I spent thousands and thousands of hours watching movement before I started to see the aesthetics. As in the Rolfing training, at first this was a sort of investigation of technique. How do you do this movement, (‘how do I accomplish the First Hour’ in the ten-series?) How does the leg lengthen in that way for that dancer, and not the other one (‘why does this technique work for this client and not the other?)
This deepened into an inquiry regarding “What is Dance?” Early on, working with William Bales, one of the early Modern Dance pioneers who founded the dance department at SUNY Purchase, we looked at metaphor: “it’s as if…” and so on. Movement, for Bales and choreographers of his ilk, was meant to evoke an experience, and not be viewed simply as an event unto itself.
Earlier experiences just watching the great Modern Dance and Post-Modern choreographers of the mid-70s, a very rich period in American dance, at performances at Brandeis University, had already given me hints of other aspects, though. I’m talking about artists ranging from Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Laura Dean, to Murray Louis, Alwin Nikolais, Alvin Ailey, William Carter, Trisha Brown, not to mention Martha Graham, Jose Limon and Pearl Lang.
Feeding in from the post-Modernist aesthetic, via early viewing of choreographers like Eric Hawkins and Trisha Brown, came a window into a new body awareness and somatic sensibility, for me. I had already been investigating body awareness work on my own, with a special interest in the writings on this by Fritz Perls. I didn’t know then that my future ways of moving, sensing and seeing movement were being shaped already, then.
For the purest inventiveness and de-construction (how “post-modern!) of the body, before Cunningham, Taylor, Dean, Brown, Tharp, Pilobolus or Cirque de Soleil, there was Alwin Nikolais. Before I had a chance to work directly with Nik, and Murray Louis, who was my boss, from 1980-89, if not always mentor, I had a chance to see them both very early on n my development as a dancer/choreographer. Only the term “kaleidoscopic” could begin to describe what he was able to do with fairly simple use of light, color and sound, by today’s standards: I believe that creativity will tend to trump technology every time, because it re-frames experience, cognition and perception. Nik was a master of the elements of theater. He literally helped us change the way we frame an image, like a Rorshach image morphing, the Gestalt re-configuring right in front of us. This quality of his work is well documented in articles and books, so I won’t go on about it. I would like to discuss the methods of “seeing” that he used, in pedagogy and in choreography, based on my experience at the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab ( school), in rehearsal and performance, in relation to my work now as a Rolfer™.
Rolfers look for breaks in symmetry, as in the famous logo of a boy in blocks that are all cattiwampus, then stacked up neatly, but the things is, an obsession with symmetry could also be called ‘the hobgoblin of little minds’ to coin a paraphrase. We see where the flow stops, and are able to see, sense, reason and uncover what the hindrances are. Sometimes it is a restriction in muscle/fascia/bone. Other times, it is a lack of activation in certain areas. We are “structuralists” in that we look for releasing the restrictions that are inhibiting the weak side from waking up, and our Rolf Movement® training gives us further strategies for opening, activating and “bringing on-line” areas that have felt cut off or disconnected from the whole.
I think that for me, this is a lot like sensing what part of a piece of choreography is not connecting with the rest, is unfulfilled, or perhaps just not fully danced-not enough breath release in the movement, not a full push, pull, twist, or just lacking in relaxation into presence. I trust in that place in me that is both artist and healer. It is not woo woo, really: rather, it is based on many, many years of working in Dance as an art form.
One of Alwin Nikolais definitions of the art: Dance is the Art of Motion that has its own Intelligence. He distinguished between what he called “basic dance” ( the kind of impulse to move referred to by Curt Sachs and others) and the art form. A lot of what is teaching-and choreography-were about was being able to break things into constituent parts, like Time, Space and Motion, to better discuss what it was he was wanting to express, and to bring out more of its inherent power and mystery.
In Rolfing work, I think of the work to differentiate throughout the body, in form and function, so that each area and aspect can claim their own “identity”, before being brought together into harmony. Nikolais referred to this harmony in action as “consonance”. To him, this had a nice resonance with Jungian and Gestalt psychology, but it also sounds an awful lot like the Rolfing terms “congruence” and “continuity”. Congruence, for Rolfers™, is about bringing all of these different little brains in the hips and spine, etc, to come together in one overall pattern, before attempting to shift them all towards a more neutral position- ‘stacked-up’ like the blocks mentioned above.
Continuity refers to an evenness of muscle and tissue tone throughout. A trained mover who has a sense of continuity throughout his structure will inevitably exhibit Nikolais’ “consonant” quality-wher evrything is moving in concert, the work spread evenly throughout the body. He would have us work for an hour on walking forward and bending down to pick up an object before he was happy that we had grasped this movement “principle”. Just as Nikolais, Laban and others worked through “Principles” of Dance or Human Movement, so also do Rolfers work with Principles of Integration, which are, in extremely brief form: Adaptability, Support, Palintonicity and Wholism. The discussion of “continuity” and “consonance” above would belong under the Wholism umbrella, for example.
“Seeing” is then, also about “Principles”-in art or human movement: butI would be foolish to leave the explanation of how and what I see there. Reason -giving us a framework to see and operate with Principles-is important, for me, when it is supported by wisdom and feeling:the feeling that comes from sensation and compassion. Sound and visual rhythm, joy, and the sympathetic feeling in my own body must be the main thing, really, as if I were dancing with each client, responding to their moves, both overt and barely expressed. This is what I mean, when I say that I am “just an old dancer” as a Rolfer. I follow and lead, analyze, differentiate and integrate, just like a dance partner, or choreographer, looking and feeling for the overall Gestalt, and what it needs next.