This month I’ve been teaching a beginner’s dance class on Tuesday nights. Towards the end of class, I teach a phrase of choreography. The movement begins with a closed stance, head down, hands hanging by your sides, feet together and bent. Then, with a quick roll of shoulders, one at a time, sharply the phrase begins. Hitting the second before the count, “And one!” In the same breath, but still separate, a flick of the head upward to the audience follows.
Then a slow expansion of the body takes place. As slow as two full counts can allow. The arms slide up to be raised at their widest, the head dramatically turns to the right, exposing the neck and jaw, and the right leg sweeps to open underneath. These last three movements, in that slow expansion, create a moment.
What follows this moment, are a tumble of many other moments, and you’re thrown into the dance. If you’re not mindful of your breath, you’ll find yourself winded in the process.
To my students, I emphasized the importance of the first movement. You may just be rolling your shoulders back, but you’ve got to make an impact even with this exaggerated shrug. Don’t make it look like a mistake. You’re not responding to a fly buzzing in your shoulder, you are announcing your arrival, the beginning of something. It isn’t a question. You are inviting your audience to pay attention. Demanding they be held captive.
And that slow expansion that I spoke of? Those two full counts that describe your presence on stage, that is you saying, “I am here. I have arrived.”
Take your time, I tell them, enjoy it. Don’t be worried about the quick shuffle of steps that follow, how quickly the music is pushing you to move, or how nervous you are to be trying something new. Fulfill the movement. Show the audience who you are, and in that moment, simply fill the room. That is the movement’s purpose.
At the end of next month, it will be a year since I moved back to the Philippines. Although it has been many months, the move back is still on my mind. And I am often reminded that I was not always around here – through conversations with friends, the many inquiries about whether I am here to stay, the memories with friends from miles away that still fill my mind. I am reminded too that although a new departure is not in line of sight, it is never simply out of the question.
I wonder, in what part of my choreographic phrase of transition do I find myself today? For much time, I may have stood in the beginning stance, closed and cautious, although already breathing to the beat of the music. My very blood pulsing to a new song.
Later, I began to really move. I began to remember my need to make an impact, no matter how slight.
Today, I am certain that I have arrived. This is not a mistake. It is not a question. Pay attention.
And there is no lack of movement, no blank stares. I am juggling a number of jobs, managing a handful of community service initiatives, as well as caring for a few personal dreams that I have planted. I’ve been growing into community. I’ve been taking on challenges. I’ve been trying new things. I am here.
The movement of the slow expansion is still my favorite. In my improvisational movement of living, I punctuate my sprightly dancing with moments such as those. Making a simple moment matter, making it everything that matters for a breath. Or two. Doing it with integrity. Filling the space. And I too, being filled.
I am taking my time. I am fulfilling my movement.
I’ve thrown myself into the dance. How can I not?
I am here.
(Images in these post are photographs from a piece I choreographed in the fall of 2011, for the Wheaton College Dance Company. I can’t recall its title at the moment, but it was a piece centered around a lightbulb, and more personally spoke towards my process and decision to move home to the Philippines in the following year. In this moment, this is where the light leads. I am here.)
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