01 January 2005 - The Feldenkrais Method
Scott Clark, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Feldenkrais for a Contemporary Dancer

I taught Paul in his first year of contemporary dance training, and have worked with him on and off for nine years now. Coincidentally, these years were also the beginning of my development as a Feldenkrais teacher. Some dancers seem to feel that they shouldn’t need Feldenkrais teachers, that they should get it all from their normal training. The problem is that dance training almost always starts from the outside and works inwards: from the shape as seen by an observer, then in toward the dancer’s own experience. Nothing wrong with that — as long as it gets there! But surely there must be a way of coming more directly to the dancer’s inner experience.

Paul began his dance training with a few fairly common problems, such as being pretty tight in his torso and neck, and in his hips. He had an aggressive urge to achieve — without which he would not be the successful dancer he is today! But it also meant that when he was asked to do any movement or position that was new to him, he would take his normal and somewhat inflexible posture and push it into the new shape. If that was at odds with his normal posture, he just pushed harder. The new movement would therefore be quite hard muscular work — and of course each time he repeated it, he would recreate the whole battle of hard muscular work.

My task was to challenge that feeling without challenging his success or achievement. To do that, each time I worked with him, I would pick one movement: twisting, raising his arms, the relation of ‘turning out’ to the arch in his lower back, etc. By feeling the sense of weight and freedom in each part, I could start to follow his postural thinking, his sense of where and when work would be necessary; by physically supporting that, and actually doing the work for him in an accurate imitation of what he would automatically do himself, I could help him re-define his perceptions. It was a kind of negotiation, in which my job was to take seriously the work that he was doing consciously, but also the opposing unconscious striving to maintain old habits — it couldn’t be that different from what they do at Relate!

Sometimes the movement would change slightly as a result of this, which would require him to look again at the technical question involved. Often even that was unnecessary, and he could continue to think of the movements in the same way. What changed was how he fit into them. So over time he has learned to think of himself less in terms of old muscular habits of work and more in terms of the actual capability of his bones and joints. The key to my part in this was in my attention to how he was already moving, and my ‘imitation’ of that through physical touch and manipulation. By doing that well, we get perhaps a bit closer to learning movement from the inside out.