Friday, July 24, 2015

Somatic Conference at Dean College Rejuvenates and Celebrates

First of all - THANK YOU!

To all those that were able to donate to our Indiegogo campaign so that our presentation and performance at Dean College was fully funded.

Our original plan for the conference was simply to present our Somatic Approach to Aerial Dance. However, once our presentation proposal was accepted, we were also invited to perform.  The performance aspect of the conference caused our budget needs to grow. Luckily Janet (the great and most powerful of Fly-by-Night dancers), agreed to open up her schedule for the performance, and Joe Tucker (percussionist) was available as well. Thus, with the combination of the performers and your support, we were able to share two different aspects of what Fly-by-Night does at the conference.

Both the presentation and performance were well received. We look forward to working with our new-found colleagues to find ways to share our work with other populations.

Exceeding Expectations

The conference offered a multitude of ways to be inspired. I was able to take workshops with other teachers who believe in the importance of working/moving/dancing from a somatic point of view. There were also performances by many of the conference attendees. Lastly, it was rejuvenating to have time to socialize with colleagues who believe in the importance of bringing the whole self to our dancing.

It was also a treat for me to reconnect with William (Bill) Evans, who produced the conference, and Peggy Hackney, a keynote speaker, because I began my somatic journey with them more than 30 years ago in Seattle.

Hearing William, Peggy, (and also Martha Eddy, another keynote speaker) discuss and present their thorough understanding and deep belief in their somatic approaches reminded us all that this type of work is an important aspect to dance training.

It renewed my confidence in my own knowledge and inspired me to find ways to "sneak it in" (Martha Eddy's phrase) no matter who, what, when, or where I am teaching.

I look forward to the coming year of teaching, sharing, and learning within my community. I hope to see many of you there!

Peggy Hackney and William (Bill) Evans
at the keynote dinner at Dean College.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

To Ice or Not to Ice.... Rebecca Dietzel shares her research for injuries

Injuries - is an ice pack the right tool for the job?

 On June 4th I was able to attend a workshop given by Rebecca Dietzel*  here in New York City. Rebecca presented her (very thorough) research on the use of ice for injuries. This information is so important and useful for dancers that I had to try to summarize it so that others can apply the latest in scientific research in their dancing lives. Without giving away all of Rebecca's hard-earned research results, I'm simply going to share what to do in case of an injury. Rebecca will be publishing her full research and results soon. When that is published I will post a link to it here. 

 Rebecca pored over 350 studies on the use of ice after injuries and there has been information out for decades (since the 1970's!) that ice doesn't allow for the most optimal healing process to take place in the body. Even Dr. Gabe Mirkin, the doctor who invented the R.I.C.E protocol (short for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation), has said repeatedly that he now knows ice should not be used on injuries.

Here is Rebecca's new protocol for injuries: B.E.C.A.L.M
B = Breathe with slow inhale and longer exhale
E = Evaluate -      Ask, "Is the injury to soft tissue or bone?"
    Below are ways to diagnose a bone issue. If the injured person:
  • Is unwilling to move or bear weight on the injured body part
  • Is bleeding
  • Has suffered loss of  consciousness
  • Is experiencing sharp pain in a specific/bony spot
Then the injury is likely a bone issue (which should be immobilized/moved very little before traveling to get an xray).
C = Compression
     If there is a soft tissue injury, put the joint in neutral position and gently wrap with an elastic
     bandage. Use figure 8 diagonals for the wrap and do it snugly. (Just not so tight that the
     circulation is cut off . For instance, when wrapping an ankle, the toes shouldn't turn blue).
A = Able Actions
      If it is a soft tissue injury, slowly and carefully move the injured part to see what can be
     done pain-free. Repeat this after 1 minute even if pain-free range of motion is very small. These
     movements can help keep non-injured areas healthy. They also can also show if the injury is
     getting better (increase range of motion = better).
L = Lift / elevate
     Keep the body part elevated to limit swelling. This also helps the lymphatic system drain the
     injured area. Lie down if possible (ie - putting injured part up - on backpack, chair, or wall).
M= Minimal Ice
      Ice doesn't help the injury heal but it can help with pain. Find a balance between pain and ice use
      and follow the time rule for use of ice for pain:
          5 minutes maximum ice ON, 20 minutes OFF, 5 minutes maximum on
      (Also - menthol on the skin can help with pain and it starts with "M" too.)

At the end of the session with Rebecca we briefly discussed what we should have in our first aid kits (to replace those instant ice packs).
Here is the list we came up with: 

Elastic Bandages (at least 2)
     This can help keep swelling to the appropriate level.

 White Willow Bark Tincture
 This can be purchased at health food stores in their medicinal sections. Add the tincture to water.
This natural anti-inflammatory helps the body keep the swelling at an optimal level - not too much so that more injury occurs, but also not too little (which can interrupt the natural healing process in the body)

Menthol Tincture or Cream
The menthol can help with pain. Check in a natural foods store for skin cream/oil with menthol.

Notate range of motion just after injury and each hour/day afterwards. This can be shared later with a doctor/therapist to help diagnose injury. It can also help a dancer see improved results in a short time (thereby avoiding some stress/worry).

*Rebecca Dietzel is an anatomist and  biochemist. She received her Master of Science from Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition. She maintains private practices in New York City and Vermont teaching anatomy, physical re-educaiton and nutritional biochemistry. Rebecca is the nutrition consultant for Canada's National Ballet School, and co-author of A Dancer's Guide to Healthy Eating.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Notes on Skinner Releasing Technique (SRT) - Metaphor and Language

In 1992 I interviewed Joan Skinner in anticipation of the Masters Thesis I was going to need to create for my graduate degree at Teachers College. I knew that I wanted to create a thesis on integrating SRT with traditional Modern Dance but I had only just finished my first year of graduate classes and I wasn't yet sure what, exactly, the thesis would entail.

However,  I knew I didn't want to feed Joan questions to specific answers so much as get her to give details that weren't yet available in published form.The result was a rich, couple of hours with some rambling on both our parts. The interview is too long to publish by itself but I would like to share some of the richness here.

My main interest was  in getting Joan to discuss her use of language and metaphor in connection with the Eastern philosophy that SRT is rooted in. Here are some ideas she shared:

 As Joan was developing SRT she was working with dance students who were highly skilled but, often, poorly trained (they had anatomical habits that inhibited their dancing). She wanted to get them to let go of their kinesthetic habits and move in new ways. She had discovered that poetic metaphors helped students to let go of movement habits and allowed her to address change without the students being aware of it.

Thus the goals of Joan's classes were not obvious and the students weren't concentrating on doing things "right" - they were simply involved in letting go and in following the images as they moved (being "danced by the image").

 This process allowed everyone (students and teacher) to let go of judgement and labels and this helped all the egos to stay "out of the way".

When Joan gave an image and saw that it worked, she continued to hone that image until it brought about exactly what she wanted to see in her students' dancing. Gradually this became a codified technique - a pedagogy of metaphors.

 Joan was greatly influenced by Merce Cunningham and John Cage and she had hours of access to them because she danced in the Cunningham Company (think about the long talks that happen while traveling on tour). She learned a tremendous amount about Eastern philosophy from these two artists and she adopted these ideas into her technique. Specifically she adopted the idea of exploring ways she could get students to let go of their ego. When the ego gets out of the way, the whole self is freed for new experiences, including moving in new ways without tension so that there is maximum freedom to move.

 Students who study SRT may find that their class experience is completely intuitive - it doesn't feel the least bit scientific. However, when the images are examined closely, one finds that they are all rooted in allowing the body to find it's most anatomically sound movement habits.

The images are based on nature and can capture the imagination but they are, nonetheless, based on scientifically sound principles of alignment.

A basic principle in SRT is that we need far less force than we might think in order to achieve powerful movement. ("Less is more" is one of Joan's quotes that comes to mind here.)

Joan was an artist first and foremost and her classes have the hallmarks of a great performance - clear beginnings, developments and clear endings. Students find ways of "just being" in the purest performance sense and teachers "drop" images into the space much like a jazz musician might offer a musical line to fellow musicians. This is no accident and the more I study, teach and explore SRT, the deeper it gets.
There is no end to the reverberations.

Come join us for a few classes -
Mondays 7-9 PM
Beginning Monday, June 15 and running each Monday through July 6
Balance Arts Center
34 W. 28th St. (between 5tyh & 6th Avenues)
NYC, NY 10001
Full info:

Monday, March 9, 2015

New ways to explore in aerial class

I started taking photos during class last fall and it has helped me take my classes in new directions.

When I look at the photos a few days after taking them I notice what is (or is not) going on.

For instance in one class last fall I noticed that the dancers all had completely straight spines. Although a straight spine can be a sign of great technique, if the spine is always straight we limit our movement vocabulary.

I found some great solutions for this right away through Robert Davidson (so many gifts are shared through Skinner Releasing!) But then I began to try other things as well.

This week I left the spine out entirely and focused on spiraling the limbs. We tried it first on the floor, during partner graphics and our warm up, then with graphics in the trapeze and finally, with ascending and descending dances.

The pictures below show some amazing progress....

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fly-by-Night's Scholarship - more than skin deep

We have been offering our scholarship to dancers of color for many years now and it is an inherent part of the company's vision. It is particularly important to me this year given the feelings that have been aroused by events in Ferguson and, here in NYC, on Staten Island with Eric Garner.

Racism is real in our country and it seems to rise when minorities make progress (Obama as President, Sotomayer on the Supreme Court, changes in immigration law, etc.). The first time I posted our scholarship online I received an venomous, anonymous letter in the mail. The letter was both threatening and shocking - someone took the time to get our address and spit out hate with pen and paper. I don't think it would be quite so jolting to me now - it is what one should expect.

PHOTO at left:
2014 Scholarship student Ashley Brown "hanging out" in class.

Events in my life stand out that have helped me to see racism more clearly. One particularly vivid surprise hit me years ago in the process of selling my used car to an African-American colleague. My co-worker took a test drive with the car through the streets of Harlem, commenting along the way about how she liked the car. As traffic increased we waited a long while to merge back onto the highway. Finally, when another  African-American woman slowed and allowed us in, my colleague said to me, "Oh good, I'm wasn't sure she would let us in with you in the car."

Her comment hit me deeply. "Ouch," I thought, "It would never occur to me to think (yet alone say) such a thing if the situation was reversed." On later reflection I began to understand that it would never occur to me because as a white woman I only occasionally experience the world that way.

I've always been aware that people of color can be discriminated against when looking for jobs or housing but the subtle, day-to-day racism in social situations is equally as damaging for us all.

It takes conscious efforts from ALL of us to work past these feelings. It is great to see people of all types of backgrounds at a protest march but it isn't enough if we all go home to our segregated lives.

To combat racism we need to find more ways to be in the same room together, doing meaningful things on a regular basis.

Photo above: 2012 Scholarship recipients Shawn Fisher and T David

This is why our scholarship program matters. The classes we offer are based on improvisation, allowing everyone to add their individual creative, physical input. But we also do verbal reflections and this is vital - it is a place for us to listen to one another.

We don't have to discuss racism to bridge our divides - what we need are more ways of connecting to our similarities in deep, meaningful, and creative, ways.

Our classes are, for me, a weekly reminder of the fact that we are all members of the human race.

PHOTO LEFT: Dancer Patrice Fyffe came to our scholarship audition and continued her studies with the company for over a year. Although she didn't receive a scholarship (it was a competitive year), she was offered a $5/class rate and later took on a workstudy position for free classes.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reflections from Skinner Releasing Fall Workshop

Our series of Skinner Releasing classes here in Inwood has come to a close. It was a wonderful experience for me to be in the studio with so many uptown neighbors. Doing the Skinner work is always rejuvenating for me so a big THANK YOU! to those who were able to join in with us to experience our first uptown workshop.

Here are some of the wonderful, reflections made by participants:

Ho to the Heee...
 Aho. To the celebration that is me...
3, 4, 5, women dancing
Not too far from the trees
but safe, sequestered in our room
For gently bending knees
And traveling with permission
In and through and from and
to and around
This ship we call our body
To deep beneath the sea
To high up in the air
All guided by breath
in this Sunday morning celebration
of weeeee__________
         - Tara Mooney

Capricorn carpaccio
Cabbage camels corn
Moving like particulates
On the day they were born

Effortless imaginings
Could your toenails bite?
Or perhaps some tentacles
Could on your nose alight
                                                              Prefer to march along the sea?
                                                              Or into some little shop?
                                                              Once you prance at a panda's pace
                                                              You'll never want to stop.
                                                                                          - Laurie Newell

"My mind would come back to making sure my jaw was not clenched as it was in the first few classes – but today when I checked, my jaw was already relaxed.....
Then I noticed Tera did a dance as she bent toward the paper and pens, chose a pen, detached a sheet of paper. The paper dance....."
- Gretchen Mergenthaler

There was a wonderful article in The New York Times today about this type of effortlessness...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Free Classes again at Muscota New School

Yesterday was "Thank a Dance Teacher Day" but today I really want to thank a few behind-the-scenes people who have helped me to be a dance teacher here in Inwood.

This fall I am so happy to be back at Muscota New School for the FREE afterschool program on Monday afternoons. The Muscotas PA has made it all possible with exceptional help from Laura McCluskey, PA co-president. Thank you Laura for all your administrative help!

Another big thanks needs to go out to one of the best neighbors Inwood could ask for - Margaret Peeler. It was Margaret who first contacted me about doing an after school program at Muscota and got the ball rolling with me.

I'm thinking of Margaret because one 5th grade student said to me, "I've had you for dance my whole life." (She has been in the program every year). What a wonderful legacy - the gift of a free dance class for a student in a public school.

So hats off to all those who help make the dance classes happen!

all photos below by from 2012 program

left: students creating shapes with space in them

Discussion of what students saw when watching one another.

A solo "goodbye dance".