SENSEABILITY, 3RD QUARTER, 2001
A Delicate Balance
I have vivid memories of attending the ballet. Struggling with chronic ankle and back pain, I would watch the greats of the time defy gravity. Literally hang in the air before landing a leap, I would feel myself sail with them, wondering when we would alight. The inspiration and hope I felt would fool me into thinking all was well. The following day pain would begin during my first plié, and I would again be stunned by the reality of my inability to fly. When my injury became incapacitating I opted for surgery. Unable to dance I found my sanity attending performances. Here I caught my first glimpse of something I was missing. Two dancers in particular would tease the conductor with their balance, each in their own unique way teetering on a single point. Clearly they were not still. Each millisecond would astound the audience with a breathtaking reorganization perpetuating the act of balancing.
The act of balancing is constant in life. Dancers further the challenge with beautiful, sometimes precarious poses. The camera can capture a single moment of balance, alive with movement. Moshe Feldenkrais referred to a way of carrying ourselves with a readiness for action. A different attitude from posture, this "acture" is essential to dance. In classical training learning correct body placement is a priority, sometimes placed ahead of learning how to move through space with grace and power. An ideal posture that many dancers and non-dancers strive for is the ability to stand upright with the back appearing to be straight-chest up, shoulders back and down, stomach in, with the head held high.
Like so many young dancers, I mastered a posture that appeared to be straight. Assisted by the barre I could take my legs high in the air and imitate the different poses I saw in the picture books. Away from the barre, I felt weak and off balance. A common recommendation is to create a sense of internal support through strengthening muscles of the abdomen and stabilizing the pelvis. Being that our two-legged structure is anything but stable, how do we develop internal support without interfering with coordinated action? In his book, "The Potent Self," Moshe writes "In good action, the sensation of effort is absent no matter what the actual expenditure of energy is." A concise description of what is so inspiring when you see a great dancer!
After four years of ankle and back pain I discovered the Feldenkrais Method in 1983. My recovery was amazingly quick and I continue to be inspired both in dance and daily life by improving my ability to balance effortlessly. My learning has inspired me to teach an annual six-day Intensive for Dance Teachers using the Method. In the middle of a workshop a young teacher exclaimed, "I always knew there was an easier way than the 20+ instructions for correct posture. My hamstrings finally released!" Rather than tightening muscles, the act of balancing revives our innate internal support and flexibility, and frees the breath to instantly improve stamina. Ultimately this allows the freedom to express oneself through movement and the art of dance.
Prisca Winslow, a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner in Taos, NM, holds a particular interest in integrating awareness of healthy, functional movement into dance training. She has presented workshops for dancers and dance teachers in CA, CO, NM, NY, TX, Washington DC and Canada.
By Prisca Winslow
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