Building Supportive (Art) Communities: 3 Practices for Sharing Each Other’s Weight
Support is defined in several ways. To support is to give assistance to, often financially. To support is to “hold up” something or someone. My favorite definition of the word describes bearing all or part of someone or something else’s weight.
We do this a lot in dance. From contact improvisation to classical ballet, partnership and collaboration in dance create delightfully dynamic moments onstage and off. Energy, risk, play, and suspense are birthed in intimate moments of connection, sharing spacing, giving weight, and offering support to one another.
Support often allows us to go farther than we could ever go alone. We can sometimes do more with well-directed help. In the dance world, like other art communities, investments of time, space, and funding go a long way to provide artists with the necessary tools to dream and create meaningful bodies of work without inhibition. In many ways, support equals freedom to fly, and most of us want to get just a little bit higher off the ground anyway.
So, if support develops this beautiful space for greatness to take root, how can we build stronger art-life communities that consistently weather the storm?
As a semi-recent transplant to the city, what I love about New Orleans is the level of resilience I see here on a daily basis. “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” The spirit of New Orleans exemplifies this definition through and through. Talk about taking root to weather the storm! The history of New Orleans has hugely shaped the power of the dance community here and vice versa.
But, what does support have to do with it? In a city that does not often receive the credit due, financial or otherwise, community members have built an integral foundation of togetherness and support that many times acts independently of typical outside agents of power in the arts world.
Dance communities in New Orleans are unique in that they maintain strong ties to a cultural heritage that runs much deeper than the generally misunderstood economic benefit of the United States arts industry. That being said, building supportive dance arts communities in New Orleans has as much to do with the well-being of its members as it does with external factors like patrons and audiences.
"(Un)Titled" 2017: Lynn Forney, Elle Ciccarone Jones, Derwin May, and Tai Teamer (Left to Right l Artivism Dance Theatre
Photo by : Chana Rose Photography
As mentioned before, contact improvisation is an excellent example of partnership in action. In this form of improvised dancing, people explore body relationships to one another through movement sense-awareness, touch, and sharing weight. In his book Contact Improvisation, Thomas Kaltenbrunner provides nine essential tips to enjoy contact improvisation with safety and well-being. These tips concern a dancer’s overall bodymind approach to partner work. I find many of these tips useful for everyday community interactions, specifically those necessary to build supportive art circles. The next three steps form a summary of these principles. Here, I will use terms like “give weight” as synonymous with the concept of offering, asking for, and receiving support.
1.) Co-Operate Responsibly
In duet and group work, participants maintain their individuality. No one is only active or passive. Communication is vital to relationships between members, and participants agree to be authentic, give honest feedback, and take responsibility for their own actions. In other words, we are required to openly share feelings about anything uncomfortable or unpleasant along the way. You have the ability to respond within this weight-sharing relationship.
2.)“Give Weight” Wisely
There are a variety of ways to give your weight to another person. Think of weight not as a burden but a “moving force” that keeps participants in action, moving in a state of flow. Remember it is also okay not to give weight. Each partner should remain self-supporting throughout the dance. Avoid giving weight to areas that might put your partner at risk of injury. Protect known areas of vulnerability.
TIP: Sharing each other’s weight requires a particular level of trust. Just as you most likely would not divulge the deepest layers of your soul to a complete stranger, few of us would throw ourselves onto an unfamiliar dance partner without restraint. Give weight to your partner in a slow and gradual way that allows them to make adjustments as needed.
3.) Use Your Words (Say yes and no!)
You are under no obligations. Consider your needs just as much as those of the person(s) you support. Maintain clear boundaries and give assistance by way of your strengths. This will contribute to a positive working environment for all those involved. If we all chip in by doing what we are best at, I can only imagine what becomes possible!
"MOVEment for Change" 2018: Sophia Rabinovitz and Daniel MasterPIECE Jones l Artivism Dance Theatre
Photo by : Chana Rose Photography
When asked to imagine what it feels like to be fully supported by the art community around her, New Orleans dance artist and educator Jalisa Roberts responds in this way:
I imagine a community of collaboration and collective uplift. Artists would create together, support each other in ways that amplify all of the voices in the space and allow for collective excellence. That sounds a little magical, but it’s possible for us to manage our networks and collective resources to be able to survive and thrive as artists in this world. I also thrive off of the conversation that comes from fellow artists around my created works. They challenge me in my art to be better, clearer, more creative, and stronger in my work.
“Support each other in ways that amplify all of the voices in the space and allow for collective excellence.” I wonder if we do this on a day to day basis. I know I could do a better job of amplifying other voices and supporting fellow artists around me to excel together. Less competition, more community. I admire how Jalisa describes being challenged to greatness by the artists around her. When we challenge others to rise to new levels of artistry and hold them up along the way, our own system of support grows wide and strong.
Lauren Ashlee Small is a local dancer with the Marigny Opera Ballet
Follow Lauren at www.laurenashleedance.com