When I talk about performance, I mean every time the body is used to do something. Athletics and sport, yes. But also the traditional sense of the word as in acting, dancing and making music. Running, taking a Pilates class and mowing the lawn are all physical tasks. A successful performance, one where we don't get injured and we accomplish the task with efficiency and power, means we must make adjustments based on sensations like muscle tension, exertion levels, and fatigue. But this is only a small small part of the data being delivered by our nervous system.
Last week on WHYY's Fresh Air, Terri Gross interviewed Audra McDonald who was nominated for a Tony for her performance as Bess in "Porgy and Bess". In discussing a duet with a co-star, she describes using other senses in guiding her performance:
Terri Gross: You know what I've often wondered? When you're singing at full throttle in a duet like you do with "What You Want With Bess" in Porgy and Bess, and you and Crown are singing opposite each other, I think the airwaves must be pulsing ... because you're physically close together, you're both singing full out and with ... volume to fill a theater. Can you physically feel each other's voices?
Audra McDonald: Absolutely. Not only that, it's a strange sensation because your head is filled with so much sound... For me, when I'm singing with (Crown) because he's got such a big, ginormous rich voice.... this is not going to make much sense, but I can't hear. It all becomes sensation. I physically cannot actually hear what is going on, (hearing) becomes just the sensation in my body and around me... Because of all that sound, and the blood pumping and ... the sounds vibrating, a normal sense of hearing kind of goes out the window and it becomes more about sensation.
If Ms McDonald clung to a rigid concept of "hearing" she would really have to struggle to isolate her own voice from the tidal wave of information pounding her nervous system. Instead she has expanded her awareness to include everything that might help guide her performance.
When you work out or play your sport or do your activities, are you open to all the data out there? If you automatically filter it OUT, you could be missing out on a sea of valuable information that would help refine your performance. Next time you have the opportunity, open up your awareness and check if you've been missing anything.
The scene Ms McDonald refers to is below.
This post appeared last week on my Somatic Mechanic blog.