Listening to Silent Words

“Make this last run-through all about listening.” On a Monday night after three hours of rehearsal, listening while trying to turn, slide, and balance seemed impossible. We are currently in the process of learning “Words in Motion” by choreographer Chadi El-Khoury, and I am learning how to listen.

Yes, the dance itself is very physically demanding. Yoga-like in approach, the piece requires challenging headstands, body-knotting contortion, and one-legged balances. And in the first few days of rehearsal, this movement material felt foreign to us all. We readily shared dumbfounded looks as we watched master Chadi mount into single shoulder stands that seemed to levitate. After the shock subsided, a light laughter almost always followed because we knew that somehow someway, we had to learn just how to execute that exact move. Needless to say, my arms have never felt so sore!

But now after about a week with Chadi, I am learning that the dance is not about the body and its soreness, but rather about the mind. Like swimming in thick ooze, the group slowly floats into movement with the goal of synchronizing so that each stroke is in perfect unison. And more so than the dance’s demanding physicality, it is a mental test, challenging our eyes and ears to remain sensitive and aware to the group’s space and timing during the twelve-minute piece.

Chadi reminds us to listen. At first it sounded simple, but I soon learned that listening, much like mastering a headstand, takes time. Fortunately, working with Chadi has made this listening test a little easier. He teaches by example: having patience in the process by giving us the time we need to really understand the movement but more importantly, to understand and listen to each other.  

So in our last run on Monday night, I ignored the soreness in my arms, put my meticulous attention to detail aside, and instead focused on listening to the group. And the things I heard as a result reminded me why I love to dance.

In working with Chadi, my ears are growing. I am starting to listen to my fellow dancers—waiting or speeding up so that we all meet and meditate together. And as we finish up “Words in Motion,” I am eager to keep practicing how to listen to the words my peers say—even if these words are not spoken but instead danced.

Kelsey Rohr

Dancer, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance