(Originally recorded July 2021)
These thoughts were recorded a while ago, but they are on a topic re-visited during a recent Monday night Open Level Class…
Listen to Krishna discuss her feelings on the Flow State in this audio recording (transcript available):
Hello, everybody. It’s time for another edition of Krishna’s Mailbag. So this is the lovely little occasional program where I check in the mailbag for Dark Room Ballet and I answer interesting questions. So let’s check in the mailbag and find out what I have to talk about today. Let’s see what we’ve got. Oh, this question is really great. It asks, “Hey Krishna, what is the flow state? I’m a new dancer and I’ve heard about this, but I have no idea what they’re talking about.” Well, let me tell you about something. People who study education and who study learning about 10, 15 years ago, started to really pay a lot of attention to this special moment in a person’s life which is called the flow state.
The flow state is a moment of activity in which a person is just on the edge of the maximum difficulty that they can execute without losing confidence. They’re just on the edge. Oftentimes these moments require great focus, but also create great focus in the person. I find that the best way to explain a flow state is to describe moments of flow state that I myself have had. Flow state in dance for me happens a lot, a lot when I’m studying with other teachers, when I am developing work for my students. Flow state happens a lot for me. In fact, it happens while I’m teaching class a lot. It is a really intense experience. Pretty much every brain cell feels like it’s firing and nothing in the world could distract me from what I’m doing at that moment.
I’ve had moments working with particular dance teachers where I’m really on the edge of my capacity to learn something new and something becomes apparent to me while I’m learning it. And I understand how I’m going to work through the movements that I’m studying. Something becomes more clear, something becomes more obvious, but it’s brand new for me still. So I have to put every ounce of focus into what I am doing. I think oftentimes about work that I have done with a dance teacher here in New York City. A contemporary teacher, her name is Bethany Perry and I would oftentimes experience flow state in Bethany’s class because I’m ballet dancer. I stay up upstanding, I stay up tall, but in contemporary always changing levels, always changing direction.
And Bethany like many contemporary choreographers did not work with an eight point compass, but with a 12 point compass like a clock. So I was always changing direction and the precision of my direction had to really be taken into account. For a blind dancer that’s really, really hard, but what it was for me was really finding the memory capacity almost a preliterate like hunter gatherer kind of memory capacity. Remembering where I was, remembering where I’m going, rotating, keeping my body in space, keeping aware of it. And I always know that I’m in the flow state because my breathing changes a lot. I become very aware of it, I breathe really, really deep and really, really slow.
My heart is beating like a butterfly’s swings so fast, but my breathing is really deep and it’s really slow. And I almost feel my skin vibrating, I feel like every nerve in my peripheral nervous system is just on fire, [inaudible 00:05:28], vibrating. It is such a special experience. Now, that might sound like something you might want to experience yourself as someone on their dance education journey. Here’s some tips for me if you really want to allow yourself to enter the flow state. Here’s some things that you can do. You can make it really more accessible for yourself, you can’t force it to happen, but there’s things you can do to make it more accessible for yourself.
Number one, number one, remember that you have the capacity to learn the thing that you are studying. Do not psych yourself out. If you psych yourself out, no flow state for you. You have to go into it with the understanding, okay, I am here learning this thing and I have the ability to learn it. That’s number one. Number two, feel good and comfortable about the space where you are dancing. Before you start dancing, check everything, feel comforted that you know how much space you have, that you know all of the textures on the floor, that you know where your sound sources are, that you know where other sources of sound might be coming from. Take the time before you start dancing to really get to know where you are dancing. So you’re not going to get surprises from your space, you’re going to feel comfortable where you are.
Number three, allow yourself to enjoy dancing. I know that, that sounds like really ridiculous, but some people, they have this internal critic which is like, “Oh, I’m not doing it right, I’m not going to get it as the way that I want it to be.” If you have that little voice going on, that’s like, “Oh, I know that I didn’t point my foot as hard as I could have, oh, I lost my balance for a split second there, oh, I’m not moving my hand in the way that I know that I should.” Those things, those little critical voices in your mind might be preventing you from learning something much more exciting and allowing yourself to be excited in the moment. Those small things that we work on in technique class, sometimes you need to let it go and go towards a bigger goal of being fully immersed in what you’re doing.
Sometimes the most impressive things that come to us being able to hold big balances, being able to really change direction and not get lost, not forget, being able to access core muscles that we’ve found difficult to access. Having those feet alive with electricity, those hands alive with electricity, maybe it’s overcoming vertigo which plagues a lot of us blind dancers. Sometimes you need to let go of the small little critics voice and let yourself be in the bigger moment of what you’re doing. There’s always time to perfect the little things, but if you sense something is changing inside you that day, that you might be moving into somewhere new, somewhere important, let it go, let the excitement take you.
Go for it and trust that you can learn and that you can be in the thing that you are doing and the world will change, and you will change. When I think about what I’ve just shared right now, it is such a marvel to me that there have been people in my life who’ve discouraged me from following my path as an artist, following my path as a dancer, because how could I live without this kind of experience? How could I live bereft of this kind of excitement? This kind of joy that I so, so love and I so, so need deep in my heart, deep in my psyche. That’s who you are too, that’s who you are too. Always find joy in your dance practice and if you feel yourself teetering on the edge of something special, something important, dive in. It’s going to be great.