It’s something of a renaissance of dance recently, with the quite brilliant So You Think You Can Dance on Sundays, and followed by the sublime Center Stage last week. I’m not one to mainline commercial television, but watching this show as a dancer, and listening to the judges, especially Nigel Lythgoe talk about dancing, bodies, attitude, how they are moving, what they need to work on, or think about, or what’s letting them down, or even his compliments and praise, all this is what dancers hear in our daily lives, something of our mysterious little world slips out into the public glare and it’s really quite special. (Discovering who won the current series while I was finding the link for the show kinda sucks though).
The last two weeks I’ve been in Adelaide visiting Leigh Warren and Dancers again (who are in rehearsal for Satyagraha), where three of the Crush dancers live. I came here the first time in November last year after Lisa and Gala both thought it’d be a good thing, and that after having a couple of ex-company dancers take us for morning class during rehearsals, and finding something really click in me. The last, I guess four months, since early September when I finally got bored with repeatedly spraining my ankle while climbing and having Bird Flu have been an epiphany for me in my dancing, that has it’s germination in Zürich, a long 18 months of finding new things in my body.
It was in Zürich with ex-Bejart Ballet dancer Shonach who taught at Tanzhaus Wasserwerk that I first began, I don’t know how to say, understanding what it is to dance my body. In part because she is a phenomenal teacher, in part because there were a few tall lanky dancers in class and if there’s one way I understand how to dance, to learn new ways to dance, it’s by finding the tallest, lankiest, prime mover in the studio and imitating, copying, plagiarising, stealing their movement from them.
Back then I’d been given some profound advice on how I was dancing, not so much pointing out what I was “doing wrong”, but practical information on how to “do it right”, how to understand how my body was moving, and coax it into a more, I guess, efficient technique. I really regret not blogging about it then as I’d intended, or at least writing it down because I’ve forgotten what she’d said, though somewhere in my body it’s still alive.
Often for dancers, in the absence of really amazing teachers who give great feedback, the process of discovering how you are dancing, how a body is assembled and the physics of motion is something that happens through occasional moments of clarity and long periods of slow drudgery. It’s something completely different from the maintenance of the body that is what daily class can easily become; a sleepwalk through the animation of a body.
A great teacher. That’s something hard to quantify. I think – beyond giving a class that is internally coherent in its development and progression, both in terms of the actual steps and in how it affects a dancer’s body – it is a question of language. All the great teachers I have had, and I’ve been fortunate to have some absolutely supreme ones, have been able to translate the un-verbal realm of a dancing body into a few simple words. “It’s like this…”, “Think of this…”. Inasmuch as it is a communication of an idea, all of this has to be intelligible to whomever it is intended for, and the moments where I’ve had blinding, pivotal instants of understanding what I’m doing, it’s always come from a few short words
So amidst the last couple of weeks that have not been conducive to blogging (including a late-night krumping session in a carpark), and with this continuation of the last 18 months of dancing, being at Leigh Warren has given me something of an oblique glimpse to where I might go with my dancing.
The point of all this was to record what was said, so in a year or so I’m not left grasping the most eroded of memories that collapse under even a delicate brush. The first thing then was my bad climber’s habit of holding everything together with my shoulders, which has the perverse effect of seeming to shift my centre of gravity from around my pelvis to around my neck. The second being how I try and maintain my balance, when my centre of gravity is outside my body by trying to hold on – to the air even – with my arms. The mental picture you should have now is of a lumbering monster of low intelligence. Or a gorilla in a tutu on rollerskates.
So both these things from Leigh and a bit of a discussion on what I should be doing and thinking, and in fact not doing, not doing something else to counteract what I’m doing.
My ballet teacher, Adrian in Melbourne lent me a book on conditioning for dancers based somewhat on an Alexander Technique or similar approach, that it’s not strength which is necessary but simply letting the body move as it is designed, as it has evolved. There are plenty of quite beautiful drawings of muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, organs, nerves, how they all intertwine, the layers and folds that when you move all dance across each other in staggeringly complex arrangements. I was reading this before I came to Adelaide and kept returning to the thought I’d really love to watch an anatomy of a body, to see what illustrations can only hint at and what I can only imperfectly imagine.