I can still vividly picture and hear Florence Birdwell leaning back on the piano bench, kicking her feet up, and giggling like a small child as she asked me to approach a scary passage of a song with the freedom of a five-year-old. "Kids don't worry about how they sound. They just do. Like this!" When she cracked herself up, it was a joy to witness. This stuck with me because it has been so useful in getting out of my head, whether I'm singing or teaching.
A handful of years later, I found myself making a day job of multi-generational, accessible circus in New York City. The name of this organization started at CircusYoga and morphed into its true from, The Human Art of Play (spearheaded by Erin Maile and Kevin O'Keefe, two absolutely brilliant and inspiring humans). We even had the slogan "Now Must Play", our own version of "namaste." We taught yoga, accessible acrobatics, clowning, juggling and other ground circus in schools, parks, and retreats. It was a blast! I was making my living by playing!
In my yoga studies at The Breathing Project, I learned Embodied Anatomy and Kinesiology from Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews. They stepped out of the framework of the yoga world, Leslie from his work under an osteopath and Amy from her work in Laban/Bartenieff and Body Mind Centering. I found myself thinking of the same concept of play as we worked through the muscles and bones and discussed their function in movement. They got me out of the mindset of "the perfect pose" and into looking at what the body needs from a pose. I found myself turning the goal of my practice into "finding what feels good" (to quote Adriene Mishler, Yoga with Adriene). This was play.
I spent months in the Jen Waldman Studio, working on my repertoire in ways I never would have imagined. I was asked to sing my pop ballad like a honky tonk country song or make up new lyrics on the spot for The Light in the Piazza. We used Viewpoints to play with the room and chose our songs weekly based on themes like the weather. This was play.
My career has bounced around, a seemingly random ride, but through this ultimate act of play, I find myself bringing every tangential adventure into my teaching on a regular basis. I am a life-long student, an eternal five-year-old, grabbing every stick, colorful bottle cap, movement practice, seashell, vocal exercise, or funny-shaped rock that might decorate my studio/castle and make it feel like a safe place for my students to explore and play.
In yoga, we try not to stretch in stillness, we stretch within a movement. We strengthen within the movement. In acting, we try on many shapes and shades until we find the perfect vessel for communication of a moment. In singing, we might play with a subtle vowel change, a breath, the way we stress or articulate a word, the amount of vibrancy in the sound. We play so we can find ourselves on our mat, on the stage, in our song.
This hippy dippy, woo woo blog post is an invitation.
We can't know what's possible until we try. Put yourself out there like a five-year-old with nothing to lose but the daylight hours. If something doesn't work this time around…well then you know, and you can try something else. Keep playing.