Notes from Dance Discourse #9

Notes from Dance Discourse #9

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 based on the questions: If one way of describing what the combination of somatics and dance can create is an extending of the dance form, how does it show up for you? Do you think of somatics as a tool for extending dance technique, dance compositional forms, that wonderful gray area which is both at once? or something else? Or do you think of dance as a tool for extending somatics? And we can think of extending as filling in familiar spaces in new ways. This conversation was lead by Cahtie Caraker.

Our table conversations ended up being about asking more questions rather than creating any type of solution or answer to the questions that were asked. Many at out table agreed that the practice of somatics and the practice of dance/movement/choreographer go together and the joy and beauty of it all is finding the balance. A challenge between bridging the two is trying to figure out how to independently work on deepening in ones body and then finding the opposition in movement.

If one way of describing what the combination of somatics can create is it an extension of a form…. OR is dance a way of extending somatics….extending can be an filling in the space in between Sensory field vs movement- after you get all the knowledge what do you do with it?

A community participant mentioned the tie in her life between Alexander technique and yoga and the challenge of find the FLOW. Each practice is known but how do you feel comfortable with a new form and find a flow between the two? A major difference the forms, especially yoga and somatic work is that somatic practice becomes about creating a community, comfort with one another quickly and practices like yoga can be done in a community setting but are more individually focused.  The conversation about sensations and experiences are missing.

Dance is often viewed as a visual art form verses somatic being a studied practice. But where is the aliveness of the form?

Not thinking “who wants to look at this” but thinking “how did I get there?”

How you find your way into forms using the common language of somatics? Can we help sense forms?

“Not knowing is the most creative space” – Debora Hay

Being able to go into the unknown and open yourself up to a knew experience is sometimes the best way to find new ways.  Combining the boundedness of somatic work with the choreographic freedoms in movement. Its all about taking an approach and having the internal vs external references/ conversations

Defining dance is hard enough alone, how do we define dance vs somatic?

With a new group of community members, but same leaders we started the conversation with just focusing on just the concept of do we/how do we combine somatic and dance? The sense of time and energy became a primal part of the conversation leading to exciting questions we were then able to bring up to the entire room.

Somatics extend the dance form- the way that somatics gives a different sense of time. When in performance you can sense the time with somatics seeing how dancers develop the movement. But then the big questions come out…

What is a somatic dance?

Are we distinguishing the two?

What is the aesthetic of somotic dance?

Somatic intention vs somatic approach to choreography/ choreographing can lead to a new sense of time and energy focus and allows for the audience to feel the time being taken.

Comes from play…if I approach this conversation from a place of play then maybe I am “engaged” in a somatic practice…the approach of curiosity.

An observation that many agreed on is the different sense of time between European dance and dance in America- does it have to do with somatics being more integrated in movement in Europe? And is that statement really true?  Eurpoean development changes the tension of time…watching a work in Europe they tend to make the audience wait while many American artist give the audiences everything all at once not wanting them to “lose their attention.” Can we use somatic work to challenge ourselves in our work and the audiences to feel a new sense of time, space, energy and focus?

Somatic work in dance we fell is a practice relative to attention a practice of energies and a practice of physicality that allows us to modulate

Maturing the sense of self and being able to control multiple senses. There is an approach of complexity that is mature.

How does Dance extend somatics….

It always comes into play whether we are conscious of it or not. Not always a conscious thing but somatics can automatically enter into the dance form. Not sure people would look at piece and call it somatic, but could sense that it is alive. How we are as artists expanding the boundary of performance?

How can the practice of somatic work help us to redefine what dance is so that we might find ourselves creating materials in a dance that might not be seen as dance at all?

We opened up the entire conversation to the entire room and Mary asked us to share questions that came up, comments that surprised us, or things we didn’t get to share with our group but wanted to bring up. These are a few comments that I found compelling.

Why are somatics coming up in our time?

It’s not what is power in somatics, but it’s the belief that supports the growth.

Can somatics become a cult?…. But then a cult takes away from the self so how is that possible?

Somatic work is a way to be in a safe place with others.

A Somatic Teachers job is to liberate the situmlation within the student but there is a mutuality in the teacher/ student relationship….its a cororpative relationship. One must exerpience the practice in their own body in order to really know it, a teacher can’t know it for somebody else. Transmitting the material that models that this is your experience and that you are the own controller of your practice. The work is student centered- students are being reminded but the body is the source and site of learning

Its okay to be human

Our panel, Cathie Caraker, Augusta Moore and Carol Swann had many thoughts/ Highlights about their own personal experience of somatic work that they shared before we broke up into groups.

Carol Swann quotes:
“Curiosity as a defining principal”
“Non judgment” retrain the mind to be curious and free
“Non Liner”  that’s important- that’s what makes improvisational
“The work is about relationships”

Augusta Moore:
She discussed how to have a unique voice through the codified technique – the technique gives us a path to follow. Her connection between ballet and feldenkrais technique was a great bridge to the dance community and somatic community.

Cathie Caraker:
“Deep Play, the body is my sandbox”
“Research is a key in how we move dance forward and stretch the boundaries.  Include research in the creative processes.”
Cathie talked about how as a teacher she finds the need to slow down but still motorize (the sensory and motor need to be balanced) “Learning to focus our attention. Active perception to learn to pay attention to our physicality to keep movement free and fresh”

While our discourse was focused on Dance and Somatics, Carol Swann wanted to reiterate that somatic work is not just applied to dance but everyday life.

Post By Shae Colett

One Comment

  • Mary Armentrout

    I find this exploration of “somatic dance” really interesting, and the corresponding effect on time. Is this slowing down analogous to the slowing down that is needed for nervous system repatterning, or is it just a convention? Would there be a way to have all speeds in a somatic dance? (seems surely possible) Also, what about trying to affect the audience more directly – say have them do an atm lesson (Feldenkrais) before watching a dance piece – I bet that would have interesting results.

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