Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
I began developing Bodies in Play in 2016 as a playground for body-centric performance and education. In the past month, I've been grappling with what that looks like on a virtual landscape.
While the majority of BIP's performances thus far have been solo-works, it has always been the intention to bring Bodies, plural, together in Play. Even these solo performances were made in collaboration with other humans, in real space, breathing the same air. Practicing alone and developing choreography at home or in isolation is just a small part of the practice, because it's not just about designing or perfecting movements - It's never been about the moves at all, but about what we learn about ourselves and others through the process of acquiring the movements and the sharing of our bodies with others.
When I teach, I'm not only showing how to execute steps, but rather sharing my perspectives and value sets that have been cultivated through my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual communion with other artists. It's this sharing that I miss the most, which is why I have translated some of the cornerstone Bodies in Play beliefs and values into a series of BIPism's to offer virtually. These have been made available in pieces through my social media platforms, and now collected together here.
It is no one’s place but yours to decide what is right or wrong for your body.
One of the silver lining benefits of taking classes remotely has been the release of pressure to conform or adhere to each exercise exactly as prescribed. For example, I'm following along to online ballet barres at least once a week, but I do everything from first position rather than fifth. I still garner the benefits of working though my legs and feet, but in a way that feels more kind to my hips.
This isn't to suggest we should all become dance anarchists when we do get back in class together - but perhaps that we should acknowledge that there isn't a one-size-fits-all movement practice and that training together might benefit from a more democratic dialogue than the hierarchical approach we're used to.
Play is essential.
This is based on Dr. Stuart Brown’s leading research on the subject of play.
So how to we maintain this essential part of our humanity during a global pandemic? For me, it’s required taking pause and rethinking old patterns of productivity.
For example, my partner has always been a huge help with various production elements for my shows, however with full time work schedules we've had to squeeze projects into little gaps in our calendars and work at the mercy of the deadline. Now, with the world on pause and giant question marks looming around the future of theater and performance, deadlines have relaxed and time has opened up. The spontaneity of our new playtime is something to look forward to.
The body is an instrument - in order to be played well it must be well tuned.
The way we tune our body is entirely dependent on the types of activities we plan to engage in. My own physical tune-up is informed by my experience with Western concert dance vernaculars, exercise modalities, and somatic practices, which in turn informs my movement aesthetic and choreographic choices. It also informs how I teach, however, I make sure to design different tune-ups depending on whether I'm teaching dancers, actors, or gym clients, with a recognition that the tune-up that best serves me may not best serve all.
Ultimately, at the root of all Bodies in Play tune-ups is the award-winning PSA: The More You Know! The more you understand the mechanics of your own instrument, the better you will be at playing it!
Growth is uncomfortable, but laughter helps.
No growth can happen in our comfort zones. To improve anything, we have to push our boundaries, but a simple shift in mindset can make challenges feel like games rather than frustrations. What if every time we hit a road block, we smiled? What if every time we failed, we laughed? What if every time something felt hard with thought "this is great! I'm learning!” Laughter has natural relaxing properties, and more often than not "muscling through" (whether that be mentally or physically) actually makes the task harder to accomplish.
(I acknowledge that this is easier said than done, which is why I’ve written in down).
There is no separation between mind and body.
To better the mind is to better the body and to better the body is to better the mind.
We often hear about the mind-body connection, but I think it's a bit of a misnomer. It suggests there is a separation that needs to be connected - like a wire running between the mind and the body. However, I believe there is no such wire - the body IS the mind and the mind IS the body.
For this reason, Bodies in Play utilizes 2 channels for play:
Mental Play - in which I bridge the gap between what I think my body is doing and what it is actuallydoing (aka increased physical awareness).
Physical Play - in which I bridge the gap between what my current body is capable of and what my future body will be capable of (aka increased physical ability).
While you can focus your attention on either channel or flip between the two, both will improve your overall practice and performance.
Becoming a better artist is synonymous with becoming a better citizen.
Becoming a better artist requires increased self-awareness and self-reflection. It requires personal and social inquiry. It requires discipline and joy. To improve upon any of these characteristics inevitably makes us stronger contributors to our communities, both near and far.
A body in play is rebellious.
To be playful with one's body in a society that capitalizes on our physical insecurities is an act of courage and empowerment. My first act of rebellion in performance was when I finally allowed my sexuality and femininity to be expressed in my choreography. For years I had been indoctrinated into a very heteronormative and gender-binary way of viewing and making dance. Bodies in Play recognizes that the body is first to be stereotyped, discriminated against, and politicized. The color of our skin, our able-ness, our gender or sexual expression are all attributed to our physical identity. We are judged first for the way we look and the choices we make with our bodies, before we ever have a chance to share our beliefs, values, or ideas.
Bodies in Play values all bodies, understands virtuosity can be showcased in a number of ways, and that beauty and strength come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities.
Make serious art, without taking yourself so seriously.
Which reminds me - I've been far too sincere with this post. So here are some stupid jokes:
Which part of your body likes to drink milk?
Why don't dogs make good dancers?
Because they have two left feet!
I was addicted to the Hokey Pokey -
but thankfully I turned myself around!
Why did the tap dancer give up?
He kept falling in the sink!
Art making is messy and the process can often feel laborious, if not tortuous. Adding a healthy dose of humility can help ground us and alleviate some of the pressure. Especially when working with dark or somber subject matters, maintaining a sense of levity can provide a lifeline when rehearsal or performance ask us to open up and provoke the pain bodies inside of us.
Bodies in Play loves to tackle heavy topics.
Bodies in Play also loves to entertain audiences.
Bodies in Play does not believe these ideas to be mutually exclusive.