Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What is Listening?

We recently finished our spring workshop in trapeze dance. There was an amazing combination of folks who attended and many of the lessons found the sweet spot of deep listening. This experience got me thinking about my main goal as facilitator in these classes and it made me realize that the one, true goal I have for teaching is simply to experience a profound sense of listening. Let me try to define what I mean by the term "listening"....

In all somatic techniques there are exercises that guide us towards listening to our own bodies. When I explored the Feldenkrais method I remember discovering what it is to allow my nervous system a break and for brief periods (sometimes merely a few seconds) I had to train myself to do "nothing". I learned to recognize the layers of letting go that can happen in the muscles. This type of exercise deepened my ability to listen to my own body and to discover waiting on a neuromuscular level.  In my studies of The Skinner Releasing technique this "nothingness" is essential and it includes waiting for images to completely take over to such an extent that they cause me to move/dance through the image. Since an image on any given day may, or may not, move me, I had to learn to both listen and to wait (sometimes for long periods of time) for the image to take root in my whole self. This waiting is profound and philosophical - it is a form of meditation.

By applying the Skinner principles to work with aerial apparatus I found that the listening ability went beyond the body. When a dancer allows herself to be moved by an image while dancing with an apparatus she is able to move more freely and often finds herself doing moves that she would otherwise be afraid to do. The dancer with the strongest ability to connect to the releasing images is able to improve at a faster rate than the dancer who is weaker with the imagery work.

Still, the exercises I've mentioned are about listening to oneself. In the Skinner Releasing Technique Joan Skinner taught that this listening goes beyond the self; that listening and waiting allows one to merge with the forces of the universe. The first time I heard  this it seemed rather heady ( and like far too much for a dance technique to claim).

However, through repeated experiences as student and teacher I have found that the ability to listen within has proven to be the key to "hearing" the world around me. Thus, not only do students improvise better with an apparatus when they are listening to their own body in a deep way, they also tend to improvise better with other dancers.

All of these listening layers take incredible mental focus. The process also requires a leap of faith that one will be able to stay safe/keep track of multiple stimuli while dancing. Having taken that leap the dancer also needs to notice when the meditational imagery has fled and been replaced by the ego. Once the ego takes over and a dancer begins to "drive" the dance, the listening safety net is gone. That is when dancers begin to manipulate their partners and the apparatus as a separate entity (in Joan Skinner's world the dancer is no longer connected to the forces of the universe). This creates a disconnect between dancers.

Short story longer...
Listening to oneself can also be listening to the world around oneself.
And who doesn't enjoy the sense of being heard? The dancers who listen most often are coveted partners.

From now on when people ask me what I teach I will say "listening".

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