The Art of Contemporary Leisure

Earlier this year, Bill T. Jones, an American choreographer and art director, delivered a colorful lecture at Northeastern University’s Blackman Theatre in Boston.

Moments into his presentation, after the collective sighs of awe ceased, he uttered to the audience a noteworthy phrase “…the week is for what you do my friends… but the weekend, is for who you are.” As I sat there pondering his insight I thought to myself, “how in the world did I end up here in front of Bill T. Jones on a Saturday night?” The answer didn’t start to fill itself in until the following morning.

Sunday mornings once reserved for sleeping in and short walks to the coffee shop are now consumed by iPhone alarms; instant tea and responding to last night’s tweets. Without much notice, the workweeks’ back in full swing and the lazy joy of Sundays are held hostage by pigskin play, twitter chats and a hyper response to our devices without much awareness of where the leisure time escaped. To Bill’s point, we often become over consumed by impulse, investing too little into who we are and in consequence, we end up just doing!

The World Leisure Organization writes in its charter “governments should ensure the future availability of fulfilling leisure experiences by maintaining the quality of their country’s physical, social and cultural environment”.  According to statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. federal government dictates that employees are given exactly zero paid holiday and vacation days a year. This means, if we do get such things, it is because our employers are being generous.  Basically our right to leisure just isn’t that big of a priority in this economy.

Leisure time isn’t a new or novel idea. As early as the pre-classical period, Paul Adams and Erick Langer wrote in Experience World History, “…after agriculture, work patterns were established […] for the first time, a small number of members of human societies were able to remain aloof from the daily needs of just getting food.” In short, leisure time was birthed out of our evolution as agriculturalists. One of today’s most pressing challenges in our increasingly strained urban cities is to re-imagine  how collective value is placed on leisure time and how it can be leveraged for regional and national economic competitiveness.

Today, the argument in Washington, DC vocalizes the need for more jobs to regain our fiscal prowess to compete globally. This means that if we want to stay numero uno we are going to have to kiss our weekends goodbye. This is the essence of what Bill was sharing. Could we imagine Bill’s brilliantly crafted choreography born out of over stimulation and distraction? A more likely scenario would suggest his brilliance was born out of the still gaze over Central Park or the steam of a small chai latte on a Sunday morning.

Who are we as individuals if we don’t utilize our leisure time to inspire, think, react and analyze? We become mechanical doers in constant search of defining who we naturally are. At some point during the seven-day cycle, we must unplug ourselves from our iPhone devices, take some time off from Pauly D and “The Situation” and open ourselves to the wonder of moseying into a campus theatre to be inspired by the Bill T. Joneses of the world.

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Ashlynn Arias

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