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
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