I’ve been doing partner dance for well over 10 years now, but before I got into formal partner dance I was always seeking partnership in my art. As a college student, studying modern dance, I never had more fun or felt more inspired than when my friend Leah and I would go to the dance studio late at night, put on some music and dance in the room, sometimes alone, sometimes together. Some curious interactions happened and I found myself moving in ways I never did when alone.
As a guitar player, I can strum rhythms and fingerpick fairly well, but these things don’t make me feel like I’m writing or playing a song. But when there’s a drummer, a bassist or another guitar player with me, I feel like I can play more simply while still creating music.
As a writer, some of the best writing I’ve done was in collaboration. Back in the 90’s when I lived in the Mission District in San Francisco, my friends Steve and Carrie and I would go to Muddy Waters Cafe, grab the free postcards from the rack by the door and sit down to have very tiny story contests. We’d pick a topic based on the postcard or something random and go. You had to fill the whole postcard and when you were done, you had to read yours to the group.
Knowing that mine would be read as soon as I was done put me into an interesting state of flow-edit. I’d be flowing with ideas, but I’d also be thinking about how each word worked next to the other as I wrote. It’s a hard state to get in and stay in successfully, because often our editor takes over and kills our inspiration. But it always seemed possible to sustain the flow-editor for at least the length of a postcard.
I think that flow-edit state is an important part of collaboration. You can’t collaborate right off the back. You have to spend time on your own, figuring out how to move your body, play your scales, put your thoughts together, but once you’re fairly confident that you can put something out there in front of a small audience (of perhaps just one), the inspiration that comes from responding to someone else creates so much more than you can create alone.
Nothing replaces the benefit gained from thousands of hours of focused solitary practice (where you are free to make mistakes and look or sound as stupid as possible). But, nothing adds to your art like the flow and play of collaborating with another artist.