Editorial Note: For the past eight years, Stance on Dance has asked a variety of dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Please join us in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human.
BY LAUREN TIETZ
I arrive to this essay with a longing for ceremony
I arrive with the longing for dancing together, for the field of aliveness that is conjured when we gather to co-create with the language of the body
I arrive with my impossible longings to experience a society before gender apartheid, pre-racial apartheid, pre-patriarchy, pre-colonization – to touch balanced power and relative justice – just once, before pre-collective trauma
I arrive with my white skin color and privilege
I arrive with my female body
I arrive with my Jewish roots, my refugee great-grandparents
I arrive with my love of jazz, postmodernism, Zen, orange poppies, desert datura blooms in the night
I arrive with all my seeming contrasts
I arrive with gratitude for all my teachers
I arrive with my longing for agency without aggression, for leadership without arrogance, for collaboration without losing myself
I find myself in mid-life, looking back at the serpentine pathways I’ve followed that have often led me to earlier sources of inquiry, pleasure and healing. At each new return, there is the sense of coming home to fundamental questions of what is alive for me now: What moves me, what needs my curiosity and care?
Is it wholeness we seek when we are on the road to “making it?” To know the whole, to sense integration, we must become intimate with the fractures, the discarded years, the exiled parts, the wounded ones. Have I arrived when I feel wholeness, or have I arrived when I can recognize the fractures and offer them respite, invite them home, scoop them up with kindness? Have I made it when I practice true kindness, knowing the future will hold amnesia, trusting I will, most likely, remember and forget kindness, again and again? Is this amnesia the path? Is the path of practice itself necessarily a form of “making it?” I know I will lose the path periodically, perhaps unpredictably. Like now. In this pandemic, I am turning toward isolation, learning how to reach again in new ways, looking for new methods, re-remembering kindness and patience with myself, with my partner, with my family, with my art practices, with society, learning how to grieve, to listen, to remember to touch and to be touched, again.
In orienting to wholeness, how can we deepen our capacity for intimacy with perceived separateness? How can we build bridges between fractured elements – within the self, between self and the natural world (to which we belong), between self and other (to which we depend)? The space of dance, mitigated through the senses, through touch, sound, light, image and proprioception, affords a different relationship to reciprocity, to interrelatedness. It’s true in craniosacral therapy as well, where temporary moments of expansiveness or wholeness feel like a sort of healthy merging between self and world. It’s as if skin dissolves, and identity shifts from I-ness and they-ness to a shared field of We, and it can feel quite mythical, magical even. I don’t tend to be cavalier in naming those states. They are so precious. They are not mental constructs; they are direct experiences, felt through the body. They are not permanent. Yet, somehow, they remain in some way underneath everything else, regardless of what storms are brewing, what sands are shifting. I believe we need much more of this kind of magic in contemporary life. Maybe this is the space of ceremony, that we touch in healing and creative spaces. Perhaps without these pleasurable states of presence, sustainability feels almost impossible, and thus, the intergenerational traumas of war, racial apartheid, gender apartheid, etc. can seem endless? Without the nourishment of states of presence, of care, I don’t know how we can change from the inside. I don’t know how we “make it” as an individual or society.
So as dancers, perhaps we have a different view into the felt sense of becoming, of state shifts, of tracking internal landscapes, emerging from the body in relationship to the world around us. Rather than having “made it” to the top of the mountain (and at whose expense?), maybe we are practicing responsiveness, adaptability, awakening, and pause.
How can we ever sense the making without the non-making? In a society obsessed with productivity and progress, there seems so little space to tend to the other essential spaces – to slow down, pause, metabolize, transition – to a pivot, a redirection, a recalibration, a reversal even? Do we throw away winter, do we discard it, render it useless? “Making It.” Interesting that the phrase is so rooted in the material realm, to produce something, to make a tangible, identifiable, recognizable, categorizable thing. That which can be known. And what of the mystery? For something awake, alive and potent to emerge, it must have space. With space we can have perspective, and with perspective, we can reflect, and with reflection, insight is possible.
How do we nurture these spaces of integrated intelligence, these states of readiness, somatic embodied presence? How do we soften and allow the other places of tangents and discord, failed experiments, confusion or emptiness, and existential crisis to exist as well? This is what I am after at this stage. How do we include processes of dismantling, dissolving, getting lost, disorientation, emptiness, sickness and death? Where do they live inside us? In a culture that is so terrified of the awkward, the messy, emotional honesty, sickness and ultimately death, how can we honestly measure success? In measuring success, do we reject mistake-making, the illogical space of dreams, the unproductivity of night, the dormancy of winter, the deep restorative non-productivity of a siesta? Could cultivating that which supports honest practice be the goal, to “make it” so to speak?
There is an incredible relationship within dance to that which is fleeting and ephemeral. Naturally held within our practices, we find spaces for curiosity to lead to new directions, new relationships, small deaths and births. There is a sense of building more comfort with potential discomfort and with the unknown. There’s mystery at the heart of improvisational techniques. In a society that has lost the art of rituals for grieving (grief’s capacity to stretch its many arms in so many directions – sorrow, rage, collapse, longing, wailing, grasping, surrendering, davening), it is no small thing to practice a dance technique that requires some relationship to death and faith at its heart! As dancers, we birth this thing that is dissolving as quickly as it is being seen and taken in. Do dancers then have more intimacy with impermanence? Much like other cultures have known that to embrace death in some way is to embrace life, to know grief is an expression of deep love, a love of life. Mourning loss is a necessity if we want to be in the process of balancing, not balanced, not pre-defined, but allowed to exist in a state of becoming. Is this the practice of artistic sustainability?
This capacity to hold difference and continuums feels like a rarity these days in the white, male, hetero, Christian dominant culture of the West. How can we learn to embrace diversity within ourselves and within our own psyche when what has been modeled can be so toxic, when so many aspects of the dominant culture are built on fear and hatred toward difference, avoidance of interdisciplinarity, segregation, and competition? When hatred is taught to be directed inward in so many different insidious ways – judging good and bad through skin color, culture, body type, sexual orientation, ability, beauty and so on – how do we survive or succeed even, with such messages and experiences internalized? This brings us to emancipation, decolonization, the healing that we are each being asked to engage with personally and as a society right now.
What strikes me in thinking about this landscape of sensing and feeling through the agency of the body is the idea of a sister practice of emotional intelligence, the capacity to sense, discern and feel emotions with wisdom, grace and empowerment. Our capacity to cultivate inner emotional intelligence is essential in this path of intrapersonal decolonization. We know the ways in which society attacks, from a very young age (for boys the theory is that by age five many emotions are shut down), the very nature of our physiology, to have, feel and express emotions. Some of the cues are subtle and some are quite extreme. In a way, I’ve come to see one root of Western societal oppression that seems to be shared by many of us across the lines of gender, sexual orientation and race is oppression of emotions in early development. Self-hatred, shame, confusion and disempowerment are just some of the by-products of the suppression of learned healthy emotional expression. This societal preference for hiding feelings, for using numbness to suppress feelings, to shame and label emotions as bad, only results ultimately in more pain, intergenerational trauma, isolation and confusion. This form of emotional oppression coexists with gender apartheid, sexual violence, institutional racism, police brutality, poverty, homophobia, etc.
We must engage with the intrapersonal work of decolonizing. To turn towards the wounds and tend to them requires love and a kind of healing that is supported by the intimacy with ourselves that we develop with emotional intelligence. The additional oppressions, the traumas of social injustice that certain groups of people struggle with and survive each day, only adds to the challenge of healing, surviving and thriving. But without this deeply personal process of learning to sense and feel from within, to locate ourselves amidst the insanity, it is quite hard to transform the toxicity.
We must become more intimate with our emotions if we are to “make it” as a species. We must notice whom and what we banish. We must learn to whisper to the grief, the rage, the joy, the tender voices. Because this inner emotional landscape is an essential biology that is here to stay as we navigate pandemics and collaborations, communication patterns and our own relationship to self, inner and outer critics and allies alike. There is much to learn about our habits, about what trauma needs to heal, about our early patterning, our deeper longings for life, for future, for one another. “Making it,” beyond the superficial sense, must necessarily include a process of emancipation and maturation. Empathy and compassion, gateways to kindness and peace, depend on this.
Yet how can we work sustainably and envision a new way or a new society if we don’t have the time and space to both heal and to dream? The fact that this healing or dreaming space requires real privilege (economic, educational, time, space, etc.) is indicative of the problem at the very heart of our most unjust, most unequal economic system.
Dreaming is not productive in an economy such as ours. It is considered a waste of time, an indulgence, a non-linear approach that is inefficient. Yet to dream is perhaps both to touch a space of understanding of things as they are, on their own terms, and to enter the realm of the imagination that knows no limits. We need this as artists. And our society needs artists. Perhaps more now than ever! We need to see through the lens of sensing, feeling and imagining rather than the lens of progress, productivity and competition.
We value these spaces to dream and to vision much like we do winter’s apparent emptiness, like a relic, no longer relevant, forgetting the germination below. Or like the ancient process of navigating the seas by the stars alone, not efficient. In the dream space, I sometimes feel I have been welcomed into an old growth forest, and what we most need is held there, waiting for us, if only we could make the time, pause in our speaking to listen more to our own hearts that come alive in such quiet.
We find ourselves in this space of redirection, during COVID, amidst the protests, and our collapsing democracy with our own fragility near, as humans and artists. We are in relationship to our survival and our livelihoods, in relationship to the environments that have sustained us, and that is now in profound tumult, and to one another, rediscovering our interconnectedness in strange new ways, a concept our ancestors held in reverence, a practice some of us are only beginning to remember. How will we heal? How will we molt? How will we awaken? Is this the deathbed awakening, filled with grace, forgiveness and awe? Or perhaps, it’s a molting into a new phase of maturity, a new coordinate on this map to “making it,” wherever that might lead.
Lauren Tietz is an interdisciplinary artist, dancer, filmmaker, performer, choreographer, somatic movement teacher and craniosacral therapist. Her performative and cinematic collaborations with other artists have spanned mediums, styles and geographies from Austin, Texas, to New Mexico forests, to caves in Turkey, and to the Rio Grande along the Texas/Mexico border. Lauren completed her MFA at Transart Institute in 2011 and since then has directed and produced multiple experimental films where the body and its movements are the central protagonists. Her films have screened at festivals and galleries in NYC, Berlin, Austin and Cuba. Along with her private practice in craniosacral therapy she also teaches movement/dance classes and workshops in person and online.