To Practice Being In The Practice

– EMMA WILSON 13th October 2020



Image: Alicia De La Fuente and Emma Wilson at Open Practice

A written reflection in response to an Open Practice session led by Denise Comba.


And Denise says (amongst many other things) “See if you can find your dance of the day.” 

I put my nose to the ground and sniff like a dog, the search is on.

I tumble through the space over a blue crate, drag a heavy metal framed chair across the room, upend a couch. 

I wait, I go inside. I am soaking up Denise’s words like the cracked brown earth after a long drought. She says to observe the impulses as they arise, wait until the fourth or fifth impulse and then let myself respond. I pause a bit longer and lean inside of myself a little more. 

Nothing. As vacant as an empty stadium. No sensations, inclinations, not even any involuntary movements.

No desire to move at all. And then I feel it. The years of accumulated exhaustion. Ah here’s something; an image comes to mind. A photo of me, only days after my first one slipped out of me. In the photo I look as young and fresh as a prepubescent girl; I had no knowledge then of what motherhood would expect of me.

I open my eyes suddenly and information comes at me from everywhere I look. Impulses in the form of images. 

I see an image of myself lying prone on the hard, hostile grey carpet, I see myself cradling Alicia as she descends, I see myself standing on top of a stack of crates in the corner of the room looking out and down. Possibilities keep presenting themselves. I observe them, enact them mentally but not physically.

A moment of doubt – are these also a form of impulses? Previously I had experienced impulses as sensations, kinesthetic feelings arising from a bodily logic which I could observe as it enacted itself.

I finally relent as my curiosity peaks. I approach an injured microphone stand, cobbled together with silver duct tape and lay it on my back. The pieces fall apart and I begin an awkward dance with the attempt to not let them fall. I imagine bringing them into a kinesthetic way of experiencing the world: framed by disorientation as we roll around a centre of gravity, travelling across passages of time and space. Oh to the superpowers of being human!

I enjoy a moment of intimacy with the microphone stand as it, paused midair, looks at me intently whilst I reconfigure the relationship between my feet and my spine to be able to bring the stand and myself once again into close proximity with each other. We breathe together and look out across the room.

We see channels of energy shoot past as bodies coherent and discombobulated inhabit the terrain. ‘There’s a curlew in here’, I hear. Voices and movements appear at the rate of corn kernels popping in the pan. The busy hum of a room full of people all attending to themselves, others and the space we occupy, through a kinesthetic filter, fills me with a sense of solidarity.

Our vision rests on Sandi, settled in deeply to a vertical rhythmical folding and unfolding; suck, flick, suck, flick, her rotating ankles offer a circular relief.

I’m taken back to my own dance earlier on, comfortable and familiar in my mode of inhabiting my body and the space. Swinging, pulsing, pendular limbs, pausing, collecting myself in and exploding out, dwelling in the known patterns and pathways.

Denise says at this moment to SHIFT away from our habits of moving and lean instead towards the unfamiliar. I internally groan. I really don’t want to. But, of course I have to do this. It is the reason I am here, to do this. My desperately tired body wants to stay in the known, to be massaged by familiar kinesthetic memories and desires. 

Ruby’s words insert themselves into my mindspace, that we are here ‘to practice being in the practice’. 

To practice being in the practice – it’s to question isn’t it? What am I doing, why, how, for whom, through what lens am I seeing and thinking, what position do I occupy that allows me to have the thoughts I have, what is it that I give my attention to?

And if I stay in the known, in the comfortable, my lens will stay invisible. I’ll won’t be able to practice a CRITICALITY* towards myself, the situation I am in, and dance as an artform (*a concept from Irit Rogoff, who suggests that to practice criticality we need to recognise the limitations of our thought in order to rethink the structure of our own thinking).

So I commit. I mentally reach out and grab the gear stick, listening to it grind as I pull it down and heave it to the right. A shift is taking place.

STOP <<<< rewrite this moment as a score for next time I’m attempting to move away from the habitual and into the unknown.

(taken from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl).

“Charlie Bucket stared at him in astonishment. This was the craziest life he had ever seen. There were buttons everywhere! The walls, and even the ceiling, were covered with rows and rows and rows of small, black push buttons. Charlie noticed that every single button had a tiny printed label beside it telling you which room you would be taken to if you pressed it.

‘This isn’t just an ordinary up-and-down lift!’ announced Mr Wona proudly. ‘This lift can go sideways and longways and slantways and any other way you can think of! It can visit any single room in the whole factory, no matter where it is. You simply press the button…. and zing!… you’re off!’

‘The whole lift is made from thick, clear glass!’ Mr Wonka declared. ‘Walls, ceiling, doors, floor, everything is made of glass so you can see out!’


So I get back to it, nose to floor like a dog. ‘Surprise yourself’, Denise says with a grin full of the knowledge of the impossibility of the task she has given us: to search for ‘surprise’.

They say ‘curiosity killed the cat’. But for a dog, curiosity is the thrill of following a trail of smells, sounds, sights, movements, with a keen sense of delight and openness. 

And so I become most curious about what my dance will lead me to, what it will upend and unearth.

I realise with excitement that the search for my dance of the day is not to find myself in some virtuosic state of ecstatic articulation, but that the SEARCH-ING is my dance of the day. 

The SEARCH-ING reveals itself as an unfolding of connected and disconnected moments, which are in themselves a series of discrete choreographic events in the form of questions, thoughts, discoveries, observations.




I have meandered across this page, not knowing for the past hour, fielding constant interruptions from my young daughter, to arrive at this last sentence. I’ll say it again in an attempt to digest this knowledge:

The SEARCH-ING reveals itself as an unfolding of connected and disconnected moments, which are in themselves a series of discrete choreographic events in the form of questions, thoughts, discoveries, observations.

And, now I’m left with the thought from Kate Zambreno in her novel Drifts, that ‘to write with attention to the present is in some way to become like a dog’. 

I would like to rephrase this and say ‘to dance with attention to the present is to become like a dog’; all my senses open and curious to the flow of choreographic thinking (ideas and questions), which arise whilst I am dancing.

This could be one possible definition of ‘to practice being in the practice’.