Collaboration: stepping forward and stepping back

CoLab 2014

Just before Christmas I took part in a week long dance intensive exploring collaboration at Independent dance. There were around twenty six of us led by Alice Chauchat examining what it means to be an individual among others. We danced and discussed together.

This week made me confront the habits I have around how I like to be collaborative. I was increasingly aware of my intuitive responses as either stepping forward to contribute in an assertively full way or alternatively, when it was important for others as well as myself, stepping back to participate fully by making space.

And so I humbly present some of the ideas that were relevant to me through my week of being a collaborator. I do so in the hope that it might give an indication of the experience I had in navigating the complexity of working with others. At the same time I ask you to remain sceptical of anything which appears to offer you a list of rules!

  1. Be present.

There is nowhere to hide in a small group most certainly not from yourself.

  1. Do not be a victim.

As a collaborator you have the possibility to move away from any situation in which you feel stuck. You can subvert, you can challenge in light and playful ways. Take liberties with the boundaries and avoid being too earnest.

  1. Collaboration acknowledges individuality.

There are often many different ways of approaching or working with any idea. These differences do not need to be moulded or diffused into some agreed compromise (this may not be realistic). Such differences might be held in such a way as to be productive so that agitation is constructive. Remember the grit and oyster metaphor.

  1. Be yourself deliberately.

Generosity, and not politeness, is conducive to being creative. Take the risk of saying what you think and how you are experiencing what you are doing. Be honest about how things appear to you so that those with you might do the same. Not saying what you really think can quash the questions which are vital to a vibrant process.

  1. Find ways to be accountable.

It is important to take ownership of the process you are part of and rather than being a passenger. Try to find ways to get stuck in and make this thing something in which you can recognise your contribution. Remember you do not have to like it all.

  1. Find something that is interesting for you.

When the urge to be playful has all dried up it is necessary to find ways of connecting to something which kick starts to motor of curiosity. Deborah Hay (the dance pioneer) calls this “tricking the mind to be interested”. For me it is about trusting that the activity will eventually reveal something to me if I give it a chance. Often it will be something I had not anticipated which expands my vision.

  1. Check your privilege.

This was suggested as a key to preventing ourselves from falling into cultural habits which reinforce stereotypes none of us would want to perpetuate. For example, some individual members of the group dominating discussion time simply because they enjoyed sharing their ideas or felt comfortable taking a forward role. This then is about humbly stepping back to redress the balance. We are all responsible for generating the culture we wish to live by.

  1. Be enriched.

Ensure that you feel satisfied and nourished by what you are involved in. I often need to remind myself to not take the process of exploring so seriously. Being less earnest and finding pleasure in the moment is its own fun.

  1. Get on with it.

Don’t spend longer discussing stuff than necessary. Actually trying things out will give you more information to build on. We can all get too comfortable spending time deciding on the best plan of action. There is no such thing as a perfect starting place. Get stuck in and the way forward will only really present itself.

  1. Go lightly.

Don’t get bogged down by needing to be good, right, better, serious, a happy camper, artistically significant, the best collaborator. Pushing too hard to make things happen just seems to get in the way.

written by Jamieson Dryburgh

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