Why I Improvise by Anjal Chande

Hamsasya Anjal Chande.jpg

Improvisation has recently become central to my artistic practice. What had always played some role for me on the periphery, I am now deliberately placing front and center, as the mainstay of my work.

Improvisation is beautiful, and I don’t necessarily mean to look at. It’s beautiful to be inside of, perhaps one of the best ways to get to know and be yourself. It’s an embodied way of staying curious, and I’m curious what it will reveal for me over time. Right now, I’m aware of a handful of reasons why I’ve intentionally committed to improvising.

Improvisation allows me to:

  • Remember to have fun!
  • Give importance to things that are playful in spirit, raw, messy, unpolished, and unproduced.
  • Get out of my head and into my heart.
  • Lead with my impulses rather than default to a cerebral, calculative mode of making.
  • Enjoy an inward gaze, a more somatic experience, rather than fixate on a dance’s visual quality from outside my own body.
  • Distill my own artistic voice, to discover what I am really after. 
  • Make art that is of the moment and in tune with the pulse of each day.

Improvisation alone has so much meaning for me right now, but it also provides fodder for a project I’m developing called This Is How I Feel Today. Additionally, I’ve been posting weekly glimpses of my improv sessions on social media because it feels important to make a point every now and then about how play is good for your health, how creativity for its own sake can be a part of daily life like your morning tea, and how things need not be so put-together all the time.

Perhaps, also, improvisation and the act of sharing it is a way of abiding in my own counterculture. It counters:

  • The capitalistic notion that only a sellable, deliverable product has worth or is worthy of one’s attention.
  • The precious treatment of one’s creation as intellectual property that should be owned, monetized, and is at risk of being stolen.
  • A trend amongst South Asian artists to often stand behind a facade of highly produced if not overproduced work that seems to value production over authenticity, vanity over vulnerability, glitz over self.
  • The idea that “successful” artists are some kind of “professional” “experts”, who have it all figured out.
  • The idea that what I do needs to agree with somebody other than me.
  • The idea that there is one right way to do things, that it is better to demonstrate unquestionable technical precision in finished outputs over messy explorations. 

I guess there are a lot of norms I don’t buy into, and I’m still reflecting on and figuring out how improvising gives me a real and symbolic release.

Improvisation feels like emancipation, no joke. Its magic is this year's best discovery. 

twisted arms wringing out twisted ideas.

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Adventures Abroad by Anjal Chande

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2017 has been an action-packed, emotion-packed year for me, and in its waning months, I find myself breathing in the cold, autumn air and kicking around the burnt-orange maple leaves on the cobblestone sidewalks of Berlin, Germany. This is where I live now, and so begin my adventures abroad.  

People ask me what I’m doing here, what’s the Fulbright, why Berlin. In short, the answer is that I’m here to research creative community, and what makes Berlin a particularly vibrant hub for artists from all over the globe. I’ll be doing this from the inside out, as a practicing dance artist immersed in Berlin’s creative scene, and also, from the outside looking in, as an academic reflecting on the larger urban history that has shaped this lively city. If you want to know more about my project, click over here.

During my time abroad, one of my endeavors is to dance a lot and dance routinely, and in doing so, deepen my artistic practice. I’ve begun documenting biweekly improvisation sessions on Instagram, so you can follow me there to get glimpses of that journey. I have found improvisation to be an essential tool for better distilling my own artistic voice. It allows me to make art that is of the moment and very much in tune with what I feel each day. Improvisation, and sharing it publicly as terrifying as that feels every time I do it, is also a testament to the importance I give to play, to the un-polished and un-produced, and to the spirit of spontaneous creation.  

Another goal of mine, while I’m away from the structured obligations of being in the U.S., is to continue pondering how I can be of service to others in creating nurturing spaces for empowered self-expression. I’m obsessed with this pursuit actually and have been at it for a decade (e.g. Soham Dance Space), but I know there are compelling dimensions to creative community building that I have not yet examined nor learned how to implement. I have some curious ideas up my sleeves, and I know my time abroad will give me new ways of thinking about shaping the infrastructure that allows for art and creativity to be a part of everyday life.

I feel enormously grateful and privileged and amazed to be abroad for this year-long adventure. Berlin is such a mind-blowing collision point between centuries of intense history and contemporary politics, and I couldn’t have landed in a more thought-provoking terrain. I truly hope that all I reap from this year of exploration, growth, and the unknown will be something I can pay forward big time. So far, it’s been awesome out here, and there’s a lot more to come!

You Will Not Define Me by Anjal Chande

Anjal Chande Bernal Heights

My work need not be defined. If one defines it, one defies it. My work won't sit so neatly inside the frame you've allotted for it. It won't acquiesce to the tiny confines of your stale imagination. I will not be defined by you. 

The impulses of a society so keen on labeling, categorizing, simplifying the inevitably complex is not what I wish to subject myself to if I can help it. It is difficult to help it, but I try. 

It is imperative for me to know my art as I wish to know it, as an expression of something so peculiar to and dependent on my me-ness. My work, my voice, my vision is something you cannot take away from me, nor is its worth something you grant me. 

To believe this means to resist the imposition of others' perspectives; to resist others’ subconscious and conscious, unspoken and outspoken, reactions as something I must wear as a badge of audience validation. I do not need you to embrace my work for it to be what I mean it to be. I rely not on your acknowledgment or approval.

In whatever I do, I am simply trying to be myself. My work is trying to be itself. Let it, let us, be. Without the agony of trying to escape your nail that wants so badly to pin us down to one static interpretation. 

Is my work political or apolitical? Secular or spiritual? Traditional or contemporary? Ethnic or American? Raw or polished? Is it succeeding at what it is trying to do? You need not know, and it does not matter. Why try to discern so cerebrally?

I invite you to experience my work viscerally. For a moment, engage with your heart, not your head. And then, whatever experience comes forth becomes uniquely yours to hold onto. I welcome your engagement, your interaction, your pondering, your response. Yet, what you take away is yours; you will not define me. 

 

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dare Me to Be Disciplined by Anjal Chande

Dance Room

I’ve noticed a funny relationship between motivation and discipline lately.

For me, motivation has often been the precursor to discipline. I am motivated therefore I am disciplined. When I strongly believe in the merits of, for example, carving out ample early morning time for my fitness and creative practice, then that belief translates to motivation, which translates to the discipline to do the things I want to do. While this often times works well for me, it is not real discipline, and I must disappointedly admit that I need a better foolproof technique for moments when my motivation goes awry.

Ya see, I’m the kind of person who really values doing things I consciously believe in, things I have a conviction around, things that feel meaningful to me. I can’t get myself to do things just because society says so or it’s popular or it’s what the doctor ordered. I’m the kind of person who needs to understand why something is important and purposeful, and I like to feel moved to do those things. When that understanding and inspiration takes place, then usually some surge of motivation gets me to follow through with my thoughtful desires and goals. What I am realizing now is that my aversion toward doing things “just because” and my proclivity toward doing things out of passion have prevented me from instilling true, diehard, unwavering discipline around the practices that matter most to me.

So what is true discipline? Discipline is:

  • Independent of motivation
  • Acting even when we don’t feel like acting.
  • Consistent, reliable, habitual
  • Fireproof, waterproof, overthinking-proof, cynicism-proof, “what’s-the-point-of-this-anyway”-proof
  • Willpower and self-control
  • A product of careful calculation/study/wisdom, from which there is no turning back (e.g. I brush my teeth everyday, no questions asked for the rest of my life)
  • That which trumps whims, moods, impulsiveness, vices, temptations
  • Choosing an ideal and committing to its realization


If motivation naturally ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, jumps out of bed or crawls back for comfort, then discipline is the constant, the perpetually rotating earth, the predictably setting and rising sun. It’s the fixed variable, the habitual way, the deliberate routine.

So why do I want discipline so badly right now?

I've often felt that the only thing keeping me from achieving my dreams, both the simple and lofty ones, was discipline. I have no problem working hard, but it's not about working hard. For the self-employed, work-from-home, creative types like myself there is a critical need to structure or define a daily schedule that serves us and our goals. What discipline is really about is living the life you want to live every single day. 

We need discipline in order to:

  • Do the little things that have such big value
  • Be healthy and be happy
  • Practice our craft day in and day out, week in and week out
  • Work when it’s time to work
  • Take breaks when it’s time to take breaks
  • Stand tall when discouragement strikes us down
  • Stick with habits that support well-being and creative growth
  • Do what we care about most, even when nobody around us believes in the importance, or when nobody even knows what we're doing (Can I get some snaps from the sisters and brothers who work alone and really get me on this point!)
  • Avoid decision fatigue caused by unnecessary questions (e.g. Should I wake up right now? Should I skip meditation? Should I take fifteen extra minutes to eat a nourishing breakfast? Should I rehearse for one hour or two?)
  • Free up our mental energies and channel them through impactful, mindful pursuits
  • Achieve our goals in a grounded, gentle, incremental way
  • Compost, recycle, conserve water, eat locally (Shout out to planet Earth on this happy Earth Day!)
  • Do what we love, now not later

Sometimes people have called me highly self-motivated, but they don’t know the whole truth. Yes, it's great when it just happens magically, but many times, motivation is hard. Motivating myself by myself is haaaard. And sometimes I just hate being the only one around to motivate me. What do I do when motivation evaporates and I struggle to follow through with my grand plan of action? What I’m going to do in those moments when I'm left high and dry is hang onto discipline. Lean into the lackluster moments and lean on discipline to help stay the course.

Annie Dillard wrote in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” I want discipline because I want my life to look like something beautiful everyday. I want it to be something I am proud of, something wholesome, that enriches me, supports me, moment by moment, and carries me to greater heights.

For that reason, I ask you, will you dare me? Dare me to be disciplined. So I may live the life of my dreams today, tomorrow, and always. 

On Taking Breaks by Anjal Chande

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I’m back!

It’s understandable if you never noticed I was gone or never realized I was here before. But let me tell you, I am back!

Back from what? I’m back from a break.

I took a few-months-long break to enjoy my husband’s homemade chai, to seek a change of scenery, and to get grounded again. I needed to clear my mind, refill the well, and rediscover myself. I carved out time to prioritize all of this. Most importantly, I learned how to take a break, and that lesson was the most worthwhile outcome of all.

Breaks are hard to do. I was a high intensity artist-entrepreneur, a 24/7 workaholic, chronically ambitious, and foolish to believe in my own indomitability. Breaks weren’t in my vocabulary. By the time I started to understand the importance of days off or vacations, I had a hard time implementing them successfully. I thought I was the state of California with a water table that could never go dry, and I lived like that for eight years until I could no longer deny that I had become parched.

When I finally came to a halt, I realized very quickly that I didn’t actually understand what a break was. Taking a break was a trial and error process. It required so much self-control, as if I had to handcuff myself to a chair in order to resist the urge to set new goals and restlessly pursue them. After a day or two of rest, I wanted to believe it was enough, but I didn’t feel different. No sense of revitalization had come over me. So I stayed in taking-a-break mode until I could unlock the transformative experience I was seeking.

Here are some things I discovered, applicable to breaks of all shapes and sizes:

Breaks are NOT:

  • Merely going through the physical motions of break-taking
  • Thinking about work even while you appear to not be working
  • Clenching, clinging, gripping, holding onto an obsessively goal-oriented mindset
  • Distracting oneself to avoid facing the agony of not being “productive”
  • Leaking battery power to applications left running in the back of your mind

Breaks ARE:

  • Breaking habitual patterns of perspective
  • Expanding beyond a myopic worldview, beyond a tunnel-vision work mode
  • Detaching from anything that is not the present moment
  • Interrupting momentum, when momentum isn’t good
  • Feeling content with who you are and where you are
  • Turning off, shutting down
  • Doing nothing

People say life is what happens when you’re busy making plans, and perhaps the same can be said for when we’re busy not taking breaks. For me, the most lovely break, such as a walk around the neighborhood, is one that feels aimless, just for fun, and truly relaxing. It seems to be the only way to recharge my being and clarify my purpose, and this kind of break is also profound. It puts life in perspective because it IS life. A break contains the breadth and depth of life itself! We are so much bigger than any simple work or grand ambition we may pursue, and right there in those restful moments, we have an undistracted opportunity to behold that truth.

When I look back on how I used to live, it sounds so crazy. But it also sounds normal, because a lot of us live in a similar mad-dashing frenzy. Like maniacs, we may commonly sacrifice life, in all its fullness and glory, at the altar of a race to the bottom of our never-ending to-do lists. Yet, what my recent soul-satisfying hiatus has taught me is to never, ever go without taking a break.

I share all this because breaks are this newfound, crucial, and cherished part of my process now. Of work, creativity, and life. I feel a very assuring sense of renewal and readiness to be where I’m at, and it will allow me to be mindful of whatever I do moving forward.  I always want to be grounded as I reach out into the world to work. I always want to be centered as I give of myself to create. I always want to take breaks, intentionally and with care.

In a world where there are many advocates for sharpening one’s work ethic, working hard, working selflessly, being productive, and hustling to achieve one’s dreams, I want to be an advocate for breaks, pauses, rest stops, rejuvenation, the value of just being. Not simply because it helps you go back and work better. But because it helps you stay connected to who you really are and what life really is about – something more beautiful and more fulfilling than any fleeting worldly pursuit.

I am your break-taking cheerleader.  Take a break.

#takeabreak