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Ballet Ease and Effort

Dancers keep coming back to Ballet. Yes the mom who danced as a child can’t wait to start Ballet later in life. It is also the professional dance innovators who return to the detailed science of Ballet.

The reasons for returning to ballet are that varied. For me and those I observe they return for the experience. So what is the experience of Ballet that is so irresistible? I always go for the global view first. Ballet is full spectrum movement, engaging the entire body at once to network every aspect of the human experience.

Looking at only one aspect like effort and ease brings out a scenario that helps to understand what draws the dancer back to Ballet. Ballet explores the full range of movement from least effort to maximum effort.

The phrase that is often used to describe Ballet is, “It looks so easy.” No one believes Ballet is easy but the word they are looking for is “ease.” Ballet is the experience of ease as an essential part of the full range of effort.

One skill that astonishes everyone is defying gravity, the ability to float at the top of the leap or the jump or the skip. A gymnast that accomplishes this awareness has gone beyond effort into the realm of networked experience. We try to relegate this experience to a mystery by calling it art. What we are trying to say is that it is the experience of engaging all our human faculties at once.

I want to look at this experience of ease with many dance innovators. Ballet masters must take the experienced dancers to the depths of subtlety but also to the extremes of what a person is capable. Like any athletes they test the limits of what is possible. With a science like Ballet this can lead to intense regimentation and forcing of the body that eventually breaks down the body.

For dancers seeking a full range of ease to effort, many innovators took the essence of Ballet and began to study what it meant to use the least amount of effort. The list of innovators is long and each dancer develops their own unique approach to this search.

Modern Dance is the classic break with Ballet searching for imagery to allow effort to come from inside the dancer rather than from the regimentation. Many innovators focused on different aspects of the emotions, on improvisational changes of focus, and on the principles of dance that revealed the uniqueness of each person in improvisational dance.

Then there were the exercise related innovators who studied parts of the dance experience. Mabel Todd wrote the textbook of the body to understand the research of Ballet and Modern experience. People like Alexander, Feldenkreis, Skinner, and Pilates took different aspects of the Ballet and Modern experience to develop complete systems of study of the workings of the body.

Their work would revolutionize the field of athletic training to include the balance of flexibility and strength for maximum performance. In other words the introduction of the image of ease makes a difference in applying the full range of the least effort to maximum effort.

Ballet builds the imagery of ease into every part of the dance class. Each movement is studied as a part of a supportive network integrating the entire body. The pause at the end of a phrase emphasizes the experience of movement continuing with ease even in stillness. The portabra and reverence at the end of class integrates the experience of ease into the extensions used in class.

The innovators breaking with Ballet took this experience to many different extremes. Alexander, Skinner, and Liz Koch author of The Psoas Book all used a similar laying meditation allowing the body to experience the ease of rest. The focus of attention is on releasing every part of the body.

Many exercise programs begin their sessions with Barbara Mettler’s version of this process that is tightening and loosening each part of the body. This is one approach to bringing attention to every area of the body while experiencing a release of effort.

Later innovators like Nina Martin would focus attention using a more fluid approach with the image of light moving through the body. This image she distilled into the study of signals coming through the spine to integrate networks in the entire body.

Another branch of dance has taken the image of effortless movement into new forms like Authentic Movement done with the eyes closed, Continuum which focuses on micro movements to build interconnected movement, Nia that explores the principles of movement and personal expression, and Ecstatic Dance that explores spiritual experience with free form group movement.

Floor-Barre trade marked by Zena Rommett would take this signals study back to Ballet technique. Each movement is a detailed study done on the floor rather than moving through space. This allows the dancer to take an effortless approach to each movement while imagining a suspension of the gravity that affects standing movement.

Steve Paxton created a completely new style of dance, Contact Improvisation. Contact as it is often referred to, can be extremely slow or can move quickly into aerial movement. The dancer studies the ease experienced when one person balances weight with another person. The image is of two bodies melting into a weightless state that is in continual movement. In one performance Paxton blended solo Ballet Movements with instantaneous rolls on the floor and balances on many parts of his body.

Hybrids of Modern Dance and Ballet have formed as well as Jazz Dance and Ballet. The form Contemporary Ballet uses a Modern Dance base blended with Ballet Technique and the gymnastic elements of Contact Improvisation.

Modern Dancers have applied their principles of movement to teaching Ballet. And Modern Dance professionals hold Ballet Classes as an important part of their training.

So by tracing the one image of ease in relation to effort we have a glimpse of the importance of Ballet. And it is telling that many inexperienced dancers and the professionals alike return to a respect for Ballet as the repository of full spectrum movement.
Tim Hurst 01/06/18

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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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Austin Dance Festival 2017

Insightful placement of a festival reviewing Modern Dance in Austin Texas. Austin has been the percolator of dance genres at least since the 1960’s and probably long before that. Percolator not Expresso, place for reflection away from the firing lines of New York and L.A, testing grounds, any thing goes land, melting pot for innovators of dance, theater, and personal exploration in the unknowns of spirituality and ritual.

Community building for the movement arts of Austin was assisted by the foodies, the musicians, and the roadies. And to be poetic, I guess standing behind all these were the rodeos. Austin became a place of the heart and the gut feelings of the U.S.of A.

Well here we stand before a slice of Modern Dance, excluding as always huge swaths of Austin innovators that could take a week long symposium to do justice. I delight in the themes that rattle the human cage and the ones that call up our ancestry, and I give thanks for the ones that remind us that laughter is present no matter how lost we are.

What I love about Dance is that we are here in this culture at this time to bring a unique perspective. We delve deep into our experience no matter the circumstances we choose for ourselves. And as always, dance has a message that stops the human heart on a dime.

My belief is that we look at a deep and broad perspective of experience that is so important as we move past dystopian fears and into exploration of the infinite possibilities before us. Under every dance theme today is the human grappling with self worth and a responsive self to ourselves, each other, and our world.

Each theme and emphasis tied me to your yearning for more life, more human contact, more physicality, more vulnerability, more power…to infinity. Thank each one of you for your willingness to take us there and your courage. Oops, there it is for me. Dare I go deeper into this feeling, into this world? Dare I go past this weariness, this unanswered question?

Somehow we break open the egg and stick out our head even if we think the world is just a white shell. And like that little chick we call on a long ancestry of innovating movement to express our curiosity and to bring fire to our insistence that we must feel and hear and taste our life, our thoughts, and our greatest hopes.

Keep on. Don’t be like me and try to say everything in one sentence. I keep whispering in my ear, “What is the simplest single summary of myself?” Why am I afraid to go there? Why does dance wrap it all together for me?

I invite you to join me to say this in the least meaningful of mediums, words.
I am at http://www.movineasy.com/blog.

Tim Hurst
Tim.m.hurst@me.com