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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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Pelvic Floor Test 2

Had two Pilates sessions to introduce my grandson to an intense workout. This was a perfect chance to test out my experience of the pelvic floor for three dimensional responsiveness through the body.

So far I am playing with the pelvic diaphragm for vertical lift sending signals to both the lower limbs and the upper torso. Horizontal wave motions regulate the position and signals to and from the hips,

First exercise of pushing out with the legs, Karin Carlson helped me identify my overuse of the thighs and need to connect the back of my legs and gluts. By alternating between horizontal and vertical lift motions of the pelvic floor I was able to immediately change my orientation. Signals moved easily through the front and back of my legs. My thighs were supported and I was able to continue to push against a heavier weight than ever before.

I continued to use this experience as I explored extensions. Balancing countering actions with each leg meant sending signals down each leg. Finding the passage points on the pelvic floor came quickly and made it easier to equalize a shorter leg and keep both hips engaged and aligned.

In the second session, I asked about the tension behind my knees. Karin suggested that I pull up from the knee caps to engage my entire thighs front and back. After feeling the sensation, I applied outward compression to both hips engaging the thighs and simultaneous lifting of the pelvic floor.

I had access to more movement in the back of my legs. Sending signals through the entire knee area gave me the extra freedom to release into more of an extension. Long way to go and lots of Ballet classes before all will be functional.

Coordination of the legs brought new sensations in muscles I had not experienced before. New cooperation had to be worked out. Stretching also felt different.
Tim Hurst. 05/14/17

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Using Signals in Pilates

Returned to Pilates for the first time in several months. It is always a delight to diagnose areas that are more agile and others that are responding less.

Today I felt an unfamiliar sense of ease. It reminded me of a comment by master dance teacher and Pilates instructor Dana Lewis. One of her main goals is to make movement effortless.

Something has changed in me allowing more freedom of movement with less of a forced quality. My instructor is Rebecca, a former professional ballet dancer. I responded to each of her suggestions with less grit and more lightness than usual. I was able to relax my neck, open the focus of my eyes, and take long deep breaths. Rebecca noticed immediately and gave me an image of the rib cage easily opening and closing like a bellows.

What has changed? By exploring the image of signals forming networks, I had to concentrate less on specific actions of pulling up to maintain posture or keeping the motion consistent when pushing or pulling. I applied two actions simultaneously that connected areas throughout my body. For connecting the torso to my pelvis and legs, I activated a single signal from the psoas connection to the mid-spine at the bottom of the rib cage. Along with that signal, I pressed together the sides of the hips at the muscle tissue just outside the protruding hip bones. This activated the psoas at the lower spine connecting the torso to my inner legs and joints all the way to the area under my toes.

To make sure, I am getting the lift and the immediate flow of signals, I pulse both these areas as I initiate every repetition. A network has formed so that I can free my focus to attend to the entire body and to an open attitude of brightness rather than extreme effort.

The results were surprising. I spent the rest of my day in an easy settled state.
Tim Hurst. 03/23/17