In a Previous Life . . . they taught me so much

By Jim Dalling

In this blog post we are thrilled to introduce the ponderings of Jim Dalling as found in his Remarkable Fools Letter series.

Recently Jim was talking with his 14-year-old daughter about how people behave inconsistently, how we act differently on different days for differing reasons. Jim pointed out to her that we all have different aspects of ourselves that we choose to share with the world. This conversation prompted his thinking about the intense mask work he used to do and how it still impacted his life today. Then, he put his fingers on the keyboard and brought us In a Previous Life, They Taught Me So Much.

When reflecting upon the role of arts education Jim says, “Oh! It couldn’t be more important. In the yes/no culture that we find ourselves in, there is no better place to tell a story together.”

Thanks Jim for sharing your story with us at MAEIA.

~ Blog editor, Joni Starr


In a Previous Life . . . they taught me so much

I used to spend my time playing dress up in high schools. I have left this work behind. The work is still teaching me.

I would tell the students

Every play is simply a set of rules for a game to be played by the people on stage so the audience wins.


Every mask is a set of rules that you can either play with or in opposition to so that you, the mask, your partners on stage, and the people watching can all have a good time.

*A good time?*

*Yes. Would you prefer famine?*

Here is an example of a play we used to do. It was called the mask fashion show.

Masks are interesting. Especially when I think of “Staged Authenticity” – this is an idea I’m chipping away at here…

Masks are incredible artifacts of transformation. As objects we hide behind them physically. Once there, we have a felt sense of safety, our guard drops and people see us with less edifice and pretense.

The authentic emerges through the performance tool. This is the amazing paradox offered by masks: by covering up who we are, who we are emerges more freely.

The clown’s red nose is known as the hardest mask to master. It’s the smallest. It hides the least and reveals the most. It is the mask we learn last. Final stage. It is the mask where we can share our humility, our embarrassment, our imperfection, our glorious humanity and know that we are loved.

Masks however, allow us to hide at first. With a felt sense of being ‘hidden’, we feel much more free to be physically, emotionally and impulsively expressive.

We used to take the masks out into the school. We would interrupt tests. Take over the library. We would die spectacularly on tables in classrooms. Students would steal the teacher’s chalk and write all over the board. It was a feast of fools. I have always loved the idea that all the worlds’ a stage.

If all the world’s a stage and life’s a play, that would mean that life is a game. I can live with this as a premise. And. Let’s make it an infinite game. The more who can play and win and continue to play, the better for all of us.

The rest? That’s just setting up conditions that make it so we enjoy playing together.

What costumes do you wear for the games you play?

Jim Dalling has an extensive background in arts education. He received his BA in Theatre Studies from the University of Halifax and trained as a clown at the Delle’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Soon after, he took off on a national tour of Canada performing in schools in every corner of the country. Since then, Jim has expanded his artistic and creative observation of life and received two advanced certificates from the Gestalt Institute, one in Leadership and one in Theory and Methodology. He now works as a psychotherapist, facilitator, and coach. He says, “Even in my therapy practice I am an arts educator.  I help people engage in their own creativity and thus enact their own opportunities. I am a piece of the journey.”

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