“I’ve come up with the best technique ever,” the wonderful Jo Fong told us, “…we’re going to do it now.”
In a dance workshop in the super new dance studio at ICIA in Bath, dancer, choreographer, director and self-professed genius, Jo, led us through – undoubtedly – the best technique ever. She calls it ‘Please Yourself’.
It works particularly well in this art form because of dance’s visual nature. It plays with our obsession with ‘the look’ of dance. Of course, dance is not just a visual art – the visual bit is only part. There’s the sound of breath, bodies moving across the floor or clapping against each other, music sometimes. And let’s not forget the physical sensations by the dancer themselves, so often forgotten in favour of lines and shapes.
There are numerous techniques that help the dancer become more ‘present’ – more consciously aware of their bodies, their focus on the present moment, the release of fixation on performance. But none seem to round it up quite so simply and with such versatility as Please Yourself.
In the class, we were split into two – one group of watchers, one group of movers. The observational group sat and watched around the outside of the space. Meanwhile, the dancers were invited to begin whenever and with whatever pleased them. They could change or stop, glide and slide, jump and flail. The only rule was this: Please Yourself. Whenever they became tired of their movement, they found a new thing to please themselves.
‘Geriatric Starlet’ and fashion icon, Iris Apfel famously said that you should dress to please yourself. Photo via Daily Beast
It’s an interesting thing to watch. A fresh freeness – joyfulness – emerges. But it’s even more interesting to do. How much can you let go when you know someone is watching? How can you acknowledge that you’re performing and still please yourself? Can you truly please yourself if you are aware others might be judging, or taking pleasure themselves? Is it more or less pleasing than dancing to a rapturous crowd, or no crowd? Can you please the audience and yourself?
I took an audition not long after this workshop and I was nervous, of course. But once we got started, I felt an all-new relaxed peace – a ninja-style balance of awareness and playfulness. It was a fun game to notice how I felt, to look inward: am I pleasing myself..? Is this more enjoyable than that..? I forgot my nervousness almost immediately – I laughed at it in fact, like to a cheeky child: ‘hey, I can see what you’re doing..!’.
And somehow, Please Yourself got me the job. Henceforth, Please Yourself is my most highly recommended, best-loved, ego-ass-kicking technique.
Try it yourself. Next time you are making something, feeling observed, or in a stressful situation – perhaps it’s an interview or audition, a performance, a speech, a chat with someone who you admire or fear – try to please yourself. Consider: am I being interesting to myself? Am I doing or saying something that gives me pleasure? Can I switch something up to make this a more enjoyable experience? Am I bored yet?
The beauty is: when you are doing your best to find pleasure in a task, what further can you offer? The ego is disconnected from the outcome. You’re free from self-judgement. You can truly say: it’s my pleasure. And the best bit is that if it’s fun from the inside, it’s probably fun from the outside too.
Bonus: watch Jo and friends ‘remember every dance they’ve ever danced’ in Wallflower, a wonderful and uplifting work.