Dancing Tao

cover image of bone, breath and gesture

Bone, Breath, and Gesture by Don Hanlon Johnson from Amazon.com


As a dance major at SUNY-Purchase in 1980, I experienced a much more intense schedule and a chronic heightening of back and knee injuries.  Sarah Stackhouse, a faculty member, was studying Alexander Technique and needed people to work with.  I was one of the fortunate ones who spent my time easing out of tension and finding a new wholeness.

This experience introduced me to somatics, a field that emphasizes holistic approaches to being that tend to focus on the human in motion.  One useful book for getting a sense of the field is Bone, Breath and Gesture edited by Don Hanlon Johnson.  Though I had earlier introductions to somatic practices, it was the experience with Sarah Stackhouse that brought things together for me and gave me tools to work with my awareness of my ongoing state of being.

I was finding that the work I had pursued in improvisation and in meditation was closely connected to somatics.  One was following or directing conciousness, being aware of tiny details and their relationship to the whole being.  In fact, depending on one's perspective, improvisation and meditation can be considered somatic practices.

As a dancer I continued to explore somatic practices related to dance.  My injuries lessened but remained an issue.  In the summer of 1983, having graduated with a BFA in dance from UNC-G a year earlier, I studied at the American Dance Festival for six weeks.  I was fortunate enough to work with Irene Dowd and to dance with Lee Conner.

Irene Dowd is an important figure in Ideokinesis and our class involved work with imagery based on applied anatomy.  Lee Conner's modern dance technique classes were informed by his study of Laban Movement Analysis.  This experience inspired me to study LMA in 1984 in the certification program then hosted at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Laban Movement Analysis is interesting both as a system for movement analysis and as a tool for dance and somatics.  In particular, the added component of Bartenieff Fundamentals was quite useful in faciliating core connectivity.  In the U.S., the main center for the study of LMA is in New York at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies.

My study of LMA provided me with tools that I continued to find useful in my dance and daily movement activities in the 80s in North Carolina and in my performance work in San Francisco from 1989 to 1992.  It was not until a few years after I went to graduate school, starting in 1992, than I began my practice of tai chi.

Next - Tai Chi


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