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).
Below are a few postcards that accompanied the workshop mailings.
I could do these poses, so let me into the company already:
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 the Universe:
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.
More about Bella Lewitzky: