Say what you wanna say about dancers, male or female. These men right here…look at that trust they have in each other and look what that trust creates. Yes there is choreography in there. But you can tell which moments are the unscripted ones. That’s just one of the special things about dance-that bravery and courage to run and have someone keep up with you AND constantly push you to keep up with them when they surge forward. It’s about give and take and not being afraid to create something amazing. No one knows what will happen next except that these two will have each others backs. If they fall, they fall together. They don’t let the other drop. So yeah, say whatever you want about dancers but can the trust/commitment/strength/bravery seen here be found as easily in the relationships you have in your everyday life with partners, friends, relatives? Just something to think about. This is what dancers do on a daily basis, inside and outside the studio, on and off stage. They carry one another through each day. Mentally, physically, emotionally. And they do it with strength and grace.
This is Harry. As a boy Harry was very, very shy.
Some people might have even said that he was painfully shy. As if his shyness caused them pain, and not the other way around. There are many things that can cause a person to recede, to look away from other people’s eyes, or to choose empty hallways over crowded ones. Some shy people try to reach out, and try, and nothing seems to come back. And then there’s just a point where they stop trying.
In Harry’s case, he was slapped in the face and called names designed to isolate him, designed to deliver maximum damage. This because he’d come from another country, and didn’t know the right words to use, or the right way to say them. And so, Harry learned to be still. To camouflage, to be the least.
Some people describe this as receding into a shell, where the stillness hardens and protects. But the eyes, even when they look down and away, are still watching, still looking for some way out, or in. Painfully shy.
Then, in middle school, Harry found theater, where he forced himself to speak through other people’s words. And then dance, where he started to speak through the movements of his body. To be so still for so long when you’re young means a lot of pent-up energy, and it was released there, through work, endless work.
If someone carves into a sampling with a knife, the injury is as wide as the entire trunk. Though that mark will never fully heal, even grow the tree around it, and as you grow, the scar gets smaller in proportion.
If you, right now, are in a shell, you should know that you’re not alone. That there are many, many other people like you, and that there’s nothing wrong with you. It might even be necessary right now, it might keep you safe for a time. But after the danger is gone, after it has exhausted its use, you’ll find a way out.
You may need help, you might need to work pretty hard. You may need to find some ways to laugh at yourself. Or find a passion or friend. But you will find it. And when you do, it will be so good to see you.
This is Harry. As a boy, Harry was very, very shy.
If you are in a shell… (video)
| narrated by ze frank
| choreography and performance by Harry Shum Jr.
Oddly enough, after years of not dancing, something I dearly miss is ballet. More specifically: petit allegro. Can you believe that?
If you know me/danced with me, you would know that I had a serious ankle injury that kept me from doing much of that ankle straining footwork for my last few years while still training and dancing. Some days I had to skip out on that part of class all together. Man do I miss dance but really, I miss those confusing petit allegro combinations. I wish I could take some classes sometime…
Interesting and maybe fun fact about me. There you go.
Your heart is beating faster from all the adrenaline. Your hands dangle at your sides, heavy. Palms starting to produce moisture. Taking a deep breath, you exhale slowly and close your eyes. You let the darkness linger for just a moment before you raise your eyelids. And then the music swirls around you, filling your ears. You start to feel the vibrations through your chest. What do you do next?
I used to cringe at the part of class where you get to improv dance. The more we did it, the more intrigued I became. I wanted to explore what you could do with movement and musicality when you didn’t really know what was coming next. I was fascinated by the freedom but also by the limitations that comes with the music selected. Will it be fast? Will the music pick up? Will there be lyrics? What’s the story there? What the hell am I going to do while everyone is watching me?
Here are some extra notes: Use your technique to your advantage. You can play around with what you can do. Go beyond what you think is enough. Reach further than you think you can. Utilize the quality that opposition brings to movement. Shade your movement. Add contrast. Repetition is nice but if everything looks the same most of the time, it gets boring to watch. Add levels to your movement. Use the floor. Use everything and anything. Use the music. Find a way to lose yourself in the music. You’ll find yourself wanting to be on top of it, but you really want to find that place where you’re in it so you can make decisions with accents.
In my experience, I have found it best to find that groove with the music. Once you find that place where you breathe with it, you can start to experiment with your movement. I let my body test the waters on its own. If my arm wants to try something, I let it. If my body doesn’t know what to do yet, I stop, inhale, then I relax into a position as I exhale. I usually find myself getting wrapped up in the music by this point so then I rely on shading my movement to take me forward. And then I just go with it. That’s mostly what it’s about-just going with it. It’s about risk and trust and musicality. If you are open to creating something in that moment and you breathe through it, you’ll have fun with it.
There is something to be said about being able to captivate in stillness. The same can be said about how you approach movement and what you do in that moment. It is another thing entirely to do so while improvising. But it’s a really great feeling being able to live in that moment, to be creative with reckless abandon. In all honesty, it’s actually really very addicting.
When I see a dancer move, yes I want there to be amazing musicality. At the same time, I don’t want my mind to drift into unconsciously counting out every move. I’ve said it before: When you see the dance become the music, see the music push the mover and the mover make it seem like the music is coming from within them, that is something special in itself. You want that quality to come through in your movement.
I want to see the musicality but have the “dead air” be filled as well. Does that make sense? There shouldn’t be a moment where I feel like there isn’t something there. Yes, there should be moments where you take advantage of being completely still, but don’t forget to shade things. Add contrast. Change up the pace if you can.
You want to use everything that’s there, yes? Take advantage of that split second where nothing was choreographed. Fill that blank! Because that is your window of opportunity. That is where you add yourself into the movement. What do you do with those extra moments you are left to breathe? What you choose to do with these moments makes your movement unique. It makes it interesting. What will the dancer do with those moments? This is something I’ve found that pulls people into watching you in a crowd. I’ve seen it happen countless times.
These are the dancers that get picked out to do the combo. It’s so you can see the different choices that they’ve made, what they’ve added of themselves. It’s not just about getting the counts right, or having the technique, or whatever.
It’s proof that it’s okay to be bold and make different choices than other people. That’s what they want. Of course, they want you to be similar to everyone else, but it’s okay to push those boundaries with your movement. That’s what the classroom is for.
When I shoot video for dance and I’m doing close ups, I sometimes feel like I’m in it as well. Like, I’m improvising where I can fit in, finding that balance between being involved but still giving the dancers space to move and do their thing.
I guess that’s the point, though. To connect with them, to jump right in there and become part of whatever they’re doing. To get the story across you have to immerse yourself in that world that’s been created, be in that moment with them.
It’s quite interesting, actually. I find myself knowing certain routines in the sense that I’m spatially aware of where I can and cannot be or where I need to be to catch the best angle for a particular shot.
Totally forgot I wanted to write this up.
I woke up from a dream this morning… I dreamt that I was back in the studio taking a dance class. We were just finishing warming up on our own. Lights dim to make it more relaxing and set the mood for some improvisational exercises. Just as we start to move, a male figure walks in with a guitar. He’s crouched down a bit and weaving between people to find a spot to sit in the front corner of the room. It’s Ben Howard. Cool. Then I also notice someone else in the back of the room. Also seated. Also has a guitar. It’s Ed Sheeran.
Live music for an improv session. And I danced. I did pretty well I think. Interesting dream.