A Blythe Coach

Attitudes to Time in Dance & Life: relating to and transforming conceptions of time

Time is a matter of how long the duration between two events takes to achieve itself.” (The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique* p.176)

In “real time,” we have just had St. Patrick’s Day, are looking ahead at the end of March and Lent, and here in Cologne it is very much spring. Daylight savings has already sprung forward in North America, and shortly will here in Germany as well.

All manner of friends report that quarantining during a global pandemic has done weird things to their sense of time, and the topic is very much on our minds. How can we alter our perception of time in dance and life?

Recently in the “Roses Have Thorns” Sleeping Beauty/Hamilton/Shakespeare blog and Podcast 39, I talked about the poignant finitude of time in life given our human mortality.

In Podcast episode 44 and below, I discuss Time’s potential expansiveness, abundance, and richness, from the perspectives of yogic philosophy, as a coaching concept and as an element of dance. Next time we’ll get into more detail about musical concepts around time.

Attitudes toward Time Podcast

Time is an immensely important topic for growth, yoga, and dance, so it’s a theme I’ll return to again and again.

In awe to witness time in all its manifestations

Contrary to how we sometimes try to define time, our experience of it is NOT really linear. Some describe it as spiralic, others as only existing in this present moment. Scientists use the term “spacetime” due to the inseparability of these linked concepts. 

The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique* book, a wonderful resource of philosophy and technique for modern dance, says: “Time is much more abstract than shape or motion. Time in its essence is invisible until it is related to something. Examples: one speed against another, repetition against sudden pauses, slow motion against fast, pendulum action in time versus out of time. Time can be absurd, surreal, and rhythmic; it can accelerate and decelerate. […] Time is closely related to space (but we don’t know how); time is like space in that it doesn’t exist until you put boundaries on it.” (p.174-175)

It’s fun to let the mind be boggled a little bit with awe at the enormity of the universe(s), to marvel at the incomprehensible complexity and beauty of nature and the nature(s) of reality through different perspectives. 

Neon green sprays of early-spring willow leaves in Cologne, Germany

The “Myths, Mirages, and Measuring Time” podcast by Rev Dr. Carl Gregg of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick blew my mind by introducing me to the idea that time passes at different speeds, measurable by modern technology, depending on one’s elevation/relative distance from the center of the earth (affecting the speed of our rotation). 

What? My minutes pass faster on mountaintops or in an airplane than they do at sea level? Then how do clocks work exactly and how can we agree on what time it “is?” I remember learning about how measures of weight/mass are similarly problematic to standardize and having difficulty wrapping my head around those ideas too…and am glad that there are people who better understand these areas expertise to serve as engineers and the like!

Meanwhile I get to play in creative and spiritual ideas of time, such as:

Time in Yogic Philosophy

Writings on yogic philosophy have much to contribute to the conversation about time. As just one example, in his translation of the Bhagavad Gita*, Satchidanana explains how time is a matter of perspective, and that the lived experience of time helps us better see certain elements of reality: “Past, present and future are just relative. It all depends on where you stand and how you see. Space and time are unlimited. Thus, you more readily see God’s manifestation, in space and time.” (The Living Gita* p.159)

Chapter 10 of the Gita in particular contains insights on the nature of time that echo in other sources I share below: 
10:30 “Of all that measures, I am time itself.” (The Living Gita* p.157)
10:33 “I am the first letter: A. I am the combining word: “and” (dvandva). Actually I am time eternal. Thus I am the one facing all directions (Brahma). I sustain everyone as I dispense the fruits of all actions.” (The Living Gita* p.158)

“Although we say A (rhyming with bay) in English,” Satchidananda explains, “the most natural sound of the letter is ah. All you need is to open your mouth: ah, the very first letter. This is how sound begins.” (The Living Gita* p.158)

Satchidananda elaborates on the infinite nature of consciousness, and therefore also time: “Of course, words and sounds have beginnings, but there is no beginning for consciousness. Consciousness is eternal: no beginning, no end, always there. Just as the audible ah sound has a beginning. Beneath the audible is the inaudible ah sound, which you didn’t create. It’s already there. But you brought it out. […] Time also never ends or begins. Time itself is timeless and comes from the timeless one. We create so-called sections of time and call those the present, past or future. But strictly speaking there’s no past, present, or future. They are our conceptions.” (The Living Gita* p.158)

We can learn to distinguish our conceptions about time from universal truths.

Using Time to Accomplish Our Aims

James Flaherty reflects on time in Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others*: “It’s always the case that we are fulfilling what was begun in the past by taking action in the present to bring about an outcome in the future. In a way, this may be unique to human beings; we exist simultaneously in these three openings in time.” (p.26)

On a practical level, coaching resources offer to shift our relationship to time and create a more empowering relationship with the distinction. In the ontological coaching that I do, examining and transforming our relationship to time (and all the relevant contexts we operate within) is key.

Flaherty describes the supportive structures of a time frame and network of support for coaching: “A time frame puts sufficient structure and rigor in your program so that you can have a sense of forward movement. At the outset of your program give your best estimation of how long it will take. If necessary, correct your time frame by speaking to your network of support: people who have committed themselves to your success in the program. These people will make it more difficult for you to fool yourself or endlessly postpone.”  (Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others*, emphasis mine)

There is always a time frame associated with intended outcomes in coaching, as well as the coaching relationship itself, stated in the contract.

Indeed, in the book Coach Anyone About Anything*, the authors speak of time as the duration of play or time frame during which the payers act:  “Measurable outcomes (results) to be produced by the player and by what specific dates they are to be accomplished […] Timeframe for the coaching engagement.” (p.24) 

They also provide useful tools for coaches and “players” or clients, including the “Futurability for Objectives Checklist”  (p.30, and which I will share more about in the future) and guidance for “When Players Aren’t Taking Action” (p.70), in which they describe the “Top five reasons why players don’t take action,” which, “You may want to share this with your players because we’ve found even players themselves need to know and understand why they’re not motivated to move.” (p.70) The reasons which pertain to time are: “a. Player has no time available, b. or not enough time, c. or something isn’t worth the time investment required.” (Coach Anyone About Anything* p.71)

Coach Yourself to Success* by Talane Miedaner has a whole chapter on finding time to accomplish what is important to you, “IV. Make Time When There Isn’t Any,” and she has some great ideas for places to look to get integrity with your time, including reflective practice, time tracking, and priority-setting, such as “Take twenty minutes every morning to plan the day and reflect (Tip 35). And make a firm rule to arrive at every appointment ten minutes early.” (p.82)

Another key insight that I took away was: “Everyone complains that there isn’t enough time. We act as though time were a fixed quantity, and it isn’t. Time expands and contracts depending on what we are doing. The irony is that being overly busy makes time seem to go even faster. If you want to feel like you have more time, do less.” (Coach Yourself to Success* p.81)

Ontological Coaching Tools on Time

Of course I have a whole slew of tools about time from my training with Accomplishment Coaching. Some key distinctions that I work with in my coaching work include that time is a conversation (and as such, we decide what we want to make up about time) and that time management as an attempt to control every moment is a fallacy. What we can control is our energy and focus.

If time is defined as every moment that has ever been, is or ever will be, we see that there is plenty of time, but as with other resources available to us, we may operate in a context of abundance or scarcity. We do best to remember that satisfaction and fulfillment live in the present moment and that it is empowering to deal with time as an integrity item.

There are a variety of specific tools that I use to support clients in empowering their relationship to time and getting in integrity in this area, such as the “Context Exercise,” “Time Generator Checklist,””Top Six Checklist” and many others. I’d be happy to share these time tools with you and help you get new perspective on your time in a free 60-minute coaching session, which you can schedule by following the link here.

This concept of our being able to relate to time in different ways is connected with the topic of focus, another topic for a future blog 🙂

Describing Time in Movement and Dance

Now let’s look at how time is portrayed and described in movement. In A Primer for Movement Description*, Cecily Dell clarifies how we can describe the experience of time in dance, or “The Time Factor,” as “Changes in the quality of time in movement, becoming either sustained or quick.” Dell compares the two attitudes to time coexisting in one scene:

“Scene: gangster movie. Rich industrialist whose daughter has been kidnapped confronting mobster he knows is responsible. Where is his daughter — he wants to know now. Well . . . mobster isn’t quite sure, is stalling for time to make sure his plans have been carried out. Industrialist’s movements are punctuated with quick, nervous jerks and starts. Mobster smokes his cigar with long sustained gestures, stretching out every second as much as he can.

The dynamic in this scene consists of two opposing attitudes toward time. The two men share the same duration in their exchange; they exist and interact with the same amount of time. But the one acts from a sense of urgency, of wanting to hurry time, which the other indulges in time, as if prolonging its passage. The quality of prolonging or stretching time out, we call sustainment the quality of urgency or quickening in time we call quick. Sustained and quick are the elements or qualities of the time factor.

The qualities of sustainment and quickness differ from quantitative speed as measured by a clock, or pace or tempo as marked by a metronome. In ballet, or more extremely in Spanish dance, the legs and feet may be moving in response to very fast-paced music, while in the arms and upper body, the quality of sustainment in time may appear.” (A Primer for Movement Description Using Effort Shape and Supplementary Concepts p.24-5)

Such a vivid portrayal of these varied and relative attitudes to time!

The Nikolais-Louis approach, dancer’s time

Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis have many relevant points regarding time in dance, so I did my best to pull out just a couple passages relevant to today’s topic. One point is time’s inseparability from other ideas: “We cannot attach time exclusively to sound or motion or space; rather, it is an integral component of all of them. Its presence cannot be eliminated. Time flows continuously, and because it has no substance we cannot alter its speed or presence. Time is relentless. It cannot be stopped. The only way to deal with time is to go with it.” (The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique* p.178)

However we may try to box in the concept, they assert that, “There is no precise definition of time. We understand time mainly through a recurrent pattern of happenings. Natural and artificial structures exist for its measurement. In artifice, we have the clock and yard-stick. In nature, we have the rising and the setting of the sun. We have our own recurrent breath and heart-beat and the live presence of the body experiencing its existence.” (The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique* p.178)

We move through different experiences of time, including artificially measured, sensed, and musical/rhythmic, as well as lack-of-awareness:

“Without a clock or some equivalent timepiece, time can also be determined by attention. One senses or feels the presence of time–moving fast, slow, or standing still. In dance, this awareness is abetted by musical pulse and rhythm, In addition to this awareness, the dancer can also step out of time consciousness and into a pedestrian state of unawareness.” (The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique* p.173) So we see that time and perception are inextricably linked, such that:

“Time, for the artist, is basically a sense and perception of change. When there are no sensations or realizations of change, there is a sense of monotony and the feeling that time is passing too slowly. At the opposite pole, perception of quick change can also alter our perception of time.” (The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique* p.178) I am so fascinated by how yogic, philosophical, pragmatic, and creative ideas about time intersect!

Coming Soon: Time & Music in Dance

I plan in my next installment to delve further into the nitty gritty of Time as an Element of Dance as it relates to music theory and ways to play with time and music in technique and choreography. In live classes we will explore manipulating time, as well as recorded classes online, so we can relate theory to practical experiences in movement.

Stay tuned on my YouTube Channel and Blog for more about the Element of Time and many more related topics!

What is the conversation that you have with time?

Blythe Stephens, MFA
she/her or they/them
A Blythe Coach: Dance Education & Coaching 
move through life with balance, grace, & power

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