Not quite in the middle
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
  Today's Benediction

To you whom I gave evidence against to a court, and maybe you didn’t rape her after all; To you who lost 25 years to speed until your addict son forced you into detox; To you whose mother died; To you whose mother died; To you whose mother died; To you whose mother died; To you who had physical contact denied you all these years; To you who won’t eat; To you whose life is controlled by your addiction; To you whose Dad took his own life; To you who left your wife; To you whose girlfriends got successively taller; To you who lost your husband; To you who lost your two year old daughter to a brain tumour; To you who got rid of your baby; To you who maybe can’t have a baby; To you whose heart I broke; To you whose heart I broke; To you who broke my heart; To you who livingly lost all three children; To you who hit the bottle; To you who suffered a mysterious virus; To you who thought she’d make a better wife; To you who lost 15 years to having men rape you; To you who gets hit; To you who lost your sister; To you who gets a fiver for a blow job; To you all who are homeless; To you who loved a married man; To you with grey hair still hoping to marry; To you who holds anger; To you whose life is not what you thought

Peace be with you.
Friday, February 01, 2013

‘February is the month for suicide’, opened the newsletter from the London Architecture Diary; and so it is - I just waited for an hour at Waterloo to take an hour and half stopping service back to Guildford, instead of an Actual Train, as a result of a fatality at Wimbledon. Pinch, punch first of the month, and no returns. Ever. Nowt more final than killing yourself.

And it’s alright, I’ll take the flack for saying it for the rest of us, and let that muttering, awkward feeling just swirl around a little bit, I’ll say it: ‘It’s just so selfish of them, so selfish. It’s just attention seeking’. Looking around the station it seems an ironic shame that the deceased, who we all roll our eyes at (who wanted attention, wanted someone to talk with them, to see them, to pause in their day to just give them some f***in’ time) is now the only one out of possibly thousands of commuters and their families, friends and colleagues, to not bear witness to the impact they had; the personal interruption they’ve caused to many, many people’s day; the huge ripple, knock-on effect of their own doing, some fullness of the scope of power they actually had available to them. There we go, there’s the attention. Everybody knows you were hurting now.

For me, it sort of just dragged out the groaning of a day in which I very much may as well have gone down to Guildford station at 7.30, thrown £80 into the air to watch blow away or flutter to the track and then stood on the platform for the next 7 hours before returning home again. But since I had got to London I stood leaning over the mezzanine level, watching the masses stand and wait and look at boards and at their watches and talk to the fluorescent yellow people with no answers, and in the time it took me to eat my baguette 11 trains had been cancelled and I just thought, ‘would it really have been so hard for someone to just give them some attention?’

Why do we use that tone of voice about ‘attention seekers’? Maybe they do bring the party down, maybe they’re often in tears, maybe they’re an addict, maybe they’re a bit of a d*ck, maybe they’re all emo and self-harming, maybe their behaviour breaks our heart every time we deal with them, but in the same breath that we say ‘tch, they’re such an attention seeker’, can’t we also bring ourselves to agree that they must need a bit more attention than they’re getting?

People are unfathomably complex. Really we are, we have no idea about ourselves. We have no idea what we’re capable of in our consciousness let alone our subconscious, or en masse, or spiritually, or anything, we’re incredible. But we’re also just really simple. Things we need: Food, water, sleep. Love. If you don’t get enough of the first three you might die, if you don’t get enough of the last one... The greatest thing we’ll ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return. All you need is love. The only remedy for love is to be loved more. We all know that shiz.

My one year old nephew is at a very affectionate, cuddly stage. Whenever he is upset, or daunted, or surprised, or has discovered something new, or is tired, or hungry or anything really, he snuggles into your shoulder and tucks his hands between your bodies so that he feels properly cocooned and there he finds a measure of physical expression of love. It’s necessary. He asks for it as much as he does his Tommy Tippee cup of water, or for mashed banana. Food, water, sleep, love.

I don't want to make light of the unimaginable difficulty (or the sheer admission of that difficulty) of being linked to someone who is suicidal, or lump every suicidal experience together, I absolutely have no intention of undermining the attention and love that hurting individuals are being given by parents, partners, children, counsellors, friends, pastors, colleagues, neighbours. And I am frustrated when my journey is disrupted (such is the world we live in). But I do hear them say 'Look! Look at me! I was hurting!' and feel mildly uncomfortable, as I finish my baguette, to hear people tch tch about the 'selfish bastard' who probably did have enough food, enough water, enough sleep...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
  Patterns of meaning

In a pre-Pullover, Pull Through, Flick discussion with my sister about my fear of inviting family to see anything I do, (namely that they think I’m trying to share something profound, but they don’t know what it is or what to say about it once they’ve seen it, so after the show we all stand awkwardly talking about all the other pieces except mine out of fear of offending, and this irks me. Of course they’re right. I am trying to share something profound. But I don’t know what it is either, and so continue to say ‘it’s just movement!’ whilst knowing, as they do, that if they dare to treat it as lightly as ‘just’ they will incur my silent wrath and deflated disappointment) she made quite an interesting point about why she doesn’t really understand how I connect to my work. She said ‘but Rae, you’re a very emotional person, and your dances don’t look emotional, they look like patterns… so I guess we don’t really get that…’

I thought about that, and I mentioned it to dancer friends in chats, and looked through previous work, and tried to get to the bottom of why I do that. Sometimes they are just patterns (I like counting, I like rhythm, I like intricacy), but I am indeed quite an emotional person, and I do feel emotional about my work, I feel precious about it, I feel like there’s a sense of something usually very dark and heavy in the midst of it – the lights are often low or maybe there aren’t any at all and the stage is just barely lit by the light of a tatty projector; beautiful girls in bright colours or flowered dresses or wearing white stand still, hidden in those murky, dark puddles, with their backs to the audience, they walk simply from one place to the next to get on with the next bit of moving. I feel like I want to create a gently foreboding scene, but maybe all that shows is patterns.

I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City at the moment and find it beautiful; deeply emotional, hugely validating and quite restful in its melancholy (or the more futile and communal hüzün of Islamic culture). Today I came across a paragraph that I thought ‘yes! I do that! That’s me!’ Pamuk talks about remembering an episode as a child of claiming that his uncle was the Prime Minister (which wasn’t the case), and when laughed at he felt wronged because he had been so sure he was right. They both had five-letter names ending in ‘-an’, they had both been to America, and he saw pictures of them both every day. These facts had fused them together in his head. He had patterned one with the other’s meaning. In his sensible, dealing-with-everyday-life bulk of his brain he knew it not to be the case, but in one ‘enciphering corner’ of his mind he had joined the two together. He had connected them. And he continues to do this as an adult:

‘I have, in all honesty believed that two people with similar names must have similar characters, that an unfamiliar word – be it Turkish or foreign – must be semantically similar to a word spelt like it… that there must be a link between peas and Brazil – not just because Brazil is Brezilya in Turkish and the word for pea is bezelye but also because the Brazilian flag has, it seems, an enormous pea on it...’

It made me smile because I remembered at once meeting another Rachel Burn as a teenager, and after chatting to her for a while stating confidently to my sister ‘She looked like me! And she was creative and friendly – like me!’ and knowing deeply that we simply must be kindred spirits.

As a child I watched Romancing the Stone and Michael Douglas became my very first crush, particularly because I liked the shape of his thumbs, I remember. For many years, into my early twenties, men I met who had the same double-jointed thumb as him I would imbue with characteristics of his character in the film - adventurous, flirtatious, arrogant and, more is the problem, quite attractive to me. In my overactive imagination they would become what he represented.

This Connecting of Things isn’t something I think about ordinarily, and probably because it is indeed ordinary – you probably do it too – but I realise that being in a creative field encourages you to use quite misty parts of your brain (that ‘enciphering corner’) that then bring these connections a bit more to the fore. In my third year, the opening sequence of Crazy, Leaves, Silly Games, was a group upstage in the dark, facing into the wings and doing a series of movements that I had witnessed years before from a rooftop in Manila, being repeated endlessly by a man in the street. I sat on the roof and noted down each of his movements. Not only was it mesmerising (and in the piece dubbed ‘Crazy Man’), but it was a reflective connection for me from university to a bizarre, independent period of my life in a part of the world that my family will never know. It was challenging, and wonderful, a time of learning to deal with having no privacy, and meeting excruciating poverty, a time of 'something happening'. It was something I hadn’t been able to adequately share back home, and never will, but borrowing his pattern, and sharing it as a pattern of movement in my work was a cathartic and meaningful reference to a small element of my story – to patterns of my own.

Most recently, in Pullover there are movements about, for example, my dancers’ first memories of death, about being backstabbed or heart-broken, and they’re repeated and repeated - as we re-live moments in our head, over and over, with a different thing in front or after it. It becomes a way of processing an event, imagining yourself coming into it differently and leaving differently, even if the actual event (or movement) remains the same, it’s happened, it’s been done, it will always be that way now. They stand all in one jumper not for the sake of it, but because they’re in something together. And sometimes they’re also in each other’s way, as happens in life. The dance progresses from left to right because we read onwards that way, that’s the direction we gather information with our eyes, and they’re moving through, forwards, onwards, learning in the face of whatever pain, grief or ordinary life, they might be in the midst of; and they end in silence with their heads held high looking to the future, looking to the light, looking to hope and change ahead of them, walking together and working a complex pattern with their hands, one that takes their attention away from the darkness around and behind them still, and gives them rhythm and steps with which to walk forwards.

And so patterns become meaningful.

Emotional, maybe painful, imagined grief or real, maybe it doesn’t matter, but perhaps emotion can be processed through connecting moments, movements, repeating those movements again and again, like liturgy, like ritual. Like ongoing sessions with a counsellor, or time and time and time spent on your knees in quietude. And they move forwards.

(picture by Suzanne Nolan
Sunday, November 25, 2012

In a previous post I alluded to a possible commitment phobia that I have – or that someone once suggested I might have.

I have been thinking about this and can see where that suggestion has come from. But I don’t actually, believe 100% that it’s true.

When I was doing my gap year – a paid year with the church (as in, I paid (as in My Parents paid)) – my youth pastor had a few things I could get started on and asked whether I’m someone who likes to work on one thing at a time or lots of different things at the same time. Lots of things at the same time please. The more different the better. The more ‘guess what I did today?’ the Betterer. Variety is the spice of life after all.

And so when I think from then to now it sort of makes me laugh that this Friday I will be being filmed screaming down a toilet in a pair of dirty pants and then leading a team of waitresses at a formal dinner. It makes me laugh that a completely plausible day for me could be some combination of any of the following: sitting for a jewellery shoot (shoulders back, collar bones forward, chin high, mouth wistfully over the rainbow); rehearsing at the Southbank Centre with four dancers wearing jumpers that are sewn together at the sides (most recently with the audience of Mr Kahn, a middle eastern business studies student, who came to look at the art exhibition but stopped at us because ‘this is much more interesting’); running and jumping around a room with 20 other creatures and a live percussionist, being so intently, ecstatically aware of every inner muscle in all of my body, every swoosh of air on my arms, every whip of the head and breathless spin and catch of the body; dressing up in a morph suit and flower-encrusted sombrero to dance/serve earthworm tacos to guests at a Mexican Day of the Dead party; and serving Prince Charles at a dinner at St James’ Palace (biscuits not bread, bowl of salad to the left, martini not champagne, thyme tea not peppermint).

I think there are probably lots of different Rachels. The Cunningham dancers in NY didn’t know for a whole year that I had a fringe because I pin everything back for dancing, and then in the summer my manager didn’t recognise me setting up a dining room at Windsor Castle because I’d come straight from class in dancer mode and hadn’t taken my fringe down. Dancers know me orange trousers! yellow socks! purple top! Non-dancers know me as Black Leg Burn (dubbed by Trisha Ivy my NY room mate) – black jeans, boots, black jeans, black jumper, black jeans, converse, black jeans, Barbour. Rucksack.

It makes me laugh (not at the time to be honest) that a couple of weeks ago two Rachel Worlds collided when I was dancing in a turquiose thong and UV body paint (for charity) at an event that my company were running. Where I wear black shirt, black trousers, black shoes, black socks, black pants, black skirt, black dress, black heels, black suit and have a time-sheet and mentee photos with me at all times. Oh dear God.

But given all this, the reason I think I might not be a commitment-phobe after all, is that whenever someone starts a subject that can become about self-sufficiency and vegetable gardening with a goat and some chickens, or starting an urban roof-farm, or building a Celtic-inspired round-house with an open fire in the middle centering the home around it, I know that I would be able to commit to that. I get excited about settling into that. The other ingredients would need to be right, of course. It would need to be the right time to breathe. There would need to be the right help around – maybe a husband, maybe once my Mum has retired, maybe just a companion or two. And I would have had to get a few more 6 month – 1 year stints in other countries out of my system. Then there will be a few more nieces and nephews I can have to stay in their named hammocks to take berry picking and goat milking and to leave alone with a fancy dress box and their imaginations to put on a play or a dance. Then there will be all the variety and spice of life that is real – the variety that’s constant: the seasons, the sunrise, home made food relating to the area and the time of year, the wonderful bubbly creativity of children and the peace of not scrabbling. For anything. Not caring about The Rules.

That is a commitment that I’m not phobic of in the slightest. But until that is a plausible light at the end of this slightly odd WTF? tunnel then I think I may as well enjoy the helter-skelter.

And also, I say I could commit to it, but I don’t really know that I could, do I. I think making life-long promises is a pretty foolish thing to do flippantly, so suffice to say, from the place I’m in at the moment, the place that that is can’t help but look a little reminiscent of a Milk and Honey-ish sort of place. One that is possible to create with conviction and like-minded team-work. One that it is possible to believe in.
Friday, November 09, 2012
  Life by long division

I have a thought sometimes, when I stop to dig for something in the bottom of my third bag, or check six pockets for my train ticket, or get a tenner out to get some 60p chewing gum to get some change to get 30p to get into a toilet to get changed for a job, and it’s loosely along the lines of ‘WTF am I doing?’

I was the child in maths who would look at a long division sum, see a water-fountain/panpipe shape in my head, think ‘ALERT! COMPLICATED!’ and start dividing and multiplying numbers here, there and everywhere in a blind panic in order to try to end up, somehow, with just one number precariously balancing on top of a triangle, usually one that was vast and totally improbably related to the initial sum; the teacher would say ‘no, Rachel, you’re making it far more complicated than it needs to be’. And that, in short, is what I’m worried I’ve done with my life.

At career-choosing-age I looked around myself, at my 9 As and 2 A*s for GCSE, my 3 Bs at A-level, my prefect team experience, my private girls school education, my career advisor’s ‘by nurse do you mean doctor?’ and thought ‘no, nope, none of that: Dancer’. I had seen A Chorus Line a million times, I loved Footloose, I had been making dances to childhood songs for a decade or more, nope, it was going to be Dancer.

So I trained, I loved it, then I just choreographed, then I taught children, then I trained again and 10 years later I find myself here, being a Dancer. Really being it.

And it turns out it’s really hard. Like long division. You see, even though it was A Chorus Line that I fell in love with, in training it was not Commercial, not West End, not jazz or hip hop or anything that any normal person recognises as dance; I fell in love with the kind of dance that people tend to avoid. Contemporary. And because people tend to avoid it, it tends not to be a particularly well-structured or lucrative business to be in.

But I love it. I do love it. I love that I can get into a studio for class and know that my body will change in the next hour and a half, that I’m going to connect with myself deeply in both a physical and mental capacity. I love that I can get together with a new group of people to choreograph something that doesn’t yet exist and that there’s a unique, wonderful sense of shared potential – anything can happen, what will we make? What will we learn? What will we laugh about or connect with or want to share? What new thing will be achieved today? Or that I can rock up with a group of people (usually The People Pile) having received a brief on what underwear to bring and discover that in the next few hours I will be a mythical Eastern European Candy Lady tempting people with Liquorice Allsorts to draw a portrait of me, or be screaming down a toilet in dirty men’s underwear for half an hour, or throwing 30 second surprise birthday parties for unsuspecting drinkers complete with cake, candle and smooch. Or climbing trees with groups of children following me, or dancing on a warehouse rooftop, or in the street, or on a catwalk in a UV light. I think that’s really fun. And whilst it’s really fun and, bizarrely, my friends seem to encourage me in it, it’s also really difficult.

I live a very unattached more-complicated-than-it-needs-to-be sort of life at the moment. I was once asked by a wise man whether I was maybe afraid of commitment and when I look around me I think, ‘Probably. Yes’. I don’t have a Job (well, I have 5 or more, agencies are wonderful in that you don’t have to pick up the phone if you don’t want to), I don’t have a housing contract (I have been camping in my brother’s bedroom for the past seven months whilst staying many nights per week at the following people’s houses: Lucy, Vix, Jonny, Hoskers, Alli, Hitches, thank you, thank you, thank you), I don’t even have a proper phone contract, only one that roles over monthly so I can pull out super-easily. And I don’t have a relationship, which married people usually applaud with ‘Wonderful! No one to tie you down! Freedom to choose anything you want to do!’ Well, yes. But for someone who is vegetarian in part for ease of decision-making when faced with a menu, total, absolute freedom to be able to choose anything at any time for any part of my life is not always a comforting thing.

And so if it’s hard, and if I’m always broke, and if I’m having to rely on many other peoples’ kindness and security to help me lurch from one bankers-coffee-morning/sweaty rehearsal/royal-dinner-day to the next then why am I sticking at it? Well… I think it’s something to do with hope. With potential. With people being inspired, finding and doing new things that change them, people learning, people not being bored, people taking action for themselves, being empowered and strengthened. It’s also to do with loving shapes and space, colours, movement, sounds, physicality, our bodies, the absolutely infinite way that people can relate to any one of those things. And it’s to do with our culture kidding us into thinking that there are Rules. That you need to have x job, y amount of debt and z number of children by age w, sporting a short-back-and-sides haircut. That celebrities matter. That The Chair and Laptop are ergonomically appropriate for our anatomy. That a treadmill counts as Moving. That Michael Gove might have his way. It’s to do with boredom.

I have met, all too briefly, but read about many more people who have had their lives massively influenced for the better by, amongst other things, dance, or another art form. Lives that really were covered with mud and sweat, urine, blood, cum, anything from the pavement they’ve been sleeping on, anything they’ve been injecting into their bodies or drinking from a shampoo bottle, anything they’ve witnessed as kids between their parents using the magical white powder, or by man, after man, after man, after man, after man handing money to another man to be able to do what he likes with you behind a closed door. Or just people who ended up in jobs that watched the years tick by. That they never thought they would be doing. And whilst currently I’m not being completely altruistic with any of my dance practices, I am seeking that out because I know the above to be true of art and I am excited that hopefully, by really working hard at trying to do the thing that I love, that happens to buck the trend, I am in some small way standing up to Boredom. In some small way shining a little sliver of interest into somebody’s commute, somebody’s drunken night out (I know of two very drunken girls who will try to recollect why there was an angry lady standing on their toilet cistern screaming at them to GET! OUT!).

I definitely need to clarify that not everyone who works at a desk needs their life changed by dance. I have a disproportionately large number of friends who absolutely love their jobs. But even they appreciate at times a unitard-clad Cunningham performance or crazy event night. For me it’s a selfish pursuit in many ways, and hectic, and tiring, and maybe vain, certainly a drain on those who support me with a mattress, but its smallest achievement is in changing my life, and a bigger one is the potential it has in changing other people’s lives. I think it’s worth everything I need to do to keep doing it, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else – until one day maybe my hips give up and I become a nurse (not a doctor).

And here, because it’s the weekend, for your viewing pleasure and reward for reading to the end, is the 80s guitar, head-band-and-heels-tastic, lycra-electric opening sequence to A Chorus Line. 'and a 5, 6, 7, 8!'


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Location: Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom

I am eight years older than when I first set this blog up. Facebook happened and this space lay untouched for four years. Maybe setting up a twitter account in September encouraged me to value proper writing again. Long writing. Whole sentences. Rhythm and paragraphs and literary devices. Writing for entertainment rather than information. I am a dancer.


Today's Benediction
Patterns of meaning
Life by long division
Honouring The Unpicked
A childish foot-stomping moment if you please...
A very single Creative
I'm here again, again and I mean to stay...
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*FREETHINKING* by Barbara Smoker
A collection of essays written by the former president of The humanist Society

He's pretty old, and due respect

*UNAPOLOGETIC: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense* Francis Spufford
A very down to earth and unapologetic Christian describing why he thinks it's worth it despite what everyone thinks about it.

*OUT OF OUR MINDS: learning to be creative* Sir Ken Robinson
About how we need to be creative, that every one of us has equal potential to be equally creative but culture and education systems squeeze it out of us. Now industry is changing at an unprecedented level and needs people who can think creatively, communicate, collaborate etc. A stocking filler for Michael Gove

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