On dancing (I)

Rehearsal and dancers courtesy of SB and Gibney

I found an e-mail from 2013 expressing interest in my project about photographing dance rehearsals. For some reason, I never responded. It’s possible that by then my interest in the project had waned. The drive to photograph these dancers in their raw elements lasted six months; one day I was done with it, not because of fatigue or laziness, but because I knew there was a good breadth of material to work with.
       Yet the photographs continue to sit in my computer, unsorted.

A new friend had been told I was a professional dancer. I corrected her straightaway. But how pleased I was to hear this, how very pleased.

Twice now I’ve dreamed that I was attending dance camp.
       Once, perhaps twice, I dreamed I was learning an intricate routine.

In Friday’s class, I held back. Three dancers who usually attended another class were there. They had grown up with dance, and are always the sexiest in class. Sometimes the choreography does them a disservice, though, as in Friday’s class. There were a lot of pauses in the counts, and in these pauses the dancers stayed too still. This was very dissatisfying. I wondered at my gall to be so dissatisfied, which led to a timid performance when my turn came up. I wore a hat to keep my hair out of my eyes, but also to shield myself. I wanted to experiment with the grooves that had been influencing me lately, but mainly to ignore the intimidation I felt in front of these three dancers. I always encountered them in another class, never in this one; I had thought this one was mine alone.
       When the instructor singled out me and another student to perform the routine, I marshaled up the intimate grooves that I’d been obsessed with. These involved subtle isolations, a good contrast, I thought, to the wild gestures of my companion. Afterward, the instructor shouted to me: “You were cheating. You need to go to summer school, honey.” He prefers expansive, explosive drama, an unleashing of the inner beast, &c., &c. I have a long way to go with the grooves I'm working on, but what I learned from his comment is this: I have to be more expansive and more explosive in my subtleties.

On Saturday, I took a class that my sister usually goes to. Rather, she allowed me to take the class, as long as I didn’t acknowledge her in it. One of my closest friends takes this class as well. That they are in the same class together is a coincidence. They both know me, but they have never met each other. My sister does not want my friend to be aware that she, my sister, is in the class, even after she became aware that he, my friend, was in the class.
       That Saturday, I ignored my sister. I found it difficult to do. I was not to acknowledge her, which meant she was also not to acknowledge me. I had idolized her when I was younger, and a remnant of that worship stays with me today. To have her ignore me, even as I ignored her, brought up an old insecurity. So I danced expansively—to make up for this insecurity, and to make up for the instructor’s comment from the day before, which had stung. In gestures that were little, grand, and happy all at once, somehow I coordinated subtlety and drama together. Later, I caught my sister’s eye, and her complicit smile cheered me. Even later, I swatted her on the behind, and she yelped. I ache for her acknowledgment and for her vulnerability.

A week ago, I taught a friend how to dance. Actually, he dances just fine, because his playfulness, a beautiful—the best—sort of vigor, always shines through, so I don’t know what I was teaching him. To listen to the beat, I think. I know only so much. I told him, “The first thing to do is just listen for a beat—any beat—whether it’s on top of the melody or underneath, whether it’s the bass or it’s percussions. As soon as you find a beat you like, bend your knees to it. Just bend them, and get used to the beat, let it sink into your knees. You don’t have to do anything else. Let’s try it.”
       We bent our knees to a simple beat. His fiancée, meanwhile, did more than bent her knees: she waved her arms, swung her hips, craned her neck, pointed her toes. She is an expressiveness that I understand completely and yet am sometimes confounded by. The more expressive she is and the harder she envelops me in staggering embraces, the more still I become. But when we dance together, I let go.