On adaptation, dance, movement, the urban arts and vulnerability and their role in making humans more human.
I went to see the incredible Peter Lovatt (dance psychologist) speak the other night. Having seen him at the Dance UK conference (Beyond the body) in Birmingham, I was keen to hear more. His delivery is comical and performative, he wriggles around and illustrates his ideas with participatory dance. His ideas are at once familiar and innovative, owing to the fact he’s placing scientific proof onto my instinctual beliefs.
I’m fascinated by adaptation and evolution. In this blog I refer to adaption and mean the improvement of the human race, the diversifying of abilities and honing of skills. I believe, as Dr Lovatt does, that we are born to dance, that dance and movement is as part of our animalistic natural selves as eating and drinking. We use it to communicate, to express ourselves, to attract a mate... I have believed for sometime that the world would be a better place if we were all more in touch with our bodies. I see smoking as a form of meditation for the masses (take in breath, inhale, hold, exhale...) We drink or take drugs on weekends to lower our inhibitions and move around on the dance floor, allowing our bodies to speak for us. Yet we feel we need these chemical influences because culturally we have been separated from our physical selves by religion, technology and the way society has developed. What intrigues me about parkour is its reference to adaptation, the idea that a free-runner is accessing a new level of human ability, moving in a natural and instinctual way, and focusing the mind to move the body. I believe there is a way in which all dance could be adaptive. As long as its creative, challenging, autonomous and embodied (by which I mean the dancer is truly connected to their body, with their attention and intention.) Mind body centering comes from an entirely different facet of our culture than parkour, and yet they have a set of movements in common. Both disciplines explore an animalistic like crawling. In body-mind centering we explore evolution from single cell organism and through the crawling stages through movement. This practice can help free us from restricted learn movement patterns and open the body to new possibilities in improvisation. Parkour has a related philosophy, in that in learning to crawl in specific ways we access that instinctual part of ourselves and build strength in order to move fluidly and efficiently over obstacles.
I have been thinking lately about the urban arts in general. They’ve taken over popular culture, and large parts of the creative sector as well, in a big way. When I say urban arts I mean hip hop music and culture, rapping and MC-ing, beatboxing, break dance, as well as other forms of street dance and parkour. Part of this is also the increasingly successful movement to elevate the urban arts to high art status, for example Breaking Convention at Sadlers Wells. There is a lot to be said for the ways in which urban arts may be contributing to adaptation/evolution. Parkour is an obvious illustration of this, but look at one of any number of videos online of young children breakdancing- and kicking the adults asses- and you’ll see that physical adaptation comes in many forms. Beatboxing is a great example- its a totally unique skill, using the vocal chords, mouth and tongue to their maximum potential. What is art if not the honing of skills to maximum potential, and the creation of new and innovative things?
The urban arts could potentially be thanked for progression socially as well. Though the routes of many of these disciplines lie in black culture, they now form a culture of their own- a remarkably inclusive one.
So if innovation and creativity lie at the heart of human progression and adaptation, how do we convince the masses to connect to their bodies, hone their skills or embrace their instincts? First we have to figure out where we’re going wrong.
In her first TED talk, Brene Brown illustrated the connection between vulnerability and creativity, innovation and change. Highlighting that in order to live wholly, and be successful in those areas, we must first learn to be vulnerable. Not just that but also to allow for healthy relationships. In her more recent talk she also talks about how shame keeps us small.
So rare that a simple idea can help with so many different facets of one’s life... And yet, how ever simple the idea, achieving it is of course somewhat more complex. Recently I feel almost like I’ve had an epiphany. Like a load has been lifted. I feel positive, I feel confident , happy and more motivated than ever before. However, if I’m honest I know this was no sudden change. Its been years in the making, a slow and arduous recovery from a personalised mental health problem that I concocted using the usual ingredients- a pinch of perfectionism, a spoon of performance anxiety, a drop of eating disorder, and a sizable handful of I’m not good enough, pretty enough, strong enough (to quote Brene). Each year over the last five has felt like a step up, and at every turn I’d have told you I was cured. But here I am, happier still. So what am I doing different? Many things. Eating healthily helps immeasurably. Fruit and veg are my new ecstasy... Exercise... all the usual things. But also, looking out for the ways in which I make myself small. Low expectations=no disappointment. My motto for far too long! Why not have the creative success, body, job, man, woman, life you want? And you know what? Disappointment is far easier to handle than the side effects of talking yourself down.