Thursday, 7 March 2013

What to Exhibit in a 10 Minute Demonstration of Tai Chi

The Challenge
This week my class gave an exhibition of Tai Chi as part of the local celebrations for Andalusia Day in the south of Spain.  We were told that there would be many other activities represented and people participating of all age groups. The challenge we had was how to present -  in just 10 minutes -  the many different sides to this art without just running through the "Form". We had also to take into account that for 99% of the public, they would not have ever seen any Tai Chi before this day.

 We were also told there would be an audience over 500 people, including lots of young children running around, so we should not expect much silence, tranquility or even order. We were also informed that we would be slotted in between the karate demonstration and the gymnastics team. This, I felt, said something about the general perception of Tai Chi in Spain – that was a mix somewhere between a martial art and dance. Maybe, it was time to change that preconception.

I decided to demo a little of the form, the sword, some cane partner work and a bit of Chi Gung. I divided up the 10 minutes into four 2.1/2 minute sessions, and selected  - what I considered - appropriate music for each part. We then began the rehearsals.

After a few classes - and one week before the exhibition date - everyone appeared to sink to their lowest level. People began to get very nervous, forgetting their moves and gradually becoming less and less coordinated. Instead of focusing within themselves, the emphasis had moved from inside to everything outside: How would people view us? How they would interpret such a fragmented demonstration? Would they would like what we were doing? Would they even understand anything of what we were trying to convey?

It was at this point that I asked everyone to stop and answer a question – what is it that we are trying to convey? And so we came up with some interesting answers.

The Solution
For our final session before the exhibition, we choose to forget everything about rehearsing and instead focused on ourselves once more and our practice. I shifted the emphasis back inside and away from the public perception of what we were doing. Whatever else would happen that day, we were committed to transmitting something more important than simply a technique; more important than just the form - we were committed to transmitting the essence of how to find tranquillity and silence amongst the madness and noise that would surely surround us.

The Day of the Expo
And so the day arrived, and with it and unprecedented chaos of last minute changes to sound systems timetabling and order of events. But, by then, we had found our collective centre. We went through our performance – and unlike any of the other exhibitions that day -  we began and ended each movement in silence and stillness.  And in so doing, chose to convey something more important than technique or form. We demonstrated something  - I hope - of the essence of the art.

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