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PLAY x PLAY: Nora Lalle

Play by Play is an ongoing series in which we invite a variety of creative minds to explore the importance of play.

Discover how engaging their physical selves helps them to stimulate their creativity while also liberating them from the often stressful and sedentary confines of our technologically dominated era. We hope this series will motivate you to take regular tech breaks and make time to play everyday. It’s good for your physical health and crucial for your imagination.


NORA LALLE was born and raised in San Francisco, CA and has lived in Paris for 2.5 years. She currently works as the Project Coordinator at Seymour Projects, while pursuing her own personal photography and other creative endeavors. She is the co-author of the blog Paris Drifts with Annie Prossnitz, which features creative and off the beaten path adventures to do in Paris.


I’m fascinated by muscle memory.

My body remembers dances I learned years ago and haven’t practiced since. To this day, if you play the score to a piece called Mixing Ground, I can’t help but get up and do the movements that I learned when I was 15. I don’t actually remember each move. I couldn’t break it down or teach it to someone else. My body just knows what to do.

I spent about ten years training, taking classes and performing as part of ODC San Francisco’s youth dance company. Throughout those years we worked with a variety of choreographers, each with their own unique modern dance style, and spent countless hours creating, learning and rehearsing movement. We would rehearse multiple pieces at once, each ranging from two to fifteen minutes, and people would often ask me how I remembered it all.

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It takes a lot of work to get a dance piece ready for a performance. Learning the movement begins as a very conscious process: watching someone else, translating it into your own body, making sure the steps and counts align with the music, being in unison with the other dancers. Even when the dancers are involved in the composition process, creating their own movement based on the choreographer’s ideas, it takes a long time for each dancer to absorb all of the information into their brain and then their body. It can be a bit like beginning to learn a new language; first you have to pick up words, how to use them, how they fit together, before expressing yourself effectively or automatically.

But there’s a turning point in rehearsal, and that’s when the real dancing begins: when we don’t have to count to the music in our heads anymore and the movement flows naturally; when each of us has mastered the steps and we are fully in our bodies, moving collectively to form the ensemble. We run through the piece and something just clicks. Each individual is in sync, dancing to their full potential and the choreographer’s vision comes to life as a physical realization of abstract concepts, music and lights. Suddenly, going through the motions becomes art. I think that’s why we rehearsed so much. Through repetition our bodies and muscles learn where to move and when, and that, combined with technique and each individual’s emotional interpretation, creates a powerful performance. There is a palpable, tantalizing kinetic energy created by the ensemble as the individual bodies interact with each other in space.

nora dance

When I dance I don’t think. Besides the first few times I practice a new phrase of movement, there are no active thoughts of, “Okay, now I turn,” or, “Foot here, arm there.” Because I was trained to pick up movement quickly, it doesn’t take long for my rational brain to turn off and my muscles to take over. My mind is blank and it’s as if my body just knows what to do.

I only dance one or two times a week these days but it’s an essential part of my routine. I crave that moment when my brain “shuts off” and I’m able to release all physical tension and be completely present in my body. When I go to a dance class I know that it will be fun, make me happy, and erase even the most mundane stresses that can be present in daily life. I feel confident. I am able to communicate things through movement that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to express. It’s the built-in highlight of my week, and I feel more motivated and energized knowing that I have an hour when I feel my best to look forward to.

We’re constantly thinking — at work, running errands, dealing with the responsibilities of daily life. When I dance I get a break from the to-do lists and racing thoughts. In order to generate ideas, to be inspired and productive, I need these moments of recharging and regeneration. Thanks to years of training and experience, dance has become the tool I use to quiet my mind, to feel peaceful and stress-free.


N.L. 2016


Published: June 9th, 2016

Previous in this series:

A case for freestyling

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PLAY x PLAY: Diva Helmy

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