The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body. The dancer will not belong to a nation but to all humanity. She will not dance in the form of nymph, fairy, nor coquette, but in the form of woman in her greatest and purest expression. She will realize the mission of woman’s body and the holiness of all its parts. She will dance the changing life of nature, showing how each part is transformed into the other. From all parts of her body shall shine radiant intelligence, bringing to the world the message of the thoughts and aspirations of thousands of women. She shall dance the freedom of woman.— Isadora Duncan
Amen — I mean Awomen! Freedom through dance. Freedom to be strong and daring. To move in new ways, in authentic and original movement. Isadora Duncan (1877 – 1927) lived this throughout her entire WILD 50 years on this planet. To this day, nine decades after her sudden death by scarf strangulation in a sports car in Italy, her stories and dances continue to invoke the unfettered joy and expression of free-form dance. She is considered by many to be the mother of modern dance. There is even an Isadora Dance Company in New York that carries on the Isadora experience.
I too, like Isadora, was born in San Francisco and moved to Paris at the age of 18. And like her, I’m only interested in improvisational dance. She too believed that all life was a stage for spontaneous dance interaction. Paris is where I first uncovered my desire to experience a place through dance interpretation.
It happened on a rainy winter day in the Musee Rodin in Paris. His marble humans were so lithe, fleshy and passionate. I wanted to get into, and under, their skin. To feel their exquisite shapes in my body. Just appreciating the art form visually was not enough. I craved the visceral connection to Rodin’s hands as he chiseled them into life. This desire emboldened me and on that day in 1972, when I should have been attending art history classes at the Sorbonne, instead, I stood in front of Fugit Amore at the Musee Rodin and found my body sliding and turning into the shape of that sculpture. Its beauty awoke a grace and commitment in me to interact with art, architecture, nature and other beings, paying homage and also dialoging with these acts of passion through my dance movements. I continue to pay respect to art through my body.
Self-reflection is a desire felt by the body as well as the soul. As dancers, healers, and saints all know, when you turn your attention toward even the simplest physical process – breath, the small movements of the eyes, the turning of a foot in midair – what might have seemed dull matter suddenly awakens. —Susan Griffin, The Book Of Courtesans
Perhaps the tree roots I’m hiking over in Molokai with my dance students while we head to a cliff overlook to view lithesome humpback whales below, catch my eye. The worn buff-hued root ridges snake above the ground, beckoning me to disrobe and wind my body next to them in waves. The earth is prickly against my flesh yet I smell the tree’s skin and feel its journey across the dirt.
Or is it the dozens of hanging winnowing baskets on display at the Institute For American Indian Arts in Santa Fe that cause me to pause and yearn to get acquainted? Their disk shapes suspended by fishline from the ceiling speak to me of circular movement. I start them spinning and then walk between them repeating their turning motion with my limbs and spine. Shadows dance on the walls. I feel an ancient native presence in the room as I activate each basket. The curator is fascinated and horrified at the same time as I move hypnotically among them.
What about those steel girder and metal rivets in a sculpture known formally as a bridge near Sierra Hot Springs? My dance workshop students and I got out of the car in the middle of the bridge which was suspended over a wetlands in the largest Alpine valley in California. “Have your dance be influenced by the shape of this structure,” is all I gave them as an instruction. It is all art, all the time.
In Paris, a few years ago, I was walking under the bronze night sky with members of my writing group, the Wild Writing Women. We had given a reading at Shakespeare & Co. from our book, Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel. Celebration was in order. Champagne, oysters, laughter. Gaiety followed us onto the night streets and parks of the City of Light. Like magic dragon fangs or Zeus’s thunderbolts, these gold sculptures arose from the ground skyward. I couldn’t resist, they were glowing divinely. I just had to experience them.
I have named this spontaneous dance interaction Sculptural Movement. I invite you to practice it and become intimate with your surroundings. You are the art form in constant creation with all of life. Please don’t waste your short time on Earth caring what others may think when you decide to be affected and participate in your environment. Children do it all the time!
I’m sure Isadora AND Rodin would applaud you.
(photo of Alisha and Eric at dance workshop on Molokai by Lisa Alpine)