As a movement educator and Body Mapping teacher, one of the things my students consistently work with is claiming enough space, both in general and specifically in regards to performance. There are many layers to this idea. At the base level, it means understanding our full size. Many people don’t fully understand (and map) the true length of various body parts such as their spine (way up high, between the ears, at the AO joint all the way down to the sacrum/coccyx), the length of their whole arm structure (finger tips to collarbone in front and shoulder blade in back) or the full length of their thumb (tip all the way down to the wrist). Some don’t map their full height. This can show up with a head that’s forward and down, rounded shoulders, a tucked-under pelvis, and an overall slouchy look. Many times, these people are very tall and are used to having to navigate in a world that is too small for them. Think of car seats, airline seats, and student chairs that have the desk attachment. Sometimes, these people had a rapid growth spurt in adolescence, often before their peers.
I have worked with students who are overweight and those who are seriously underweight due to eating disorders. Again, this is a situation where musicians need to map the shape and size that they currently are, at that present moment. It’s no good trying to make yourself smaller or bigger by doing more muscular work. This shows up as tension. Sound is vibration and anything that prevents vibration is going to impact the sound somehow. Tension prevents vibration.
I have worked with students who are transgender and open about their experience. I have worked with students at the beginning of their journey towards finding a body that matches their internal self. Again, in all cases, this is about mapping the bony structure that one has at that present moment. This is an extraordinarily difficult experience – trying to understand and relate to the physical body that they have been trying to ignore or actively fighting with for a long time.
I have worked with international students who sometimes struggle with language difficulties and often are dealing with cultural differences. This can be overwhelming when you find yourself in a new country all by yourself. Trying to be smaller to blend in doesn’t work in this situation.
Despite all of this experience, I recently discovered a blind spot in my own awareness. On Friday, June 19, 2020, the Oberlin College Black Musicians’ Guild sponsored a panel discussion entitled “Black Voices in the Conservatory.” The 12 panelists were current students, recently graduated students or students who are out in the real world. What I learned was that many of these students reported feeling like they routinely and consistently have to make themselves “less black” in order to fit in. This routine of making themselves “less-than” makes it a real challenge to be 100% embodied and present during performance. Some of the panelists have taken my class and before our roundtable it had never occurred to me to consider the color of their skin as something to make them feel “less than.” For some, the performance part was ok because they identified so strongly as artists and being on stage was and is a safe place. The challenge was the rest of the time.
Everyone should be able to be 100% authentic and fully claim the space they need for everything. Nobody should be forced into a “less than” box by any criteria – race, size, shape, gender, or sexual orientation.
One of the takeaway messages from this panel was that we have to have uncomfortable conversations if we want to cultivate meaningful change.
In performance, we need to be aware of the space above us, behind us and in front of us on the stage. We need to be aware of how our physical body and our music making interacts with this space. I also recommend to my students that they consider the performing space as their space. They are inviting the audience into their space, not stepping out into the audience’s space. Seems like the same thing should apply off the stage—we should be able to claim the space we need as human beings. But when society says you’re not entitled to your full space because of the color of your skin, etc., well, we must do better, as students, teachers, artists and humans.