Rolfer, Dancer, Teacher

Posts tagged ‘Rolf Movement’

Advice From My First 7 Years as a Rolfer®

It’s been a little over 8 years since I graduated the Rolfing® basic training and slightly under 7 since I completed my licensure, got laid off, and made an abrupt transition into “full time” at about 2-3 clients a week at the time. Last year I completed my Advanced training and assisted a Unit 3 training for the first time and it’s had me thinking about how much has changed since I first stepped into a classroom in Boulder. I’ve reached the point where there’s no thought to calling myself a Rolfer anymore and even on the days that it just feels like work I still wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

I’ve had my first Rolfling (client who decided to become a Rolfer) and possibly a few more in the making so I’ve been thinking about some of the advice I can offer that I feel really helped me become the Rolfer I am today. It’s not a comprehensive list, but a number of salient points I’ve found useful along the way.

Worry Less About Fixing and More About Learning

It’s challenging to remember when someone is paying for your help but one of the things I wished I’d realized earlier is that it’s not incumbent on me to be everyone’s savior. In the course of my career I might seem like a total wizard to some people and a charlatan or waste of time to other people. In training it was easy to watch an instructor be magical and think that that was what I was supposed to produce in the next hour. And in hindsight what may have held me back in my first few years was the tendency to try and push harder when that sort of magic wasn’t happening.

Having recently assisted a training for the first time, I think that ideally Rolfing training would be something like a 4-year degree. But for a variety of factors it’s not reasonable to run things that way so what we get is a training that teaches enough enough to be dangerous then sets us up to spend our early years getting our “finishing school” from our clients and continuing education. Even being told “the 10-series is what you do for 5 years or until you know what you’re doing” is easy to lose sight of in that moment when you have hands on a new client who’s coming to you for help and your training didn’t tell you exactly what to do in that moment with that client’s particular issue.

Looking back, and in working with my first Rolfing mentee, I think one of the things that most served the Rolfer I have become at this point was learning to back off, stop trying to fix, and focus more on learning. Making my Rolfing practice into my Rolfing *Practice* as it were. When my job became not to fix in the moment but to be effective enough that people came back (when appropriate for them) that was when I think I started to really become more effective. Pacing things not only to the client’s rate of change but also to a level or touch where I could work but still listen an gain understanding of what was going on. So that has become my primary stock piece of advice to new Rolfers which I also found echoed to some level by my advice to first time dance students.

Your primary job for the first 5 years is not to fix people. It is to be effective enough that people want to come back so you can continue to learn from working with them.

Sweat the Small Talk

I started Rolfing training as an avowed introvert, quiet and shy. When I share with clients that this is where I started from, most having little to no trouble believing this (although that’s starting the change lately, *happy dance*). They are far more likely to have a hard time believing I’ve been a swing dancer for 15 years and taught, competed, and ran my own dance studio for a while. So when I say that I’ve found being chatty with clients is a valuable thing, it’s a pretty big statement from where I started.

I think the early stages of Rolfing training made it easy for me to get focused on the client’s body and issues therein. After all, as Dr. Rolf said, it is the part we work with because it’s what we can get our hands on. People tend to show up in my office because they have big issues that have been affecting their life for a while and it’s easy to hang up on those. But one of the things I’ve realized over time is that if I focus too much on the current issues it becomes hard to see why we’re doing all this work and where it is going for the client. Understanding my client’s strengths and resources and joys has proven every bit as important as their problems and it takes a certain level of trust and familiarity to share any of those.

Making small talk with clients (or bigger talk), chatting about their day, their likes, what they or their kids did this past weekend, etc. has been a major source of insight that I didn’t expect it to be. I find that the more levels I’m willing to work with my clients on the more effective I’ve been able to be. Since it’s impossible to really know a person from an intake form I find myself that I can learn and connect more with my clients in a conversational”rolling intake” way not unlike getting to know another human being in any other situation would. The more I’m willing to roam through subjects with clients, the more I get to see the bigger picture of who they are, how their issues and activities and woes and joys are influencing their lives, and very often in conversation I find words or ideas or other hooks to help empower them in their healing process (and I find plenty to help heal myself as well). Sometimes the conversation itself is an important part of the healing. And let’s be honest, it can be a weird thing to meet someone, get in your underwear, and have them work on you; carrying on a conversation like a normal person often seems to help with the process of normalizing the newness of Rolfing for a lot of clients.

When in Doubt, Ask the Client

Being unsure what to do seems to be a pretty common thread in my first few years and strikes me as likely to continue showing up pretty regularly in my practice for the rest of my life. In theory unless I’m working with another Rolfer, I’m the person in the room most likely to be the expert on Rolfing but that still often means not knowing. I’ve often seen situations where Rolfers seem to think they need to know what the client needs as a default. “How do I know when to do X?” is a common question I’ve heard in classes and I think it speaks to the uncertainty of working with bodies and human health. I’ve found that, for me, the simplest and most powerful solution is to own my uncertainty, say “I’m not sure” and then ask the client for input. After all, the client is the expert on being themselves and have been figuring out and meeting their own needs for a lot longer than I have, so why not use them as a resource?

I usually give the client an out by telling them”You’re paying me to figure it out” if they don’t have a clear preference or sense of which direction to go, but sharing ideas and asking for client input helps make the process collaborative and a team effort for the their health. It invites them into conversation with their body and offers them some practice with better defining their internal landscape. It makes my job a hell of a lot easier than trying to know everything all the time and it gives me more information for my own learning process. It’s humbling and humanizing to say “I don’t know” but I’ve found it’s almost always improved on my results and helped keep my ego from getting in the way of the work.

Get a Mentor

There is a lot to learn in this little niche therapy of ours, and fairly likely still a lot more than I’m aware of at 7/8 years in. My de facto mentors for the first few years were my first Rolfers, Bethany Ward and Larry Koliha. I knew going into my first 10-series that I was interested in being a Rolfer so Bethany gave me a behind-the-scenes view of her processes as we worked together and it was incredibly helpful and something I’ve carried in to working with potential Rolfers. Larry and Bethany are also faculty at the Rolf Institute which meant they were full of helpful thoughts on preparing for the training or reigning in my occasional oversteps in practicing (I got scolded for trying nosework on a friend before I had done any training).

It was a real boon to be able to have someone I could ask when I got stuck with a client or when a session had a detrimental result or even when I just felt like a client’s issue was out of my depth and it was better to refer them out to someone more experienced. At the same time, I had Larry’s advice that often the difficult clients are the ones you learn the most from as a guide to work on staying calm and continuing to hang with the moment when I was having trouble with a client or with my own body. And being able to take classes from Larry and Bethany and receive work from both of them over the years has been a great source of new-to-me ideas and feedback on if I’m getting the right idea or if I missed the point of something they were teaching.

And ultimately having mentors has also provided me a metric for realizing that I can be both different and awesome. One of the things I’ve noticed over time is that the people who excel in various fields often seem to do so in part by being deeply themselves in the process. Being able to compare notes with Bethany and Larry and the occasional shared client helped me realize that I didn’t have to always use their ideas to be effective and on occasion I saw something for a client that they didn’t and vice versa. Knowing and working with them gave me a model for success in this trade and over time also helped me realize that my success didn’t have to look the same way as their success.

Get a Colleague

I think perhaps even more important than finding a mentor is finding a peer with whom you can connect. Someone who you feel on an even playing field with and free to talk about your experiences, exchange work, challenge each other, be a shoulder to cry on, and grow in unison (if not always in the same direction or at the same rate). A good colleague provides a safe space to grow in a different way than a mentor and can also help be a great yardstick for our own progress.

One of the most valuable resources to me has been my first client-turned-Rolfer, Lisa Barr. While we started in sort of a mentor/mentee relationship at first, we transitioned pretty quickly to trying to be more like colleagues and equals and both of us feel we got far more benefit from that relationship in the long run. Lisa knows me far better than any other Rolfer because we make time to trade sessions, get coffee after the session, and spend time talking about life beyond the table. This close friendship not only means we have a strong supportive colleague but also gives us additional space to grow and often helps us connect the dots and do deeply transformative work with each other. I believe we are often able to evoke change with each other that more experienced practitioners couldn’t or didn’t because of the additional layers of trust and familiarity that we have built with each other.

Get a (Really Good) Therapist

I feel like I got very lucky with the therapist I started working with just after I finished Basic Training. I’d be dumped HARD during my Unit 3 and came home incredibly distraught and finally ended up working with the therapist who a doctor friend had been advising me to try for several years prior. Frank has been my go-to therapist through the growth of my career and someone I still see off and on as my life, body, etc. continue to shift and grow. Working with him has not only improved my life but it has made me a better Rolfer.

While I started from a place of being a pretty good listener, having a therapist to model on has provided so many small and large pieces towards presenting both a more compassionate and more open model of listening for my clients. My early few years working with Frank involved a lot of anger and his willingness to simply sit with it and advice to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” has, I think, made me a far more accessible therapist to my clients. I’ve learned how to sit and simply hear their stories and when appropriate share my own stories or my own thoughts as opposed to jumping to giving advice or trying to fix things for a client.

And in a more general way, I think it’s an important aspect of presenting balance in ourselves with our clients. As I keep my own personal self developing, I keep myself relatively sharp for helping others develop as well; plus having a close relationship with a therapist has been useful when I need to get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a client.. And as a colleague recently said to me “I keep going to a therapist so that I don’t have to”.

You Get To Co-Create the Context

It took me a while to recognize it, but the average client coming into my office doesn’t seem to know what to expect from a Rolfing session. Rolfing can be hard to describe even if you’ve had it and it seems to almost defy the “elevator speech” level of communication. So even if they’ve been referred by another client, many new Rolfees seem to show up not knowing what the experience is going to look like.

While it’s easy to view this as a detriment, I have found this can be spun as a strength of the work as well. With minimal pre-conceived notions, it becomes possible to set the stage for our work in a different way than if someone is going for a spa massage or other therapeutic intervention more oriented to them simply receiving care. I have found this ability to re-contextualize our work together as something collaborative, exploratory, out-of-the-box, and holistic is of great benefit and helps go beyond just “fix my pain” to allow room for the sort of transformative work that drew me to Rolfing in the first place.

I aim to meet my clients on a person-to-person level first and foremost and to work as equals rather than play into certain professional roles and expectations. It works for me and it seems to work for the majority of my clients. I’ve seen other colleagues work it different ways that serve them where my strategy wouldn’t fit. But in essence, you get to set the tone of the relationship you want to create with your clients and the more you take advantage of that, the more your work starts to look like you which I generally seems to make the more powerful both for Rolfer and client.

It’s OK to do Free Work

At times, offering free work has been one of the best tools to create a learning environment for myself and to be effective with clients I might not otherwise have helped. Offering free work significantly cuts down the anxiety around producing results for money which helps me feel space to experiment and take risks I might have talked myself out of. Sometimes a client shows up with an issue so outside of my experience that I have no idea if I can help but I want to try and see both if I can help them and if I can learn something. For instance, when I had a lactation consultant start sending me infants with tongue tie issues I spent the first few months doing free work on babies. This allowed me to create training space for myself and the freedom to experiment helped me to play with tactics that were both new to me and seemingly outside of what other tongue tie workers were doing.

Offering free work has also been a great way to smooth things over with clients on the rare occasion where something goes wrong from a session. This happens occasionally when a client struggles with integrating a session or every once in a while when I make a mistake. I try to first do no harm, so when I feel I’ve done something that adversely affected a client, it helps me stay in integrity with my intentions to either return their money for that session or offer free work until they feel better. Some of this is self soothing but it also goes a long way towards restoring trust with clients and being clear that we are working for their betterment and it gives me a chance to get hands on them again and try to learn where things went sideways. The most memorable case of this working for both me and a client happened when I was working with a first time client and had one of her ribs pop out of alignment. She called me the next day saying she was in pain and would be unable to come back, so I offered to do free work until the issue resolved. I spent 6 weeks doing free sessions for her until it felt better but I learned a lot about ribs and haven’t had that happen since, plus she became one of my best clients for a number of years.

Be Careful With Discount Work

One of the things I’ve learned over time is it’s equally important that my clients are covering my needs as that I am covering theirs. At the base level this means that I need to get enough money and/or emotional return on my time and energy to make doing work sustainable. While offering discounted work is occasionally valuable as a marketing or accessibility tool it can also be fairly destructive to the sustainability and quality of my work and client relationships.

I’ve run Groupons twice in my earlier days and found that those kind of steep discounts invite a lot of clients only looking for more discounts. I’ve gotten a few wonderful folks out of each one, but not at a much higher rate than what was already coming through my door by referral. At the same time Groupon tended to bring in a higher than average level of people just there for cheap work and less engaged in the process in general. Additionally the ones who wanted to stick around but only if I kept offering them a discounted rate tended to be the ones frequently going on fun weekend outings worth several times the discount they were asking for. While I don’t fault anyone for trying to save money, it typically seemed like the issue with these cases was one more of priority than true need for a discount which ended up feeling to me like a de-valuing of my time and effort. Noticing this effect has also made me very mindful of making sure my providers feel fully valued when I go to other therapists/practitioners/artists/etc nowadays.

So my early years pricing advice has been to set a price that feels good, and maybe a little uncomfortably high in the sense that it gives you space to grow into. Start from the market price for Rolfing in your area and adjust up or down to find that sweet spot for yourself. I don’t think money is everything but it is the most easily quantifiable and I do believe it communicates something about how people value my time and effort. What I found running Groupons was that doing a lot of work at a steep discount tended to affect the quality of my work across the board. So at this point I’m very mindful of offering discounts and making sure that I take care of my needs in a sustainable fashion that keeps me doing great work for my clients and myself.

Start with 3s When Strategizing and Pitching Work

I started out doing a lot of one-off sessions at dance events so I didn’t get particularly tied to the Ten-Series sales pitch but over time I’ve learned that it’s not where I prefer to start with clients. And clients coming in for the first time tend to find the idea of committing to 10 sessions upfront for a therapy and a person they have never tried to be rather daunting.

3 sessions is a much more manageable amount to consider for trying something new and I find it is typically enough for most clients to decide if we are making forward progress towards their needs and goals. For the last few years I’ve told new clients to “give it 3 sessions and that should give you a good sense of whether or not we’re making forward progress and/or if we need to change directions.” After a year or two working with that number as a proving ground, I’ve found there’s better client engagement and return, more people helped, and I’ve gotten much better at honing in on my clients’ core needs. Plus I find it typically takes 3-5 sessions to really start establishing a trust and rapport that allows for deeper work so when clients stick around past that point we usually get to dive into even cooler territory. Or if a client and I aren’t making some progress in 3 sessions I’m much better informed by then to be able to suggest someone or something that might be more helpful to their needs.

Strategise/Be Opportunistic About Classes for Advanced Training

My practice is in Raleigh, North Carolina in the USA. In the time I’ve been in practice there have been just a handful of RISI credits offered within even a day’s driving distance. When I finally got around to planning for Advanced Training I found myself scrambling to get the required prerequisites done in time. I actually ended up finishing my prerequisites mid-Advanced by flying to LA for a class on my way down to Brazil for the second half of my Advanced Training.

So generally now I recommend to newer Rolfers that they keep an eye out for the workshops near them, try to spread out the CEUs you need to get through RISI for your Advanced Training. If you live in Boulder or Seattle or the like it’s probably not a particular issue. But if you live a couple hundred miles or more from the nearest place where RISI regularly offers classes then pay attention to when they come up and try to maybe take one class every year or two. This will help you be ahead of the Advanced Training game when it comes time to cash in those prerequisite classes.

Titration and Pacing

One of the first pieces of advice I got from Bethany when I did a mentored session with her was to slow down and find the first layer of resistance rather than diving straight to as deep as I could do. I started out with a “Get in there and FIX IT” mentality that, in hindsight, was partly driven by a desire to speed through my own discomfort with my client’s expectations of relief (ESPECIALLY in the cases where I got a client who’d been to a much more experienced Rolfer elsewhere). It took a number of years and a fair amount of confidence and self loving growth to reach a point where I could just hang out at a client’s pace of change and feel (for the most part) comfortable with the discomfort of “they’re not feeling better yet and I’m not sure if they will”. The more I became comfortable with not having to ‘fix’ a client and just helping them evoke change at a pace that worked for them the more effective my work became. And curiously enough, the less I rushed things, the more rapidly they seemed become available to shift.

Pacing for myself as a human and practitioner is important as well. When I first started, two of the local Rolfers were closing their offices and I expected to be flooded with clients. In hindsight I’m glad I ended up getting very few of their people coming to me because it gave me time for my body to adjust and strengthen with this work. It made for some tough financial years in the middle but I believe that taking 5 years to reach a relatively full practice helped me be a better kind of strong and stable for this work.

Learning to pace and spread out my learning has been of great help. The desire to know ALL THE THINGS is certainly there for me at times and occasionally it’s worth cramming a few classes together. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes our clients integrate the most when we take our hands off of them. And similarly, we as practitioners and people integrate similarly when we just settle in and do the work where we are and with what we have at that moment.

Go Beyond Fascia/Try Things/Make It Your Own

I didn’t plan it this way, but looking back at the last 4 or 5 years of Continuing Ed for myself, I did as much learning about tissues other than fascia, as I did taking more traditionally Rolfing/fascial work classes. Nerve work, scar tissue, visceral, and deeper cranial rhythms all helped me refine my touch, expand my range, and take my fascial work deeper as well. Plus watching the various instructors for these courses helped gain a broader idea of how many directions this work can go and how much you can personalize it to your own knowledge base, body type, and way of being.

I started to define Rolfing, at least for myself, as something more of a philosophy than a technique. Most of the experienced Rolfers I know seem to have borrowed pieces of other work that isn’t strictly from the original Rolfing tradition and most of them do work that is in some way distinctly reflective of who they are as a person. As I observed this, I began to think of Rolfing less as a tool and more of an organizing principle for how I arrange my toolbox and how I go about using those tools to help someone (ordering of interventions, seeing beyond the surface, etc.). Thus, to to me, Rolfing becomes not a specific product or service that I offer but rather a context for offering my best therapeutic self to help people, which is part of how my work began to reflect me as a person.

Get Some Work for Yourself

Simple enough but so easy to get away from the habit. Believe in your own product and get Rolfing (and any other work that calls you) not just when you need it but before you need it. Having gone through phases of both I can say I think my clients’ results are markedly better in the periods where I’m spending or even overspending on self care compared to the periods where I wasn’t getting any work for 6 months or so.

Make Room for the Work to Change You

When I started down the path of this work, I oriented to it strongly as “I want this so I can do good things for others” What I failed to predict in those early stages was how much the work would also become a tool for letting the world do for and change me. At nearly 10 years since my first Rolfing sessions, I’m suddenly encountering the idea from multiple sources that the spiritual/personal growth work that we do is not just for ourselves but for all of our relationships and our clients as well. And after spending most of my life orienting as a giver, I find myself learning some really powerful lessons about how much I’m capable of receiving as well.

When I started training as a Rolfer I was on antidepressants, living in a construction zone of a house , and unconvinced that I had much value in the world. I was rather painfully shy, afraid of judgement, and felt stuck going down some family paths that I didn’t even realize I was on. Last year one of my colleagues told me when she had first met me seven years ago she was sure I was going to be a pain in her ass because I was dreadfully unhappy and couldn’t see it for myself.

Yesterday the same colleague told me she’s looking forward to the day when her children reach the point of change that I’ve gotten to lately. I’ve also had comments from pretty much every Rolfer I’ve worked with long-term about how much my body and way of being have changed over time. I still have the rest of my life to grow but I’m significantly happier, healthier, and more fulfilled than I was before I entered this process.

As I changed, my work changed and grew. The more my energy and way of being improved, the better my clients’ results got. In a grand sense, I don’t think of this work as fixing or creating a change in someone, it’s helping them (and ourselves) remove or work through the roadblocks to being our best, happiest, lightest selves. The more we allow ourselves to soften into our hard spaces, the more we learn how to offer similar space to our clients, our friends, and ourselves. So regardless of where you start from, probably my biggest advice to new Rolfers is to be open to the work changing you, challenging you, and bringing you to places in yourself that you may not have been able to imagine when you walked into your Unit 1 training.

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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

Contrasting Up and Down Orientation – Part 4: Modern Lindy Leads

Continued from Part 3: Modern Lindy Follows

So how does this up/down orientation affect dancing among leaders?  As someone who predominantly leads, I noticed in writing this that I had somewhat more concrete ideas of what a lead’s orientation should be.  My first lessons in Lindy actually came from a West Coast Swing instructor that involved a lot of anchoring and creating a grounded pivot point, etc.  Writing this post, I was reminded that there is a lot more room for variation than what I was originally taught.

As in the previous follower post, I’ll be using a selection of three modern Lindy leads to illustrate a very general idea of the differences that an up, down, or more evenly split orientation can produce.  Most of us will naturally be drawn more to one aesthetic than the others, but I recommend trying to watch this with a certain neutrality.  Each of these dancers and orientations has benefits and drawbacks and lend themselves to certain moves or visuals.

For the leads, I have selected Juan Villafane as a good example of upward orientation, Peter Strom as a representation of downward, and Skye Humphries as an example of a more evenly split orientation.  I think it is also worth noting that the clips of Juan and Peter have a second song where they were given a choice between neo-swing and club music.  Each of them end up dancing to a style of music that compliments their orientation (the up of Neo-Swing for Juan and the down of Super Club Jam for Peter).

Up Orientation – Juan Villafane

Watching Juan’s dancing, it is easy to see how he and Sharon Davis ended up paired together stylistically.  Juan has a similarly floaty style of motion driven by an upward orientation in his dancing.  Juan’s triples tend to move as if they are hanging from his body, giving an interesting sliding quality to his footwork.  On his rocksteps, you can see Juan’s foot tends to travel back more laterally, hanging in the air more than digging into the floor behind him.  This upward orientation also gives him some options to use his torso and arms more to drive motion.  On a few swingouts and side passes you can see Juan move as much or more than his partner and actually begin moving himself off of her before she begins to move.  On his spin around :59, Juan’s lightness helps him to move off of Laura’s anchoring and into a spin.  And finally, at 3:05 you can see how Juan uses more of an upward motion to recover from his split.  On his first attempt to come up, his arms are not involved, but on the second attempt as he starts to reach back and up with his right arm, he is able to pop up easily.  Overall, Juan’s up orientation lends a lightness to his movement and a strong ability to use his partner’s connection to aid in his own movement.

Down Orientation – Peter Strom

Peter Strom is someone I consider to have a strong down orientation to his dancing.  As you watch him move, you can see the dynamic and energy of his movement shift as he moves between an upright posture and a more down motion.  In a sense, Peter can cruise when he is more upright, but when he’s turning up the energy, he drops down more and gets a lot of his energy out of his legs and the ground.  In contrast to Juan’s rocksteps, you can see Peter’s rockstep tends to extend back a bit less but digs down into the floor more.  You can also see Peter really uses the floor more than his partner to make dynamic motion shifts, as in the fast direction change he makes at 1:30.  And in the club section, very little of Peter’s moves emphasize the up section of movement.  All of his solo dance moves tend to involve a sharper motion and emphasis on the down portion of the step.  Overall, Peter’s down orientation lends him a dynamic use of the floor and a sharper, more athletic sense to his movement and styling.

Evenly Split Orientation – Skye Humphries

Skye is another one of those dancers who has always seemed to make dancing effortless.  It occurred to me in writing this article that part of it, much like Mia, is that he seems to move up and down with an equal sense of comfort.  Skye flows through both jumps and drops at a pretty even rate and without hesitation in either direction.  He seems equally able to use his partner to redirect his movements (1:05 and 1:13) or use the ground to redirect (:49).  In many of Skye’s movements, you can see him actively extending in multiple directions simultaneously.  For instance, in the hopping section at :34 you can see Skye’s feet still reaching for and using the ground while his torso actively extends upwards.  Overall, Skye’s split orientation gives him the ability to make a wide variety of movements appear very relaxed and fluid.

As with the follows, none of these options are the right way to dance.  These are just three examples of points along a spectrum of what is possible.  It should also be noted that while I have referred to Juan and Peter as up or down oriented, it does not mean that Juan has no down and Peter has no up.  Simply that they have developed their ability to use one direction more than another.

Everyone has natural tendencies and styles of movement that come easier to them than others, but it is also entirely within reach to work on and develop your abilities with your less natural direction.  In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about how to begin developing each orientation and how to assess your own natural tendency.

Continues in Part 5: Developing Your Own Orientation

Contrasting Up and Down Orientation – Part 3: Modern Lindy Follows

Continued from Part 2: Cultural Differences

So how do these up and down orientations apply to the modern swing dance world? The way most swing dances are taught now seems to emphasize down, pulse and grounding. But if you look at modern dancers, you can see many different levels of up or down orientation.

We are engaged in a dance with a history of downward orientation, as opposed to the “up” of many ballroom dances. Yet all of us come to it from our own backgrounds, cultures, prior dance training (for some), etc. and this can influence how we approach things. There is no right or wrong orientation but all those aspects influence how each of us dances and moves in general. In essence, your directional orientation can be both an aspect of technique and an artistic influence on how an individual dances.

In an effort to narrow this down, I have selected 3 follows who I think solidly represent a more upward, downward, or evenly split orientation. I made this selection purely on visual evidence from various youtube clips, so while they look one way, it is entirely possible that they may feel different to dance with. And while most of us will aesthetically prefer one movement style to another, this is intended to be a neutral assessment of what each style produces in motion.

So without further ado, representing up is Sharon Davis, down is Frida Segerdal, and the midpoint is Mia Goldsmith. As with previous posts, I recommend watching the video first to draw your own conclusions.

Up Orientation – Sharon Davis

Sharon, to my eye, shows a strong up orientation and an almost floating style of travel. Similar to Fred Astaire in my previous post, Sharon’s legs seem more to hang from her body and float down to the ground rather than being driven into it. While she is willing and able to sink into things, you can also see a certain hesitancy in her body to move in that direction. At :24 and 1:45 there are two downward level changes which Sharon floats into at first then has to shift for a moment before dropping into them. The floating of her torso also allows her to accentuate her hips in the swivels at :40. Overall, Sharon’s upward tendency offers her a very smooth and flowy look and stylings.

Down orientation – Frida Segerdahl

In contrast with Sharon’s floating pulse, you can almost immediately see a larger, sharper down in Frida’s pulsing. In the first 6 seconds or so when Frida is stood upright in closed, her motion seems a bit restrained, but as soon as she is released out into open, you can see her posture drop and a strong athleticism take over.  When Frida takes steps, you can see her feet driving down towards the ground, each step very deliberately pushed into the floor.  While Frida uses a lot of levels in her dancing, there is a sharpness to her downward stylings that I don’t see in her jumps.  Her drop/bend at :31 and the lock turn at :57 are prime examples of how she drives through her downward motions.  At around 1:30 you can see her swivels accentuate the knees and have a bit more of a lateral (side-to-side) motion.  Overall, Frida’s downward orientation gives her a strongly athletic look, sharp footwork, and helps her move across the floor very quickly.

Evenly Split orientation – Mia Goldsmith

Mia has always impressed me as one of the most composed looking followers in the Swing world.    In writing this post, I realized that part of it is that she appears to have an almost equal comfort level with moving up or down.  Mia seems at ease whether doing high kicks or bending down.  In some ways her orientation is less obvious because no one part of her styling stands out.  While her movements are not always as big as some of the more up or down oriented followers, she can flow through both up or down with equal ease.   Mia also exhibits something I often find true of more neutral orientations, she has a very strong sense of axis in her dancing.  The shared up/down orientation allows her to access both her arms and her legs equally and thus she always seems to have a solid sense of using her whole body in her motions.  Overall, Mia’s even orientation can make her motions less loud at times but also allows her to make a large range of movements seem almost effortless.

I do want to recognize that there are a lot of factors shaping each of these follower’s dances.  You have different body types, dance backgrounds, nationalities, etc. at work.  What I hope has come across though is the way that each follower’s orientation can in a very broad and general sense shape the way they move.  Again, there is no right or wrong orientation, just a spectrum of tools that can help you produce different results in your dancing.

Continues in Part 4: Modern Lindy Leads

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