Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Who is Your Muse?

A muse has been described as many things: elves that live in the corner of your room, beautiful women who whisper into your ear, your dance steps flying towards you on a gentle breeze or wild gust of wind. "Sing in me, muse, and through me tell me the story," says Homer's Odyssey.

While a muse may never be something you'd consider as a dancer, it's actually a huge benefit. For one thing, it takes the pressure off you. Say you're just having a bad day in dance class. Instead of telling yourself what a terrible dancer you are, and how you'll never perform again, you just remind yourself that you still showed up to class and gave it your all, and your muse just happened to take the day off.

Or if you choreograph a beautiful performance, and everyone in the audience is coming up to you after the show to congratulate you on your genius and insight, etc. etc., rather than take all the glory for yourself and fan the fires of your ego, you tell yourself that your muse happened to be particularly inspiring that week, and you can't take all the credit (but out loud, just smile and say "Thank you").

Just because you're interpreting the music or dancing someone else's steps doesn't mean you can take inspiration from somewhere outside yourself. After all, dancing without inspiration might as well be not dancing at all, for all the lack of emotion it conveys to your audience.

Until recently, I've never considered having a dance muse. Sure, I've admired other dancers for their skill, flexibility, dance background, and creativity, and I've certainly been inspired by other dancers, I've never actually chosen a muse. However, as a writer, I find the idea of a muse not only plausible, but sometimes necessary. I've even seen writers who physically embody the spirit of their muse in a figuring or stuffed animal!

Your muse, of course, can be anything you want, whether it's a spirit that lives inside your head, a long-dead or distant dancer, or your favorite pet. But every time you put on some music to dance to, remember your muse, even if all you're doing is drilling.

If you're a frequent visitor to this site, you'll see that I use a lot of photos of early modern dancer Ruth St. Denis. I enjoy her work (what little I can find of it), as well as how beautiful she is in various costumes and photographs. She seems to capture so many different emotions, depending on the photo.

As I get more serious about my dancing, I'm relying on a muse to inspire me. For me, this is the spirit of Ruth St. Denis. I like the idea of a dancing ancestor whispering words of inspiration into my ear (or ignoring me completely!), and while I admire plenty of other more modern dancers, having someone a little less solid, perhaps, than people I can still have a chance at meeting in real life, makes her more a spirit of genius. When I dance from now on and I'm at a loss for what to do, I will ask myself, "What would Ruth do?"

Who is your muse?

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