Stillness is a movement choice.
I started writing this on October 1, 2019, and it speaks to me now as our country confronts systemic racism through daily protests demanding change; and, as individuals, we confront our ingrained, programmed racism. For many, there is a rush to action, to do, to make, to prove "I'm not a racist!"
Check out this interview by Ari Shapiro that aired yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered. Shapiro interviews Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.
Perhaps the drive to do, do, do should first be a drive to reflect deeply on our own privilege, how it has benefited us in our own lives, and how we can use it going forward to support our fellow humans. Last week's blog, The Buddy System, offers resources to support our journey.
Stillness is another tool.
I offer stillness here as a method for rest and grounding. Many of us are traumatized right now from the dual pandemics of our altered circumstances due to Covid-19 and the widespread realization that racism is also a virus. #racisimisavirus (Thanks Tuyet Pham)
Trauma requires rest, recognition, and healing.
We are at the beginning of an un-learning, de-programming, and creation cycle. Not re-building. "Normal" wasn't so great for the majority of Americans. Why go back to something dysfunctional? We have an opportunity to build better systems. In order to make the most of this opportunity, we need to be educated, healthy, rested, and ready for the marathon.
As author Glennon Doyle frequently says, We can do hard things.
Stillness involves listening. Today, Glennon is starting the #ShareTheMicNow campaign on instagram. She says:
When the world listens to women, it listens to white women. For far too long, Black women’s voices have gone unheard, even though they’ve been using their voices loudly for centuries to enact change. Today, more than ever, it is NECESSARY that we create a unifying action to center Black women’s lives, stories, and calls to action. We need to listen to Black women.
This is why we created #ShareTheMicNow.
Tomorrow, Black women will speak from the Instagram accounts of white women.
The intention of this campaign is to magnify Black women and the important work that they’re doing in order to catalyze the change that will only come when we truly hear each other’s voices.
As you work within and without dismantling your own racism and creating a more just society, please add stillness to your toolbox for rest, recovery, and reflection.
If no one has told you yet today, I love you.
(Thank you Ryan Sellers)
When I heard this as a direction in my first professional improvisation class, then again as a tool in my first formal dance composition class, I was astounded. At the time, I was an award-winning choreographer, I had been creating and teaching my movement to other dancing professionals for five years. I had choreographed the Cotton Bowl Half-time, The Miss Texas Pageant, and two featured dance numbers for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I taught master classes across the country to hundreds of students per class at dance conventions while living out of a suitcase. I choreographed solo routines that won aspiring professionals scholarships. I had taught college students as a guest artist when I was still a high school student myself. In certain circles, I knew some things. I was hot shit! I was also twenty years old. Twenty-somethings have a lot to learn. At least, I did.
My entrée into the contemporary modern dance world for the concert stage (that’s a mouthful) was fraught, doubt-filled, and had no shortage of obstacles. I transferred into the dance program at the University of Maryland from Kilgore College in East Texas. The week before classes began, I had emergency cervical surgery. The first six weeks of classes at UMD I had to wear a menstrual pad as my body shed its inner lining and recovered. If you’ve ever participated in, or observed professional dance classes from the late 90’s you know the clothing was form-fitting - to put it mildly. See Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince below!
I felt gross, awkward, and entirely out of my element. I was far from home and far from the movement style that I valued, understood, and could thrive within. I was starting over from a place of insecurity and physical weakness. I needed to embrace stillness, but I wasn’t prepared.
That’s life, right?
The style of dance I knew was called “power jazz”; a blend of vernacular jazz, musical theater, ballet, and acrobatics that sits well on large stages. Shifting to a dance form that may or may not consider the audience’s perspective, centers on fall and recovery, and rejects norms as its norm was culture shock to my core. And, it was fun.
I learned, by necessity and by immersion, to embrace the idea of stillness as both a movement choice and a choreographic tool. Perhaps the most famous use of this tool is Paul Taylor’s “Duet” from 1957 in the concert Seven New Dances, where he and his partner remained still for the entire piece. The notorious review by Louis Horst for The Observer, was a blank page. Silence can be deafening.
In life, stillness can be grounding. An intentional pause, especially in moments of chaos, brings clarity, focus, realignment, and conscious choice to the next movement/moment/decision.
I practice stillness when I need to transition between the busy parts of the day, or between roles. For example, when I arrive home from my workday, I usually have 15-20 minutes before it’s time to pick up my kids from school. Instead of trying to fit in “one more thing”, check email, or tap into social media (so tempting), I lie down on the couch and set a timer for 5 minutes. I close my eyes and focus on my breath.
1. Lay down. Couch, bed, floor, wherever. Just do it. Shoes are optional.
2. Set an alarm for five minutes. I recommend a gentle sound for the alarm: birds chirping, water sounds, basu bowl, etc.
3. Close your eyes. Take deep, easy breaths. Allow our body to find it’s most comfortable place and settle into stillness.
4. Notice your thoughts and gently guide yourself back to your breath. Relax your face, your shoulders, your arms, your fingers, your lower back, your butt, your thighs, your knees, your calves, your ankles, your feet, your toes. Breathe.
5. When the alarm goes off, wriggle your fingers and toes gently. Flutter your eyes open, and slowly begin to mobilize. Advanced Variation: turn the corners of your mouth up. (Thanks Shelley Adelle)
Consider jotting your thoughts down in a journal.
1. What do you notice about your state of mind and body?
2. What thoughts rise to the surface?
3. Are you more prepared to step into your next role/activity?