Monday, February 7, 2011

Tunics in the Breeze

“When we put on our tunics, we feel like magic,” said one of my dancers at the Girls’ School of Austin. “Really? I feel that way too,” was my reply.

I’ll never forget my first tunic. Dark purple silk, eggplant, and slightly heavy. I was taking a series of Saturday classes through the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation in New York, predominantly taught by Cherlyn Smith. I bought the silk somewhere in Chelsea. I seem to remember getting a good deal on it, as it was the last of a bolt, and I sat in a coffee shop before class, one day, stitching together the two rectangles of cloth at the shoulders and side seams. I even had enough fabric left to drape over a couple of upended crates in my Inwood apartment.

Tunics in the Breeze!
The first time I danced in my tunic, something clicked. Was it the flow of the fabric? The sense that the silk provides an extra beat, a movement in response to the music, the visible echo of the ebb and flow of breath—and not just the dancer’s cycle of inhale and exhale, but the breath of motion, of life, of breezes that caress the earth? Or was it simply the magic that my young dancers have decided is just part of putting on a tunic?

It is true that Duncan removed her corset—that she danced full of breath and unconstrained by external constriction of her ribs and organs. That she brought a literal, physical freedom to female bodies, as well as freedom of expression, both artistically and socially. These are historic facts—interesting to consider and requiring imaginative effort from our twenty-first century sensibilities.

And yet, the power of the tunic is not limited to these turn-of-the-twentieth century historic conditions. The magic my young dancers feel is not a response to Victorian era restrictions. It is something else. A sense of possibility, of potential—that exploration of the inner creative landscape might yield wonders beyond the limited vision of our rational intellects. That movement, and breath, and music are tools for exploring this unmapped terrain. And, maybe, tunics heighten our perceptual senses just enough to realize the mysterious potential of this magical realm.