Alethea Bodine is a performing artist, educator, and facilitator of all things authentic. You can tell when you look at her: the energy she exudes as she moves through space, the awareness of her demeanor, the extra depth she adds to a conversation. I met her just before the pandemic, and watched with a twinge of sadness as the past year added layers of plexiglass and distance between us.
I reached out last fall for an interview – it took several months for her to write it, and several more for me to post. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps because of all the artists I’ve interviewed, the pandemic hit her the most profoundly. A dancer, with space and touch taken from her. As a visual artist it was emotionally challenging for me to work, but still physically possible. But as a physical artist, especially one who teaches others, she literally couldn’t practice her craft – and yet she found a way to do just that.
As we slowly wind our way back out of the pandemic, I can’t think of a better time to share her story.
I hope you enjoy.
Before the pandemic I was able to work with people, up close and personal. And even though I often worked and practiced in a dance, yoga or fitness studio, I found it was often a stretch to get people to find and explore their personal space – first – before learning any movement study that required any memorization or technical finesse. While learning rote movement and sequence can be relaxing and fun, I believe the body’s truest investment is when real enjoyment of movement begins. This requires an entirely unconventional approach to preparing the body to move on space – at least different than almost any other technique I have studied. Many times, the idea of putting the body through a process of “re-sensitization” seemed ridiculous to people, even mundane and banal. But in order to ensure full investment and embodied learning during the practice, this ‘re-sensitization’ is necessary. Finding those willing to take this personal journey has been one of my greatest challenges – as most people who wish to learn how to “dance” don’t necessarily want to learn more than how to memorize a sequence of movements, sometimes counting as they shift their weight from foot to foot.
Now, as I approach conversations about movement with people – in the virtual – they are more open and even eager to try something different, even if the movement seems ridiculous. What they fail to realize is how necessary it is to acknowledge the body as it is – the enjoyment from dance comes only after the body has been acknowledged and is a willing participant in the journey. As a student of dance and the arts, you learn these things only after many, many hours of dedicated ‘work’ – but in the end, if the artist continues, they eventually learn what they have to work with. Some artists have a unique outlook or are driven by a guiding impetus, some have real talents and skill, some are purely driven to speak as best they can through the medium and techniques that they learn. In my opinion, we are all unique walking, living, breathing works of art. Each day we rise and approach the creation again. As creators of our own artwork, we express the body’s truest potential. When I approach people with taking on the task of learning their bodies limitations and deepest motivations, they often shy away. But some do not. Some are curious and want to learn, do and have more. They want to free their bodies to speak.
I find that the Pandemic has brought a new level of urgency to everything – especially our connections with one another. Perhaps people are more willing now because they’ve been pushed into their homes to learn, work and play – which is such a personal space. People are more open to trying something new and refreshing that will integrate easily into the rhythm of their day. My opening practice, Breathing Color, is a way to find presence and navigate the motivators that are driving you to move in the moment. Ultimately, my dance practice is a means to grow presence beyond the boundaries of your skin and learn how to safely express. I don’t know that everyone needs to practice physical presence in the l way that I do – but I can say that it is a playful way to find personal and shared grace as well as humility.
As a dance artist, I have found this life is very much an adventure in finding the intersections between the material and metaphysical – or spiritual – worlds. In the material world, it has been broadly accepted that your physicality, how you appear to others and the degree of your mobility play a deciding role in how you are perceived by others. In the metaphysical world, we exist on a multitude of levels and dimensions. Our emotional, mental and spiritual well being are not things we can see or touch or even measure in any substantive way. But more often than not, the body’s comfort and mobility is a visible and measurable indicator of the health and ease with which we traverse these parts of our person.
Each of us holds different perceptions of the world we live in – via our body’s sense and interpretation of it. When we are comfortable in our skin, we connect better with ourselves and each other and are therefore better communicators. If we empower ourselves to express in the way that we are most comfortable, we allow ourselves to enter into and participate in the greater dialog – where our energies can be validated and reflected. Ultimately, this dialog is not complete without each of us contributing and participating on some level. Each of us is needed.
If anything, the pandemic has validated the work I started over thirty years ago. We humans would like to think we have it all under control, but reality is rapidly dictating that our bodies, our lives and everything we hold dear are subject to the delicate relationship we hold with ourselves, each other and consequently – our home, the earth.
As an dance artist, I feel my medium is not given the credibility and validation it deserves by the general public because it is largely misunderstood and – like the integral parts of our day to day lives – taken for granted. Back in the 1950’s, there was a surge of creativity in American Arts. Anyone who knows or appreciates the arts, knows what I mean. Since this time, the arts have been subject to the whim of technology. The tools and devices we so easily hold and use in our hands everyday, have increasingly become a source of disassociation and depression. We are confused as we are forced to follow the language and logic of the computer. We suffer the trials of dis-information and eventually division from one another. But the arc of technology – aided by the role of the Pandemic – is slowly leading us back to one another; each stage of realization is necessary.
There are more of us working in the creative field, but the quality and quantity of work being created is sometimes born in a vacuum. Our attention spans have been shortened, as we slowly come to terms with the amount of information we are expected to learn as a participant in the spectrum of human dialog. We become overwhelmed, anxious and depressed as we continually bump up against the reality of our circumstance. The tsunami of technology is ultimately too much for our tiny brains to constantly collate and compartmentalize. We must regularly regroup and give ourselves grace to acknowledge where we are, who we have become and how we feel about it. This takes time and often the body is left out of the dialog – causing fatigue, frustration and physical illnesses.
Take it from me – an aging performance artist – the older we get, the more we realize just how long we have been bartering with time and our capacity to learn and embody our personal realities. All true artists know there is only the human experience to navigate. If you feel lost, find art. Technology is only a tool that should only be used to illuminate the truth and aid in making stronger connections with ourselves and one another. Art is our shared history and a mapping of the human experience. These bodies of art are our living journals of the senses and how we perceive our selves. Humans are too often overconfident and cocky, and need constant reminding of the reality of our origins. We are but one species of life on this planet. The experience or creation of art can be a humbling reminder of this fact.
Thank you, Lea, for sharing your story.
You can find her work at http://chromaticdance.org