How do you get over those periods when you find it difficult to shake off a lull in your creative explorations?

Artists and dancers are constantly looking for inspiration for their work. In looking to define inspiration or what it means to inspire someone, many definitions surfaced. The most relevant one seemed to be the following — to inspire someone is to “fill (someone) with the urge to do or feel something, especially to do something creative”. The word inspire originates from the middle English word enspire which further originated from the Latin term inspirare which means to ‘breathe or blow into’ (in – into and spirare – breathe). The word was originally used to describe a divine or supernatural being who was said to ‘impart a truth or idea to someone’.

Dancers draw their inspiration to create work from various sources – real life experiences, their surroundings, social and political issues, emotions, stories, literature, mythology and more. But as I’ve said before, inspiration does not always arrive at opportune moments. Many dancers will tell you that there have been times when they have been expected to create work, and have simply not been able to get inspired. Lack of inspiration spirals into a lack of motivation or simply an inability to create.

With people in the field of literature, this condition is called ‘writer’s block’, which is defined as ‘a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play or other work.’ As it happens with writers, it surely does not elude other creative people such as actors, musicians and dancers. Perhaps we can say that dancers sometimes face ‘dancer’s block’.

This can, of course, be a frustrating and upsetting condition. A student of dance recently asked me about inspiration and motivation, and said he was struggling to create a solo that had been assigned to him. A month or so later, the deadline for the assignment was long overdue, but the solo had still not been created. I told him the usual things that you would say to a student looking for inspiration – “try to create work based on something that means something to you”… “think about something that upset you or made you really happy, and try to draw inspiration to move from there”… “read” … “draw inspiration from different kinds of art” … “just get up and start working on it!

But honestly, having myself felt the same ‘dancer’s block’ before, I knew that my advice was not guaranteed to be heeded. It wasn’t wrong, of course, and has definitely worked before with many teachers and students of dance, but then no one is impervious to the ‘dancer’s block’ and advice alone can’t undo it. A week later, when I met the young student of dance, he was still reluctant to show signs of having created work, but had followed the advice. He had gone to see other works of art, had read about dance, and had thought about what emotions, events in his life and issues surrounding him instigated powerful urges to create movement. In our discussion, what surfaced was the degree of desire (even desperation) that exists in him having something to say and wanting it to be delivered to audiences. The following week, the solo was ready to be performed.

The event of experiencing ‘dancer’s block’ with a student of dance through a month or two of his growth led me to think a lot about inspiration and motivation. External advice might be helpful, but is it enough to inspire an uninspired person? On the other hand, internal resolve is necessary to end a creative block, but is it enough without looking outward for inspiration? It appeared that neither one – the internal or external factor – was enough by itself to put an end to ‘dancer’s block’. Both were needed equally.