Rolfer, Dancer, Teacher

Posts tagged ‘movement’

Adventures in Assisting – UC 5.16 Week 7

The final week is done of my first Rolfing® training assist. It ended up being a big push to the end getting in as much as I outside of class while mostly wrapping up in the classroom. We wrapped up a day ago and I’m finding myself deeply grateful for the experience having learned a lot and set up a decent base for assisting again (in fact I’ve already got one loose offer to assist another instructor sometime in future). I’m also very grateful to friends, old and new, in the swing scene here who’ve helped me feel at home, and kept my nights busy with delicious food and equally delicious dancing.

Day 43 – September 26

uc516_day_43_kakes_dawn_tributeMonday came on fairly bright and early. The legendary Dawn Hampton had passed the night before and I was on and off Facebook through the morning checking out the tributes, stories, and videos of this incredible human.

In class we spent the morning reflecting on our 10 series clients and what sort of results we had gotten with them. Watching the reflective process for the students was great particularly since I see the 10-series as being a strong self-teaching tool for Rolfers early on and throughout our careers. Session 9 with the 13-series clients followed with a little bit of a bittersweet feel moving towards the end of closure.

After class I caught a ride from Neal over to Heather Starsong‘s studio where I got a personal movement session. We worked a lot on spinal mechanics and getting my axial diaphgramatic structures relaxing and working together. It was a beautiful session and is probably going to be processing for a few months to come but I then got to have a 2 mile walk down to Kakes Studios for the Boulder Swing dance as a way to integrate. Had some great dances again with a nice tribute to Dawn then a couple of friends invited me over for Sazeracs and some chat time before taking me home probably later than was best for me to be out.

Day 44 – September 27

UC516_Day_44_Dancing_at_Baurs.jpgTuesday came on bright and early with a trip down to Snooze for breakfast then more 10-series presentations and my second demo session with my post-10 client. The afternoon rolled into mostly students trading sessions with each other which provided a nice break from holding space for outside clients and generally feels like we got a more relaxed energy and got to see the students interacting a bit more openly as practitioners.

Dancing this night took the form of a drive (or being driven) down to Denver for Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles at a restaurant called Baur’s. The band was really damn good and it makes me wish we had the sort of infrastructure in Raleigh/Durham to support larger bands having weekly gigs like this. I got to meet and dance with a few new dancers I hadn’t run into yet and we headed home tired but satisfied.

Day 45 – September 28

uc516_day_45_skeye_brewingWednesday night saw me up early for the last session of my 3-series trading with Neal. The session with Heather had given me a few ideas of spots to work on and Neal incorporated that info nicely into a nice wrap-up session for our work together.

We spent the morning in class trading tips and tricks that we’d picked up along the way and watching Neal’s final session 10 demo. The student’s 10th sessions in the afternoon were again sort of bittersweet thought mostly sweet as the students closed out with these clients. I’m not sure if it was because they’d done movement as well or because it was closer to close or just luck of the draw but this round of closure felt more open and warm with gifts and cards exchanged and the like.

After class, Neal gave me a ride up to Skeye Brewing on his way home and stopped off to grab a beer with me before heading on. When we arrived, the beginner lesson for the dance that night was still going on and we got to talk a little bit of my philosophy for teaching dance. The crowd for the dance was on the smaller side but also nicely intimate and a lot of good dances (and a few brews) were had. I caught a ride home with one of the local teachers and had a really nice conversation about dance pedagogy before being dropped off at home and promptly crashing.

Day 46 – September 29

uc516_day_46_waterloo_group_photoBy this point in the week it was beginning to feel like a rather intense, though worthwhile, haul through a lack of sleep. It wasn’t really intentional, just between the work with Heather and Neal I think we’d reached a sort of critical mass where some of the body shifts were interrupting my sleep for a bit.

Undeterred though we kept rolling on with class which was all about the final post-10 sessions today. My final session with my post-10 client came together really well and kind of made me wish I were closer. She asked if I had a card and I had to confess that I lived half a country away but would do my best to help put her in touch with someone who might be useful to her locally. Following class about half of us went over to Asher Brewing for a couple of beers and some conversation. Several of the students have family or significant others coming into town at this point so we got to talk a bit more about those folks and life beyond the classroom.

And reprising the start of my dancing during this course, some of the local decided to take another trip to Waterloo in Louisville for some Balboa dancing. The picture above is missing a good number of the new and old dance friends I’ve made here but I think it tells the spirit of this group well and I’m deeply grateful for the welcoming arms of the swing scene here.

Day 47 – September 30

uc516_day_47_class_photoGraduation Day!

This was another early morning for myself and Neal as we had individual student evaluation interviews to do. Everyone passed with plenty of room and we got to talk with each student about their strengths, their challenges, and what we might recommend they pursue next in their development. Energies were higher overall than they had been in a while which I think is a testament to how much work goes into training as a Rolfer and how much of a relief it is to cross the finish line. The closing ceremony and graduation went great and then I crashed hard and just went to lie down on the floor a bit.

Following a reception at RISI, the class and families went out to Element Bistro for a drink. Neal and I hung around for an hour or so then headed to J&L Distilling for a final drink and debrief ourselves. When I had first booked my flights, Neal and I had planned this time thinking we’d need lots of time to talk out what had happened in the class but because we’d kept open lines of communication and feedback the whole time there really wasn’t much left unsaid and we spent the time instead talking about my heading to Boston and Neal’s upcoming trip to Peru.

Final night’s dancing in Colorado came courtesy of a gypsy jazz band called La Pompe playing at Brik on York which was a fancy pizza place in downtown Denver. A local dancer gave me a ride down and instead of pizza I ended up ordering a charcuterie plate that took most of the night to finish off. Had some great dances, especially in the second set when patrons started clearing out and we were able to move some tables and dance at the foot of the stage. One thing I’ve been noting a lot lately is how much of a difference it can make to dance with an audience around. At a standard swing dance everyone is kind of just doing their own thing, but at a restaurant or bar, dancing kind of makes us part of the entertainment and it’s been interesting to note how much that adds to the experience for me and kind of eggs on experimentation and play.

I got back home around midnight and tried to get to sleep fairly quickly for my flight the next morning.

Day 48 – October 1

uc516_day_48_denver_airportThe last day in Boulder dawned a bit earlier than I would have liked, but with a 1pm flight to catch, an hour+ bus ride to get there, and the unpredictability of the lines at DEN, I decided it would be best to be up at out early. I had hoped to take my host to Snooze and to get myself a flight of fancy pancakes (still a brilliant idea) but by the time we arrived at 8:30 the wait was nearly an hour and would have been pushing it on my comfort zone with the time.

So instead I just hopped the bus to DEN, barely made weight on my bags stuffed with goodies from Colorado breweries and distilleries, and settled in to wing my way to Boston for Tinkerbal and seeing some dance and Rolfing friends I haven’t seen in quite some time. Today’s photo is from a little space in DEN above the trains in Terminal C that I’d just never noticed before, keeping a bit with this whole trip’s theme of noticing details and continuing to learn.

I landed in Boston around 9pm, caught an Uber to the dance that night and surprised the hell out of a few old and dear dance friends by being there. It was a lovely reception back and I wish I had gotten photos of the silly lobster dance contest, but I decided to just enjoy it rather than being a shutterbug. Staying the night with an old dance student of mine who lives near the venues and I slept in on Sunday longer than I have in a while.

Conclusion

It was a really wild ride getting to this point, having just completed my Advanced Training and getting asked to assist, working out how to make it fit with my current homeless state, and getting better insight both into how much I do actually know and how much there still is to learn in this work. I’m grateful to Neal for taking a chance with me and to all the students for their patience with both of our learning curves and for their presence and energy in class. And probably most importantly, a huge congratulations to AJ, Chris, Drew, Haley, Katie, Kyle, Monica, and Tiffani on making it all the way to being Certified Rolfers!!!

Adventures in Assisting – UC 5.16 Week 3

Week 3 of this Unit 3 basic Rolfing® training has begun to feel like something of a different animal. We’re getting into the core/deep sessions of the series, students are starting to settle and hit their stride with their clients, and overall the momentum of the class feels more stable and up-and-running. The 4 weeks we still have to go feels at once very distant and almost an inevitable conclusion rushing towards us.

Day 15 – August 29

UC516_Day_15_Jeep_RenegadeFirst day getting to drive into class instead of taking the bus. While I had arranged to rent a compact car, the rental agency saw fit to upgrade me after a 5 hour extra wait to get a vehicle at all. So for the upcoming month I had a Jeep Renegade to drive around town. First day or two driving it were a little nervous being that I’m unused to the shape of it; but at the same time it seems like another potential step forward in terms of getting used to standing in the full width of my body (something I’ve been working with for the past few years ever since John Martine’s Neural 2 class).

Today was Neal’s demo client day so I mostly got to sit back and observe with interjections of ideas when necessary. Continuing to get more comfortable with observing student sessions and adding input at appropriate times and such. There’s definitely an art to this that I expect will take some time to fully embody. That said, 12 years of teaching dance is definitely serving me pretty well in terms of feeling semi-comfortable jumping into it.

Day 16 – August 30

UC516_Day_16_PhoSession 4 demo day for me today. Session 4 remains a curiosity for me in terms of trust. For those of you not familiar, session 4 in the Rolfing 10-series works the muscles of the inner leg and thigh up to the pelvic floor and hips. It’s the first time in the series that you start really digging into territory that many people have never had touched therapeutically and it still amazes me sometimes how clients will trust me to work in odd areas after having only known me for a few hours of direct contact.

I’d spent a decent portion of the weekend mulling over and mapping out some various options for the session then ended up discarding more than half of those ideas mid-session. Session went great and as I’m continuing to settle into my side of the work I think my client and the students are getting better info and better results.

On the challenging side, I feel like my days seem to just be show up to class, do class things, get dinner, go to bed. I expect it to keep shifting as we go, but I’m hoping to start finding more of a social life here again soon so I can feel like there’s more to this trip than just work and survive. I’m also being patient with this evolution, letting it come, and keeping in mind how much change has gone down for me already this year.

Day 17 – August 31

Today was a fun and chill day. It was 2nd Movement session day for the clients who are doing movement work. One of my goals for the movement work was to do what we could to evoke a greater sense of play and to that end, we started off class with a John Cleese video on creativity. The thought behind this video being as much to evoke play in the day’s sessions as to suggest ways of staying open to grown and creation in the Movement work longer term so the Movement ideas continue to grow and evolve rather than becoming stuck in rote memorization.

Today felt like a good reminder about patience with growth. Planting ideas like creativity and play are these long-term sort of projects that require one to plant seeds, then sit back and not meddle too much while students work it out for themselves. Taking this as a good reminder too to be patient with some of my own growth aspects that are bubbling up this week.

Day 18 – September 1

UC516_Day_18_SunsetAnother grey day for my session 5 with my client. Got into some really rich territory and I’m feeling very grateful for having a client who’s down for the whole multi-faceted journey of the 10-series. It’s interesting to find myself leading someone else through some of the changes I went through as a Rolfer® and sort of evoking the idea that to help others as fully as possible you also get to be open to the work changing you as a practitioner as well.

Today marked our heading into a 4 day Labor Day weekend which I’m both looking forward to and have a bit of trepidation about. Lack of social time so far is starting to wear on me a little bit and although I am planning to hit up a dance in Boulder on Monday, I’m unsure how I’ll work through the extended downtime.

Day 19 – September 2

UC516_Day_19_Sunny_SkyNot a great deal to report for this Friday. I was riding pretty high off of doing two really fun demo sessions and feeling like we had some solid rapport going with the students. I sort of semi-snoozed through part of the day then took myself out to see Don’t Think Twice at the local movie theater. It was a good if entirely chill day to the extent that this is basically the only photo I took that day and wasn’t really even thinking about documenting for the day.

Day 20 – September 3

UC516_Day_20_Mount_SanitasSaturday morning I decided to take a hike up the trails around Mount Sanitas on the west edge of Boulder. Set off on foot from the house with about a 2 mile hike to the trail head. The last time I’d gone near Sanitas was about a year ago taking a night hike through the valley with a newly graduated Rolfer friend. We had hiked what turned out to be the very easy part of the trail which is the valley section on a nice easy slope. The summit trails turned out to be around 1350 elevation gain and then descent over about 3 miles. It was a beautiful hike and one I’m thinking might get repeated a few more times while I’m here, but definitely more intense than I was expecting.

Hiked my way back through Pearl Street Mall, got some street tacos, then napped and read for a good portion of the rest of the day.

Day 21 – September 4

UC516_Day_21_Deer_in_YardDeer in the yard across the street from where I am staying this morning. Today was a little exploration and a lot of chill time. Took a drive down the foothills to Golden, CO and Denver. Took an afternoon nap and did some reading on student papers that need to be done by Tuesday.

Adventures in Assisting – UC 5.16 Week 2

Week 2 of assisting is in the books. Made a lot of headway, a few energetic ups and downs but all in all feeling pretty damn successful and building a lot of momentum. Ending it up with a quiet weekend in Lafayette and getting ready to throw down another great week as we get into the middle sessions in the 10-series.

Day 8 – August 22

UC516_Day_8_Coffee_Small_ThingsMonday was my first chance to watch Neal do a demo session following my not-so-great first session on Thursday. I’d spent the weekend occasionally mulling over what I could recall from past demo sessions but wasn’t coming up with much that I could say for sure. So today I finally got to get fresh eyes on a demo session with the intent to learn for myself about demoing instead of working and I picked up as much as I could, particularly on how and when the quiet spaces came into play.

My own quiet space for the day is cast in today’s picture. I was up early before class and figured I’d take a trip in early to sit at Tod’s Espresso Cafe around the corner from the Institute. Getting my first for-here order there I noticed that they use a wax pencil to mark the saucers with the order and name. It struck me as cool and a smart idea and was something I don’t think I’ve seen at any other coffee shops so far. So it was a good reminder for me about appreciating the little things and what I call “honoring the moments of brilliance” in the learning process.

Day 9 – August 23

UC516_Day_9_Straight_to_bedTuesday I finally got to redeem myself. After the 5 days between my first and second demo session, we got to get into session 2. This time I was prepared a little differently and my client and I had already discussed a few ways to alter my approach that seemed like they’d serve everybody. So a few deep breaths and dive in to the session with a focus on recovering and getting momentum going in a good direction. Thankfully, it worked!

The session went really well, the client and I started to connect better and I felt myself start to relax into the flow of the session and start drawing on my whole skill set again rather than trying to do the session I thought people wanted to see. The session felt just fundamentally better than the first round and feedback from all sides was a lot better. That said, my energy just totally tanked afterwards. Whether it was just relief or relief mixed with other stuff, I’m not sure, but I napped through lunch, struggled to keep my eyes open during the second half of class, and basically went home and straight to bed at 8pm that night.

Day 10 – August 24

UC516_Day_10_Grey_DayKind of a grey and overcast day today, really the first one since I’ve been here. Nothing particularly substantial to report for this day. I’m starting to feel comfortable in the rhythm of wake up, get to class, do class things, go home, relax and sleep, next day. I booked a car rental today for most of the remaining time I’ll be there, which feels like it should open up some new possibilities. Much as I’m enjoying class, I do find as I settle in a bit I’m starting to want for some time to do things other than just bouncing between the Rolf Institute and home.

Class definitely felt a bit lethargic today. My energy started there after sleeping about 11 hours but slowly kept perking up more and more through the day. Starting to get excited for my third session with my client and hoping to have two good sessions to set a solid trend away from the funky start.

Day 11 – August 25

Things really started coming together today. 🙂 My third session with my client went great and we are starting to build some momentum not just on the educational side for the class but in terms of our rapport and playing around with some challenging movement work during the sessions which I think will greatly benefit everyone’s experience. Starting to find a bit more flow both with demonstrating and with providing input and support during the student sessions. Going through our final sessions for the week it seemed like everyone’s energy was coming up in bits and pieces and there’s more freedom of exchange in information between clients and students and teachers.

Around lunchtime during the class day, I got a message from one of the local Bal dancers letting me know there was a small thing happening at Waterloo in Louisville that night. As I was still 24 hours from having a car, I managed to bum a ride from one of the Boulder dancers and got in a few hours of dance and camaraderie with some lovely folks I haven’t seen in about a year now but hopefully will be seeing (and dancing) more of in the next 5 weeks.

Day 12 – August 26

UC516_Day_12_DoggiesTook a house-sitting gig for the weekend looking after a friend’s dogs (and chickens, and butterball cat) while she and her husband are out of town. I’d set my car pick-up to be 10:30 this morning so I could get over and have an early day, but instead they told me when I got there that I couldn’t pick it up until 4. So a few hours of napping and running errands filled my day until I was able to pick up the car and drive out to Lafayette and meet up with the pups. Nothing particularly challenging or intriguing about today, just handling stuff, getting a car (definitely a relief), and then hanging out with these two for the rest of the evening.

Day 13 – August 27

UC516_Day_13_Nice_NephewGot down to Westminster today to see my sister and my niece and nephew. After being unsurprisingly woken up early by the dogs I got breakfast, took them for a walk around the lake, then headed over to my sister’s. We hung out for a bit, took the kids to the park, flew kites, etc. and this was my first time getting to meet the younger of the two. Spent some time minding the kids (mostly watching Daniel Tiger) while my sister ran a few errands then I headed back in time to make sure the critters got fed and the chickens got put to bed for the night.

Dinner ended up being a lovely solo time at the bar at The Post Brewing Co. A few nice craft beers with a buttermilk cheddar biscuit, hot chicken, creamed cabbage, and a whoopie pie about the size of my fist. Then home to relax with the dogs and get to bed early for some much-needed rest.

Day 14 – August 28

UC516_Day_14_Sleepy_Dogs

This was pretty much my view and activity level for the day. After the dogs woke me up early, I got everyone fed then went back to sleep for a while. Took the pups for a walk then they promptly fell asleep at my feet for most of the rest of the day while I watched some movies, did some writing, etc.

Advanced Training in Brazil: Round 1 – Welcoming the Other Side

Rolfing Camp At The Beach to be exact

Rolfing Camp At The Beach to be exact

As I begin writing this, I am lying awake on my last night in Brazil after three and a half weeks of work and play deepening my relationship with my work as a Rolfer® and myself as a human being. It has been an intensely beautiful experience being here with a great many more twists and turns than I expected. Nonetheless I still find myself reverting back to the descriptor I’ve used the past 5 months when clients would ask what I was going to learn which is “It’s basically Rolfing Camp”.

And in many ways, it’s true. I just found this article by one of my classmates on the idea of Basics vs. Fundamentals (TL;DR – basics are easy and something you “get” and then are done learning them, fundamentals are primary ideas and skills that you can practice for the rest of your life). And in many senses of the word, I saw this Advanced Training course as a fundamentals class both for the students and the teachers. While the class for me was not tons of new information, it was a really good review and deepening of existing knowledge, getting to see it presented through the view of 30-year-veteran Rolfers which is something that never fails to leave me with new angles or ideas to think about.

The Basics of the Advanced

  • The training was held in the island city of Florianópolis, Brazil.
  • This was the first of two rounds of 3 week apiece, 4 days of class, 3 days off per week.
  • Class was taught by Lael Keen  with Karen Lackritz assisting.

    Our classroom for the training

    Our classroom for the training

  • Lael and Karen taught primarily in English with a translator, Dieter, translating to Portuguese with assistance from the class, the majority of whom were at least bilingual in English and Portuguese.
  • There were 8 other students, 2 Americans and 6 Brazillians, all female. It made for a curious book-ending of this year with the Scarwork class I took in January and this class in November being cases of me in a class of all women.
  • The general format of class was covering material (feet, spine, anatomy, functional movement, practicing techniques, etc.) for the first 3 days each week, then watching both Lael and Karen do a demo of a full session on an outside client (two other Advanced Rolfers from the local area), then Thursday afternoon each week we traded a session with a classmate for a series of 3 sessions.

    MONKEYS

    ERMAGHERD, MONKEEES!!!

  • In my experience, Brazil has also been particularly amazing at feeding classes, so we had coffee/tea breaks in the morning and afternoon and for the class days we had hired a local chef, Tito, to prepare lunch as well.
  • There were monkeys at my house that would come begging for bananas. They only want bananas and will give you funny looks if you try to give them mango instead.

Structure and Function and Function and Structure

One of the first things I recall seeming important to Lael’s class plan, and one of the things that drew me back to Brazil, was a strong emphasis on the inter-connectedness of structure and function. Or perhaps more accurately, a clarifying that structure and function exist in a co-dependent fashion and one cannot affect one independent of the other. While all the Rolfing training I have received has worked with form and function together, the trainings I have been to in Brazil somehow seem to take it a little deeper or make that relationship a bit more of a primary focus than some of the trainings in the US. And the primacy of it in this course helped me gain some better insights into when it might be more effective to start approaching an issue with a structural intervention vs a functional one.

Mr. Bean, the class pet, attempting to establish dominance, or maybe just do some back work on me

Mr. Bean, the class pet, attempting to establish dominance, or maybe just do some back work on me

The deeper focus on relationship to the world as an influence on movement is another of the big reasons I chose to come back to Brazil for my Advanced Training. In 2008, I had chosen Unit 3 training in Brazil in part because I expected the Movement Training to help me be a better dancer. It ended up leading me to entirely rethink my ways of teaching dance and create an approach that was radically different from how I’d learned to dance originally. And that energy of relationship was borne out in this class as well, with the techniques we practiced in the body leading to a broader question of “How does what we are doing help our clients or ourselves relate to the world?”

Lots of Review, Tidbits of New

In general I found the material to be more review and deepening of information I’d encountered before. Some of that may be that I took unit 3 from Jan Sultan who is one of Lael’s primary influences as a Rolfing instructor. Nonetheless, the training was a great chance to review, dive into material through a different instructor’s perspective, and pick up details I missed in prior trainings. In general I felt like I deepened my understanding of some fundamentals and picked up some good bits of information:

  • Ida Rolf used to carry a question for students of “Where would you work if you could only work on one spot in the body?” and her answer for herself was the 12th rib.
  • The lateral arches of the feet support the medial arches, Lael had some great anatomical slides and illustrations for this which I had not seen before.
  • A general review of spinal mechanics gave me some points about the vertebral facets to think about which I had lost track of somewhere in the last few years.
  • Time spent digging into the concept of hapticity (or the more-fun-to-say hapticidade in Portuguese), a sort of combination of sensing and moving at the same time and letting the two influence each other. One of those fundamental skills that I expect to be developing and deepening for the rest of my life.
  • Some new-to-me ideas from Lael about using interpersonal relational tactics to help clients integrate movement options into their interactions with the world.
  • We got a fairly high-level introduction to Ron Murray‘s  work with Lemniscate  movement which I haven’t explored much with clients, but am interested in exploring deeper at some point.

Third Week Openings

There is a curious energy that arises with these sort of longer-form trainings. I’ve only experienced it as a student so far, not as a teacher, so I don’t have a complete picture but there seems to be a quickening of transformation that occurs. I have often said that one of the things I loved about competing in dance was that involving the energy of a support crowd clapping and cheering can spur dancers on to a level they rarely or never achieve on their own. And I find something similar happens with Rolfing trainings as though the combined group’s energy supports us changing or growing in ways we might not have on our own.

This energy seemed to be in full swing by the third week of training. Lots of us were having some very deep and meaningful shifts in our ways of being. Some blossomed, some struggled, I experienced an incredibly vulnerable heart opening moment in front of the class where I’d pulled away from a similar moment in my Unit 2 training 7 years ago. One of the instructor demo sessions involved a client reliving the birth of her child via C-section and I cried as my own pelvis mimiced the release patterns of the woman on the table. Even the class format itself shifted mid-week to accomodate a need for more integration time amongst the bodies in the classroom.

Outro Lado – Welcoming The Other Side

In the final week of class I was thinking about how to identify a theme to the whole module and the words that came to mind were “outro lado”, Portuguese for “other side”. Those words stuck as a good descriptor for the shifts I had watched occur in myself, classmates, and even translators and teachers over the prior two weeks. Each of us delving into some other side of our personalities or our work that diverged from our normal preferences but brought us into a greater potential for balance and adaptability. And it came with a gentleness and acceptance that I could only put together as “Welcoming the Other Side”.

Living_room_mural

The house I rented during the traing happened to be owned by a local artist who had decorated the house with carvings, murals, and various canvases. The great feature mural of the house was one of the living room walls which boasted an entire wall painted with the mural above, reinforcing that idea of the other side for my experience of Brazil. On my last day in Brazil as we had breakfast and chatted about the house he mentioned that he had completed the mural in a day and had always wanted to go back and finish it. I shared the idea I had heard that a painting is never completed, you simply stop working on it (apparently the quote is typically translated “Art is Never Finished, Only Abandoned” – Leonardo DaVinci).

WatercolorWe diverged into discussing the course and how Rolfing is like watercolor in the sense that you take a stroke, then leave it alone for a while allowing the colors to bleed out into the person’s life, then repeating the process session by session. My host thought for a moment, then disappeared into his workshop as we were leaving, returning with this beautiful watercolor as a gift to mark our discussion. Being unprepared to transport paintings and having no suitably large books, I managed to get the painting safely home, tucked between the keyboard and screen of my laptop.

As I’m finishing this post it’s the beginning of January, just over a month since I boarded a plane home from Brazil. It seems at once very recent and yet long ago and far away that I was sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with my classmates on the last day of class (yes, we graduated Round 1 on what would be Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.). Brazil took me deeper than I expected in directions I had not anticipated, but it has definitely left it’s mark in ways that continue to improve my work with clients and my relationship with my own body. I’m looking forward to further explorations, new inquiries, and super grateful to be returning for Round 2 in April!

Finishing the Training with Turkey

Finishing the Training with Turkey

First, Make It Not Suck

The title of this article is my Rule #1 that I give new dancers who are worried about being desirable to dance with. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you have to be a great dancer to be fun to dance with and, in my experience, it’s simply not true. Some of my favorite and memorable dances are with total beginners who were just having so much fun that they couldn’t be bothered to worry about whether they were doing it right or not. I generally tell people that if you can make the dance not suck, then it’s already in C+/B- territory and anything beyond that is gravy. And making it not suck is typically as simple as the following three factors.

It Sucks If It Hurts
It Sucks If It’s Creepy/Threatening
It Sucks If There’s a Weird Power Differential

Generally speaking, if it doesn’t suck it’s pretty good. You can be off-time, you can only have 2 moves, etc. and you can still be plenty enjoyable to dance with. I tend to remember this best from a friend in tango who put it as something like “Sometimes it’s great to just walk”. To be clear, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have dances that suck once in a while, but if you keep these three things in mind, I think you’re already ahead of the game for being a delightful person to dance with.

It Sucks If It Hurts

no-painThis one seems simple and obvious, but it’s amazing sometimes how easy it is to forget. I see a lot of this as stemming from “I have to get the move right” style thinking with dancers, really at any level. Trying to forces moves or movements runs a high risk of doing something that doesn’t jive with yours or your partner’s body and worrying about making the move work or end a certain way lends itself to forcing it. Yes, it’s lovely to hit that 32 count sequence just the way you thought or simply finish a basic turn on time, but doing so at the expense of your body or your partner’s body kind of ruins the moment.

I work with this in beginner lessons by building moves off of natural movement and teaching the dance with people moving together throughout rather than dividing leads and follows, teaching them a specific movements separately, and then pushing them back together and expecting them to suddenly match each other. While it can be more complex learning this way, it focuses the learning on partnership instead of individuals and helps make lead/follow interaction the primary energy of the dance rather than footwork. If people are thinking about their feet first, they tend to lose sight of the fact that there’s another person attached to them. If you focus first on that human interaction, it’s much easier to avoid hurting each other or be aware of it and shift when it happens.

And to be clear, this can happen at any level and with both genders. I regularly hear complaints about painful leading from several male instructors in my area and I’ve chosen to stop dancing with one female instructor who routinely gripped my hand so hard that I would worry about having to work with it the next day. Pain or comfort are achievable at any level of dancing, choose comfort.

It Sucks If It’s Creepy/Threatening

no-creepingIn the context of dance I think this mostly translates to “don’t assume you have the right to anyone’s body, time, or social interaction”. It’s easy and rather enticing to say things like “the boundaries are just different in dance” but I believe this often gets taken as “the rules of engagement around consent are different too”. The act of dancing with someone is just as much a negotiation as any other social interaction. The more it’s a balanced interaction where “no” is treated as a completely legitimate answer, the less likely this is to be an issue.

Again, I think this boils down to making the interaction human first and dance second. It’s easy when you’re in a new social environment to start to compromise on boundaries, particularly if you’re worried about seeing the other person on a regular basis. This may be different in other scenes, but I think the influence of Southern culture in my area means you often see people avoid challenging the few creepy apples at a dance because they would rather put up with the behavior than deal with a potential conflict. I don’t think there’s some singular right answer to this, but as we as a society are starting to talk about boundaries and consent more, I hope to see these conversations start happening one-on-one in the dance world more and hopefully enough of those will lead to some really great shifts.

It Sucks If There’s a Weird Power Differential

power-differentialThis is probably the most pervasive but also the most subtle one and therefore easier to overlook; enough so that I spent most of a year saying the first two make it not suck aspects before I thought of this. As much as we love to talk about equality and togetherness in the dance scene, there can also be a lot of hierarchy at play, partly real partly in our own heads. When you set up a perceived power differential between lead and follow or experienced dancer and newbie it makes the dance more about roles and less about humanity. It also makes it much easier for things like dancesplaining to occur and for dancers who feel they are in the less powerful position to be less likely to hold their boundaries if one of the first two ways of sucking occurs and less likely to speak out for what gives them joy in the dance.

I had lunch a couple days ago with a former dance student and we got talking about the challenges of this when he was a beginner. Now, for context, this is someone who routinely speaks in from of large groups of people and performs original songs in public; I consider him to be incredibly brave, creative, and very willing to engage with the challenges associated with growing in any skill. He told me that he found there tended to be two types of dancers offering him feedback as a newbie, those who’d ask if they could make a suggestion and others who would launch unprompted into critiquing his dancing or telling him “you know what you should do…” Watching him talk about it, I could even see his body shrink in on itself as he talked about the second type and the memory of being criticized.

Don’t get me wrong, criticism and understanding what and how to do things better is an important part of growing as a dancer. However, there’s a time and a place for it and more and less effective ways to communicate these concepts. I see lots of “better” dancers telling newer dancers what they should do without realizing that they are presenting the information in a way that widens the gap between them rather than bridging it. Ineffectively worded or improperly timed feedback like this tends to create a subtext messaging of “It’s not OK for you to be new or learning; you should be better” and even without poor feedback this is the sort of message that I see a lot of people telling themselves.

It’s normal for there to be a difference in experience, you just don’t have to turn it into a difference in power or value. Feedback can be a tool to raise people up but it can also be a tool to bludgeon them into being less than. And again, this can happen at any level; there are several instructors in my scene who I routinely observe and receive complaints about dancesplaining through entire dances on the floor. When you drive this kind of wedge between yourself and your partner, it pretty much kills the team vibe of a dance partnership and turns it into two lonely people holding hands and doing moves at each other.

If It Doesn’t Suck, It’s Generally Pretty Good

There’s an old Woody Allen joke that pizza is like sex “Even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good”. While I like the idea of the joke, I think it’s a bit off the mark. I look at it through a bit more of a lens of pizza or dancing or sex don’t have to be the most amazing pizza/dance/sex I’ve ever had to be good, but if something sucks there’s almost an addition of insult to injury that makes it all the worse. Having recently had the worst Chicken and Dumplings of my life a couple weeks ago, I can say that, like most comfort foods, when it’s decent dance is kind of inherently good, but if you make it terrible it will irritate people enough that they’ll shut down from you, talk about it to their friends, or post about it on the internet.

At it’s core, partner dancing is a shared experience. So long as you aren’t doing any of the above and putting your partner or other dancers around you on guard then it becomes easy to step beyond our standard social boundaries and create a shared experience. If the dance turns to suck in one form or another, then those boundaries tend to harden into barriers and both partners (and the floor around them) lose out on that social interaction.

Making it not suck also frees up a lot of energy and attention for learning. When something sucks, and even when it’s just a sucky feeling of your own creation through self-judgement, there is so much time and energy spent by the mind in either defending or reinforcing that sucky feeling that much less learning/growth occurs. When it doesn’t suck, there’s a lot more room for empowerment, for focus on the task being learned, and while not always completely safe there is a lot more safety available to take the risks and push into challenging territory that growth and learning requires.
dont-hurt-them

And the TL;DR version of all this, summed up much more succinctly by the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you can’t help them at least don’t hurt them.”

 

The Basic as Savasana

Last night I taught a class for the first year anniversary of Cirque de Vol studios staff holiday party.  It was a group of all teachers in various circus arts (hooping, aerial silks, trapeze, etc.) so they were taking to the lessons and within a few minutes, happily spinning, twirling, and flinging each other around the floor.  Things got rowdy and raucous and I wanted a way to introduce a texture of calmer energy into the mix.  So, given that the crowd would all be familiar with various movement forms, including yoga, I decided to tell them to think of the basic like Savasana.

Thinking about it this morning, I felt like it was a pretty good analogy.  For the beginner, the basic is a place to rest and reconnect before going out and doing the next crazy, new set of moves.  And as a growing dancer, the swingout, like savasana, becomes a place to deepen practice and feel out both the holes in your dancing and the beauties in it.  And as the swingout becomes ingrained, it is something you can always come back to and a place where there is almost an infinite space in which one grow and evolve for as long as you continue to dance/practice.

In Defense of the Rotator Cuff

This post is being written at the request of a lovely Aussie follower who has suffered multiple rotator cuff tears in the course of her dance life. While not all dancers suffer from rotator tears, it’s a fair bet that almost every dance will run afoul of their shoulders at some point. The following ideas should help you minimize your chances of injury in those moments of potential crisis. Note that while I will give some specific lead or follow examples, all of these should hold mechanically true for both leading and following.

A quick note before anyone jumps up to tell me that their instructor told them to do it differently, I’m speaking here from a biomechanical and injury-proofing standpoint, not an aesthetic or stylistic standpoint. I personally find that solid body mechanics tends to translate to great aesthetics for me, and I try to base my dancing first and foremost on things that I think will allow me to keep dancing for the rest of my life. These are the best safe & effectively connecting body mechanics that I have come up with in 11 years and if I develop or encounter a better idea, I’ll definitely post about it.

Anatomy Time!

rotator cuffThe rotator cuff is the group of muscles connecting the top of the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula).  The reason these are important is that the shoulder blade is a relatively mobile and therefore unstable joint. The surface of the shoulder joint (glenoid fossa) is essentially a very shallow bowl that has been overfilled with the head of the humerus. This makes the joint very mobile, but also vulnerable to sliding around or out of the socket (one of the reasons shoulder dislocations are far more common than, say, hip dislocations). The muscles of the rotator cuff are all oriented closely around the joint to rotate the humerus in the joint, provide stability, and protect against injuries like dislocations.

Dancing Based on Natural Angle

Based partly on the rigors of modern life, most of us have become habituated to some less-than-natural positions for our arms. The arms-straight-ahead position that most of us spend a lot of time in (driving, typing, etc.) rolls the shoulder in a way that compresses the front of the joint and, over time, tends to make the shoulders stick forward even when our arms are at our side. Many people, either by instruction or habit from daily life, learn to dance with their arms straight in front of them, reinforcing this compression, and putting the shoulder in an unstable position to deal with strong pushes or pulls. I feel that opening the shoulder up to a neutral and balanced position makes it both more stable and far more functional at handling the demands of swing dancing.

To reacquaint yourself with this position, first hold your arms up around belly button height then slowly move them from reaching straight ahead to straight out to the side. As you swing through this range, you should notice that the level of tension in the shoulder lessens as you move towards the middle of the arc, hits a point of minimal tension, and then the tension starts to increase as you continue towards the end of the arc. You should also notice the position of tensions shift as you pass to either side of that middle point. This point of minimal tension is what I refer to in classes as the natural angle of the shoulder. It is the angle at which the rotator cuff is most relaxed and therefore most able to react to various forces. The exact angle varies from person to person but typically falls somewhere between 30-60 degrees from straight out front and places the hands in a position wider than the shoulders.

When I’m dancing, part of protecting my shoulder is that I consider this angle to be home base for how I orient to my partner. I remember as a newbie being taught things like spotlighting or to “square off” to my partner and it always felt a bit forced. I have found orienting myself to my partner based on the natural angle of my shoulder to be far more connected and comfortable and consequently safer for my shoulder. My hand and arm move to follow or lead my partner and I adjust the angle of my body to keep my shoulder in an open, relaxed and ready position. It can be counter-intuitive to the way many of us orient to our hands, but once you get used to it, it should make a lot of sense for your body.

Chest Up, Shoulders Down

The other typical position that can compromise the rotator cuff is the overhead lift of leading and following turns. Many dancers don’t just bring the hand and forearm up when they turn, they also raise the shoulder blade. Lifting the shoulder blade off the ribs puts the shoulder in a vulnerable position by disconnecting it from the support of the ribs. Without the support of the ribs, it becomes much easier for a pull at the wrong time to bend the shoulder into an angle that will injure it. I have found the next two concepts to be exceptionally helpful in keeping the shoulder in a safe position during spins and turns.

Paint the Fence (aka NO ROTATION)

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A common stressor that many dancers put on their shoulder is trying to rotate it out as they lift. While I realize it is a fairly common cue, I find the “checking your watch” method of leading turns does not make kinesthetic sense to me. Rotating the arm to look at your wrist forces the elbow above the shoulder blade which then pulls the shoulder up with it. The more the elbow flairs away from the body, the more the shoulder separates from the ribs, reducing both stability and connection.

A far more effective method of raising the arm comes in an approximation of Mr. Miyagi’s paint the fence exercise from The Karate Kid (the original, not the remake). Keeping with the natural angle of the shoulder, the motion of the arm is basically just “Uuuup…, Dooown…” and the torso moves to create the turn.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R37pbIySnjg]

Unlike Daniel-san, for dance purposes you’ll want to let your elbow be loose, relaxed, and weighted so that it stays low as your arm comes up. But notice in the motion of the movie that this is a whole body motion. You can see the muscles of the chest flex and relax with the motion and you should be able to feel them activating. If you try to same “look at your watch” motion, and feel your pecs, you’ll notice they have almost no activation. Keeping the arm rising and falling and making adjustments with the torso rather than the shoulder rotation will put you in a much safer position and typically keep you more connected to your partner (which also helps you be safer). By maintaining the connection of the arm to the torso, you can also effectively lead turns by initiating small rotations from the chest and spine rather than large motions from the arm.

Scapula as Counterweight (or Turns and Trebuchets)

The other issue I often see putting shoulders in harm’s way is the tendency to think that everything needs to go up. People become so focused on their hand that they forget there is a wrist, elbow, shoulder, and ultimately, spine attached to that hand. So if your only awareness is the hand needs to go up, everything else in that chain tends to go with it. Again, the shoulder rises and you are suddenly in the vulnerable position of having your hand above your head with only your rotator cuff actively holding the shoulder in the socket.

trebuchetWhat has served me best is to bring an awareness of my shoulder blade and to think of it as a counterweight to the arm, similar to but not quite as unbalanced as the counterweighting found in a trebuchet. When I want my arm to rise, I don’t think about taking my hand up, but rather, I think about initiating by allowing the scapula to slide down (inferior) my back and away from my head. This serves to stabilize the shoulder in several ways. One, it insures that my arm does not come up without my scapula being solidly in touch with my ribs and it additionally eases some of the effort of lifting my arm, meaning my hand goes up with less muscular effort and I have more freedom to adjust in case of emergency. One of the easiest ways to experience this is to stand with your back against the wall and try both lifting your shoulder blade as your arm rises or letting it slide downward as your arm rises. With the downward slide, you should feel more of the engagement in your chest and back and your arm should feel much lighter and floaty than when you lift the shoulder blade with it.

incline_pulleyThe counterweight idea is not only useful for turns, but can also be applied to protecting the shoulder from collapsing forward when stretching out in swingouts, tossouts, rocksteps, etc. In a stretch where the arm is not going to come up above shoulder level, think of the shoulder blade as a counterweight to the front of the chest and allow the chest to rise and open as the shoulder blade descends. In the inclined pulley illustration, think of M as the shoulder blade and m as the arm. So long as M is weighty enough, it will resist being pulled up and over the top by m. But if the force of m wins out, then the shoulder blade (M) will be pulled up over the top of the pulley and it will all tumble down the slope. By letting your shoulder blade remain weighty when stretching (at a natural angle) it will prevent a lot of potential strains and sprains that can occur from collapsing and hyper-extending the shoulder.

Keep it Personal

There is no one right way to do this. There is a great deal more variability in human anatomy that a typical textbook will not show and as such, there is a great deal of variability in function as well. The safest angle for one dancer may feel very unstable for another and so on. The more you can create ease in your body, the more ready your muscles will be to keep itself in safe and comfortable positioning. Similar to the non-Newtonian frame concept, the more you are in a fluid, rather than rigid, state to start, the more readily you will be able to react both to potential threats and to communications from your partner. In addition, the safer your body position feels, the more it will free up your attention to try more awesome things. Use the above as suggestions to play with your own angles and ways of conceiving of motion and use whether it feels more tense or less tense as the metric for more vulnerable or less vulnerable.

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