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Tag Archives: Milan Kundera

~ “Movement never lies.” ~ Martha Graham

Her arm rose with bewitching ease. It was as if she were playfully tossing a brightly coloured ball to her lover … The instant she turned, smiled and waved … she was unaware of her age. The essence of her charm, independent of time, revealed itself for a second in that gesture and dazzled me. I was strangely moved. And then the word Agnes entered my mind. Agnes. I had never known a woman by that name.

And so begins Milan Kundera’s Immortality. A woman named Agnes and the impact of her gesture. I’ve always loved the word “gesture.” There’s a kind of elegance in the way it sounds and in the way it’s described, like this particularly poignant version: The thing to remember about gesture, whether you’re using it as a verb or a noun, is that not only is it a movement of the hands or body, but it’s also a movement that has some meaning, intention or emotion behind it. When you use gesture, you are entering into a whole history of human communication, because there is no language that exists entirely without gesture. People can’t communicate without gesture. It’s so connected to intention that there is a phrase “empty gesture,” used to mean an action or movement that is without genuine feeling.

My long career as a dance artist has revolved around gesture and intention. The foundation of my training, performing, teaching and directing is based on expressing and recognizing authentic gesture. Are your actions expressing what you want to convey? Are your actions belying what you want to convey?

You don’t need to be a dancer to understand gesture and intention. Over the course of our lives, we’ve learned to trust our instincts, our spidey senses. For the most part, we know when we’re witnessing acts of kindness or assholy-ness, when we’re buying something or calling bullshit. Of course, being wonderfully complex people, our perceptions are coloured by everything that makes us us. Our environment, age, sex, where we have/haven’t been, who we do/don’t interact with etc., all influence how we interpret and absorb gestures and intentions. But I’d like to believe, from a purely people-are-more-good-than-bad standpoint, we’re often on the same page.

Years ago, I saw a video of a young Japanese girl (she was around 3 years-old), trying to cross two concrete steps separated by a gap. Her older brother (around 5 years-old) had already crossed and was reaching out to help her. So afraid was his sister that he lay down, creating a bridge with his body, on which his sister crawled across. And… bawl! Brother, love, protection, sister. This little boy’s spontaneous gesture broke my heart.

Most of us would watch this video and be moved, to varying degrees perhaps, but in my mind, there’s simply no other way to respond. We witness all kinds of gestures each day. And, though they may not be quite as dramatic as this one, I think we learn a lot about people from these seemingly benign gestures, these momentary glimpses into their soul. Alright, now I’m being dramatic. But then again, not really. I mean, sometimes you get a pretty good snapshot of someone from a simple gesture. Like the gal who didn’t hold the elevator door open, knowing you were almost there; the guy who gave you his seat on the bus; the momentary eye contact and smile with a neighbor in the hallway, etc. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been that gal in the elevator before. I’m not proud of it and I certainly don’t make a habit of it, but I’m sure the person I didn’t wait for thought I was an asshole. And I mean who are we kidding? I totally was! I like to think that somewhere in the Karmic universe, my good gestures override my bad. That in the end, I’m more often a good person with good intentions. But I have bad moments, we all do. The good news is, we get plenty of chances to try again, to be better.

One of my favourite quotes, and one I’ve mentioned before in my blog, is by Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” Now, in the case of a negative first impression, I’m usually willing to give a person more than one chance to show me they’re better than that. But if a person continually shows a deficiency in their character, an absence of decency and empathy, then my ongoing engagement with them is just fucking stupid.

It may come as a surprise to some that at age 49, in 2017, in my beloved Toronto Canada, where I was born and raised, I still encounter racism. An ignorant or outright racist remark now and again always comes out of nowhere, like a sucker punch, and lands squarely on my heart. Yes folks, this happens.

Considering the escalating volatility in the world, and unimaginable displays of arrogance, deception and cruelty, I can’t help thinking, “Have we completely lost our fucking minds?! Is this really who we are? Is this really who we want to be?” Like our reaction to the Japanese brother and sister, how can we NOT be on the same page about this shit show?!

Some days, I’m completely  overwhelmed by all the noise and despicable gestures that show humanity at its very worst. It’s caused me to take a good look at myself, how I am in the world, how I want to be. My gestures and intentions matter, and so do yours.

We can all do better.

~ in a nutshell ~

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Another thing about getting older is how much easier it is to laugh at myself and own up to things. In my younger years, I spent so much time and energy wanting to look, or be perceived, a certain way it’s amazing I even knew myself at all. I think one of the more attractive qualities about a person is when they are who they are, even when they’re trying to be someone else. Self-awareness, self-deprecation, accountability for their actions—how people deal with the choices they make is hugely revealing, isn’t it? And when they can call themselves out on own their shit? What’s more endearing than that?

Inevitably, when I’m packing to go somewhere, I’ll try on different outfits that I never wear in everyday life, because I think I’ll want to wear them somewhere else. Like somehow I’ll be a different person just because I’m drinking different water and saying, “Excuse me, where’s the restroom?” in a different language. Curiously, I’m still me anywhere I go, and I end up looking the same as I usually do. I do have a photo of myself wearing a particular outfit that I never wore before or again after. I look like an idiot.

During my “New Wave” years, I was all about being edgy and a bit mysterious in an I’m-not-trying-this-is-just-the-way-I-am kind of way. My entire closet was black and mostly second-hand, and I tended towards accents like skull and cross bone earrings, buckles, zippers, safety pins, and shearing the hair on the sides of my head. I suppose I wanted to come across as a tough, urban chick who hung out in seedy downtown clubs with nefarious characters. While there was a degree of that behaviour, I was ultimately still a suburban girl, whose dad left money on the stairs by the door, to pay for my cab fare home from the subway.

Before my “Black Period” were my early dancer years. I loved walking around the halls of my performing arts high school in my dancer persona—ripped, off-the-shoulder t-shirts à la Flashdance, tights, oversized slouchy bag and, of course, leg warmers. Once, I had a huge zit in the middle of my forehead, so I wore a sparkly headband for a week as camouflage. Hey, it was the early 80’s! I was young, doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and I wanted everyone to know it. Oh, how I adore that kind of clarity and confidence!

Movies, books and other interests contributed to my “Contemporary Dancer” vibe. I’d read an artsy book like Milan Kundera’s Immortality when I was around dancers, so I’d look, well, artsy. If pressed, I wouldn’t have denied that I also read US Weekly magazine, I’d simply have enjoyed it later. TV shows seemed especially shallow and not befitting of my serious artist persona, especially when talking with dancers who didn’t watch TV. I’d instead engage in furrowed-brow discussions about this art-house film or that new art exhibition, totally aware that Melrose Place was starting in an hour.

For me, the freeing thing about getting older is that I’m more transparent about who I am, and what I like and don’t. It has something to do with being less patient, wanting to be more efficient… oh hell, I just don’t fucking care as much what people think.

Amongst so many other things, I like art galleries and sports and cooking shows and 9-hour theatrical events and love stories and movies that are so bad they’re good and music that gets under my skin and poetic things that make me cry and reality TV and gathering with a bunch of people to cheer on our team and gorgeous dancing and playing charades and thinking about why people are the way they are and why stuff is and being with people who make me laugh and eating potato chips and drinking big bold red wine and oohing and awing at fireworks and travelling to places I’ve never been and being home.

My friend, S, once freely admitted that when he was travelling in Europe, he slung a guitar across his shoulder because he liked the way it made him look. He doesn’t play guitar. I love him for that.

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