Each day we instruct in the art of dance we ask our students, in one way or another, to be brave. To be brave enough to look silly and awkward as they learn. To have the courage to fail, or as is often the case, to fail over and over again to reach their ultimate goals. The gumption to dance responsibly with injuries, and to trust themselves to “modify” accordingly. To step into the unknown with their body-instrument that our society, in this digital age, often alienates us from. The challenge may be an invisible one, but it always remains: how will our students be brave enough today so that they dance to their fullest potential?
One answer to develop the resiliency and knowledge of “bravery” in our dancers is through strengthening our dancer’s “body awareness.” Body awareness can be defined by various movement practices differently, but I find Babette Rothschild’s psychological description to be a good starting point:
“Body awareness implies the precise, subjective consciousness of body sensations arising from stimuli that originate both outside of and inside the body.”
Rothschild, Babette. The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment. New York: Norton, 2000. P. 100.
For the injured dancer, understanding the body’s limitations, as directed by bodily sensations, can allow her to participate more holistically while she heals. For the self-conscious dancer, knowledge of the body’s structure and the boundaries of his physical body (guided by his bodily sensations) may assist him in employing a more grounded presence in class. For the disheartened dancer, knowing how to locate sensations and their associated emotions within their body can lead to managing their emotions in healthier ways, which can allow for improved learning.
Here are three ways to include body awareness building exercises into your curriculum.
Anne Green Gilbert’s “Brain Dance”
The Brain Dance, constructed by Anne Green Gilbert, is composed of a string of eight movement sequences based on movements that children enact in the first year of life. Research has shown that no matter what the age, reviewing these phrases on a daily or weekly basis in a sitting or standing position, has shown to be constructive in managing neurological challenges with the central nervous system. These exercises can be implemented in warm-ups and developmentally adapted per class and educational level.
An example of this for preteen and teenagers:
Explore “Upper and Lower” body region section by implementing ballet port de bras (the carriage of the arms) for the upper region, while focusing on foot articulation exercises (tendus, degage, etc..) for the lower region.
Want to learn more of about the Brain Dance? Check out the image across or hear how the Creative Dance Center of Seattle uses the Brain Dance system at the link below.
Yoga and the Body’s Interoceptive System
Yoga can increase body awareness through its combined mindful breathing, balance, and extended stretching exercises. These movements can allow for strengthening of the vestibular sense: a part of the interoceptive system, which assists in maintaining alignment and stability. The other part of the interoceptive system, proprioception’s kinesthetic sense can also be strengthened through Yoga: by continuously exercising our ability to mindfully locate parts of the body in space, the sensations within them, and to employ those parts, we can raise body awareness.
Interested in incorporating Yoga sequences into your warm-up or classroom exercises? Check out yogabasics.com Yoga sequences page at the link below..
Description of the interoceptive system inspired by Rothschild, Babette. The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment. New York: Norton, 2000. P. 40.
Ohad Naharin’s Movement Language, “Gaga”
“Gaga” is the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, through his tenure with the Batsheva Dance Company, as choreographer and Artistic Director.
Gaga as a method has two tracks:
- Gaga/dancers: The day to day training of Batsheva Dance Company members.
- Gaga/people: Made available for anyone, without the necessity of previous experience.
While no evident studies have been conducted that the Gaga/people movement language has been used to strengthen body awareness, I would like to suggest it’s worth considering. The Gaga/people movement language is often employed in movement improvisations where large groups of individuals move as singular bodies, interpreting descriptive language given from a group facilitator. These interpretations are catalysts for introspection of the body and inner sensations through countless ways of moving by all manners of extremes. Gaga/people open the door to redefining limits of the body and how it’s composed, but cannot do so with involving our current understanding of our body-instrument. Thus Gaga/people relies on a constantly developing awareness: one in which use what we know of our bodies to reevaluate how to use to them.
If interested in Gaga/people and the Batsheva Dance Company please check out the links below.
***Zackary Forcum is a Dance Teaching Artist, who is attending Mills College Dance MFA Program, and sits on CDEA’s Greater Board***