and-potatoes. A warmup blending the movement legacies of dance legends like Martha Graham-Luigi-Jack Cole with calisthenics and ubiquitous jazz isolations, all set to an eclectic mix of songs that would make an interesting show on Radio 2. Same music, same motions.

350 times.

I'm completely serious when I say "the warmup" is never the same experience twice. The combination afterward may be as familiar as cold cereal and milk. Yet my body usually tells me something new in the warmup. The very first time that I did "the warmup" three years ago, I was flat on my back in a large dance studio at Ballet Austin. I was holding my leg in attitude, turned in, foot pointed toward the ceiling. I remember staring at the black acoustic tiles on the second story ceiling above me and glimpsing the large picture window behind me.  I was listening to the teacher's voice: "Point, flex, point, flex. Circle. Circle. Turn out. DĂ©veloppĂ©..."

On that day my body spoke to me gently and clearly: "This is our vocabulary. We understand these words. You need to bring me here. We need to be doing this."

350 times. I imprinted upon this class.

"You know how sometimes you meet someone and everything changes. Just like that?"  – Prince Eric (The Little Mermaid)

As dancers say, you get it in your body.

***

On Friday, I spent 35 minutes doing "the warmup"; 35 minutes learning and dancing "the combination" and 60 minutes rehearsing "the project" (a director's dance workshop that began last year). The material is all familiar; its challenges are not necessarily physical anymore. Strength and muscle memory create a liberating foundation -- now what to do with it.

What to do with it. It spoke, I listened. I showed up. Though stronger and fitter, I am not sure of my point on my body's physical trajectory. On the upside. Or the down. I know that sounds naive. Am I aging in reverse? Of course not. But have I turned back the clock just a little? Perhaps. I'm more surprised than anyone by how my body has responded to my commitment to dance. But as I nurse a nagging pain in my right hip, I fear there may be diminishing returns. I know that my next frontier as a dancer is not physical; in fact, too much emphasis on my body may actually hinder my growth.

Nobody can teach you how to be you when you dance...you're either dancing as yourself or you're afraid to.  (CS)

I embraced these revelations earlier this week, Wednesday night in jazz funk. That's why, after two hours of dance today, I was not ready to stop. My muscles were warm and felt safe. My whole body was restless and needed more. We needed more. More feeling, more moving, more music, more everything. Like a frustrated toddler whose play is interrupted for naptime, just as she was getting the hang of putting the square block in the square hole -- my body/mind was insistent: I'm still working on this. Why do I have to stop now?

And as the saying goes, we all packed up our toys and went home.

As we leave the studio and walk to our cars, I observe my own restlessness. I check my email and voicemail. I prepare to go back to my computer, my desk and my office. I like my work, and I count my blessings every week for a family and a business that supports a day like that -- time to work, time to dance. But the truth is that I need discipline to take dance out of my day and focus on my work and commitments.

The restlessness persists. For 25 years, my body yelled at me to dance. Now we have a nice conversation going. After two hours, it won't just stop like that.

Just ask my husband.

(c) Laura Bond Williams, 2011. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Laura,

    I'm so glad I found your blog. I, too, stopped dancing when I graduated from high school and have recently returned to it at 33. My body understands this vocabulary too. And your writing moved me. Congratulations on doing the warm up 350 times. That is awesome. I'm on my own journey to discover who I am as a dancer as well. You might enjoy reading some of my posts too...I can't wait to read more about your journey. Publish those works in progress sitting on your computer post-haste!

    -Stefanie, dancingwithstefanie.com

    ReplyDelete