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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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Receiving Signals

The more I explore the physical nature of signals, the more I realize the importance of receiving information from the signals I send. When I send a signal usually from different areas of the spine, I must be willing to receive the messages coming back to me. We call it feedback and the mechanical training used to be called bio-feedback.

It seems like by attending to the physical signal, my desire for directed and controlled movement takes over. I leave out the receiving signal and what I lose is the quality of the movement.

Without the quality, it is like a singer that is mechanical because of ignoring the emotion and the hopes for surprise in every moment.

With dancing, the two way nature of the signal is built in to the training. The Ballet class is built around this receptivity experimenting with adding variations to simple movements, with melodic and rhythmic connecting of movement, and with pauses for silent integration.

At each stage of training the importance of listening to the messages from my body and from my self become as important as perfecting a skill. I have to keep coming to terms with another important variation in dancing, different levels of force.

When I improvise, the use of force blends one movement into another. When learning a movement I rely on excessive force with the belief that I can make myself learn the movement if I can just control it.

That is a lesson I have to learn over and over in ballet class, to allow myself to move freely through the variations in the barre and in the difficult combinations. The Ballet class subtly weaves different levels of force into each combination of movements.

My experiment inside and outside class is to explore each of these kinds of receptivity. In my personal practice I vary the speed of my movements, slow to extremely slow and then to faster movement.

In private study I seek out the dance researchers who understand the importance of receiving messages while perfecting the agility in sending signals. For me these are practitioners of Floor-BarreTM, Skinner, Feldenkreis, and Alexander Technique, along with the somatic studies of Body-Mind-Centering and Continuum.

Each of these detailed studies of movement understand the importance of a receptive and responsive stillness defined as Constructive Rest Position by Liz Koch in The Psoas Book.