Jack Waldas, ballet and yoga teacher, about concept “ The Space in Between“ in yoga and dance
The question of time and space has always captured the attention of thinkers, scientists, and philosophers. Although the great minds of Eastern and Western philosophy talked a lot about it, there is still much room for deep reflection and research on these topics.
This time we will consider the issue of space from the yogic and dance perspectives.
One of the most beautiful things a yoga practice brings is space – space between breaths, space in the body, space in our joints for more ease of movement and, of course, space in our minds by quieting our thoughts and becoming more present.
There really is a lot to the concept of space in dance, too.
Photo: Attila Diallo
I discuss all these issues with Jack Waldas, ballet and yoga teacher. Since he retired from the stage in 2008 he has been teaching all levels of ballet at Tanzprojekt Munich and giving workshops for Yoga Dance and Organic Ballet internationally. Recently he earned a MA in dance pedagogy at the Bruckner University in Linz, Austria. He is co-director of Spanda Yoga Teachers Training. Jack was our guest in Belgrade and held a series of workshops.
- Daniela: In accordance with beautiful article of artist Miloš Sofrenović, japanese Zen Buddhism in its philosophy contains an interesting „MA“ concept. „MA“, as a very important word coming out of the practice of Zen Buddhism, means the „emptiness of the space between the things“.
There is also a similiar concept in the choreographic field – the Space in Between. How can we explain this concept in more detail?
- Jack: Space, or in Sanskrit akash, is an absence of object, material, or person. This “no-thing” or absence of matter is perceived in tantric yoga traditions as presence of being. Presence of being is Consiousness – the eminence of you and me, what one is aware of when one senses oneself and others beyond all physical and mental constructs. That is a little far out for our normal mind set, but in meditation or dream-like states of being this pure presence can become a clear experience (even for very down to Earth, scientific people). In this presence lies the potential for manifestation of “some-thing” – creativity, the expression of presence in a physical form.
- With this yogic perspective in mind, we can take up the choreographic concept of “the spaces in between” with a new or expanded perspective. The non-thingness of space becomes a great source of creativity. The very nature of that “empty” room (especially the space within us) is to conceive and give forth human expression, art, and dance. As dancers and dance creators, we can see the space around, between and inside of us as endless potential for choreographic development.
- What does inner emptiness mean for you? How does yoga help you to become aware of this space within yourself?
- Inner emptiness is commonly interpreted as a lack of something – of character or emotional stability or connection to others. As alluded to in the first question and answer, when we shift our understanding from inner emptiness to inner space, the meaning is no longer one of lack, but rather the fullness of being. Emptiness becomes Consciousness – the essence of who we are. Awareness of this subtle, yet powerful aspect of our self is the opposite of feeling emptiness. It is in itself fulfilment.
- All yogic practices are designed to lead the practitioner to this awareness – aligning our behaviour and attitude, yogic poses, breathing techniques, reflection upon our mind patterns, contemplation of spiritual or inspiring texts and artwork, meditation, keeping good company .. all these practices exist to support our inner growth towards awareness of inner space or consciousness. In my personal experience, yoga has helped me become more in touch with the essence of my being because it gives me the formal guidelines and actions to practice simply being. In most activities in life, there is the expectation that we be something – the good student, worker, parent, leader … In the yoga practice I find permission to simply be without any external identity. This freedom of self-experience leads me more and more to the core of who I am.
- Indian yoga master Iyengar said that
the yoga position is dead if we
perform it technically flawlessly, but
without the inner presence.
Dancers may focus their movement
and attention outwardly into the
space or inwardly, into themselves.
By reaching the inner emptiness,
does the dancer’s experience of
movement and manner of
- Yes, I receive clear feedback within myself and from my students that the direction of our focus dramatically changes both the inner perception of the dancer as well as the outer perception of the observer of that dance. There is, however, another possibility of perception – we can simultaneously be aware of both the outer space, people, happenings … and of our inner sensations and presence. This is somewhat of a paradox, but certainly possible – two or more opposing forces or directions of attention can coexist. In fact, it is the coordination or symbiosis of these opposites that allows for the wholeness of movement, awareness, conception, or philosophy. For example, a dancer cultivates the ability to sense his or her body internally, in space, in relation to others and the effect his or her expression has on the audience. Additionally, this same dancer may be exploring new movement patterns and even discover fresh methods of creation in the process. This is not merely a matter of multi-tasking, of quickly shifting one’s attention from one quality to another. It is the practice of global awareness, of widening one’s attention in a panoramic way that encompasses the whole. Such a vast awareness is not easy to achieve, and it is often only possible for short intervals. Yet, it gives the dancer both the inner experience and the outward ability, much like the yogic practice of being inwardly conscious while actively participating in the comings and goings of life.
- What does „honest“ movement mean to you, a movement that transcends the aesthetic component only?
- Honest in relation to dance movement suggests authenticity to me. That means that the dancer has made the choreography his or her own. Even if the movement is precisely given to the dancer, the artist can still absorb it and interpret it as an expression of his or her self. This can especially be seen in traditional choreography that has been exactly set and performed over many generations. The steps are the same, the movement and music identical to 100 years ago, yet every ballerina can create her own, new swan.
- Honesty can also imply that the movement is human, it has something common to all people. In this way, that same ballerina performing her unique swan can also give a part of herself that is universal – everyone can recognise themselves in her suffering or joy, in her clinging to or releasing from life, in her need to love and be loved. Staying true to such basic human experience, even in the highly stylised medium of “The Dying Swan”, is artistic honesty for me.
- Dancers interact with space in many ways. They may stay in one place or they may travel from one point to another. They may alter the direction, level, size and pathways of their movements. In line with this and your experience in dance, are there any guidelines we can apply in everyday life?
- One typical characteristic of dancers that I find very refreshing is their ability to adapt and play with the ever-changing situation of the dance. Especially in a creative process, dancers seem to have a second nature for reacting in the moment to whatever is happening. Even an unexpected fall (if not dangerous – and dancers are usually very good at falling gracefully) can become a creative impulse or a joyful inspiration.
- In everyday life we normally do not live like that – we do not like the unplanned and particularly not surprises that knock us off balance. What would it mean to be able to live so skilfully and playfully, that all the bumps and blockages in the road became a game of creative reactivity – a dance? Life cannot really be planed; it can only be lived. Truly being alive and engaged with life means exercising the adaptability and agility of a dancer in negotiating the unforeseen process of life that is constantly unfolding. Life is very much like a live performance – we can’t stop and shout “time-out”. One way or another “the show must go on” and the most fulfilling way to do that is to be fully present like the dancer on (and off) stage.
- (Spatial) Relationships of the dancers to each other may be very diverse. I have heard that space might almost be considered a partner in the dance. I will quote Miloš Sofrenović once again: “The Space in Between, to my knowledge, is like the experience of two lovers. It is a shared space, but also a space of self-discovery of two individuals. This shared yet separate space transforms both by the establishment of the Lovers’ space in between.”
- Yes, I couldn’t agree more.
Photo: Attila Diallo