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Ballet as Simple

The more stressed I become with running a business and worrying about money,the more I search for ways to release the stress in my body. It has taken many years to understand the instant relief that dance gives me.

Trying many forms of dance I decided that my body was not going to do what I asked it to do. So I became an improvisational dancer. I learned about the qualities of movement without worrying about precision.

Searching for more control of my body, I studied Pilates as a form of exercise based on Ballet and Modern Dance. I discovered that I do not have the concentration or the memory structure to make ten commands at once to make my body move correctly. Something was not connecting.

Then I discovered that Ballet simplified commands for my whole body into a network of movements. The very beginning movement, the plié, seems like simple movements of bending the legs, lowering the body, and lifting the arms. When I discovered the basis of this simple, whole body movement, I knew this was the clarity of learning I was looking for.

Pilates identified one principle of Ballet that looked hopeful. They call it the Core, meaning the musculature, nerves, blood flow, around the skeletal center of the body, the spine. Pilates strengthens and stretches the muscles around the spine using an exercise model.

When I began to take Ballet, the Core became related to movement of my whole body with simple commands. Those commands were signals originating at the spine. This sounds a little detailed but I had to have a way to connect my movements that seemed to ignore my commands.

The more I studied the simplest Ballet movements I realized three things. Ballet teaches movements as signals that start at different areas of the spine. A network of signals can move my whole body with one command. And third, when several networked movements are bundled as a phrase, I learn how the effort of one movement supports the next movement.

So my study of Ballet is to train my spine to send and receive signals that guide my body movements. This seems to work because my muscles surprise me by releasing to let the signals pass through.

An added benefit is that watching other dancers learn, I am able to identify the networks that should be connecting for me. For me to get to the networks, I have to go into much more detail than the average person. This drives my Pilates teachers crazy with so many questions and requests to understand what connects to what. Ballet teachers move us through the phrases and ask us to experiment with balance and different speeds to get the connections between movements and to build networks of signals.
Tim Hurst 02/07/18

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Dancing the Self

One of the opportunities of dance is to let all of myself come through my movement. Letting all of myself show seems a bit out of control and the surprise of an unknown part of myself showing up can be a problem.

Because of difficulty learning patterns and having to relearn them every day, I developed several approaches that put me right at the center of my fears and my surprise. Every pattern had to be improvised and shifted from different directions, moods, and intensities. Nothing seemed to store in a concrete way so my memory had to be more like a poem of images than a set of lines with precise positions and angles.

This was especially interesting when performing memorized music or ballroom dance with a partner. I would basically enter a feeling state that included a series of experiences. Inevitably I would enter a blank space and have to improvise my way back into the series. Remembering lines in plays was the same issue.

My approach was to study movement exercises for theater and Modern Dance to get an idea of pattern while finding different dimensions of emotion and intensity. I gradually studied more and more improvisational dance forms with open possibilities for creating surprising patterns. I created performances that were so internal that I would begin with only an image and allow my movement to flow.

The results were that I would indeed find surprise that might be a blockage in myself that froze my thoughts and movements or I would create such a vulnerable place in myself that I was dancing my fear rather than allowing my self to come through.

Watching dancers has been my life and standing outside of the world of patterns has been interesting. I watch for how the person comes through the pattern and how alive that makes the pattern. From this perspective I naturally gravitate to dance that has a range of emotions and intensities. If the patterns of a dance do not shift from delight to seriousness, then I look for the individual dancer who allows themselves to experience a variety of intensities.

So my recurring question is how the dancer who experiences a full range of emotion and intensities relates to the patterns of the dance. Since dance is an interactive form, an even more involving question is how their individual experience connects with their fellow dancers and to the audience participants in their dance.

In my search I have discovered how movement patterns and the dance class methodically take a dancer into the realms of making these shifts of experience. Because dance engages every part of the person, each dancer recognizes the unending number of connections in different ways and at different stages of their learning.

So my process of watching dance is to experience each dancer as a unique composite of experience. This is a special delight since I can experience the baby, the child dancer, the professional or the beginner adult of all ages.

Then I have taken those questions to ask how I, a relative outsider in the realm of pattern, can enter the dancer’s experience of shifting perspectives and qualities of movement, emotion, thought, and even interaction with others.

With my round about ways of learning dance, I began to ask how I could really enter the experience of dance as a way of varying not just the emotion and intensity but also the pattern.

Having studied in depth several approaches to dance improvisation, movement meditation, singing, and theater, I came to the science of dance as we know it, Ballet. Taking ballet for the first time at mid-life was a rush of energy I had not felt. Maybe all those years of watching added up to give me a rudimentary structure to build on.

All this clarity of energy made my blocks even clearer. No area of my body would respond to a command and there were so many commands at once. Pull this, lower this, send energy here then there. I had to take one command to one body area at a time. That meant private class which limited my experience of learning with other dancers.

I enrolled in Pilates, in Balance Class, in combinations of Modern Dance and yoga, and finally in Floor-Barre directly related to Ballet movement. I was still caught in the command issue of trying to move this, hold that, and somehow hold it there. Obviously I still had no storage for the pattern necessary to put all this together.

So I started improvising Ballet movement and trying to find a way to simplify the commands in a way I could learn the movement. My desire is more than that. I want to experience what the dancer experiences when that one dancer enters the whole person that can shift from delight to seriousness, from laughter to reflection, from pattern to emotion in all its intensities.

To remember and to clarify all my rambling experiments, I have written this blog. Those who can wander with me are welcome.
Tim Hurst 01/22/18

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Balance Signals Spinning

I am curious about how the arms and head affect balance in dancing. Obviously Ballet and Modern Dance have developed intricate use of the arms and head for spinning.

One of my first Modern Dance teachers, Dee McCandless, studied Sufi spinning dances. I love this spinning because I can vary the use of my arms and head as they float above the rise and fall of my legs and feet.

I must also hold an awareness of balance in each movement, in the transitions to an opposite direction, and at sudden stops in stillness.

The sensation of the arms is floating up in the wind created by spinning. The pathway the arms can follow is similar to Ballet in extending outward, one arm raising while the other is extended, or both arms easily raised. The hands can be facing down, up, or one hand up and the other down.

The curved pathway of my arms and head interests me, not a direct forced line but a curve or as the spin progresses, a variety of curves and spirals that grow and subside with the intensity of the spin.

It is at the transitions of direction or speed or stopping that I get to observe the spiral motions of my arms and head. The sensation is of the spirals continuing with slight variations.

I play with slight variations on contrary motion and then return to simple spinning. Observing my balance and ability to allow the movements to grow is an interesting process.

I return to experiment with continuous spiral pathways in all my Ballet and Modern balances. I explore my wobble while learning to balance and ask if curved pathways can give insight into my learning.
Tim Hurst. 04/15/17

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Dance Double Instruction

There is another way Ballet seemed to be a necessity. It was something about the way every thing was explained, how to move, how to align the body, how to hold attention even in stillness.

I finally realized that there were two ways of instructing. One was directed action, keep the hip bones here, the spine here, the head here. the knees, and on and on throughout the body. Another way was using imagery, send energy out the top of your head, feel as if you have a string attached to the top of your head.

This double kind of instruction was exactly what I needed to both focus my attention for more coordination and also to open my perspective with imagery. I was familiar with imagery from Modern Dance and from improvisation of many kinds yet I was managing to avoid the basic coordination skills and the rhythmic musical elements that Ballet offered.

What Is the Advantage of Imagery?

So I kept asking what it was about imagery that helped so much in accomplishing specific skills. Asking this question helped me to realize that often “sending” was a central concept of the image. It was either sending energy to or sending energy through, or sending energy for a purpose like pressing the heel into the floor. Then there were the receiving images, feel the arms floating up, feel yourself rising to a peak when you leave the floor, feel the inner edges of your arms and legs as they open.

I began to see a common thread of what “sending” meant. In a variety of classes I was asked to send energy or light, to initiate an impulse, to imagine movement following arcs and spirals. And finally in Floor-BarreTM, the vocabulary came clear with the image of sending a

What is Unique about a Dancer Sending and Receiving Signals

I began to experiment with signals as a major element of my dance training. This is what every dancer does but talks about it differently. The concept of signals is perfect for the Double Instruction of dance.

Research says that we shift our focus between two networks, one is a directed focus to accomplish tasks and goals. Another network is a broader view including interconnections between a person and other forces and other people. This is the difference between focusing on the tree or the forest, positive space and negative space. Our brain toggles between one and the other.

With dance instruction there is the directed signal to work on specific technique and also there is the image which gives an inclusive view of the entire person interconnecting all kinds of signals.

Dance, with Ballet as a model, trains the toggling between a goal focus for detailed coordinated technique and a broad focus driven by imagery that interrelates signal networks with limited directed signals and with limited force

The advantages of the study of signals are many.

Signals are in continuous motion within and between every cell.
Signals are instantaneous.
Signals are organized into networks and are constantly in flux.
Signals can be altered and reorganized by human awareness and training.
Signals can be sorted and arranged to form sums of self as in song, dance, or hypothesis.
Signals can be sent within the person or be sent beyond the body.
Signals can interact with other people and other life forms.
Signals interconnect networks whether they be muscular, lymphatic, glandular, circulatory, or neurological.
Signals carry information based on intention, anticipation, sensation, emotion.
Signals are interactive, both sending and receiving information.
Signals can store memory in any part of the body.
Signals can be vital even when the physical properties of organs and muscles are injured or deteriorating.
Signals can rejuvenate energy and create momentum using a wave motion.
Signals can bypass what we think is possible.
Signals can be varied in speed, duration, emphasis, and with a range of qualities.
Tim Hurst 02.18.17