Winter: A good time to start your dance journal

Winter is a time when nature becomes dormant. Although the human world buzzes on, in alignment with the nature all around us, we are drawn to rest and reflect. How might this apply to artists, with reflection (on both inner and outer) fruitful for creative output and personal growth?

Might winter be a good time to begin journaling as a dancer? How, practically, are some ways to start doing that? Here, we speak with Betsy Miller, Assistant Professor of Dance at Salem State University, and Boston-based dance artist; and Karen Klein, founder and artistic director of teXtmoVes, to learn more about beginning to journal for creative processes in winter.

“There’s something about December,” Miller affirms. “I’m not talking about the peppermint mocha latte-powered frenzy [of the season]; I’m talking about late December – let’s say, starting somewhere between noon on December 25 and 8am on December 27.”

Miller discusses how there’s a quiet during this time, leading to a shift – one that’s “sometimes difficult to navigate, sometimes a relief.” Either way, this shift “invites reflection and encourages us to set some intentions for the coming year,” she explains. Thus, it’s truly the time to start writing reflectively.

“Journaling as a consistent practice should have a consistent time linked to it,” says Klein. “Late afternoon or early evening, a cup of tea or glass of wine works for me. Our body and emotions are at a low ebb from 4pm into the early evening in winter days, so that’s a good time, I think, to move inward.” Klein underscores how journaling can significantly stimulate the brain, so before bed is not the best time for it, yet “when you need a pick-me-up and want the satisfaction of having externalized your thoughts” can be a great occasion.

Betsy Miller. Photo courtesy of Miller.

Klein also emphasizes the advantage of having the needed materials on hand. “Having a good pen and a notebook that feels right to your hand, that is a size that you feel comfortable with, is a great incentive,” she affirms. A comfortable seat and a mildly full stomach can also help keep focus. One might wonder, okay, what to write? Klein uses poems in the creation of movement in her process, and “always starts [journaling] with ideas for poems. Sometimes it’s just an attempt to get some images down.”

Miller prefers the idea of “process writing” over that of “journaling”; with the former, “you are processing your process,” she explains. “Making time to write about it means that you make time to think about it – to chew on it, to interrogate it and to digest it, so that you actually are ready for the next course of action.” Miller is honest that this approach is “not necessarily easy or fun,” and can even be frustrating. What can result, however, can make these experiences all worth it.

Miller describes how she requires students in her Composition course at Salem State University to do a brief process writing with every project. She always offers prompts, including “Why are you making this (aside from your desire to pass the course)?”, “What does the piece you’re making draw inspiration from?”, “What questions are you asking in your choreographic research? Are you asking questions, or only making statements?”, and “If you are performing your own work, write about the physical sensations you experience within it.”

Miller describes how such questions, and their overarching processes, can fit into other art forms and our life overall. These questions, of course, are translatable to other artistic and life processes. “We are all so busy amidst so many processes,” she says, “but what if, say sometime between noon on December 25 and 8am on December 27, we make a little time to actually process….what might happen then?” That’s food for thought, and perhaps also fodder for action!

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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