Leave Your Mind at the Door
“Leave your mind at the door,” suggested dance educator Bessie Schönberg, when asked how to understand modern dance. Such great advice. Her words, recorded in the 1980’s, have a familiar ring in our day and age of increased attention to mindfulness.
I find the #1 reason that people decide they don’t “like” contemporary dance is because they fear they won’t or don’t understand it. Then, when they do attend a performance of contemporary dance, rather than just being present and opening up to the experience, they worry the whole time about whether or not they’re “getting it.”
Many years ago, I heard choreographer Doug Varone address this very issue, when an audience member at an open rehearsal asked him to explain what his dance meant.
“What do YOU think?” he asked them. ‘Whatever experience YOU have had with my work,” he continued, “is a valid experience.” He refused to add anymore.
When I came across this video recording the advice of Bessie Schönberg about how to watch dance, I thought it should be seen by anyone who feels insecure about watching a performance of modern dance. Hence, I’m posting it, just as DANCEworks is launching its 2015 season. Its relevance is timeless.
If we can follow her advice, we will let go of our need to process a performance intellectually. We will accept that everyone’s experience with the work might be different. And, it’s perfectly ok if your response to the work, isn’t what the choreographer intended when he made the work! We will revel in the artistic experience of being pushed to see the art of dance in a new way or in a new form. We may like it. Or not. There will be no comprehension tests after the performance.
But, hopefully, as audience members, we can be as fearless at watching dance as Bessie encouraged choreographers to be at making dance!