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Using Meisner technique in dance
In 2017 I went underwent a rigorous Locking 5.0 training program with a street dance legend named Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones. (Recently past away, RIP)
Locking is a dance style invented in the early '70s and spread nationally through "Soul Train", you can read about it here. It is the root of funk dances, that later (along with breakdance) evolved into Hip-Hop.
Here's how the soul train dance line looked like:
And here's what Locking started:
Shabba-Doo introduced me to the concept of dance as a language. Dance became storytelling, using movement instead of words.
Depending on the message you wanted to deliver, it was important to be clear as much as possible, and use proper tone (translated into strength and speed of movement) and punctuation (the sharpness of movement, how definitive it was).
He was an actor and a dancer - and so he found a way to fuse them together, bringing the Meisner principles of emotional preparation, repetition, improvisation, and expression, to add a whole new dimension of expression to dance.
By his advice I read "On Acting" by Sanford Meisner, where I learned more about stillness in dance, and waiting for something "organic" (emotion and music) to move me, rather than moving "just because".
Emotional preparation and improvisation in dance
At the beginning of our training, Shabba-Doo would frequently stop me while practicing, and tell me to "dance to the music".
I was pretty sure I was dancing on beat, so I didn't understand his instruction. "I'm doing it how you taught me!", I exclaimed.
I was confused, but then when I saw him dancing, I got it.
Just like is Meisner's, I needed to work off of the music - as if it was another person.
Dancing to the music means hearing the beat, the melody, the vocals, and choosing what we let affect us, and what we dance to.
Just like in acting, we have "given circumstances" - those are emotional, mental, and physical state.
We are not slaves to the music, and it doesn't tell us how we feel- it is a tool that we use to express ourselves, something to work off of.
Everyone can dance on beat, as soon as they recognize it. We don't have to dance on the beat, just because it is there, nor do we have to illustrate what the lyrics verbally say.
We can go on and off the beat, around it, onto the melody, slow it down and speed it up - dancing to the music, working off of it and not for it.
How it is used in partner dance
If music was the partner I was "working off of" in Locking, now I had an actual partner.
The transition wasn't smooth:
Music wasn't my only partner anymore, and not the top priority partner either.
Most partners weren't working off of their partner (me).
I did experience super authentic and present dances, but there weren't many.
I longed for those rare dances (or, scenes) that took me on emotional journeys. At first, I didn't know what exactly made those dances were so incredible, I just knew they weren't frequent.
I had to start studying behaviors to understand how to break down this "magic", so I can recreate it anywhere, anytime, and with anyone.
Beyond using acting techniques to get "out of the mind and into emotions", I found that there were some pre-requisites to creating a meaningful dance.
There had to be some emotional preparation, just like in Meisner's, but in the social dance world, we create a new environment, a new scene, with each song, each dance, and each partner.
How can we consistently recreate the freedom of emotion and its expression?
I brought in a partner (Taylor), who brought in some insights and science, and finally, there were some answers about how to achieve authentic dances:
We need to feel safe to express ourselves freely.
We need to feel safe with ourselves before we feel safe with partners and/or our environment
To achieve safety with ourselves, we need to be able to recognize and accept our own emotions. It is hard, but it can be taught.
Empathy is key, first the ability to "empathize with ourselves" by knowing and accepting our own emotions, then empathizing with others'.
To read more on empathy, see my previous article - "How we manipulate each other's emotions".
Based on those findings, safety and trust are crucial. It was concluded that we must address the unconscious (and unspoken) social behaviors between dancers.
We need to teach how to build trust, in order to make each other feel safe enough to be ourselves, while not giving up our own freedom and safety.
Understanding ourselves helps us understand others, so we can create trust and safety, which lead to amazing dances with a variety of partners, in many different "scenes" and environments!
Safety with other people could depend on external factors: environment, partners, and more.
Feeling safe with ourselves can be learned and practiced solo!
Here are some exercises that I also use in my workshops to teach how to recognize emotions, and move purposefully:
To conclude, learning to see dance as a language, and using the Meisner technique to get out of my head and into my emotions, sparked my research, workshops, and this blog.
To reach the most authentic and deep connections with others, we must learn how to listen, to wait, to work off of senses and feelings rather than our thoughts.
Actors must recognize and feel with others to act truthfully, so we can use those techniques to teach empathy, to learn to let go of the mind, and to tell the story of our emotions.
In memory of my beloved teacher, Shabba-Doo
"On Acting" by Sanford Meisner