Notes on Practice: Joyful Patterns

October 25, 2016 - Meghan LeBorious


“In short, no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.”  -Christopher Alexander

Today features a white sky and a steady rain.  Although Brooklyn’s trees are still green, just a few hours north, where I am this weekend, the leaves have started to display their colors.

Last Tuesday night I attended the High Vibration Waves 5Rhythms class at the Joffrey in the West Village, taught this week by Peter Fodera.  I had a bad cold with a headache and wasn’t sure what kind of energy I would have, but decided to go anyway to see what might happen.

Last weekend at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton with my six-year-old son, Simon, we talked about the artworks we encountered, trying to identify what might be the main conceptual concern for each artist.  Encountering a Dan Flavin sculpture, which featured one, two and then three vertical, white fluorescent lights, I asked Simon what he thought this artist was mostly concerned with.  He looked intently at the artwork, then quickly said, “Patterns.  And math.”  (He is getting pretty sophisticated, this small son.  He also said this week, on riding his scooter down the block, “Ah! My back! I’m just not as agile as I was when I was three!”)

In the Flowing part of the class’s first wave, Peter encouraged us to “walk on every inch” of the floor, and to “look for the empty space.”  I langored in this opening act, my feet whispering to the floor. Then, Peter invited us to “walk with someone for a while” and to “see their feet.”  In Flowing, I love to be pushed and pulled along by the gestures and trails of the dancers around me, occasionally gliding in unison in a shared motion.  I particularly love to step into Peter’s wake as he sails through the room—it is like drafting in the water behind a champion swimmer; and as the seas part for him I move in the space he opens up.  I slipped from person to person.  Even when I have a thought of where to go, something would interfere with my trajectory, and carry me into an entirely different direction.  Peter’s next instruction, to “walk with someone” and “see their flow,” had the surprising effect of closing down the movement of the dynamic room.  We just couldn’t seem to swoop in and out of each other, and instead became mired in partnerships in one small spot of floor as soon as we joined with another dancer.

When my energy is low, sometimes it is the energy of partnership that carries me through.  In Chaos, and continuing through Lyrical and Stillness and the wave’s end, I joined with a dancer I had not danced closely with before.  We moved into gentle contact, very much in the hands—in subtle, expressive communion.  As our dance concluded, we touched our hands together and rocked back and forth, coming through the wave’s other side once again into Flowing.

In a different partnership during the class—this time with a dancer I was reluctant to partner with—I found myself backing away from him.  In the process, I accidentally bumped into a woman behind me.  I held onto her arm gently, wanting to express that I was sorry.  She tore away from me with a furious snort, moving to the other side of the room.

In the second wave, Peter repeatedly instructed us to partner, then to find a repetition and carry it with us around the room, joining others in brief partnership.  As we were moving from partner to partner, I crossed paths with a friend I had sought out but found unavailable earlier.  We both smiled, stepping into each other.  I am a very small woman; and this friend is a very tall man.  He carries his size gracefully, but when I dance with him sometimes I wonder if he feels like he has to contain himself around so many smaller bodies. Absorbed in Lyrical, we did find repetitions, though from the outside, it might not have looked like it.  Rather than big, easy-to-follow, repeating gestures as sometimes arise in Lyrical, we skittered down chains of intricately arranged repeating patterns, which would then shift and re-configure, taking form then never landing for long enough to be defined or understood.  Our dance featured some bursting and chasing gestures, too.  I would rise up on my highest toes, reaching for his height, wanting to be expansive along with him, then squiggle myself down and away.  He laughed at my antics, joining in, too.  After this long, intricate, layered exchange, we finally ended up doing the initial assignment—a simple repetition—grinning wildly as we both realized it, rocking back and forth.

We spoke for a few moments after class about our experience.  “That was such a great dance!  You just kept finding all of these patterns—all of this footwork—so intricate!” he said.  His compliments opened the doorway to an obliquely procured insight, about one way that energy can be perceived and worked with, something I hadn’t considered before.

I accidentally bumped into the same woman I accidentally bumped into earlier in the class. Later, as we moved around the room, she glared into my eyes as she passed me, both arms raised, her elbows bent.  I spent a few moments wondering if she might actually tell me off after the class.  I’ve been there!  I know how it is to be triggered by someone.  And here I was triggering someone! I even prepared a response to the glaring woman in my fantasy version of our possible future exchange.  I had two different versions, but in the one I preferred I would say, “I’m sorry I offended you.  Thank you for the feedback.”

This conversation with my tall friend helped me find language for a category of repetitive motions that I have experienced in practice.  One kind of repetition, I call “catching a glitch.” This can be emotional and personal.  For example, when I first started dancing, I had been holding myself so tightly for so long that I found I needed to collapse to the floor again and again.  Through all the collapsing, I was able to mine the gesture for insight, and eventually the pattern released me.  This is when a repetition suddenly becomes compelling and you follow it along its fully trajectory to see what it has to teach.  According to 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster Ba, Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, used to tell a story about a painful memory from babyhood that was lodged in her wrist—and that took years of working with to arrive at.

Another kind of repetitive motion—of pattern—is, I think, the kind identified by my tall friend.  Perhaps in this case, the pattern that gets expressed is a tiny window into something that is bigger than any one of us. Perhaps it is something mundanely cosmic—the very movement of energy as it flows around and through us.

Three days later, at Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class, I arrived late, during the transition of Flowing into Staccato.  I know how important it is to ground myself in Flowing, and lowered myself to the floor for a few brief moments.  Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to step right into Staccato.  On these occasions, all I can do is hope that all the Flowing I have practiced over the years has been integrated enough that I can rely on it.  Tammy played a Michael Jackson song that I love.  Instructed to partner in Staccato after just a few minutes of being in class, I joined with a smiling woman, actually singing the lyrics as we moved in joyful unison, expanding diagonally into the available spaces around us.

At work that afternoon, a colleague had “thrown me under a bus,” in my own words.  When I told a friend about the incident, he said, “No, she didn’t just throw you under the bus.  She tied you up in rope, rolled you into the street and then beckoned a bus to come toward you!”  I was called into a meeting with supervisors, with no warning, no chance to work up to it, no chance to prepare.  As I walked to the meeting, I correctly guessed its nature, and realized that I would have to step right into Staccato, praying for as much skillfulness as I could muster.  I let this colleague speak, only expressing myself at key moments, as she dug herself a very big hole.  It was truly remarkable.  Sometimes, you have no choice but to step right in, and hope that your relationship to the ground is well enough established that it will carry you through, even when the stakes are high.

The valuable opportunity to practice stepping straight into Staccato gave way before long; and, by the end of the class, once again, I explored a new way of perceiving patterns of energy during dance.  Moving again in Lyrical, I entered a partnership with a very practiced friend who seems to have a gift for seeing energy.  Though I love to soar, this friend prefers to remain grounded in Lyrical due to the need to care for his knees; and I met him there.  I experimented with resistance, dragging my feet slowly along the floor as part of the foundation of my gestures.  As we transitioned to Stillness, I let go of the dragging feet, but instead found woven resistance residing in the spaces of the air, moving along with this partner, expressing, again, the energetic patterns in and around us.

October 19, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

Image:  Fibonnacci Spiral children’s artwork published on afaithfulattempt.blogspot

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