Notes from Dance Discourse 9 : Living, Training, Tracking

Notes from Dance Discourse 9 : Living, Training, Tracking

On October 18, 2010 Bay Area arts community members met at CounterPULSE for the Dance Discourse Project #9: Dance and Somatics in the Bay Area– what’s the connection.  Co-presented by Dancers’ Group the event looked at how somatic practices and dance are intertwined in the Bay Area.  To learn more visit

At the exciting event participants were broken up into small groups where they discussed a variety of pertinent issues.  Below is one person’s account of the discussions.

Many curious questions surround the giant question of  ‘what…is…dance’.  Follow up that whopper with ‘what…is…somatics’ and you will most likely end up hearing some of tonight’s following buzzwords:


Brief notes from opening comments by panelists:

Essential elements of Somatics:
a) practice of paying attention, tracking, impact on body-mind
b) embodiment = somatics
c) integrate as whole
d) soma – greek word – means body-mind-spirit and living being.
e) roots in ancient culture – aim at dissolving dualistic nature of mind / body
f) 4 approaches: bodywork, repatterning, psychotherapy, theory
g) principles – experiential, non-judgmental, re-train, non-hierarchical

Key readings:
Anatomy Coloring Book
The Thinking Body by Mabel Todd
Vaganova Syllabus
{a codified technique gives a pathway to follow}

Somatics can bring recovery from injury

*efficient ways to move
*develop the performer presence
*create dances
*Body Mind Centering
*active perception
*keep material fresh and current

Deep Play

Goal of balancing the sensory aspect of learning (slowing down of nervous system / repatterning) with movement (motoring out / letting go).

Small group discussions charged with tackling 4 questions.  I participated in discussions which focused on #3 and #4.

1. What is somatics? (-to you? how do you use this word?)

2. What about this idea of somatics supporting social change? A central tenet of a certain stripe of Bay Area arts and activism – how does this relate to what you do? does this resonate for you in your practice?

Notes from end of discussion:
One point came up about access : somatics training can be very expensive! How much is this knowledge worth?
Somatics is about belief.  You believe the training will work and help you grow.
The teaching model is student-centered.  This supports a cooperative relationship.
Sustainable living = Sustainable body practice
Somatics and Dance encourage freedom of expression and transparency. They counteract feelings of alienation.

3. If one way of describing what the combination of somatics and dance can create is an extending of the dance form, how does this show up for you?  Do you think of somatics as a tool for extending dance technique, dance compositional forms, that wonderful grey area which is both at once? or something else? Or do you think of dance as a tool for extending somatics?  And we can also think of extending as filling in familiar spaces in new ways.

This first question made me think of my own biases and aesthetic judgments of when I watch current dance performances.  I may recognize movement material from a popular somatic practice or I may notice the dancers’ breath pattern as relevant to martial arts practice.  Most often, it’s when I sense a shift in extended time…I can’t say I think <hmm, this dance performance is so somatic > but I can recognize the compositional choices or the performers’ training.

The second question resonates with me.  Two years ago, I researched movement improvisation and asked this question: what can freestyle hip hop and contact improvisation offer one another in movement and in improvisational sensibilities for practice and for performance?  I worked with an ensemble of eight dancers and developed a compositional structure which invited them to improvise and co-create the performance as they navigated through multiple landmark moments of pre-determined movement events.  This choreographic structure gave the dancers more spontaneous artistic and energetic choices in the process of each performance.  As a solo performer, I allow myself moments and/or whole sections of time to improvise as well.  I feel the freedom to alter the main elements of the sequence at any time honors the aliveness and flexibility of Dance.

Somatics and Dance can both offer a context for moving and moving as a whole being.  This permission and encouragement of wholeness in and of itself can yield unexpected growth, development, discovery and connection possibilities on micro and macro levels. Very powerful stuff.

I believe Somatics and Dance both provide dynamic frameworks for connecting to modes of survival and/ or to modes of meditative journey.  They also both allow for struggling and settling with stillness.  Again, very powerful stuff.

4. What about this idea of a practice ? what kind of practice would you say you have and how do dance and somatics contribute to it? What are the goals of your practice?

The idea of a practice led my group to discuss how the practice can influence day-to-day life. Is it a conscious choice or is it a neutral state of being? Is it like zen practice? Is the practice a form you’re after or is it about ‘being in the moment’?
A tricky transition: moving from internal space to coming out of it.

For me, Contact Improvisation is my movement mediation.  Moving from sensation and listening to the dance partner(s) and dance jam landscape provides a fresh, revitalizing way to create and respond to dance and to a dancing environment.  Contact Improvisation allows me to relate to people in a radically different way…I enjoy the inherent awkwardness, silliness and surprise that comes from this form.  Plus, there is no ‘ideal body’ in the technique.  My goal in this practice is to hone an awareness of touch, space, energy and presence.  In addition, this practice helps me bring more efficiency to partner and ensemble lifts.  I appreciate the form as a tool for recuperation because we use the liquid body* (reference*Pedro Alejandro Dance training) more often than muscles.

One person remarked how Somatics training – gaga technique, in particular – can offer people time and space which they can control…a safe space…a space to be quiet.

My other practice is far from quiet — Hip Hop practice, where the music is loud & the beats and accents are even louder.  My goal in this practice is to develop clearer control executing : polyrhythms, quick changes of quality and tone, range in musicality, seamless unison with group and song, performative characters, satirical or stereotypical references, clever postures and gestures of human behavior — all while grooving to funky fresh music.

Hope for future discussion about Somatics and Dance:
Please include space and time for an embodied discourse! re: some type of full-bodied exploration alongside the model of sitting-still-in-chairs-listening-and-sharing-through-vocal-communication.

*Comparative experience between group somatic practice exercise and a group dance exercise– led by the panelists or audience participants – what was useful? what was similar and drastically different between the teaching-learning?
*Challenge to small groups– create the ultimate anti-somatics dance – can we shift the aesthetic expectation(s)?
*Share readings of seminal texts on Somatics and Dance. Move before and after reading – is there a difference ?

Leftover lingering thoughts:
The lack of music in my Somatics training concerns me. Are we too focused on body rhythms ?

Lastly, panelists responded to question of what makes Dance and Somatics relevant to the Bay Area link ?
-tolerates alternative ways of learning
-integrates spiritual, political, the arts…support, space, pleasure, sensuality
-permission, support

Thank you!

~Brittany Delany

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