Introduction for the viewer/reader
‘I don’t want to dance’ is my first of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. Each of the three blog entries is composed of a short film (at the end of the post) and accompanying text. I’m a freelance dance artist and a mother and this series of posts is about being both at once.
I completed an MA in Creative Practice at Laban Conservatoire in London in September 2016 which required me to work in dance training while becoming a mother (my daughter Lisa was born in 2014- my first year as a part time student) at the same time. In this way, the experience of becoming a mother and being in creative development happened simultaneously and that experience is the foundation for this project.
I have experienced a tension between my dance training and training in motherhood. A dance practice traditionally requires time in the studio and a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work. Being a mother affects these aspects: time and space as well as my body-mind are not exclusively at my own disposal. Motherhood pushes me out of traditional working methods in my dance practice and challenges my assumptions of what I believe training to be.
To challenge these assumptions my project asks: What is considered to be ‘training’ and to what degree does training begin or end when I step into or out of the studio? Who trains who in a mother/child relationship? What and how does the artist in me see from the point of view of what I call the ‘motherside’?
Motherhood is not linear and consistent. I respond to my daughter’s needs in the moment they occur, as unexpected and inconvenient as they might be – interrupting me in a train of thought or a meal half cooked. In a similar way, the blog texts and short films aim to give the viewer a sense of fragmentation, of spontaneity, of being stuck in repetition and again and again being interrupted, stopped, confused.
In her manifesto Mothernism Lise Haller Baggesen outlines the tension between the various aspects of her identity. ‘As I tried to figure out the relationship between the different aspects of my life (…) defining myself as a feminist-academic-artistic-mother increasingly felt like playing a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors-boob. (…) I felt increasingly provoked at this demand “to check my motherhood at the door.” So much so that instead of “covering” that part of my life , I opted to “come out” as a mother, artistically and academically.’
Following Baggesen, I want to challenge my own assumption of the artist being someone on a lonely individual journey and that the nurturing nature of the mother is in opposition to the romantic ideal of an artist as a singular genius. I want to let go of the idea that in order to lose myself in an artistic process I have to give up motherhood.
Paradoxically, motherhood is precisely a lonely journey where I lose myself as I venture into the unknown. A lonely journey that for me started in the intimate experience of pregnancy where I felt removed from the sense of self that I knew, as my slender agile body was replaced by a grotesque version of me. Giving birth was lonely and unpredictable and although the shared responsibility with Lisa’s dad when she was born was a relief, I was always the last point of call when he was no longer capable of offering her comfort, because only my breast would do.
As I begin to acknowledge the common points of reference between the roles of mother and artist, this polarisation dissolves. If there is no polar opposition between the mother and artist and I can be both equally at once, what creative process and outcome will I have?
What does motherhood see?
Inspired by the documentary Cameraperson (2016), directed by American filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, my thoughts on how to make this investigation happen started to come together. Johnson’s documentary shows footage from her 25 years as a cinematographer, telling a story about her, the cameraperson, almost without showing her in the film. I was fascinated by the idea of using artistic tools of filming without purposely putting the person in question directly in the frame. Cameraperson shows what Johnson sees through the lens but only on a few occasions do we actually see her. It tells a story about the person who is seeing. Could my film show motherhood without the mother in the frame? I was not interested in depicting my experience of being a mother, I wanted the film itself to ‘be a mother’. My project shows motherhood in/as training by letting motherhood look through the camera. What does motherhood see? How does motherhood see?
Seeing through a viewfinder
The filming is not planned in advance; nothing within the frame is directed. I don’t seek out to film dance but to allow the dance to come through in the juxtaposition of shots, camera movement and pace. For this reason I don’t use complex equipment: being able to improvise my filming means to simply point and shoot.
I review my footage and observe that Lisa is often in the (centre of) the frame. I try and see beyond Lisa and beyond the loving gaze of a mother looking at her child as my film is not intending to be about Lisa, I’m not interested in portraying her. But in reality she is in the viewfinder when I film. She becomes the obstruction for the project: always there, pushing her way into my film, into my consciousness even as I try to see past her, in a way, illustrating how her presence fills my time, my space and my being. I wonder how the process of training is taking place and to what degree Lisa’s presence in my film is an element of her training me to be a mother and /or an artist?
The making of the film becomes about seeing movement and choreography, contrast and colour in the footage I have gathered and not just seeing my child. I allow the choreographer in me to shine through in an interest in framing what I see in the viewfinder in a particular light, in shadows or against a contrasting background.
Seeing beyond Lisa
In the film ‘I don’t want to dance’ I try to let the motherside of my daily life merge with the artist. Lisa is dressing up and role playing, using ‘performance’ as a way of training for ‘being in the world’. At the same time she is refusing to be trained as the voice track reveals.
As a consequence of embracing motherhood in the creative process I find the centre of the film becomes about the actual manifestation of motherhood, my daughter. Here lies the tension of the project for this first blog entry: can I make a film that has Lisa in the frame without it being about her? What can my intention to see beyond her show me about how motherhood sees?
 Lise Haller Baggesen, Mothernism, p. 12 http://www.spdbooks.org/Content/Site106/FilesSamples/9780988418554.pdf
I enjoyed your film very much, although it made me a little sad in a nostalgic way. I think once you become a mother you can never see beyond your child – they are always in the centre of your frame. Maybe this shifts a bit as they get older, so they begin to move to the edges of the frame. In this way you train to be able to see a way forward without their constant, immediate & physical presence in your life.
Your comments introducing the film were so resonant… It made me think back, as did the film itself, to the days when I tried to dig several days out of one just to stay on top of everything, my very young children, the MA in Dance Studies and my own dance practice. But yes is did all contribute to a form of training that has never left me.
There is something in your film that reminds me too of the need to give up the old image of what it was to make work and allow something fresh to creep in. I have favourite moments such as finding the joy of moving in a workshop when my baby daughter was being taken off by her father and I could discover new flexibility in my ligaments before my hormones shifted.
I knew something more permanent had released however, when I worked with my second daughter aged 4 on a short dance performance called ‘Push’. We performed it in a park for friends and then at a dance festival. We rehearsed together on the subject we shared – how we pushed each other. It involved lots of play and laughter but more serious elements too.
This making in the crevices of the daily routine stays with me and I return to it as a way of working despite the immediacy of other demands.
This is a comment by Dorinda Hulton
Marie raises the interesting question as to what ‘training’ is and how far the term can be expanded. There are two small stories that come to mind in response. Both small stories somehow connect my experience of motherhood and ‘training’ with the ‘other’.
The first small story is that I have no memory whatsoever of continuing my individual training in yoga when my daughter was very small. I must have done, however, as this blank in my recollection is contradicted by the clear image I have of, one day, coming around a corner on the upstairs corridor of our house, and finding my daughter, by herself, and very privately, wobbling about on one leg in the vrkasana (tree) posture.
The second small story concerns my training in Shinto. We were staying and working at the wooden shrine at Ishikiri, near Osaka. I was learning an ancient dance form of Kagura, and my daughter was perhaps three at the time, still being carried at times, but also walking and running about with the local children of the shrine workers. On alternate mornings, I swept the leaves in the shrine garden, and then, until there was snow on the ground, went under the waterfall, and practised the sound/movement/image exercises that the priest taught me. On other mornings my daughter and I walked up the wooden street which was the main drag of Ishikiri, and then, armed with an ice cream, went to the playground, whilst her father went to the waterfall, and so on. Then in the evenings, after our dance or flute (breathing) practices, we attended the ceremony in the shrine building together. I remember these ceremonies involved a lot of kneeling, bowing and chanting, and it was here that I have a clear image of my daughter bowing too. It was a mystery to me as to why I was bowing, and it was a mystery to me as to why she was bowing.
Somehow, in both small stories, each in our own ways, we were engaged in ‘training’, sometimes alone, sometimes together, something about ourselves in relation to the ‘other’.
Marie your blog has had me in tears! You articulate the situation you find yourself in as a new mother perfectly which brought on a surprising wave of emotion. The questions you pose are really relevant as your sense of self and perspectives (on everything!) shift completely from pregnancy onwards, and continues to do so as your child grows. Which will affect your creative process(es) due not just to having to find different working methods but through viewing everything through a different lens and from a different place.
I felt that I lost my own practice completely after having my first child, partly because I found motherhood overwhelming, but also because I lost a clear sense or understanding of who I was and how I fitted into things. Ironically, it was only when I began moving again that this started to return, which perhaps highlights the importance of your own practice and movement in developing/maintaining/restoring self identity.
Your film is beautiful and to me communicated the frustrations, contradictions and stalemate that arises through both parties having their own agendas. I look forward to your next blog!
Thank you for your post Marie. As a father and a performer, it evoked a wide range of thoughts and feelings about the experiences I’ve had with my son over the past three and a half years. My journey as a father has brought me back time and time again to my training in improvisation, to principles and dynamics that I trained with so deeply that I had forgotten them until certain moments with my son brought them back to me in a new, strange light. Your writing and video are so touchingly poignant that they brought these moments back and allowed me to consider them as an accumulation of experience rather than isolated and fragmented thoughts. In particular, your description of the disruption, joy, split attention and struggle to establish a new way to conceive work and training clearly articulated what I had experienced as a muddle of impressions.
I wanted to offer my own reflections on parenthood in/as training but remain respectful of the societal and biological differences that separate the experience of fathers and mothers.
Both the film and the blog capture a sense of spontaneity and the competing intentions of the viewer and subject. Being with my son is defined by interruption – he interrupting my plans by demanding my attention, and my interrupting his play as I cajole him through the day’s routine. This disruption occurs as a break of flow and a fracturing of intention, but similarly to improvisation training, it allows a new flow to be created, one co-created spontaneously from an openness to the other participant. What was an interruption of flow has become a flow of interruption.
In improvisation we call this ‘breaking the routine.’ When one player’s intention is frustrated, it forces them to stop, listen to the other and offer a new action that incorporates the other’s interruption together with something new from their own perspective. This is the classic, ‘Yes, and…’ that underpins all improv.
With my son, this flow allows us to play with one another and to bind our intentions together in shared activities. I have been privileged to be let into his experience through these exchanges as he discovers the world (a clock, a crack in the pavement, a thunderstorm) for the first time as phenomena completely without precedent.
When I am able to embrace the interruption, it not only allows room for my son’s intentions to be respected in our interaction, but it also forces me to reconsider my original intentions which are too often the product of deadened habit. Being interrupted has shown me that it is okay to miss our train, not finish a chore, or not achieve absolutely everything we thought we might on a particular day. Having my intentions destabilised through my interactions with my son has also given me the space to reshape my own intentions in the light of shifting priorities.
Being immersed in this flow of interruption and play with little space for individual reflection can be exhausting, but as time passes I am being trained to respond more spontaneously and find that less force of will is required to adapt to the unfolding moment. Just as my original improvisation training sharpened my responsiveness on stage, playing with my son is re-tuning my responsiveness to him and the world around us.
As a reflective practitioner it is still vital to have time out of the flow of action to think and write. It is also important for both of us to have quiet time, being with one another while concentrating purely on our own intentions and activities. When I don’t have this space, I do have a sense of disappearing as an individual and I am less able to hold up my end of the ‘flow of interruption’; I have less of myself to contribute to the play.
But just as performer training is about working with who you are on the day, of coping with imperfection and striving to deepen your connection with something (your body, your partner, the space) through repetition, so too I have to be attentive to the developing dynamic between myself and my son. As I train him to safely engage with the world, he is training me to be more open and responsive to the world. It is my intuition, as yet unproven, that this re-sensitising training might also bring new qualities to my performance work.
Thank you again for starting this thread, and I eagerly await your next post and video!
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