mathew paul chounlamontry ////////////// a dancer’s soul .

February 21, 2012

/////////////////////  a lesson on courage & vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a funny thing. Sometimes we think we have an understanding of it, we have a grasp on it. But often it comes up when we least expect it, especially if we feel like we’re in control. But that’s often how vulnerability operates right? It just appears and takes you by surprise. & that’s scary.

My dear friend Mat and I have been friends for many, many years, and some of my memories of Mat when we were younger were of him dancing. Dancing always struck me as a part of him, so it surprised me a few years ago when he told me that he had stopped dancing, and indicated that he didn’t have any intention to get back into it. Instead he was going to focus on acting and I just remember thinking… “Why??”

The idea of him not dancing seemed like a foreign concept to me, but I didn’t press it.

When I asked him a few years later if he’d be willing to participate in my ‘dancer’s soul’ series, I wasn’t sure how he would react or if he’d want to, because I didn’t know where dance fit into his life anymore. During that conversation, he revealed that he was getting back into dance, and I thought how wonderful this experience and shoot would be for him. It would be the perfect way to reopen this part of his life again.

As I’ve said before, these shoots teach me so much. When I walk away, I always have new insights — not only in dance, but in people, as well as my own self. The biggest thing that struck me about this shoot was Courage. More specifically, Courage that goes hand in hand with Vulnerability.

It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable. Dancing, in it’s purest form, is essentially movement within vulnerability. Sure, one can dance without being vulnerable, but for dance to reach out to others, for it to be able to communicate beautifully, you need to be exposed.

You need to be willing to lay yourself on the line, and risk the fear of looking silly, or for others judging you. Or, the risk of experiencing & exposing emotions and parts of yourself that you haven’t reached in a long time. And to do that takes a lot of courage, because often that fear can paralyze you.

But the trick is to not let that paralyze you. Because then it would mean that fear is winning, and the world doesn’t get to experience all that you have to offer. And the world needs to see what you have to offer. Because it is worthy of being seen.

Since Mat hasn’t been dancing as much as some of my other dancers have been, he was experiencing walls that would prevent him from even moving. He would have movement bursts, where he would try and push himself, and open up, only to have that fear wall come right back up and block him. He would actually stand there, unable to move. I felt for him, and wanted to help him find that opening.

That opening where his emotions and his movement can become one, and become powerful.

Towards the end of the shoot, he was standing there, and I was encouraging him to dance through it and feel it. The music was so beautiful, and so meaningful, and I began to move. Slowly, I started dancing, and I remember in my head I was thinking “Come join me. Dance with me.” The movement I was creating was an opening for him to come through, and a space to move through it.

That was a joyous moment for me, because I like to describe these shoots like a dance. I am often dancing with the dancer — maybe not in a traditional sense, but we are moving together — me taking photos, them expressing themselves openly. Creating an experience together, moving through vulnerability, with courage.

The trick is to not let those fears, those doubts, those worries, get to your head. Prevent you from sharing with the world. Those emotions that you haven’t accessed in years may be scary, but at the same time, it is what connects us. The human experience is largely about connecting, and to do so, we need to be vulnerable & open. & that, of course, takes courage.

P.S. A few weeks after the shoot, he texted me & told me that he had been dancing everyday since the shoot. :)

Wardrobe styling by Susan Yee

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

past dancers: melissa | tiffany | emily

9 Responses to “mathew paul chounlamontry ////////////// a dancer’s soul .”

  1. This is totally your calling Susan!! Not that your other work isn’t gorgeous as well but I can feel your passion in these posts. It’s so lovely!!

  2. kristen says:

    i am soooo not a dancer but this was such a beautiful post! i think in every artform vulnerability is necessary for authentic art but dance is one of the most extreme because your entire body is put out there. how awesome and timely that you were able to photograph his return to something he loved :)

  3. That was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It motivated me to just stop what I was doing and do some dancing. Wow. I’m blown away by these images. Thank you. Really, thank you

  4. Andrea says:

    Wonderful post and beautiful photos Susan!

  5. Derren says:

    These are really breathtaking! You captured the movement and personality so wonderfully. Really beautiful work!

  6. Jonas Seaman says:

    This is so very beautiful!

  7. Jasmine says:

    I don’t know how exactly I managed to miss this… I guess I was still in Austin. But this made my heart swell. I know what a challenge this shoot was. But the evidence of struggle and growth and true emotional challenge is so palpable that for me, this is by far the most honest of all the soul shoots you have done. The realest, the most deep and rich and hard and wonderful. I love it.

  8. erika says:

    Susan, this is one of the most beautiful photo blogs I’ve seen… I love the words you put down about courage and vulnerability. and I really felt like these pictures were a progressive journey. From being in class with Mat I know he is fearless in a sense when he opens up, and I think you did a great job of capturing that. Wonderful…

  9. Kristin says:

    oh my!! more amazing! the emotion in his face along with his body is so striking and while it’s vulnerable it relays strength too! and the light is just as striking!