The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp has become an incredibly influential book for artists of all mediums, but if there is anything I have learned as a dancer from reading this manifesto multiple times, it's this:
Ruby, you need to dance every single day.
I mean, my God, Twyla Tharp gets up every day at 5:30am to train. She writes “It’s vital to establish some rituals- automatic but decisive patterns of behavior- at the beginning of each creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.” Personally, I have been creative as long as I can remember so art as a general way of life is pretty engraved into my DNA. However, oddly enough, dance as a ritual is something that doesn’t come quite as naturally. It is something I have had to seriously work at.
I think when we as artists and creative types finally “decide” on our chosen areas of expertise, it can seem like it should be this wonderful I finally found my passion kind of moment.
In reality, it’s terrifying.
Suddenly we have to be an expert, bursting with talent and knowledge on everything there is to know about whatever art form you chose. Then comes the internal questioning. Who am I to call myself a dancer? What about everyone who is way more adept at this than I am? Why am I doing this? The all-knowing Twyla Tharp directly responds, “Turning to something ritual eliminates the question."
Although I could come up with hundreds of reasons why I love to dance, I still struggle with the insecurity of calling myself a dancer. For me, one of the ways to deal with this struggle is to make myself dance. Every damn day. Even if it’s only 10 minutes of random little movement studies, when I dance every day I feel like a dancer (although I should note that it is also completely valid to call yourself a dancer under any circumstances you want- this is just how I deal with my own inner brain chatter).
Now one thing that’s hard about dancing alone either in a studio or my living room on a daily basis is coming up with material. When I used to take writing courses in high school, we were always given prompts to ease the ever-pervasive writer's block. Writer's block is a commonly known malady, but let me tell you that choreographer's block is a real thing and equally as maddening. I discovered it can be eased by a similar treatment- specific prompts. Why had I never thought of approaching dance in the same meticulous way that I used to approach writing?
The most recent prompt I have come up with for myself was inspired by all of the poetry I’ve been reading lately and the interviews with poets that I’ve been listening to on my absolute favorite podcast, On Being with Krista Tippet. Quite simply, I decided to dance a poem. I have always loved the interconnectivity of words and movement, so it seemed like the perfect exercise with which to begin.
I took a random book of poetry out of the old English library in Tangier because I loved the cover art and the title: Out-of-the-Body Travel. Written by American poet Stanley Plumly, the poems in this work evoke the gritty, dusty life in rural Ohio during the depression and the bleakness of cornfields. Since about 70% of the reason I left Oberlin College is the location (or lack thereof), I could relate.
I instantly fell in love with this poem, Early Morning Rue, to which I decided to create a mini-dance. I could prattle on about how the imagery speaks to me and whatnot, but I think it’s better to let the poem and my movement phrase speak for themselves.
Here it is, the first of what could be a new series on this blog: A Poem in Motion. Filmed in my living-room-doubling-as-a-studio with an accidental flip-flop in front of the frame. The perfectionist in me is trying hard to let go and just get some work out there, so here goes.
EARLY MORNING RUE
By Stanley Plumly
The fields in fog, the low, dull resonance of morning.
There never was an old country.
Only this privacy, the dream life of the deaf,
the girl looking into the mirror above her head,
prone in paralysis.
And this one loneliness,
poverty or purity of choice, driving cold
in the general direction of the sun before dawn,
coffee in the truck, and bread, the cab light on,
and nobody, nobody else on the airstrip of the road,
going to work.
To anyone reading this, I'd love to hear from you. What are your daily rituals? Creative habits? Share with me.