From time to time, NDEO features guest blog posts, written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a contribution by Anabella Lenzu, a dancer, choreographer, writer and teacher with over 30 years of experience working in Argentina, Chile, Italy, London, and the USA. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please email Shannon Dooling-Cain at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mind of the Beginner, The Mind of the Expert
By Anabella Lenzu
"I am interested in helping you keep your practice from becoming impure. In Japan, we have a phrase shoshin, which means beginner's mind. The goal of practice is always to keep your beginner's mind."
When learning an important text, Suzuki asks "...but what will happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it."
"This (beginner's mind) does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything; in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. ”
"The beginner's mind is the mind of compassion. When your mind is compassionate, it is boundless."
"Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice...This is also a real secret of the arts: always be a beginner."
-Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Informal Talks on meditation and practice by Shunryu Suzuki.
Why mention these quotes about Zen meditation? How did this practice influence my philosophy? I consider the practice of any Art as a meditation on life.
I dedicate my life to investigating the interior logic of performance and the role of a dancer in our culture today, using the 5 W’s and the H: Who, what, when, where, why and how. My practice for 30 years is teaching, choreographing, dancing and writing.
Nothing gives me more fulfillment than to discover different processes of creation, becoming, and transformation. My curious mind and heart always lead me to a fresh beginning, where creativity helps me to transcend ideas and rules, creating meaningful methods. In each new adventure, I'm either creating a scene, a show, an education program or a class. But how does one keep this boundless attitude after 30 years? There are periods when my inner child is fully awake and the generosity of my discoveries is easy to communicate and share with others. There are also periods when the candle is only half-lit, and that's when my experience, practice and mastery of craft, guide me like a blind person. It's a precarious balance between my outer and inner state. Dance is union with ourselves, with others and with the environment. I celebrate, respond, protest, scream, cry and laugh about life through dance.
I don't want to follow a formula, or lean too heavily on my previous failures and successes. I have a need to keep it fresh, surprise myself with each discovery. Perhaps unconsciously, I want to remain naive and keep my practice pure, as the master teacher Shunryu Suzuki said. Can I force myself to feel thirsty or hungry? I cannot.
But you, my reader, will ask me, what about the mind of the expert? You think after 30 years, teaching in three continents, in more than 50 institutions, embassies, private and public schools, universities, academies, dance companies, festivals, and institutions, I feel that I am a master! The only thing that I know is that I am here, every day, opening myself to the magical and mysterious encounter with others in life, on the stage and in a classroom.
My daily meditation is observing the bodies of my dancers and students in fine detail, watching with love as their mental, emotional and spiritual expressions emanate and emerge. They flourish in each rehearsal, in each class. It’s like observing nature reveal itself in front of your eyes, like a plant growing from a seed and becoming a tree with flowers and fruits. What a privilege! Here is the beginner’s mind - observing, nurturing and guiding others like a gardener, because our bodies are a perfect manifestation of life, and our temple.
When I perform, I feel the forces of life in my entire being. I am more awake, alert and all my senses are enhanced, ready to share the gift of my dance, ready to connect with others, from anima to anima. Here, the meditation happens after the show when I reflect on the interaction and reaction between the audience and myself. For me, performing is an attempt to have communion with others and with my environment. Perhaps one of our needs as human beings is to connect with the presence of God or a greater power than ourselves. Sometimes I feel that my dance is a prayer.
As I always say, a good teacher is an excellent student, because they want to remain open to everything, and available to new experiences. My profession allows me to experience generosity, compassion, altruism, empathy, tolerance, patience, and gratitude. I value respect and love for others, and receive it in return. In giving myself totally in the learning process.
The art of teaching is about contemplation, appreciation, reflection, exchange, detailed observance, assimilation, and developing a deeper human consciousness. I am humbled, grateful, and thankful for every student, dancer, artist, collaborator, institution, and organization that lets me share my point of view.
Originally from Argentina, Anabella Lenzu is a dancer, choreographer, writer and teacher with over 30 years of experience working in Argentina, Chile, Italy, London, and the USA. Lenzu directs her own company, Anabella Lenzu/DanceDrama (ALDD), which since 2006 has presented 390 performances, created 14 choreographic works and performed at 100 venues, presenting thought-provoking and historically conscious dance-theater in NYC. Lenzu has written for various dance and art magazines, and published her first book in 2013, entitled Unveiling Motion and Emotion. Her second book, Teaching Dance through Meaningful Gestures, is expected in 2020. Currently, Lenzu conducts classes at Peridance Center and NYU Gallatin.
Photos by Todd Carroll