A few years ago, I made the decision to create a piece centered around my coming out experience as a queer woman. Throughout the process, I found myself being consumed with the presentation of the piece, with every detail and possibility replaying in my mind. Because the content was a personal embodiment of my journey of becoming and acceptance, while also involving other people’s similar intimate stories, I felt a great responsibility to get it right. I felt it needed to make sense, but it created blockages to a path of creating something that could be impactful. I realized my choreographic process needed a serious reboot if I was going to truly commit to genuine exploration with myself and my dancers, enabling us to feel liberated to declare our truth. A conversation with one of my dancers became the catalyst in shifting my perspective, not only with this particular work, but in my overall being as a creator. This new approach to creating movement was enlivened when she asked, “Do you think it would be different if you forgot about presentation?”
As a choreographer, I am always in a process of defining and embodying authenticity. Authenticity is a cornerstone of how we define the legitimacy of artists. My quest for a practice that invites genuine exploration and emboldened vulnerability has been a struggle over the years. I began my journey as a choreographer through the lens of dance being a means to present story, perspective, and experience for audiences. As a dancer and creator in many different processes, I have noticed that intentionality and investment in the work is only half the battle. Living in a culture that is obsessed with showcasing every creation, whether it’s a class combo or a full-length work, I have noticed the dissonance of the need to be authentic and the fear of what that authenticity actually means. We are conditioned to see the world as a stage, developing tendencies to harbor pieces of ourselves or our work that disrupt the construct of what we deem to be “good.” Authenticity requires us to be honest in our being, yet we continue to allow the concern that the piece will be accepted or understood to be the main focus. I think this happens because we believe the audience will bias everything around what they can immediately understand or interpret. The “who, what, and when” becomes the center, and the “why and how” fades into the background or left behind all together.
Creating or performing work that is based on life experience can be a scary process. You have to reveal parts of yourself that you have kept hidden due to factors like shame or fear. Choreography that breaks away from showcasing movement for movement's sake in order to invite a process that speaks truth to power requires an awareness of self. It requires a willingness to unpack memories and histories locked inside our bodies that are edging the surface of our consciousness. The hyper focus on aesthetics that we think will grant us validation is a distraction to developing a deeper understanding of self and how we show up in the work. Being consumed with trying to control the spectator’s reaction can make us miss the mark in trusting ourselves to be able to take ownership of our own story. Authenticity requires us to accept that our stories are complex, therefore the process of telling them through the work will be complex, too. It’s ok to venture into many unknowns and to invite the audience to embrace not always needing to understand what is happening or what we are trying to say in order to appreciate what we have shared. It’s also ok for us to not even know what we are trying to say.
I am discovering that the craft of choreography isn’t about following a set of guidelines or tools that will create a work that is considered acceptable or successful. It simply requires the willingness to make something. I believe that is what makes the process so vulnerable, making authenticity automatic. Giving up control of what it looks like and surrendering to what it feels like allows for there to be an intimate exploration of whatever the body or soul is trying to unlock or understand. I am learning that going with the flow doesn’t mean there is a lack of intentionality, rather an invitation to deeply listening to what the body and spirit needs in every moment of the process. This may look like redefining time, making space for there to not always be a timeline or limiting the creation process to a due date. I’m embracing the idea that not every work needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end for it to be relatable or digestible. I question if everything we create needs to be seen, even when we invest in a great amount of time and effort into making it, especially with other people.
My coming out piece has yet to be shared with the masses, as I’ve concluded that I don’t think it will ever feel finished. It’s possible that it might not ever be seen, but I believe my dancers and I learned so much about ourselves in the process. For me that is more worthwhile than submitting to a grind culture that cultivates an oversaturation of production over process. This has required me to accept that I am forgoing the urgency to spill out movement in order to make it make sense, rather allowing the clarity of the work to reveal itself in a way that can test the capacity for patience. Abandoning presentation has allowed me to show up as a choreographer that alleviates the burden of external validation, but invites an internal gratification. It has allowed for a personal practice of tapping into a consciousness that invites the walls that often blocked my ability to create authentic work to crumble, opening up new realms of possibilities. It has shifted my craft as a dance artist to break away from the tendency to be rooted in “should be” and inviting more “could be.” There is nothing to prove when representation takes precedence of presentation. There is only continuous transcendence of movement and exploration that I think is the essence of how we can embody authenticity with our artistry.