“Andrew your arms are a fucking mess.”
Said with an eye roll and shake of the head, as if my body’s lack of understanding for this newly learned choreography was of the utmost disrespect and offense.
Said in the middle of a class - assumed to be an environment for learning and a place for growth where mistakes are encouraged and failure is supported.
Said aloud for the entire class to hear - as if to publicly shame and clearly define hierarchy.
While at the time I scoffed it off, applied the correction that followed, and mentally took note of the unnecessary nature with which I was just spoken to, in the years that have followed I have come to recognize the impact this moment had on me. It was the moment I decided I would no longer accept tactics of abuse, humiliation, or belittling in my practice - tactics all too common in the field of performing arts. It was the moment I promised to never speak that way to another person, whether they be a friend, colleague, or student. And it was the moment that planted the seed for what would later become Bodies in Play.
It has now been one year since I adopted the nomenclature Bodies in Play. At first, the concept was simply designed to promote more joy in my career. I knew I wanted to curate learning environments that promised emotional and physical safety. I knew I wanted to use laughter, curiosity, and fun as direct causations for and measurement of success. I knew I wanted to produce performance experiences that invited both thought and play. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to recapture the youthful excitement and imagination that first brought me to the art of performance in the first place. What I didn’t know, nor primarily intend for Bodies in Play, is something I’ve come to recognize as the most important aspect of this venture: how truly radical it is to be a body in play.
In a culture that profits off of our shame surrounding our bodies, to enjoy one’s body is rebellious. Our bodies are constantly politicized. For our sexuality or gender expression. For the color of our skin. For our differing physical sizes and abilities. We are inundated with prescribed ideas regarding a body’s “right-ness” or “wrong-ness”, especially in the context of dance and other performance techniques.
So, what if rather than defining how our bodies “should” look or behave, we observe our bodies for what they are, without judgement? What if instead of seeking to “change” our bodies, we seek tools to promote physical development and artistic expansion? What if all of this could be done playfully, as if a more consciously autonomous body came with a set of game rules rather than a set of dogmatic laws?
What if play could prove to be more fruitful than rigor?
These are the “what ifs” I choose to adopt in pursuit of more insightful classrooms, more skillful artists, and more dynamic performances. These are the curiosities supporting a practice that seeks both joy and social cognizance. Most of all, these are the questions that lead me toward self betterment (physically, artistically, humanistically…) through a process of love, rather than fear.
After all, nothing exciting was ever created without a bit of a fucking mess.