Drawn to Dance

NICK THORPE tries a novel way to let go of perfection and embrace the messy moshing of collaborative art.

Recently I learned to sketch with my feet.

It was one of several unusual skills I acquired at Drawn to Dance – a bizarre and exhilarating two-day experiment in which twenty of us gathered in a converted barn to find out what happens when you mix dancing and drawing.

What was most challenging at the outset was not so much learning to grip a charcoal stick between my toes using a rubber band – though that was tricky for sure, along with learning not to be self-conscious about combining it with my deeply uncool-but-enthusiastic brand of dad-dancing.

But harder still, for me at least, was the frustration of knowing that any line I managed to make on a piece of paper with my improvised toe-pen-shuffle could immediately be dance-scrawled across, smudged or even erased by someone else.


I’ve only relatively recently got the hang of collaboration. I grew up avoiding team sports as much as possible; constructed intricate Lego moneyboxes with interlocking sliding catches to keep others out; I was the opposite of expressionist, using a grid at Art A-level to ensure that my painting was as lifelike as possible.

Collaboration involved mess and negotiation and compromise whereas I liked to be in control or doing my own thing. I’ve changed a lot, but that boundaried child still lives in me.

So early in the weekend, I felt something close to grief watching the woman opposite me furiously rubbing out the lines I had laid down. In dramatic, timed segments of minutes and seconds, we were told to sketch, then move on, no room for perfection. It just about killed me.

But as time went on, something shifted. The drawing and the dancing became ever more intertwined, and our hands and feet and faces grew grubby with multi-coloured chalk streaks, and laughter punctuated the tribal beats coming from the sound-system.


On a vast paper canvas taped to the floor, a swirling stew of colour changed constantly as feet and hands and chalks moved across it. In the midst of all this it struck me that this was about life as much as art – the constant change, the accommodation we make between perfection and productivity, the rise and fall of a million ideas in a million workplaces and schools across the world.

I realised, grinning like a loon sometime on Sunday morning, that I was loving the communal connection to all these fellow humans, each with their own passions and ideas and sadnesses. I looked down at my smudged and knackered feet and even loved them too.

So much so, that when the facilitators – artist Jenny Smith and dancer Sarena Wolfaard – finally gave us the option of doing our own piece of work, untouched by others, I felt a wave of ennui at the idea of being alone again with my own perfectionism.


The other option was to stay in the centre, modifying our huge square of shared colour, and in the end I danced between both poles – stamped footprints on my own paper, modified and scrawled, and returned to the melee, then back to my own paper – before deciding to do something I would never previously have considered: I picked up my board, took it to another artist, and asked her to add to it.

She looked surprised but did so, then I took it to another and another – four people in all, adding to my own idea and improving it in my estimation, and also crucially relieving me of sole responsibility for how it ended up.

How it ended up was colourful, and interesting, and collaborative. I didn’t like it enough to take it home, but I was delighted when someone else took a shine to it – a reflexologist who liked the idea of pink footprints on her wall.

The weekend left me feeling excited on a number of levels, both at the sheer volume of beautiful work that was produced, in all its provisional beauty – and the exhilaration of letting go of my own need to be in sole command, and how wonderful it felt to share the process with others.


There was also a constant creative movement that felt deeply generative, and I’ve brought it home with me. It’s already injected a new in-the-moment freedom into my coaching practice (though be reassured, I’m not yet suggesting clients sketch with their toes). I’ve also been experimenting to see if I can take it into my writing.

On a whim and seeking to find the same urgency as those dance-drawings, I loaded up a Pomodoro timer on my computer, which gives me 25 minutes to work, and 5 minutes break. I wrote the first draft of the above non-stop without correction – and now, a few days later, I’m 2.45 minutes from the end of my only edit. Scary! 

If you’re reading this, it’s working so far. Let the dance go on.

For information on future Drawn to Dance Workshops, check out Jenny’s website and/or contact Sarena on sarena@movetobestill.com


Posted on: 01 Mar 2018 in Coaching, General, Psychology, Spirituality

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