’Embodiment’ goes beyond physical skill to sensing, presence, enjoyment, connection with self, other, environment and body wisdom.
I remember stepping onstage once at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and having a moment to take a breath, feeling my feet relax into the ground and my head release skyward. Afterwards, I was praised for my “stage presence” during that performance. Some times you do not have to gyrate and jolt your body to be a powerful dancer. You have to allow more of the “being’ sense to come through. Alwin Nikolais talked a lot about this. It is a way of being available in the moment, not overinflated, or working hard, not floppy and unresponsive either.
Embodiment, to me, also means sensing what is going on, in the body, when something feels ‘not quite right’; it means giving that vague sense a bit of time to clarify itself, rather than seeking a quick removal of the irritation through a ‘quick fix’, via a chiropractic adjustment or a pain pill. “What is this telling me about how I am in my body right now?”
Being clearer in our own body/mind ‘felt sense’ gives us a clearer sense of where we begin and other, environment or outside irritant, end. So, in my opinion, deeper embodiment helps us clarify personal boundaries, making us better able, then, to connect with and respond appropriately to others, and our environment.
Rolfing® Structural Integration and Rolf Movement work help to relieve pain and optimize performance, but there is a deeper gain to be had-the warm inner glow of increased awareness and …embodiment.
‘Feeling the calm at the center of the cyclone.’ ‘Feeling the stillness within motion.’ These are some of my favorite metaphors for how dance can feel for me.
Think about it: most movement does not seek to “stabilize” but rather to move though space, whether the motion is small or large. It’s important to develop balance, sensitivity and control in place, like doing dance adagio movements that mostly stay still around a planted standing foot, or “stabilization work” on a boss ball or some such. That will not be enough to develop coordination skills for moving through space, which is a different use pattern, IMO.
I am not working ‘scientifically’ here, though it may sound like that. I am trying to express the feeling that showed up for me in the course of ‘discovering’ or uncovering what had already been going on for me and probably most “movers”.
I’m working with the large Gym Ball to help people explore eccentric muscle contraction, but also while going off-center in movement. I feel that this more than many things I have come up with helps develop the sense of staying ‘centered within the movement’ in a coordinative sense.
This is as usual a work in progress. Stay tuned.
I made a breathtaking ( okay, maybe more ‘breath giving’) discovery today. I got a wonderful Rolfing® session a week ago today (Monday) from a friend and colleague Tim Shafer in Fort Collins CO last week. Even though since that time I have been very stressed by traveling, work, relationship questions, managing my own business, I still felt a tremendous shift in my dancing today in the dance studio, alone, and I totally believe it came from Tim’s session last week. On a day like this, when I haven’t been able to work out for a week really and have been seriously stressed, I know to start slowly and not have huge expectations of myself athletically. I just work to regain flow, mind/body connection and trust in my technique to help me cultivate support and re-awaken strength. As I worked I naturally starting opening and releasing in the legs, and noticed a quality of breathing through and between my inner thighs. Suppleness; coordination came effortlessly to me.
I knew it was related to my friend’s Rolfing work because I know anatomy: in addition to the fascial chains of movement between abdomen and legs, the pelvic floor/visceral space can greatly affect the lumbar plexus nerves that really govern the legs, notably the obturator and femoral nerves. I myself have found it best often to check for visceral restrictions to alleviate restrictions in hip opening because if I don’t, all the work I try to achieve to open there may come to nought. Well, the same could be true for you, if you are trying to gain ( or re-gain) fluidity and openness at the hip and inner thigh area.
Do you have to get someone to work on your belly to get this? At first, it sure helps, but I think once you find this, and deep visceral restrictions are opened up a bit, I believe we can work though this area quite well in movement, especially using the slo-ball to accentuate movement through that area. This is the focus of my Rolfing practice, too: to help people along the path to self-care and empowerment.
When you drive, do you automatically have a sense of things like the car’s speed, stopping distance, turning radius on the particular road surface, of the particular power curve of this car’s engine? You can almost sense the car as an extension of your own body, probably, ranging from the ability to do this of a brand-new novice driver just learning to drive and struggling to create this connection from body sense to ‘getting a feel for the car to the thrilling competence of a stunt or race car driver. A wonderful term for a calmly competent driver is someone who ‘drives from the seat of his or her pants’. To me that means that they have a feel for the road and flow of the car through the bottom of the pelvis (aka pelvic floor) and are feeling good and easy connection from the lower body up to their upper body and connection to the steering wheel. They are able to stay present in their bodies even as they are projecting a sense of coordination and appropriate movement out into the frame of the car, moving at sometimes stunning velocities or rates of turning. In those moments, we are not merely present and attentive while driving; part of us, in our essential sense of ‘where and what is my body feeling and doing’ that is “embodiment” is the car. (This gives a new wrinkle for me to the phrase ‘baby you can drive my car’, hence the title.)
So I’m zipping along in my car on the back roads between Lafayette and Boulder Colorado, and am about to take a corner when the thought came to me: “Slow down a little as I don’t have my turning shoes on.” This inner statement had a certain dreamlike echo for me, as I realized that I was cross-referencing another sense of ‘projected embodiment’ like driving: dancing. Now dance, you might think, is just a simple body-based embodiment and not at all like driving a powerful machine. I am proposing here that they are similar.
When I think of not having my “turning shoes” on, it referred directly to the fact that my all-weather tires will not allow tight cornering like the summer tires do. My sense memory is something akin to trying to do a pirouette while wearing sticky-bottom shoes, which give a certain benefit in traction but too much floor surface friction to allow easy spinning in place. It’s just really a felt-sense for me based on years ( and years..and years) of professional dancing experience under variable conditions.
Like driving a car, the dancer must often project his or her self into a form outside of their own body: the pirouette, for instance, involves a center of balance that is not actually directly over the point of contact en pointe or on releve. Rather, studies in the physics of dance have shown that the center of balance in the controlled spin of a pirouette falls rather slightly towards the lifted or gesture leg, maintained there, even though there’s not contact through that line to the ground, by the gyroscopic force of the turn. To me, this is why just practicing balances is not enough. The weight has to shift off the leg slightly in a good pirouette. You have to practice actual turns to get that. Another feature of a good pirouette: micro movement adjustment within the turn. Look at slow motion studies of Baryshnikov and you will see this, even within a multi-turn pirouette. For me this also validates the schools of teaching that tell people to hop to stay on their leg in turns when first learning, because this hop could evolve into a smaller and smaller adjustment. This also gives credence to me of the turn preparation that emphasizes getting all the way on the leg in tendu with even a little weight into the gesture leg, allowing the strength of connection through the inseam line of the standing leg that could be termed ‘the third leg’, which the dancer will need to be comfortable with to be secure in the turn – even though the weight center is essentially a little bit “off the standing leg.”
In similar fashion, those who enjoy contact improvisation – or really any form of partner dancing – intuitively project their bodies into a common movement form (when things are going well :~> ), again, intuitively finding common pivot points, duo momentum and tracking a moving center of gravity between the two bodies. So, this is another sort of “projected embodiment”, like driving a car.
One problem in this is that we can be sucked into some negative patterns of projected embodiment: think of the smartphone pulling your whole body into a small box as you use it. Check in with that some time! What is your breating like when you’re doing that? Can you turns your neck freely. How well can you feel released and connected to the ground or chair that you’re in? Have you kept that ‘seat of your pants’ sense of ease in your pelvis described above? Is there a way to keep that felt sense of ease while you manipulate the smartphone, tablet, lap or desktop tool at your disposal?
This meditation brings up deeper questions for me about child development and how, perhaps, we learn to embody emotion through experiencing and learning from parents, siblings and people and situations in our environment. This will be probably modulated by our “mirror neurons”, which we like all mammals are gifted with. They allow us to navigate all kinds of existential and social/psychological situations through a similar process to the projected embodiment idea: ‘when I see this in her body (perhaps, for example, a stiff neck in the walk towards me of an angry mother getting ready to censor punish me). I will look at that in a later piece, hopefully.
For me, as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and Rolfer™, what’s key here is the strength and ease of movement out from the center of the pelvis of both dancers. Because of their individual commitments to that, too, they are able to flow into a common weight center, of find a common fulcrum of movement out in space, away from their individual weight centers, seamlessly. Sometimes, I watch local dancers doing a Pas De Valse traveling step in ballet class, and I know they don’t get that fully. Dancers, please watch how the movement seems to expand out into space from the hips and low spine. That’s what Modern Dance used to be all about, in my early training at least; study works including but not limited to companies of Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, Murray Louis ( yes! we moved through space exquisitely), Lar Lubovitsch, Jennifer Muller and you’ll see what I mean. Could you imagine wedding that power with the clarity of balletic lines? We did! I see that a lot in good contemporary ballet. William Forsythe’s dancers were excellent at that too, and I think there are other great examples floating around on the web from the contemporary ballet world. Sometimes Post-Modern Dance and Dance Theatre got too static for me, in it’s search for intellectual and aesthetic probity and socio-polical relevance.