The Creative Process and Why I Hate It (I'm kidding... kind of)
When I think of dance creation, I think of some commonly-used quotes from prominent choreographers: “I don’t want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance.” - George Balanchine, or “Making dances is an act of progress; it is an act of growth, an act of music, an act of teaching, an act of celebration, an act of joy.” - Alvin Ailey, or finally “To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful… This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking” - Agnes De Mille
These quotes are wonderfully inspiring, but feel overwhelmingly positive - like the creative process is always a joyful, empowering and natural experience… However, I’ve noticed when I make dances, I tend to feel rather miserable…
As I mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the wonderful Tiffani Torres on a contemporary dance film (and yes, I did wear the crop top!)... Although this isn’t my Artistic Project that I am working on now, I learned a great deal about my creative process through this experience, which will guide my upcoming work.
When Tiffani Torres reached out to me about wanting to collaborate on a dance film to be captured at sunrise at a local beach, I was feeling very exhausted and overwhelmed. School, work, and life in general were making me feel like I did not have time or energy for anything. My immediate reaction was, “no way, I don’t have time for anything extra.” However, there was something in my gut that really wanted to do it. I had always wanted to do a little video on the beach (even though it is physically brutal to dance on a beach), and it was such a great opportunity to be able to style and choreograph something without having to worry about setting the shots or editing the film. I hadn’t worked with Tiffani before, but I knew she had recently made a beautiful piece with a colleague of mine, so I felt like I could trust her vision.
Ultimately, I said yes to the project. I was praying to the dance gods that inspiration would strike me, so I could create something quickly, naturally, and with a sense of joy. At the time, it really felt like they were not listening to my pleas… instead, every single creative decision felt impossible. My anxiety was through the roof, and I felt stuck. First, I couldn’t find any music I would like to use. Once I finally figured out the music, I hated every single movement that would arrive in my body. Once the choreography was set (and edited to be physically possible on the beach), all of my body issues that I discussed in my previous post bubbled up in epic form. The day before the filming, I had a complete piece, but I felt like I absolutely hated it. I cried a lot that night. However, I had a professional obligation to see this through, even if I did feel ashamed of what I had created.
I showed up at sunrise on Sunset Beach feeling nervous and vulnerable. However, I stayed professional and collected - and meeting Tiffani in person was wonderful! As I stepped on the beach, I practiced acceptance. I was wearing what I was wearing, the choreography was what it was, and the music was going to be the music. There was nothing else I could do, and I needed to be okay with that.
As soon as I started dancing, all of my negative feelings started melting away. Not only did each repetition of the choreography make me feel more secure, but the elements of my choreography and styling started to make sense. I had felt like every creative choice I had made was a grumpy “whatever, that’s good enough” type of choice, but as I danced the work over and over, I realized that my artistic decisions were actually all commentaries on the anxiety, exhaustion, and desperate desire for hope and joy that I had been dealing with. I am not sure if it is visible from an outside viewer’s perspective, but dancing this piece was cathartic, and every element felt like it worked together in a potent way.
This experience has made me realize that not all creation is a happy, flowing, powerful process. Sometimes, you cry the whole time and feel vulnerable and anxious. Sometimes you don’t want to go through with the project. However, that does not mean it is not worth creating or sharing. Maybe an audience loves it, or maybe it was just a bit of personal therapy that no one else will understand…
I don’t feel like I have to dance (I would not have been a Balanchine muse for a multitude of reasons), but I do choose to dance because it helps keep me sane. Even if my process did not feel like an “act of joy” as Ailey described, it was certainly an “act of process,” and did feel like a celebration by the end of it. I wonder if De Mille’s idea of dancing being full of power and glory can only happen (for me personally) after some emotional “labor pains” in the creative process…
This led me to consider one more quote - a quote from Martha Graham… one that I feel like best summarizes my personal artistic process - “No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a strange, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."
Right now, feeling alive sounds good to me.