I’ve been thinking about the purpose of rituals and practice. Lately, the dance warmup has been taking on more and more importance and meaning to me. Things whose purpose I never understood before are finally revealing their utility to me. I honestly never understood the purpose of plies until I found my center. I now see plies as essential practice for keeping that center when I move, for constantly re-balancing and fine-tuning my center and my turnout.
When I took the Graham technique workshop a few weeks back, the instructor, who had studied with Graham, told us that going to practice was like going to church– in the most positive sense of the word. Nobody talked, the lights were dim, and one was able to focus on the purpose and feel of each sequence. She was offering this (one time only 😦 ) workshop because she wanted to introduce more people to the importance of technique; too many dance instructors are only spending a few minutes on the warmup and going right into choreography. While they may have a unique style to impart to students, they will not build themselves to be able to perform that choreography with the proper form and technique.
I am lucky enough to have found an instructor that does value technique. However, this instructor, who happens to be my favorite modern dance teacher, has been deviating from his normal warmup lately, and I haven’t really liked the disruption to the routine. This week, after several classes’ hiatus, he finally came back to the usual routine; that absence and return made me realize not only that I had finally internalized all the components of the warmup, but that I truly truly loved it. Each and every movement had an essential purpose. The sequencing of each movement had a logic. When it was time to dance the combination, I was totally ready, and the satisfaction of nailing the familiar components of the combination with a body that was totally warmed up and primed to do it was exhilarating. By the end of class I was literally tingling from the endorphins– I was having so much fun because my body was cooperating with everything it was supposed to do!
I used to play the piano and the clarinet. While I had a natural talent for musicality, I was technically not so great. Part of the problem was sheer laziness to practice and a good sight-reading ability. Also, I hated scales. I really didn’t understand their purpose. What was the point? Now with dance, I see that scales are the musical equivalent of plies and all the other components of a technical dance warm up. Unfortunately, in the nearly two decades I played musical instruments, I never really got to that “aha!” moment with scales. Now I am grateful that after only a few years of dance– and just under a year with the study of technique– I have been able to get a glimpse of why technique is so important.