freedom, privacy and value

I’m a dancer, choreographer and teacher and I tend to be surrounded by people who openly value this kind of work. That said, I don’t have to work too hard to find people who don’t. Here’s right-wing political commentator Tim Blair writing about how artists have responded to Federal Arts Minister George Brandis’s funding cuts in Australia:

So many ouchies, so little funding. “As with other arts sectors,” the report continued, “low remuneration levels for artists is a feature.” They got that right. Probably its best feature, too.


One of the things I like about reading writing by people who openly disregard the arts is that it forces me to question my own assumptions about the value of what I do. How does dance matter and to whom? Why should I receive public funds in order to make work? Does dance function outside of its own bubble, aesthetics, fashions and questions, and if so, how?

The last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about internet privacy and freedom (in part due to Susan Kozel’s keynote at C-DaRE’s Dance and Somatic Practices conference in July). It’s gripping to read and watch the work of people like Aaron Swartz and Ed Snowden. In various ways, through their actions they have made the point that without privacy human beings have no freedom: no freedom to act, to protest, to create, to criticise, or even to simply assume that when we communicate it is only to the people we wish to communicate with.

It’s easy enough to understand why we should value the work of those who are committed to internet privacy (and therefore freedom). But where might this leave me – and my peers – who value something as fringe or niche as choreography and dance? Sure I could make an issue-based work about freedom and privacy [cringe] but I understand part of dance’s value to be in how it calls into question the assumptions our culture makes about value and values.

Regardless, I want to make artistic work in a society that cares about freedom and privacy, and I want to make the conditions under which I might create this work as untainted as is possible by our culture’s obsession with (economic) value.

I strongly recommend the documentary about Aaron Swartz, The Internet’s Own Boy (full version) and Laura Poitras’ extraordinary documentary about whistleblower Edward Snowden, Citizenfour (trailer).

If you are curious about leaving fewer trails online, then check out Tor Browser, Ghostery, Pretty Good Privacy and VPN tunnels (an example of which is TunnelBear).

reading rafa

I recently read tennis player Rafael Nadal’s autobiography Rafa and for anyone curious about the psychological demands of sport it’s a very fine read.

On identity (p.47):

I’m very much aware now that everything that’s happened to me is not because of who I am, but because of what I do.

On respect (pp.66–67):

Respect for other people, for everyone irrespective of who they might be or what they might do, is the starting point of everything, Toni says. “What is not acceptable is that people who have had it all in life should behave coarsely with other people. No, the higher you are, the greater your duty to treat people with respect.

On humility (p.100):

Understanding the importance of humility is to understand the importance of being in a state of maximum concentration at the crucial stages of a game, knowing that you are not going to go out and win on God-given talent alone.

Enduring (p.175):

Enduring means accepting. Accepting things as they are and not as you would wish them to be, and then looking ahead, not behind. Which means taking stock of where you are and thinking coolly.

EasyJet (p.177):

I beat Federer 7–5, 7–5 in the (Monte Carlo 2008) final, and immediately I felt a strong urge to get back home as soon as possible. I didn’t want to spend another night in Monte Carlo, however much I liked the place; I wanted to get back home straightaway, and the only way to do it was to catch a budget flight to Barcelona and from there connect tot Palma. I remember the look of surprise on the other passengers’ faces at Nice airport as I joined them in the departure lounge to board the orange easyJet airplane. There were surprised to see my queuing up with the rest of them to buy a drink and a sandwich. One asked me why I didn’t fly on a private jet. The truth is, I don’t like it. I could push one of my sponsors to fly me around, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. It’s a bit too flashy for me, and besides, I don’t like abusing my relationship with them. But when we had boarded and I struggled to fit the squat, wide Monte Carlo cup into the luggage compartment above my seat, I did for a second wonder whether I’d made [p.178] the right choice. There was uproar in the flight cabin, laughing and clapping, as I tried from every angle to wedge the trophy into place.

Aces (p.187):

Aces are like rain. You accept them and move on.

Pressure (p.192):

The difference between me and him [Uncle Rafael], and other spectators who might have had similar thoughts [to run away], was that I had trained for this moment all my life. Not just hitting balls, but training my mind. Toni’s harsh training regime—thwacking balls at me when I was a little kid to keep me alert, never allowing me to make excuses or succumb to complacency—was reaping its reward. Plus I do have a quality—whether innate or taught—I don’t know—that champions must have: pressure elates me. Yes, I buckle sometimes, but more often I raise my game.


A great thing about Rafael is that the desire to keep learning and keep improving is something that’s in his blood. He knows that no one is a god, much less he himself, but his spirit of self-sacrifice—I’ve seen it myself, year after year, however high he might have scaled Olympus—is superhuman.

– Joan Forcades (Nadal’s trainer), p.237