Monday, August 9, 2010

Being Present: Alison Scola interview, pt. 2

Here's part two of our interview with Lindy Hopper and Yoga Therapist Alison Scola. In the previous part, we discussed Alison's entries into yoga and Lindy Hop. To read part one, please click here: So Many Levels.

LindyGroove Technique: Being grounded is being present. What does it mean to be present?

Alison Scola: Being present to me, by Alison Harper Scola! Means having my mind's attention focused on what's happening at the level of what's happening physically, emotionally, energetically and ultimately for me because I do have spiritual practice at the center of my life, what's happening at the higher level of consciousness.

So when it comes to Lindy Hop, let's say for example I'm dancing with a beginner dancer. So somebody literally like maybe this is their first day ever dancing and this dude has no clue how to lead. I could be like "oh, this is lame. Ugh! He has no connection!" or I could find the connection that is there. "He's not dancing to even the tempo of the music," or I could find, well "where is he?" and dance with him in his rhythm.

LGT: That's so important.

AS: And I could look at what's going on with this human being who is trying to dance with me, emotionally. "Oh, he's shitting his pants and completely insecure. So how can I be loving and kind towards him in that?"

LGT: So many people are critical of beginners when they start. The critical mind seems so completely out of the moment. It's like there's someone they expect to dance with, rather than the person who is actually there.

AS: Yeah, so I think that example is - how can I take being in the present moment and apply it to the situation? On the flip side, if I'm dancing with an advanced dancer, let's say "Oh my god, everybody's staring at us." What's going on with this person emotionally? Well, they're probably feeling self-conscious, but their ego is masking that. So how can I be as loving and kind and as present with that, in acceptance. And maybe some of that's going on inside of me. What's going on inside of me and what am I offering them?

LGT: Is it so conscious? There's that thought of being "in your head." Is it conscious like that where you're actually going through the process of thinking "what's this person thinking?" or is it somewhere else?

AS: Let's say for example I notice if I am dancing with a beginner dancer, my first thought is "Oh crap, he's gonna rip my arms out of the sockets," or "oh man, this isn't the dance I was hoping for." First I notice I'm being judgmental; I'm being critical. How is that making me feel? Is it closing me off to this person? When we are separated from our true nature, which in my opinion is love.... When I'm disconnected from love I don't feel good. and I know you're not feeling anything good from me. Usually it starts with me being in observation of something that's causing me discomfort and then I'm able to go into an awareness of that - go like "eww, I'm not sure that feels good to me." So how can I move toward something that's more whole and more a part of alignment with my true nature.

LGT: Tell me about what breathing means to you. I know that it's not something that we talk about in Lindy Hop, but it's certainly something you talk about in yoga. There's so much about it, but give us an introduction to the idea of the Breath.

AS: I'll give you that introduction through my own experience. I used to suffer from severe anxiety disorder - panic attacks. My tendency was toward being ridiculously anxious and the Breath, learning how to breathe, was what allowed me to release that from my process and my body. And what I discovered was that I didn't take deep breaths.

LGT: Deep breaths?

AS: Full and complete. I constantly was in a state of shallow, short inhalations with very little exhale. As I watch people function in the world, most of us breathe that way. When we're not breathing consciously, when we're not consciously taking a deep breath, we're breathing really shallow, which triggers the nervous system to think that we're in danger. (laughs) And so our physical reaction to that is anxiety. So through my daily life I've had to train myself, and my yoga practice has done this for me, to take deep conscious breaths. When I am able to check in with that the same thing translates into my dancing. Is my breathing right now causing my frame to tighten? Is my breathing right now adding to the fact that I'm anxious to dance with this rock star dancer?

LGT: (chuckles)

AS: What if I took deep breaths? It immediately lets my body relax. It lets myself relax emotionally. It gets me grounded and into the present moment that I just rambled about before. So the breath is intimately connected... In fact when I've done private lessons, Lindy Hop lessons, especially when people are working on performance or aerials or something like that, the breath is a huge part of letting the energy flow.

LGT: Any last thoughts or anything you'd like to share?

AS: I also think Lindy Hop, it speaks mostly to the physical. Everything that we've spoken about speaks to the spiritual or energetic. [Lindy Hop] speaks to the physical. We're street dancers, right? And most of us have no clue about how to take care of our bodies. But Lindy Hop and all of swing in all of its forms is one of the most athletic and strenuous social dances that exist. And a lot of us have no clue how to take care of our bodies. So we get hurt. You see Lindy Hoppers saying things like "Oh yeah, I tore my ACL. I have to go have knee surgery," or "Oh god, I just broke my neck." Yoga is the only reason that I'm still dancing today. The only reason I'm still doing any of these things.

LGT: [...that you're] still able to dance?

AS: Yeah, and it's also the thing that's prevented me from having surgeries that doctors told me that I had to have. I was told three years ago that I had a hip injury that couldn't heal without surgery and I healed it with yoga. That's why I'm jumping around on the floor today.

So my advice or my offering to all these beautiful Lindy Hoppers is: find some sort of physical practice besides dancing that makes you feel good inside your body. Maybe it's yoga. Maybe it's stretching class. A lot of y'all are rockin' the P90X.

LGT: Hahahaha!

AS: But whatever it is, figure out how to take care of your body in a way that allows you to keep dancing, because we want to be the old guys on the floor however may years from now.

LGT: Thank you, Alison!

AS: Thank you. It's been a privilege.

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