Letting Go, or Falling

Julia de Rosenwerth

I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘falling’ as a kind of ‘letting go’ and am linking this to dance training. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what makes a good dancer. Is it the ability to have near absolute-control over one’s body? i.e. the ability to NOT fall? Is the ability TO fall, but not to hurt one’s self? Or, is the ability to willingly fall, even though there is no guarantee you’ll be able to get up again? Who knows. I like the last option though.

Adriana Jamisse, Tania Vosgatter and I started some movement classes which we called the ‘Movement Exploration Series’. While almost no one showed up ever, we soldiered on and for us it grew into a nourishing learning environment. One of the big questions that developed was exactly what makes a good dancer? Is there even such a thing? What are the criteria and who gets to decide them?

Through history, capitalism and ballet, dance and dance criticism has been dominated by product-based value systems. From the way bodies look, to what is being performed; we are trained to look for finalities. End-results. As dancers, we are often taught in the kinds of environments that value end products. We train in triangular, hierarchical modes: always  following instructions, always competing, always aiming for something higher, better, more perfect. Hard-wired I tell you…. And what is needed to rise to these (great?) feats? Steel toes? A bone-less spine (for that perfect back-bend)? **The more you believe it, the larger the possibility of it coming true, right?**

What we have been discovering in the Movement Series, and what I find curious, is that even though we use our bodies every day as performers, we often feel very disconnected from them. And this is due to our training. We were all taught  in dance schools and institutions that reinforced this capitalist mode of training. We care so much about how our bodies look and what we can and cannot do that we forget we are dancing and then lose our balance and topple over (metaphorically, and sometimes not so metaphorically). Through our lives all three of us, along with millions of other dancers, have built up extremely strong connections to the external image of ourselves and very weak connections to the internal ones.

By the internal image, I don’t really mean a visual image, but more of an understanding about how your body works, where the parts really are, how far your limbs extend… Really it’s more of an internal connection that I am speaking of. A connection to your body through which you have a general understanding of its functions (and thus a respect for your body and all it does for you). An internal connection also implies the ability to listen to your body; to know how far to push and when to cool off. I am speaking of an internal connection in which you give yourself permission to ask yourself how you feel, and then act accordingly, regardless of how you look and move in that moment.

Sounds dreamy, right? It’s a lovely ideal. We can only but strive…

Anyway, Tania, Adriana and I really wanted to set up the Movement Series as a space to connect to our bodies and learn about them and through them. We held the classes in an old Scout Hall in Cape Town. It was crummy and had no mirrors (a blessing as it turned out). In these classes, we did a lot of experimental anatomy work, body-work, Feldenkrais technique, Release-technique, partnering, sense-based improvisation and anatomy-based improvisation. These techniques all have different aims, but work well together because they all try to develop that internal image; that experiential understanding of one’s own moving and resting body from the inside. This process allowed us to start building a tangible connection and relationship to our bodies that was previously lacking.

What I have been most excited about is the realisation that the more of an internal connection, understanding and image I develop, the less I care about the way my body looks and which movements I am capable of or not capable of. It has become much more interesting to figure out how something works, or how it feels – and not just whether I can do it or not.

What is more, through this process of deeper  awareness, cool things have happened! Besides just being able to actually enjoy myself while dancing, I discovered some new and unfamiliar movement patterns. This was exciting because I felt like was able to access some ‘dead parts’ of my body that don’t usually get my attention. And I think I got to this place because the Movement Series was set up not to depend on product-based validation and end-goals. We really emphasised discovery, exploration and personal journey.

On the viewership side of things (if we had to speak about products, which we do, because dance is performed for an audience most of the time) personally, only a few things are better than witnessing someone dancing when they are really connecting to their own body, to the point where they are simply captivated by themselves in the moment. I don’t need anything fancy, no splits, no rake-frames –  just that mental and physical connection. This is eternally watchable, mesmerising, divine.

This is part of what letting go means for me and I think discarding value judgements and end-products in one’s dance practice would only be a good thing for this whole dance scene. It is extremely important work and provides alternatives for the decaying, irrelevant and destructive methodologies that are still so present in our classrooms and studios today.

The Movement Series is on a break at the moment, but check out our Facebook page for some more classes.