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In the Studio: Lessons (on life) from Dance


January 4, 2014 by Zara


One steps into a studio and thinks, at first, it is just a place to learn to dance. To learn steps. It isn’t. Dance, you see, is metaphor for life. And the studio is our metaphorical world, if only for a short spell of time.

It’s been said that how you do one thing is how you do everything. And the studio isn’t just your place of revelation, it is also where one hones how you ‘do your everything’.

The Japanese call a training place for cultivating one’s art, and in doing so also one’s self, Dojo. The written characters are “a place of the way”, and Dojo is also used to reference a temple where monks might stay to maintain their practice, or where people might use to cultivate a discipline. In fact, the place under the Bo tree where the Buddha sat and attained enlightenment was also called dojo.

The dance studio — a place I’ve spent quite a chunk of my life, and what I consider a very significant and sacred portion, of my life — has been my dojo. And yours might very well be some other kind of studio.


The studio is nevertheless our creative womb, our safe harbour where the all-too-necessary mistakes in the endeavour for perfection are permissible, our laboratory of self-discovery, and temple of self-mastery.

And the studio is indeed where I’ve not just connected with my embodied self (so precious in a world where work and existence is increasingly intellectually and rationally bent), but faced fears, tested and pushed boundaries of endurance and strength, fallen flat on my bottom, had jubilant moments probably only I myself would ever care about or appreciate, cried tears of frustration and sometimes pain, struggled and overcome mental and physical limitations, developed confidence, learnt humility, patience, discipline, dedication, to be self-critical without negative judgement, to make perfectionism work for me… and over time, as I gradually mastered my body (and mind!), came to find a deeply gratifyingly emotional outlet and creative voice in a way that was unique and quite different — almost ‘spiritual’ — from when I spoke, wrote or played music.

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”
― Martha Graham


The journey of dance is such a special one. On this journey, we find increasing levels of mental, bodily and spacial awareness, and in doing so increasingly enable ourselves an enhanced experience of being in the world. On this journey, we also explore our relationship with ‘our world’ — not just with the physical space we inhabit, but the relational approach and attitude we take when we go out and face it.

One can of course dance for all sorts of reasons — for enjoyment, for a social life, for physical and emotional well-being, to pass time, to find a romantic partner. But for some, like myself, there is such a magic and purity with which one can practice this art that places it in a realm of reverence. And I know I am definitely not alone in feeling this way.

Martha Graham, named one of the most influential dancers of the 20th century, manages to put it all into words so perfectly:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”

“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”


I speak generically when I say dance. But having tried many forms, and resonating with a few more than others, I see that while each has it’s own individual essence and particular things to teach or give us, there is a commonality in the dancer’s journey — like the things I speak of above — whatever the form might be.

So, it might seem a funny thing to say of a stark, bare, often “nothing-much-to-look-at” and sometimes even dingy hole in the wall, but a studio (and especially one with the presence of a barre!) will always be a very sacred space for me; a concrete representation and alluring invitation into the infiniteness of my being.



“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
― W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire






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