December 27th, 2009

Dance Education: A dialogue

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The following from a conversation I had with a dance teacher I really like. The best (and most challenging) ballet classes I’ve ever taken. Topic is the application of the Anat Baniel Method and Feldenkrais for professional dancers. I think the ideas also apply to all high-level athletes.

What I am interested in hearing is what you have done and are doing in terms of your Feldenkrais training, what you intend to do with that training and how that would translate to a dancer’s education on an ongoing basis.

Is that all?  I’m glad you are starting small.  If you were to ask all of the hard questions all at once I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Anat Baniel was one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ pupils and studied under him from the early ’70s until his death in ’84.  Since then she as founded the Anat Baniel Method, continuing the evolution of the Feldenkrais Method under her own name.  Anat is widely regarded in the Feldenkrais community and is also the mother of a close friend.  In my life I have encountered a small handful of instructors (in a diverse set of fields) whose process of instruction – quite apart from the material itself – is truly exceptional.  (While we are on the topic, you are one of those few.) Anat is one. At its essence her topic is learning and thus how she teaches is, of course, exemplary.

This material is taught through Movement Lessons to a group who usually begin lying on the floor and very slowly move through a sequence of interconnected patterns which together form a single functional movement.  (Augusta teaches such lessons at ODC.)  The functional movements are taken from a host of backgrounds: human motor development (infants, children; crawling, sitting, walking), Judo kata, methods of rising from the floor to standing.  Moshe developed over 1000 movement lessons, each with a functional element that addresses a different aspect of human movement.

Through an in-depth understanding of these lessons, Anat has developed tools (slowvariationmovement with awareness, etc.) which access how humans learn.  By attempting the lessons slowly, for example, while not attempting to complete the end-movement before the necessary motor development has occurred, acquisition and retention far exceed more traditional methods of training.  The methods employed in Feldenkrais more directly access where/how movement is processed in the central nervous system.  One of Anat’s advances of the form has been to bring vocabulary – pulling on neuroscience research – to describe these processes.

For me this work is life changing.  It sits at the intersection of a number of my passions: my own movement training, academic study of movement, helping people to facilitate change in their own bodies.  My undergraduate research was in psychology under a Behaviorist who has spent his career studying learning in animal models.  I spent my senior year conducting research on motor acquisition in humans.  I plan to continue on in research in graduate school in PT.  Since graduating I have found a passion for teaching people about their bodies.  As a personal trainer, and now primarily in rehab I am working with individuals to find new, healthier ways of using their bodies.  One of the aspects that fascinates me about this work is that it applies anywhere along the spectrum from children with special needs and people with strokes all the way to high-performance athletes and musicians.  Anyone can (be taught to) improve their technique.  My regular set of clients is a mix of chronic-pain and surgery-recuperation, fitness, and athletes.  I had my first experience last week of working with children with cerebral palsy and autism at Cesar Chavez Elementary.  I would be glad to put you in touch with my classmate Cathy Down who plays violin with the SF Symphony.  I have taught group class once a week this fall at a studio called Kiki-Yo and will be teaching twice each week in the New Year.  I hope also to begin teaching groups at my old gyms Crunch and World.

The ABM training consists of 10 9-day segments for the basic certification.  I have completed 4.  Per ~100 hour segment I gain more knowledge of my own body’s capabilities and more mobility that in 6 months or a year of moderate training outside of the segment.  The movement growth I have experienced encompasses gross skills like rolling and walking and has changed how I listen to everything that I do.  This new-found awareness has allowed more rapid and I believe more healthy learning (of movement, of many other things) than I was capable of before.

I am not looking for a full-time dancing career.  That said, I would like to have a part time career in dance in the future.  (I have an audition with Capacitor in January!)  For me, the Feldenkrais training is appropriate because it spans the interconnections of my interests.  For pre-professional dancers who may be going on to full-time career I think that regular lessons could also be invaluable.  Weekly classes allow participants to begin to develop their own tool sets for furthering their movement education.  This furtherance can be in the form of listening to their bodies in cases of injury or in seeking to improve technique.  Group Feldenkrais classes provide a codified curriculum around which any aspect of a mover’s repertoire may be amplified.

I hope this email/essay has addressed some aspects of your questions.  Please feel free to ask again or narrow your focus.  I will do my best to provide coherent explanations.  Thanks again for your interest and I will speak with you soon!


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