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Excerpt from a New Book about Performance by Michael Colgrass.

Following is an excerpt from Chapter Six of Michael Colgrass' forthcoming book, My Lessons With Kumi - How I Learned to Perform with Confidence in Life and Work. This book, in narrative/handbook form, expands the idea of performance to include anyone who performs a skill under pressure with a deadline and often under observation. In this excerpt, Kumi, the teacher, is telling Nick, a computer programmer from New York, how to think in the moment in order to be in the best state of mind for performing.

"What did you think of the dog farm yesterday?" said Kumi.

"Beautiful creatures," I said. "And fascinating, what he said about the way dogs live in the moment. I envy them, but it's not very practical for people - at least not in the business world."

"On the contrary, the performing state is the perfect state of mind for high pressure situations in the business world. In everyday life it's natural to be partly in the past and the future, but when you perform, time stops - everything is now."

I thought of Gregor and his relentless attention to the moment. "How would you do that?" I said.

"You pay attention to each moment as it unfolds. There is only this moment, and this moment, and this moment," he said, gesturing with his hand, "a succession of moments, a series of nows, until your performance is finished."

"You mean, react like a dog?"

"In a way, yes. People judge themselves too much. They worry either about something they've done or something they're about to do. A dog doesn't do that. If it steps on thin ice and its paw goes into the water it immediately recovers and goes to the next moment. It doesn't stop and think, `Why did I do that? What's wrong with me?'"

I smiled at the image of one of Henrik's huskies stopping to talk to itself in the middle of an emergency.

"To a dog, a misstep is gone the moment it happens," Kumi said, "because the dog is already paying attention to the next moment. There is no `mistake' because there is no past. And there's no fear, because there's no future. There is only now...and now...and now. Here, do it with me."

Kumi stood up and performed a kind of dance movement to demonstrate his point. He made a full step to the right, clamping his hands together as he stepped. "A new now," he said. He repeated the move and again said, "a new now."

"Do what I'm doing and say it with me - a new now...a new now...a new now," he said, moving to his right with each statement.

Together, we moved across the cabin floor like two dancers in unison, doing this odd step and saying "a new now" with each move. It became hypnotic as we repeated the action dozens of times.

Then Kumi stopped and created imaginary situations. "You're giving a speech and you say a wrong word - a new now," he said and moved to his right. "You have a memory slip...a new feel a sudden fatigue...a new now...your concentration is flagging...a new now," he said moving with each repetition of the words.

"I'm teaching you to think like a dog - or better, to not think the way a dog doesn't think." We repeated the "new now" exercise until it became a mantra, dulling all thought, focusing our attention only on the moment. I felt a little self-conscious dancing around the room talking to myself, but I had to admit it gave me a good feeling - like I was continually refreshing myself.

Nick makes notes on his work with Kumi, which become a handbook for the reader.


A New Now

K. showed me a "new now" exercise to help me maintain a performing state of mind. The point of the "new now" is to isolate the present from the past and future. When I plan, I'm in the future. When I recall, I'm in the past. But in order to pay full attention when I perform (or create) I must be in the present. K. says inadvertent sliding into the past or future while performing is one cause for performance anxiety.

I reviewed the steps of the "new now" exercise so I could teach it to Marion.


1) Hold my palms together in front of my waist.

2) Step to my right. Simultaneously move my right foot and hand to my right, then bring my left foot and hand to meet my right foot and hand.

3) When I draw my hands together say, "A new now."

4) Keep repeating the action, stepping to the right and repeating the words. As I move to the right feel myself moving into the future.

5) Imagine myself doing this exercise minutes before my next performance and notice how it makes me feel.

Left-handers may feel their future on their left.

Click here for more information on My Lessons With Kumi.

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