Creativity: The Freedom of Limits

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The latest Writer’s Digest July/August issue focuses on creativity. I’m all ears when it comes to learning about the creative process. It’s something I take to heart, believing more often it’s the journey and not the final destination that counts. That sentiment applies to so many things in life, whether it be professional or personal, a hobby or a serious endeavor. How you get there is every bit as fascinating as the final product.

The article, “Creative Under Pressure: How to Write Yourself Out of a Corner,” by Steven James mentioned that people tend to pursue creativity with the brainstorming approach. He suggests that really your first step should be just the opposite.

Although it may sound counterintuitive, the first step is limiting yourself.

After reading this quote, instantly I had flashbacks to a dance workshop I attended decades ago with the late modern dance pioneer Bella Lewitsky (1916-2004). 

bella
Bella Lewitzky (1983)

Below are a few postcards that accompanied the workshop mailings.

I could do these poses, so let me into the company already:

lewitskydancers

lewistskydancer

I had dreamed of being in her dance company and here I was in the same room with her and her dancers, awestruck. Let me just pause to say my hamstrings had never felt so long and stretched as they did after taking her class. It was amazing. I felt like I had jumped into someone’s else’s body.

After the workshop audition, I learned I was placed in the intermediate technique class, but had also achieved a spot in the advanced composition class, taught by none other than Ms. Lewitsky herself. Of course, I fretted about being in the intermediate class, focusing on how I could possibly ever achieve a spot in her company if I was only in the intermediate technique class. I think I even cried about it.

Still, I was in the advanced choreography class and knew what a honor it was to learn from a true master. It was a smallish class of only fifteen students in a beautiful, spacious studio. Bella Lewitsky gathered us around on the first day to talk about our goal for the class. First, she told us, “Structure is what gives you freedom.” It’s as if, she went on to say, your dance is a problem that must be solved.

That problem and the structure she provided for us was to focus on these three things and these three things only:

spiral, run, fall

Yeah. For the next two weeks from 3:00-6:00 pm (that’s three hours!), we explored these three items. I remember you could hear a pin drop, the concentration in the room was so intense.

You may be saying to yourself, I get what it means to run and fall, but how do you spiral? A spiral looks exactly as you think it does. See here:

In art:

Image source: en.wikipedia.org
Screwtop spiral; Image source: en.wikipedia.org

In nature:

A succulent spiral; Image source: en.wikipedia.org

Man made:

“Vatican Museums Spiral Staircase 2012” by © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the Universe:

The logarithmic spiral in the Whirlpool Galaxy; Image source: en.wikipedia.org

I’m sure you’ll be seeing spirals all over the place now, right?

My “problem” in my dance composition workshop class was to turn this spiral into movement, as well as the other isolated ideas of “fall” and “run” however I could, however I felt inspired, however I was moved to move.

You might ask yourself, “Could you spiral with a coat? Could you, would you, spiral on a boat?” Allow me to elaborate. I asked these questions and more:

Can you spiral your hand? Your head? How about on one leg? Add some movement. Why don’t you spiral as you walk. Will you make it fast? Slow? Slow motion? Can you do two spirals in a row, crawling?

And if you were to connect it to a fall, how will you fall if you are on the floor crawling? And, if you do manage it, will you fall on your nose or on your head? Can you spiral from your head while positioned on the floor?

Do you see the depth of this problem? Is it becoming any clearer?

Run…how many different ways do you think you are capable of running? Fast, slow, sideways, byways, upside down ways, on your knees or just your hands. Help me understand.

Will you run in a spiral into a fall?

You can always change the order of things. You decide. You can make it spiral, run, fall, three times together or make it a pattern, run, run, fall, fall, spiral. Repeat. Run, fall, spiral, fall, fall. Repeat. Now repeat it many more times. The choices are yours to make in this dance of yours. Make it your own.

But, don’t think too hard. You get dizzy if you think about this too much. Do you see that even in the small confines of these isolated ideas that the possibilities, when brought together, are endless? When you exhaust all the possibilities, what you keep is what is most pure; what does the best job at solving the problem.

Ms. Lewitsky watched us the entire time, and occasionally offered a suggestion to us. I was always grateful; her suggestions always made sense somehow. She saw through your madness. Occasionally, we all gathered for an informal showing of our work. You knew when it was your turn; it was scheduled, although this didn’t necessarily mean you made more progress in time for your showing. We offered our critique and learned from each other how to improve whatever it was we were trying to express (i.e., we may not have known exactly what we were actually doing, just that we weren’t satisfied with it). From time-to-time, in the quiet of the studio while we worked, we would shake our heads at each other in exasperation. There was no music or sound save for our grunting and thrashing on the floor.

At the end of the two weeks, each of us performed our solo choreographic pieces. My family came to view the results; hopefully, they watched. I remember falling a lot, intended or not. Just kidding. I made serious choices, and in the end, I was more than happy with my piece, having exhausted everything until my choices fit together as they should. Because they weren’t forced, the pieces came together in the most organic way.

When we put a structure in place, indeed, these two things happen, as the Writer’s Digest article states:

First, you begin to truly notice what has been right in front of you the whole time.

Second, you free your mind to make connections that you hadn’t at first realized were there.

I can very easily relate my dance composition experience to my writing. I know that if I’ve written myself into a corner, it might be exactly the place I need to be to find that hidden gem, that twist, that a reader won’t see coming. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If I’m surprised, chances are, my reader will be too.

I’ll tell you one thing. I’ve never looked at spirals in the same way. 

Photo credit: Mambo Dance Tremestieri Etneo Sicilia Italy – Creative Commons by gnuckx via photopin (license)

More about Bella Lewitzky:

Dance On: Bella Lewitzky (YouTube)

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37 thoughts on “Creativity: The Freedom of Limits

  1. That was really interesting to learn how dance can relate to writing! I can see many parallels between the two. I know dance oftentimes tells a story, just like when we write. Your spiral/run/fall example required a lot of thought, just like writing an outline, and in a dance performance there are many of the same elements found in the narrative structure. And you can see the use of single effect as well, whether the story is told through dance or words.The spirals reminded me of Fibonacci spirals found in nature – I’m sure that crossed your mind as well. I hope you are still dancing and expressing yourself in that way – if it’s anything like what you write, it must be a beautiful thing to behold. Thank you for such a thought-provoking post – a lot came to my mind. xoxo

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    1. Dance can definitely tell a story, and many do. Not just the ballets, either. What I enjoyed most was exhausting all the possibilities, as exhausting as that probably sounds! Something about the space and the time, and that we were all working so hard at it. It was nice when something worked. I think that happens with writing, too. I dropped a story and then thought about it again…I had an answer for a story I thought was dead! It can happen. The thing is to keep at it and let yourself be free in the process of exploring. No idea is stupid. Oh yes, the Fibonacci spirals. I didn’t get into that here. I figured I had enough going on. Trying to dance. Just started doing some yoga. It fits better with my schedule at the moment. 🙂 Thanks so much for your lovely comments, Kelly. I’m glad you got something out of it. xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Spiral, run, fall…repeat. That really does encompass the creative process. Ideas spiral, then I run with them, and trip and fall over the bad ones, spiral some more, run again, fall, spiral, run, spiral, run, fall, with the final fall being a collapse of exhaustion from a well-crafted creative work.

    That experience sounds like it was so amazing. What a great thing to have in your memory box.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I love it!!! Melanie, it hadn’t occurred to me that I had my dance composition encompassed the creative process. Wow, how cool is that? You’re a go-getter, Melanie. Will you now be thinking of the “spiral, run, fall” when you write, I wonder. Ha! I would be so honored. 🙂
      It was a fulfilling experience and has stayed with me all these years! Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I will be thinking “spiral, run, fall” as I write now. It’s just so fitting to the process. It’s a memorable sequence. Thanks for sharing it!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful analogy. I’m a big fan of structure. I won’t start my actual writing until my story’s structure is in place. I can tweak it as I go, of course, but I find my writing goes much more smoothly with an architectural spine in place.

    But as for literal spirals? I’d fall flat on my face! Sounds like a wonderful dance experience for you, and no doubt took lots of hard work and patience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Carrie. I like to at least have a road map. 🙂 If I need to detour, however, I let myself. It is easier to navigate with a map, but it’s fun to see where the story takes you too. Sometimes when I do that I don’t finish, i.e. I’m in the corner! I think that part can be really satisfying, too, so long as I can push through! Oh, I did fall on my face, Carrie. Lots of times. 🙂 It’s a great memory.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Frank! Oh, you’re too kind. I loved the video, especially the dragonfly! That was my favorite. Thanks for sharing that with me. Off to spiral, run and fall some more. Perhaps that should be my new motto. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Crying was the exact right response. I’d have done the same. The shelf life of a dancer is pretty brief. It’s such a tough, physically demanding, medium to fall in love with.

    The series of spiral pics was illuminating. I probably will spot those damn things everywhere. It’s like an earworm for the eyes.

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    1. It’s true what you say. Most dancers don’t have a very long professional life. I was actually pretty happy with the performing that I did, in hindsight. It was on a very professional level 🙂 thank you very much. I got to work with a lot of talented people. Besides, I get kind of restless in long rehearsals. I was happy with what I accomplished for the most part.
      I’m sure you will see the spirals everywhere now. You’re welcome!

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  5. I’m not sure if spirals will be stuck on my brain, but this is nice. Writing like dance has problems to solve, and when it flows as smoothly as can be, a masterpiece.

    …I actually wondered whether this was a new post, given the elements.

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    1. Thank you, Adam. I think having a problem to solve is a good approach to inventive art making or at least an attempt at it. When it flows, it is nice!
      Well, it’s my latest post. Is that what you mean? Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  6. Dancing is an art I greatly admire, Amy, even though personally, I’m a left-footed clod. I’m still not sure how a dancer spirals, but it does sound painful. Have you seen the 3D dance film, Pina, by Wim Wenders? It’s about Pina Bosch’s dance company. She was incredibly creative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, V! Good to see you. Or you back or just slipping in? In any case, thanks for stopping by to read this. I appreciate it.
      Spirals should not be painful unless, of course, you fall! I’ve never seen that film but have always wanted to. It looks incredible. I was in a tribute to Pina Bausch. I’ve been meaning to write that post, too. Yes, she had some wild methods!! I met this guy who met Pina and he talked about this dancer who had to face wild dogs every day as part of the dance! I would be afraid to go to work. I’m calling in sick for that one! Yikes! I hope you’re well. 🙂

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      1. Good to hear!! I think a lot of people step out for a bit, I may be doing that, too. I barely have enough time to return comments lately. I know how you feel! Breaks are healthy.

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      2. It did occur to me that if I stopped, I might not return … And that’s why it took me so long to stop. I was recently in California visiting my siblings. It felt good not having to brain out about my site. I’m so Type A, I had always under-rated relaxing. Not anymore.

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  7. Okay, this is one of my most favorite pieces of yours. (And I’m amazed yet again at the depth and breadth of your writing capabilities.) I think you’re on to something. I’ve always loved to create false limitations, whether as a teacher of art or artist (make two big, two small and one tiny or use only these colors or tie the chalk to a stick.) I think that’s why I miss the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenges so much. They were both limiting and infinite.
    Now I’m off to look for spirals.

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    1. Oh, thank you, Jen. That’s so very sweet of you to say. You’re making me blush. This article (I couldn’t link it, unfortunately!) talks about having limits vs. the open page – the blank page. Often when faced with the blank page, that’s how it stays! This is why I do Friday Fictioneers every week even if I think my story is garbage. I still do it! I always get something out it and ultimately it gives me ideas. I can see how limiting yourself with your art with be exactly the same idea, just different. It’s amazing how your mind thinks differently with limits. 🙂
      Did you see any spirals? Feeling dizzy yet? Thanks for your lovely comments. xo

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  8. “Structure is what gives us freedom” she said. In raising ourr children, in raising the creative child within. I so get this. And although I don’t get the dance, I get the having it all come together and make sense in the end. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your process.
    Love,
    Shalagh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thank you for reading. It’s my pleasure to share whatever I can that could benefit anyone with anything. I can see this motto being used for raising a creative child, and I didn’t think of in that way. Of course, it makes perfect sense! When it comes together in the end, it’s all worth it. I know you know what that’s like with all your creative projects. Good to see you, Shalagh. Love ya!

      Liked by 1 person

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