During the pandemic we are, on a global scale, experiencing a drastic limitation of mobility. For many of us in privileged positions within Western societies, this is the first time that our movement is limited; that contact with those whom we care about is prevented.* The beginning months of the quarantine were devastating to many of us. To me, the confined space was stifling. Suddenly having my personal life, social life, work life, and creative life all folding on top of one another in the same space, mediated by a rectangular screen that only worked so long as I was close enough to the plastic box that connected me to the internet, was beyond frustrating. I found myself grappling over my misgivings of technology. Technology was a necessary evil, not yet a useful tool. I venture to say that I am far from the only person who experienced this.
Yet over time, I am adapting. I am finding and witnessing within my community intentional use of technology to foster relationships. I have professors who are finding ways to use break out rooms to engender one on one support among peers. I have family members who write emails to one another that read as personal letters—a practice we’ve never done in the past. I have friendships that are deepening despite the distance, specifically because each person continues to intentionally set aside time to record and send videos of themselves speaking to, dancing for, and breathing ‘with’ each other. The private act of filming myself is made relationally intimate by recording the video for, and sharing it with a specific person. (Thank you to the developers of Marco Polo for creating an app that makes the private intimate, in deviation from, in my opinion, too many apps that make the private public).
I am interested now, in the following investigations. How can we adapt our creative practices to our current circumstances? What methods of community building are possible through intentional use of technology? How can we develop new methods of creative facilitation that interrupt our experience of isolation without requiring spatial proximity? What practices can mobilize us relationally, creatively, and spiritually when spatial mobility is limited?
With great appreciation for those who are already courageously responding to these and similar questions, I share the following methods and experiments that I have encountered in the past few months. The methods in each category bleed into one another, but it was helpful in my brainstorming process to think of three realms of collaborative process: building relationships, embodied awareness, and creative practice.
In my experience, the social relationships surrounding collaborative work are what make the work fulfilling. In place of in-person socialization like parties, coffee dates and sharing meals together, I consider methods of relationship building that do not require people to share space. These include the intentional practice of mailing hand written letters to each other; establishing a group text thread for social purposes specifically; developing a ritual of check-ins to start any video meeting; utilizing Marco Polo or WhatsApp to create small community groups in which people can send videos and voice messages to ask for support, share reflections, send funny tidbits, and practice vulnerability. I have experienced all of these practices developing organically within groups of friends and colleagues but I believe that these practices can be intentionally offered, demonstrated, and encouraged by leaders and facilitators. Additionally, I have found it effective when facilitators schedule one on one meetings with each person in the group to check in and allow space for them to voice feedback or ask for support in a non-intimidating setting.
When approached as communal acts of self care, I have found somatics and embodied awareness to be generative of mutual support within groups. Much of my experience with group somatics has involved a great deal of physical contact, so adapting relational somatic practices to the demands of our current circumstances has been one of the larger challenges in this brainstorming task. Here are a few ideas I have considered: incorporating grounding practices at the start each meeting to center the group in the present moment; taking turns leading somatic and improvisational physical practice over Zoom; and creating voice recordings for each other of guided meditation, improvisation, and somatics that people can do on their own time. While the third idea is one of solo experience in practice, there is an underlying experience of the guiding voice being a collaborator, as well as the knowledge that at some point in the week we all, as an entire group, will go through the same guided practice. In addition to these, I believe that demonstrating embodied presence and responsiveness in the moment as the facilitator (prioritizing holding emotional space over getting things done) is important always, but especially during this time of isolation and stress.
The creative practice serves the overall facilitation process by proposing a shared goal. It is the ‘whatness,’ the reason that groups come together, the something that is collaboratively created. Usually I (as well as many artists, I would think) consider this to be the primary focus of creative process. I am intrigued, however, by my choice to place it last in a series of three focal realms. Perhaps the ‘whatness’ of the project is not so much in my mind while I am brainstorming methods. Or perhaps I am feeling less concerned about the art that is produced and more concerned about the relational process. I am interested in holding space for vagueness around the ‘whatness,’ at least in the beginnings of the process. I am interested in allowing the concepts, mediums, representations, portrayals, etc. (and the specific methods that relate to each) to emerge from within the process, rather than starting with a specific goal or product in mind. Yet, even with the accepted initial vagueness, starting together with creative practice in action is important. Here are some methods I have imagined as entries into collaborative creative practice: leading shared improvisational scores through Zoom that everyone responds to in their own space; creating small groups in Marco Polo or WhatsApp to send video and/or voice recordings of creative responses to prompts; practicing being seen by each other—using breakout rooms for one on one practice of being witnessed while improvising; guided location specific walks, journeys, or improvisation scores that people can do on their own time, knowing that others have engaged with the same practice in the same place; meeting at outdoor locations for in-person, socially-distanced, improvisational practice.
Through out my life, my continued interest in dance-making has been sustained by the potential for creative process to cultivate networks of deep connections and intimate working relationships. While I am invigorated by the physicality of dancing and stimulated by the intellect of dance scholarship, it is the relational support of the dance community that motivates my continued investment in dance-making. It is no wonder then, that for the first six months of quarantine, I experienced the separation required for safe social distancing as impossible circumstances within which to sustain a dance practice. In retrospect now, I am able to see that imagined impossibility as resistance to change, as a common first step in the adjustment process. I am now feeling excited to engage with new methods that respond proactively to our circumstances, and eager to be in a collaborative group setting through which I am sure more methods will emerge. I am animated by the idea that our current limited mobility is providing an opportunity to intentionally reframe and transform approaches to and methods within collaborative, creative process.
*By no means am I intending to compare the limited mobility required by social distancing to the ways that regimes of power have employed violence to limit the mobility, and therefore livelihood of entire populations of people. The collaborative effort to stay home and away from others in order to save lives has little similarity to the forced enclosure, separation, and threat of violence to which many people across the world are subjected regularly.