How often do you take the time to really listen? To listen to your own body, to listen to your friends and family, to listen to the people you see on the street? My guess is not very often. Do you turn on the TV to drown out your own thoughts or plug earphones in your ears so you can ignore the people around you? Perhaps you drink coffee when your body needs to rest, eat past the point of satiety or ignore that niggling pain that refuses to go away? Let’s be honest; we could all benefit from listening more. When we listen we learn, and when we learn we increase our understanding of ourselves and the people around us. In fact, and at the risk of sounding preachy, I’ve just convinced myself that listening could be a panacea…
‘Listening’ was the inspiration for Muster. Over the course of a week we listened to each other and ourselves, allowing this to inspire our movements that would lead to the creation of the final dance piece. At the start of the week we had no idea what the piece was going to look like. This proved challenging for some of us, particularly those of us from a military background who are used to rules, structure and the feeling of being in control. Yet for others it was exciting, because it provided the freedom to explore, experiment and collaborate.
We developed our listening skills in various different ways: trust exercises that involved taking the weight of another person’s body; applying touch to our partner’s body and allowing them to move towards the touch or away from it; working on different height levels; stopping and starting moving simultaneously as a group; moving safely at speed; learning each other’s routines and offering each other different moves to try. As well as listening during the physical exercises and rehearsals, we were also listening in our break time. Age barriers were broken down so that adults, young people and children were communicating with each other as equals. Current events were discussed, controversial topics dissected and different opinions heard and respected. I listened to conversations about sexuality, bullying, feminism and war. The group learned to trust each other outside as well as inside the rehearsal space.
This isn’t to say that we didn’t get distracted at times or have our differences. Constant listening is hard work and at times our attention would drift, especially as we got tired. I know that my own preconceptions and anxieties would at times interfere with the listening process. Whenever I’ve performed as a dancer previously, the performance has been choreographed and polished to perfection: from the get go, I’ve been aware of what I needed to achieve. This prior experience of mine led to me feeling a little negative during the middle of the week and worrying about the quality of the final performance. I was doubtful we could deliver a piece at the standard expected from a paying audience when three days into the week we were still improvising.
However, my doubts were unfounded because the piece we ended up with exceeded all of our expectations. It may not be the most technically precise piece of contemporary dance, but it is still visually stunning. This is because the audience is watching more than just a sequence of different moves; it is watching a group of individuals diverse in age, ability and experience really listening to each other, trusting each other and supporting each other. This sort of collaboration is something people would happily watch time and time again.
The experience has taught me that dancing is at its most striking when the intention behind the movement shines through. It has taught me to listen to my body, to not be afraid of relying on the people around me and to have confidence in myself and others. I can’t wait for our next performance.