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Gilded Serpent presents...
The Broken Vessel
by Paola Blanton

By the time a dancer is ready to hit the stage, she has prepared her body by learning movements and mastering a piece of music as best as she can.  She can hit that stage and perform all her movements exactly as she had rehearsed, with adrenalin flooding her blood and a great sense of expectation and then finish her performance to polite applause and exit that stage completely deflated.  What went wrong?

The best dancers I’ve ever seen are not necessarily those who exhibit supreme technical mastery.  They are those dancers who radiate a mysterious, prismatic charisma that takes advantage of their peculiar human vulnerabilities as well as their strengths.  It’s a spectrum of human expression that takes the dance from entertainment into Art, for the spectator is moved, jarred out of mundane reality into a fluid moment of eternity, a connection beyond mere human concerns, something supernal, above and beyond, yet present in us all.

Can this be learned?  I tend to look at it not as a “thing” to be learned; rather a “state” to strive for or even a Muse to be constantly courted; it’s ephemeral. 

You can hold it in your hand like you can “hold” a beam of light, so the answer, I think, is not to try and possess it.  Instead, I think of how to add dimensions to my practice that work on becoming a better vessel for it… a broken vessel, to be sure, but is there any other way?  A sage once said, “The Spirit always comes in a broken vessel.”  And to acknowledge one’s human brokenness is to remain humble in the face of the Muse, allowing the light its inevitable escape and return to its Source after allowing it to filter through the vessel of Self.

How do we court the Muse?  How shall we arrange our broken vessels so that the pure liquid light of inspiration may fill us? 

First of all, let’s open our eyes and build a sense of connection with the audience with intelligent eye contact. 

Nobody is moved by a dancer whose gaze is steadfastly attached to the floor, or to the back of the auditorium, or solipsistically geared inward.  People are moved by dancers who fix them in their gaze, if even for a fleeting moment, a brief encounter, a shock, a turn with a half-smile, a goddess-glamour fading into tender, searching vulnerability. 

Acting? Maybe.  But let’s consider calling it method-dancing as the late, great Stanislavsky described the dance art of Isadora Duncan; famous for her channeling of deep emotion onstage.  Isadora was also famous for her transcendent belief in her movements, a total commitment whose power could make an entire theater cry just at the gesture of a hand.  Belief is central to method-acting as Stanislavsky taught, a rootedness in human experience and the emotions that flow from it.

We, too, must believe in our movements, believe in their purpose and message, and we must deploy them with the array of human faculties that begin to evolve when the Art of the Dance is taken up. 

The intelligent, sentient being is channeled through the sight, but it is not enough.  The dancer must also be fully emotionally present – generous yet receptive at the same time.  Heart, arms, hands and hips must convey the spectrum of energies that color the music and the dance that goes with it.  She must fill the room, her emotional presence must expand and radiate outward from a core glowing with the light of Self-Knowledge.  Indeed, the hardest part of the Dance to master is the Mastery of Self and the deployment of that Selfhood, joyfully, unselfishly, to those we perform for.

It’s hard because it’s a Self that, like the Muse, we must coax out of its protective shell.  It’s a Self that may be shaped by years of life’s travails, that may have been housed in a body busy with the processes of Life and Giving Life, a body that may have been kept under wraps due to the insidious Demons of self-hatred that possess our cultures and whisper to us that we’re not pretty, thin, brave, brazen, or nimble enough to ever….do…that.

But it’s that primal Self that sparks the universal flame that can transmute dance into art, the epic story of our heroic journey of self-discovery – a journey of patience, fear, dedication, discipline, ecstasy, disillusionment, perseverance and overcoming. 

It’s what makes us realize, one fine day, that the Muse has been with us all along – she is an in-dwelling divinity whose light shines brighter when we dance with reverence and joy.

Infusing reverence and joy into the Dance is not always easy.  We are, after all, mired in Life and its attendant demands.  Sometimes, when I grudgingly strap my sandals on, tired, feeling like a faded flower and searching my being for the energy I will need to countenance another practice, I just stop, take a few deep breaths, and sit for as long as I need to, looking myself in the eye in the mirror.  I visualize myself as a vessel, and begin to fill myself with air.  And sometimes, I recite the following “Prayer for Artists” by Ruth St. Denis, as I do before performances.  For my own taste, I take out the “thee’s” and “thou’s”, but I think you will agree that it’s a beautiful poem for all artists, not just dancers.  May it fill your vessel with inspiration as it has always filled mine, and may your vessel overflow, cracks and all, with the supreme light of your Muse.

Ruth St. Denis

O, Divine Father and Mother,
Makers of heaven and earth,
Supreme artists of creation,
I, thy humble instrument
Kneel here at Thy feet.
I listen for Thy inward word
And I wait to behold Thy inward vision.

Cleanse Thou me
From all sin and self-righteousness
From all illusions of prided vanity and fear.
Make me sensitive to Thy sounds,
To Thy vision, and to Thy rhythms.

Let me express beauty,
The wonders of Thy universe
And the immortality of my own soul
Which Thou hast given me.

Allow me to enter that temple
Not made with hands
Wherein I may express the beauty of love
And the majesty of truth.

In humble and surrendered gratitude
For life, for love and for wisdom
I offer again and yet again
To Thee, my heart, my body and my mind.

 - Ruth St. Denis, Wisdom Comes Dancing 


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