I recently had the great pleasure to spend three weeks in the wilds of Massachusetts at Nancy Stark Smith’s January Workshop this winter. Even though January has passed, the work was so intensive and perspective-changing that I feel, in many ways, that I’m still in it.
The workshop took place at Earthdance, an amazing retreat center up in the Berkshires. During the three weeks, we explored improvisation (with a focus on Contact Improvisation dance), composition, presence, and awareness practices.
In the morning sessions we generally addressed skills and specific elements like falling, rolling, and lofting. One of the most interesting of these explorations was working with “the last six inches,” meaning the last six inches you travel through before you reach the floor.
In the afternoons we practiced solo and group scores, and allowed our morning work to be experientially integrated into our movement.
Throughout all of this work, there was an ongoing practice of listening, widening and narrowing of focus, and paying attention to your own habits so that you could choose to engage them rather than being ruled by them.
All of this is true, but it’s also a huge oversimplification. Nancy Stark Smith has spent most of her life investigating movement, dance, flow, focus, and presence, and the way that she approaches this work is mind-blowing. The ideas and practices she offers in class are incredibly dense, nuanced, and complex (or, as she would say, “simple, complex, simple”), but she’s found ways to introduce them that aren’t overwhelming in the immediate moment. When she starts talking about how the pieces fit together, though, the enormity and wholeness of the work starts coming into focus. And then your mind explodes.
I can’t wait to go through my notes again, to take various practices and exercises into my own rehearsals, and to feel the different ways in which this workshop will reverberate in my life. I am so looking forward to the journey!