Finding your axis

Skills Exchange Day 4

Strength, belief, being good enough

Laura Street

Laura has trained at The Northern School of Contemporary Dance, The Cunningham Studios, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Perri Dance Center and Alvin Aliley Studios in New York. She has performed with a wide range of companies and projects, most notably with Travelling Light Theatre Company and Oily Cart Theatre Company. She is Artistic Director of about NOWish who make immersive movement and sound experiences for young children and their accompanying adults. She is a passionate educator and leads workshops and classes in a number of different settings and recently gained her Early Years Teacher Status. Laura recently became an Associate Artist of Theatre Bristol and became involved in the Skills Exchange through her relationship with Theatre Bristol as an integral contributor and regional representative for the south west in the development of the Artists' Exchange Programme.

On day 4 of the skills exchange, Laura was moved to share her experiences and strategies for managing self care, resilience building, and knowing when you are enough. In an industry in which we set up environments and strategies to support others, Laura talked about how we can find mechanisms to support ourselves and be honest about how we are coping. In her own words she shares her reflections following on from the Skills Exchange week, and some of the practices that support her in her personal and professional work, following struggles with self worth, confidence and emotional value.

There's a sensation that has always been hanging over my shoulder throughout my life, the feeling of someone’s strong, forceful hand about to steer me out of the room I so desperately wanted to be in saying, "you’re not supposed to be here, you’re not enough".

I’m sure it’s a feeling many other artists feel, so I’m here to confess in the hope it will connect with someone who also feels they’re too about to be asked to leave. The AEP Skills Exchange week generated so much light, inspiration, creativity and hope, but all the while I feel the darkness heavy with me. It’s like I had been sent to represent the dark side of living creatively for others, as dance artists so often do.

I am a highly sensitive being and carry a lot of darkness in my soul at all times, it stays with me at my side, sometimes quiet, sometimes screaming and sometimes smothering. Towards the end of the week I put forward my confession to the group. I told them of dark periods, of the abusive relationships, the breakdowns and the messiness. Not to wallow in it, but to share, in case there was someone in the room who carried the same darkness with them, or someone knew someone else who did. I have always been open about the mess that is my brain, from making a point of turning up at events with mascara down my face from the tears of despair, to being honest with the dancers who performed my work with beauty and dedication, that I will always be eternally grateful for. For my brain and work is absolute, there’s no halfway space, it’s in or out and for many years there was no safety net. So I confessed to the AEP group in the hope it might help/inspire/connect, and to talk about the construction of the safety net that was so desperately needed.

I used the image of the axis and the orbit to explain what I meant:

Understanding your orbit

Creative processes are the orbit; commonly, immersive, all consuming and driven by passion. We often live on very little during these periods but the love for the work or the participants that inspire us, and it can be a very precarious way to live. These orbits can spin us into a world where were can’t see out, like spinning for your life in the playground, no longer being able to make out the familiar outline of the school building, and often, unfortunately, the only way is down to make it stop. I had fallen out of a daze too many times, causing some serious damage along the way. Damage which has stayed with me and now needed constant maintenance. So I set about constructing myself an axis that would keep me from spinning too far from my own
natural gravitational pull.

Constructing your axis

Each one of us is brilliantly different, but the world of social media can mean that the lines between ourselves and others can get blurred and you can get lost in others’ identities and needs. I needed to know myself to know what sent me spinning out into deep space, and thus what my axis needed to be constructed of to keep me locked into a healthy orbit. It’s often a rocky road to find what you need to be your axis, with bits of you often flying off at precarious angles and sometimes clouting loved ones in the face as you go. It’s not fun, and it's not healthy to glamorise the suffering artist, as many still do in a, in my opinion, highly irresponsible way; but to acknowledge the dark side of the person who can bring so much light and love to the world. As a wise friend once told me, all the emotions are valid, and I believe as artists we can represent the spectrum for people.

Creating a safe space

A key skill that we discovered we all do during the AEP Skills Exchange week is to create a caring and safe creative environment for people to engage with dance and their own creativity.

But how do we do that? What do we put in place to create this ‘home’ for them and ourselves? Do we think to create it for ourselves?

I shared the practice I had learnt on my massage and bodywork course, a practice that has helped me construct my own axis, when I had existed as only a small pool on the floor.

  • Opening the space, creating an environment where people can feel at home and welcomed, and you as a practitioner feel safe and secure to work
  • Greeting the participant where they are at that day and at that time, taking time to make a one to one connection so you can hope to understand where they are at
  • Working in a way that protects and cares, but allows you all to really explore and be safe to take risks. This bit takes some real consideration and acknowledgement of individual contexts
  • Closing the space. Bringing down the energy to be able to wrap yourselves up in it and prepare yourself for the next part of your day which will inevitably arrive
  • Taking time to reflect on what happened, how you feel, and recognising that some of your feelings may not in fact be yours. You may be taking other people's ‘stuff’ away with you, so making sure you’re are free to carry forward only what it yours
  • Cleansing. Finding a way to step out from one space and into another without taking baggage with you - a simple act of changing clothes can make all the difference

Axis’ are not permanent structures; what ‘held’ you at one point may no longer be the best thing at another point. To make sure yours is made of the right stuff I suggest two key things that I took away from the AEP week in December;

listen...

really listen...

and stay fluid

(Words by Laura Street)