04 September 2007

Little fugue in G minor

Memory lives in the synapses.

Memory lives in the nerve, the fiber, the tissue.

When I was 14, I learned a dance warmup that is a series of centered stretches, similar to Pilates, for lack of a better description. The routine is about 8 minutes long. I still perform it several times per week to stay limber and light. Although I've long since set it to music, I still count the beats, I still visualize the opening of a flower as my arms open outward, I still see Martha Graham as I contract into my center.


Sometimes I'm extremely distracted, replaying an interesting conversation, or thinking about something I need to attend to, and suddenly find that five minutes have lapsed and I'm still stretching, on cue without having thought a bit about it.

The body remembers.

Some years ago, I was at a lecture where Caltech professor Christof Koch was talking about the nature of consciousness and memory, and the neurobiological basis for some of our actions. He told the story of driving for several miles with no conscious memory of having done so. Had he run that stop sign along his route? How had he gotten safely to his destination without the benefit of being aware of what he was doing?

Of course, there are so many things we all do on a daily basis without the benefit of being conscious of what we are doing. We breathe, we walk, we turn over in bed while sleeping.

I still dance as a form of exercise. It's not grand, not monumental floor work or combinations, grande battement and jete and tour jete in a studio. It's more barre: plie, releve, battement tendu, a bit of a cheat since I'm still disallowed weight-bearing exercise, and what I am doing on demi-pointe is most certainly bearing weight.

But the body remembers. It wants to move through the familiar routines, whether I am paying attention or not. And when I am quiet, listening to music, muscle fiber twitches and nerves fire because it wants to take off.

There are certain pieces I still remember, or perhaps, more accurately, my body remembers, pieces performed years ago. Without thinking about it, my arms curve in bras bas, or a foot absentmindedly moves through a little series of brushes along the floor. When you consider the intricacies of choreography and the stress of performance, there comes a time when your brain must relinquish consideration of every single movement, and your body needs to take over. The best, the very best, moments of performance were those when I felt myself flying through the air, leaping, kicking or very slowly pulling up from the floor into a perfectly balanced arabesque, without thought, one with the music and the moment.

The body remembers.

Go listen to some good music: "Little Fugue in G Minor" by J.S. Bach from the album Stokowski Plays Bach by Leopold Stokowski.