Dance and Spirituality: Linda Rabin

Dance and spirituality has always been an interwoven presence in my life – professionally and personally. The shape and tone of how this weaving is expressed shifts over time, with the changes that life experiences bring. I’d like to open with some words that came to me spontaneously when I first thought about this theme for today. When I look at the body as movement, I think… the earth body is movement, the space, the universe is movement. So then I ask, what does it mean to dance?

For me it is simple, and straightforward. Movement is the expression of life, of existence, of the universe. This movement is fluid, i.e., it is the movement of waves… undulations, vibrations, pulsations. These are the same movements that animate this body we are, this body that does plies, tendus, spirals, falls… Is dance not just another manifestation of the living breathing universe, of which we are a part?

And what about spirituality? Call it god, the divine, the universal force, or any other name that different religions offer, all of Nature is infused with a life force, and this life force is expressed as movement, as breath, as breathing in and breathing out, becoming form, the dissolution of form.

An example: The embryo pulsates and transforms into an ongoing shaping process that when arriving on land, we call baby. But this movement process never stops. It continues into life markers we name as adolescence, adulthood and old age. These developmental stages are moments on a continuum of existence that never stands still. Movement is constant.

So what is spirituality? Being in connection with the essence of existence? Attuned to this life force? Providing space for such consciousness to be expressed in daily life, daily actions?

And what is dance then? For me, dance is human being’s need to express this life force as it exists in our socio-cultural body. Dance may take on many different styles and forms – ballet, contemporary, street dance, jazz, salsa, hip hop… And choreographers will draw on themes – political, social or cultural. But what underlies these choices of form and expression? What forces of life provide the urge to create?  The impulse to dance? Underneath these forms and expressions is the essence of life -movement. Pure and simple – movement – the language of the living universe.

When I taught dance technique, when I choreographed dances or today, when I teach creative process or Continuum… my curiosity and search for what is at the source is always there. In my younger years, as a dance teacher and choreographer, I would look at a dancer and sense something going on below the level of their awareness, something dormant, or untapped. I would see where there were blockages that interrupted the harmonious flow through the body – that kept the intention from being fully realized in their dancing. Sometimes it was about releasing excessive tension in the eyes, or stimulating more physical engagement in the pelvis, or maybe about unveiling an unconscious emotional pattern.  I would work with the dancer to bring those energies to the surface, to become integrated with the rest of their dancing self. I searched to facilitate the dancer’s total aliveness, so that when they danced in class, or were in performance, they were free to be fully present – that every particle of their being was available to be in service to the moment. I was looking to engage the whole being. I worked from a place of intuition and used images in whatever way I could. I was always searching for the root – the root metaphor, the root image, the root cause that held back a fully realized performance, or rather, a fully realized being in performance.

A circle is a beautiful metaphor for describing the movement of leaving and returning. We go out into the world then find ourselves, somewhere along the road, back where we started. The spiral however is perhaps a more accurate metaphor for what I want to convey. Have you not experienced that with the passage of time, you return again and again to the familiar place of before, but with each successive return a new perception is revealed? There is a subtle shift, a new appreciation, interpretation and understanding. In the past, my quest to “get at the root” guided me to bring out the best in the dancer’s technical performance, the integrity in interpretation of a role, to reveal the vulnerable places that would feed a fuller more authentic presence. The urgency and drive that fed my energy was composed of my ambition as a dance professional, and my need to draw from the essence of life.

My desire to get at the root has spiraled into a softer more fluid language today. I speak to “being at the source”, as waters of transformation, a place of nourishment. I continue to be called toward what is at the origin, but I am not the director of this process. I receive. I yield into what is being revealed and join in with my presence with whatever is going on. My call to engage the whole person for dance performance is now a call to engage the whole person in the Dance of Life. I believe this was always true for me, even then when I was deep in my professional dance career. My view of the dancer’s body is as being part of a vast web where you, me and all living organisms, the planet and the universe are an expression of one larger body. Imagine (a dance practice based on) being present to the movements of such vastness.

Now if we bring this awareness into our socio-cultural dancing bodies, what kind of dances would we be creating? What kind of performers would be dancing? What messages would be conveyed to audiences? And how would they receive those messages in their bodies?

Today I practice an approach called Continuum, along with a number of dance artists in the city – performers, teachers and choreographers.

The practice

I slow down, I sound, I pay attention to internal sensations and feel the movement. Tiny movements, larger movements – that undulate and pulsate. Movements that recall the origins of life, that evoke our embryonic beginnings, our emergence from the primordial ocean, perhaps even our origins before the ocean when we were whirling star dust in the universe. In those moments I experience ALL as in relationship. That we are all part of a vast web of existence. The slightest wave within my tissue has a repercussion on the movement of a leaf, a bird, the ocean and the stars. In the same way, we understand how the moon affects the tides of the ocean and the flow of menstrual blood in women’s bodies. This is the living universe. This is movement. A kind of dance.

So, to weave my last strands of thought on dance and spirituality I’ll close with the following:

Dance is Movement. Movement is Life. It is with the body that we dance. And in the body that we feel the movement – of life. And what animates this life? That is a mystery. This Mystery is whispering through our tissues, and if we pay close attention, we can feel its murmurings as undulating waves, resonating from the tiniest cells to the vastness of the universe.

To dance is to swim in these waters of the Mystery of Life.

Presented at UQAM département de danse, Tribune 14, December 7th, 2011.
photo: R.  Etcheverry
from left to right: Jacques Moisan, Jean-Pierre Mondor, Sarah Bild, William Douglas, Manon Levac
choreography Linda Rabin,
co production:  Montréal Danse and Dance-Cité and the Canada Dance Festival
premiered March 25, 1992, L’ Agora de la danse