In my last week’s post, I wrote about how using different writing styles (in this case journalistic writing), can help a writer or academic researcher access new ideas. Sticking with the theme of access, this week’s post- Dancing for Access, is about how dancing can allow a writer entrance into new ideas, styles and structures in and through the body’s unique language.
Back in 2010, my Brazilian yoga teacher suggested I try capoeira, which is an Afro-Brazilian practice that fuses dancing and martial arts. Developed as self-defense, a means of escape and a way of maintaining African cultural traditions, capoeira was created by slaves in Brazil as a fight disguised as a dance. Popularly termed a “conversation between two bodies,” in capoeira two people perform a chain of flowing movements, each a reaction to the other’s previous movement.
With the exception of the standard jazz, tap and ballet that I had taken for fun as a young girl, capoeira was really my first dance-oriented experience. I was immediately attracted to the athletic aspects of it, the infectious, high energy music and culture, its rich history and the beauty of the free and flowing movements. Capoeira also seemed to attract an array of diverse and interesting characters-bringing people together from different walks of life.
A central lesson that I took from my initial experiences with capoeira (and later- other dance experiences) was how dancing complements the writing process.I began to see dancing as its own writing process-that is, as a way to communicate and tell stories through bodies. Dancing taught me how to get out of my head and into my body when writing. I began to see my body just as, if not more important as using my head as a source of knowledge and ideas to “write” with.
Specifically, I found that different ideas and certain kinds of knowledge can be accessed through the body that are otherwise dormant.Dancing allowed my body to become its own source of ideas and means of expression that I could simultaneously translate on paper. It gave me access to new ideas, styles and structures when writing that were previously inaccessible or closed off. Writing then became a process that was as much about the body as it was about the mind. Dance and writing thus, began to naturally complement one another.
Dancing also offered me a new sense of freedom in my writing process. This was especially true with capoeira. As a mostly improv practice in which two people perform a chain of flowing movements, it’s difficult- and nearly impossible to plan movements before you start to play. I began to translate and practice this not just when playing capoeira, but in my writing. Rather than starting out with a detailed outline when writing, I began to start my writing with a loose structure and then trusted my mind, body and emotions to guide me where to go. This was significant and freeing- not just in my writing but also in my life, as I found myself not merely writing but living by this free structure.
While I’m currently not practicing capoeira on a regular basis (mostly because capoeira inspired interests in other dance forms), these initial lessons and experience continue to deeply influence my writing, dancing and life. There’s a quote by a (Vipassana) meditation teacher, S.N. Goenka, who stresses: “liberation can be gained only by practice, never by mere discussion.” The same could be true in dancing and in writing. It is not enough to simply sit down and write. Rather, it’s more important to practice how one wants to write in and through the body.