While the image of a single child lost in play is the stuff from which poetry springs, anyone who has been around a playground knows that children in groups are an entirely different kettle of fish. Bullying, name calling, fights, exclusion and shaming are just a few of the nastier sides of the recess hour. It is the rare group of children who can play well without supervision. The exceptions are those children who are extremely well-trained, naturally amiable, or willing to play a game with well-defined rules.
Although self-restraint can keep adults from play, it is almost a necessity for children to learn if they wish to engage peaceably with others. Good sportsmanship, awareness of the limits of the game, and a tolerable skill level make for engaging play. The same is true with adults; strong character, commitment to a common set of guidelines and honed talent make for a satisfying group experience, whether in a committee or on a volleyball court.
There is, however, another level of play that is possible when one adds an additional element, that of trust. My middle daughter recently started The Third Space Dance Company. On their webpage, the vision statement explains the company’s name: “The third space refers to an element created by the collaborative artistic energies of two (or more) people. This space can be seen as a potential waiting to be discovered, and we invite artists of all mediums to enter into this creative experience with us.”
Trust can open the space to play without rules. When one knows that the people they're playing with have internalized what is good, both in terms of personal expression and specific technique, improvisation becomes a possibility. With trust in each other, trust in the process and trust in the potential of empty, yet pregnant space, dancers and other artists at Third Space Dance are able to collaborate in a deeply meaningful way. Co-creators step into rehearsals with an openness to where this time will lead, playing with and off each other in freedom and expectation.
When I think of moving into play, I imagine not only what it means for me to be free to explore, imagine or create, but what it might look like to be a part of a group of people, young and old, who experience life playfully. We will bring our skills to the game, and have spent time on developing character. But more than that, we will have trust in each other, trust in the process, and trust that there is something out there pulling us all into the dance.