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Maryam Shakiba blog: Dancer in Lockdown | Credit Roy James Shakespeare

Dancer in Lockdown – On Practice

"...the ability to cultivate an inner space that has clarity, expansiveness and grace is the real goal of our practice."

In the days before official lockdown, when people had begun warily withdrawing inside, I remember going to the gym for what I knew would be my last studio session for a while. I can’t remember much of it. The practice was eclipsed by an underlying sense of anxiety. 

And then lockdown began. And I admit I pretty much stopped dancing…  while I could in theory have some form of regular practice at home, I haven’t managed that yet. 

I am at a phase in my artistic life where I am quite dependent on external stimulus for development and growth (pre-lockdown I was working on the Anjali Festival and the Odissi Fast Forward projects). It happens to many of us that at some point our inner drive loses focus, and we trundle along until clarity returns. I am grateful to have been carried along by the current of arts activities and the support of my valued dance colleagues, who continually inspire and engage me.

So, my life as a dancer in the early days of lockdown hasn’t seen much dance, but the flow of thoughts and internal reflection has been a continual stream!

On Practice

My dance life has been built on hours upon hours of practice in the studio. As someone who came to dance as a young adult, it has been both absolutely necessary and the greatest gift I could give myself. The clear open studio space to physically inhabit, and the ability to cultivate an inner space that has clarity, expansiveness and grace is the real goal of our practice. It is in that space that profound emotion can be reached and in turn is revealed when we perform, taking us and those who join us on a meaningful journey. 

In South Asian dance we use the term riyaaz or sadhana to capture the idea of not just practice, but also the discipline and dedication fundamental to our art. We strive to integrate our technique and move beyond it into artistry, and ultimately liberation of the soul. And that means that we cannot be fair-weather dancers, only practising when we are in the mood or when our environment allows. Our work and responsibility is to put that time in regardless.

So this period when I cannot find the motivation, or depend on the autopilot of my usual practice routine, has raised questions: why can I not fight this lack of motivation? Am I missing the heart of what I have dedicated myself to? Am I really as dedicated to dance as I thought I was?

Or is this a unique period of quiet internal time, away from any forced external routines, a time to allow myself to rediscover my internal compass and to explore where that impetus to dance actually begins? Sometimes you have to stop and check where you are on the map. Sometimes it is only in those extended quiet periods that nuggets of truth reveal themselves. 

Does it count if I still think about dance? 

Is it all leading me to the same place anyway?

I wish I knew the answer.