Anna Halprin is a pioneer of experimental art and widely known as the “mother of contemporary dance.” I came across some video footage of Anna teaching a workshop in Paris, France, and I felt deeply moved when she addressed the participants by speaking the following message:
“The focus of this workshop is on you, and not on me. I’m a facilitator. I can’t do the work for you. I can facilitate and guide you into experiences, but it’s up to you to integrate those experiences. Your previous experience has nothing to do with what we’re going to do today. If you’ve never danced in your life, you’re going to be able to dance. If you’re a professional dancer, you’re going to be able, for a change, to take something in instead of always giving out.”
That last phrase propelled me into such a cathartic release, thinking about the many years I’ve spent training and performing and “putting out.” It led me to imagine that I must not be the only one exhausted from the rigor of my artistic lifestyle. I thought to host a workshop series for dancers who are looking to deepen their creative practice, with a special focus on life/art balance.
I’ve been a professional dancer for over 23 years. My vocation is in bridging conscious living and art-making, and exploring the connection between the incredible experiences created in the studio with life lived outside the studio setting. I believe that this unique perspective that I’ve learned first-hand from Anna Halprin and my expressive arts training at the Tamalpa Institute would greatly contribute to the professional dance world.
As I understand the practice, it starts with the body. The body contains the entire repertoire of our life experiences. Using the body as a vehicle to connect, deepen and refine awareness, I can create and express dance that defines my artistry, my relationship to others and the environment in which I move. I hope to take on a new personal identity- a self-authorship that could serve to invent, coordinate and integrate values, interpersonal loyalties and intrapersonal states- in working toward a new generation and a new genesis in the arts.
We need more leaders in the professional art world who can let go of control and rigid agendas and trust that great art can flourish where human beings are cherished. The appropriate outcome will emerge from a positive and affirming journey together. This is thought of as the supremacy of people over ideas. We need to normalize an approach that causes change in individuals and social systems, with the intention of developing followers into transformational leaders. We need to unleash those same artists and change-makers out into the world to heal our global social context, filled with both beauty and unprecedented threats. What I hope to inspire through the Life/Art Interplay project and workshop series is to see each one of us bring this profession to the verge of a new milestone, querying our own standards and methods, and evaluating the risk of change; to dance for ourselves this time.
As a first step toward a longer ongoing workshop series, I will be hosting an introduction to the Tamalpa tools and methodology, developed by Anna Halprin and her daughter Daria Halprin. This launch will take place on January 14th at Dancemakers studio in the Distillery District. In this unique movement and expressive arts approach, participants will explore the connections between body, feeling and imagination, discovering new ways to bring health and embodiment to personal themes and artistic practice.
Ken Otter, PhD, is a Tamalpa ambassador and core faculty member at the Institute, and he will be guiding and facilitating the workshop. I have been personally touched by Ken’s teaching and believe that he carries the spirit and core message of the Tamalpa lineage, adding his own piercing presence, insight, innovation and expertise. I warmly invite you to come join us!
About the author:
Eight years after beginning my training and professional journey as a dancer at Canada’s National Ballet School, I became very ill and considered leaving the strict formula of my profession. Then, I read an interview with Anna Halprin entitled, “From Dance Art to Healing Art” (Dance Magazine 2004), and my gut burned for sweet reconciliation between my body and external surroundings- and for the nonintegrated parts of myself to find wholeness- while continuing to dance. I turned to expressive movement practices.
My study of expressive, free-form movement became a path to healing during the confines and rigour of my career in classical and contemporary ballet, and the stress-filled life of an artist. I found tools in these healing arts to sustain my career in the ensuing years with the National Ballet of Canada, Ballet British Columbia and National Ballet Mannheim. I have developed a deep love of the psychology, science and therapeutic aspects of physical exploration from the inside out, and I have done so in the midst of pursuing my career onstage over the past 16 years. I owe this creative resilience in large part to the Tamalpa Institute. This time-out (time-in, really!) for study, research and creative distancing has led me to feel that when a dancer can get out of her head, explore beyond egoic constructs such as dance aesthetics, and get more fully into her body, positive and revolutionary change can take place for all involved and the art itself.