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Every Saturday morning I take a dance class to give myself the chance to continue to discover new ways of moving. We don’t do improvisation in this class, but one day the teacher was mentioning that she had done an improv exercise with the kid’s class that takes place right before mine. She also immediately specified that we wouldn’t be doing that because adults are generally uncomfortable with improvisation.
I can be a pretty shy person, although I know that sounds rather paradoxical for a performer, and I do remember a time when I was petrified of improvisation in dance class. Whenever we had choreography to create, I did my best work creating with nobody around. I had this idea that I didn’t have the vocabulary to improvise, that I would look stupid, that I would look ugly, that I would suddenly have no idea what to do and freeze up. I wanted to control what people saw.
Many years have passed and even though I still have a little extra stress when it comes to improvising in a group, fear is an old friend now, sometimes helping me to do my best work. Not that I don’t wish fear would take a hike sometimes. Luckily, it will often oblige if I just get down to business.
A few months ago I decided that I was going to learn to hoop in a handstand and needed desperately to get back into handstand shape. I was working all the important muscles and exercises but I was also bored stiff. I was feeling defeated already pretty sure I wasn’t going to manage to stick my training regimen. I flashed back to my time at circus school when I was standing in a corner during handstand class dreaming of jumping on the trampoline or being flung off the end of a teeterboard. I was bored then too and didn’t really apply myself. In fact I spent most of my time day dreaming and making plans to take to the sky.
So in order to keep myself motivated this time I decided that I needed some music. While I was resting in between a handstand, the music distracted me from my little dark cloud and inspired me to start moving. And I just didn’t stop. Another song started and I kept going. Every so often I took some time out to do a handstand but then I was right back to moving, dancing, flying in a different way. When my alarm went off letting me know it was time to go pick up the kids from school I didn’t want to stop. I had been filled up with the most satisfying energy and knew I was smiling in a way I hadn’t in months.
I wonder now how I never figured out that taking time to dance for myself drastically improved my mood? I do remember many a dance improv during my professional career that was deeply rewarding but I certainly never did one on my own, without any particular goal in mind. In my mind, I suppose improv was a tool to create and it is an important tool to have in your back pocket, but it was not something that I ever considered as a personal practice.
One of the things that drew me to hoop dance in the first place was the endless ways for creativity and inspiration to take hold, but while I was watching a recording of one of my hooping combos I was struck by how static I was. Yes, the hoop was moving and flowing and was clearly the star of the show, but my body was merely a motor for the hoop. Achieving a high level of technical prowess often boxes us in to a certain movement pattern, usually one that is highly efficient and allows us to reproduce difficult skills time and time again.
The thing is, this is not what I am all about. Performing is a means of communication that can touch people emotionally, spark their imaginations, as well as remind them that so much exists beyond what they already know. When done well it doesn’t show or tell, it allows you to discover something deep inside yourself.
My goal is to be able to allow my emotions to shine through my skin, to share a moment with you that is singular and brings you along with me on a journey into the unknown. And so I have changed how I am structuring my hoop practice. Yes I still practice tricks, and there is something almost meditative and addictive about trying something 20 times in a row. But I also always include an improv with my hoop now because I want to get to the point where my body is just as important to the moment as the hoop; I don’t want either to become window dressing.
It is easy to fall back into using the hoop as a sort of armor, feeling secure as long as we are whipping it around, knowing that the hoop is the focus. But what if it wasn’t? Do you dare?
My name is Laura Smith and I am a professional acrobat.