- The Method
- Practitioners/Classes and Events
- The Profession
By Tammy Rosen
I was in a rut as a dance teacher. It had been a year or two since I’d been to New York to soak up the latest moves and even those trips were getting to be too predictable. I always took class with the same favorite teachers at the same favorite studio… I even ate at the same favorite restaurants while I was there! I wanted to learn something new that I could offer my students. I was craving growth of some sort.
A couple of dancers in my Pilates class mentioned the Feldenkrais Method® as something valuable for dancers so I went home and Googled “dance” and “Feldenkrais.” I came across “Intelligent, Injury-Free Dance Intensive”, a six-day workshop focused on injury prevention for dancers, dance teachers and health professionals working with dancers. It was only a month away, so at first I dismissed it as impossible to swing that year. It just seemed like too much to wrap my head around—the expense, the logistics, not to mention the fact that I was trying to get pregnant and that requires that I at least be in the same state as my husband. But I kept chewing on it, and started to ask myself “why not?” I called to see if there was still room in the workshop and found out there was. I talked to my husband and he agreed to come along and make a vacation out of it and I discovered I could apply for a travel grant from my local arts council to defray some of the cost. Four weeks later I was in a big beautiful studio in Taos, New Mexico.
I had no idea what to expect. We began immediately with a Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® lesson, in which Prisca Winslow Bradley, a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm and the facilitator of the workshop, led us through a series of small movements that resulted in a greater sense of ease or mobility. These continued for the first three days. Still, I didn’t understand how it connected to dance or when I was going to learn how to prevent injury in my students. Most everyone in the workshop had some experience with Feldenkrais Method and they kept asking me what I thought. “I like it. But I don’t get it,” was my reply, to which they would smile knowingly. It seems that the Feldenkrais Method is designed to allow for self-discovery rather than have anyone spoon-feed you a lesson that can be readily brought home and applied to class. I later learned that the major lessons are embedded in the methodology—to look for more pleasure in my movements, to reduce my level of effort and to listen to my own body for answers, rather than looking to an outside authority. During the latter half of the workshop things began to unfold for me. We spent time looking at a skeleton and discussing some of the things that dance teachers demand that are anatomically impossible (such as asking students to arch the upper spine). We learned how to teach turnout in a way that is functional and preserves alignment.
It turns out that Winslow Bradley was injured early in her career as a ballet dancer in New York and spent four years trying to rehabilitate chronic ankle and back pain. When she discovered the Feldenkrais Method she made a quick and remarkable turnaround in her ability to continue to enjoy a professional career in dance as a performer, choreographer and teacher. She eventually trained to become a Feldenkrais Practitioner and is passionate about educating dance teachers so that they do not unwittingly train their students in a way that could create instability, strain or injury.
During the workshop, we watched videos of dancers and looked at photographs in dance magazines to generate fodder for discussion of alignment and functionality. People in the workshop asked a lot of questions about their own injuries or strains and I found my understanding of body mechanics actually simplified. Flexibility happens when our spines are longest, when our pelvises are not tipped forward or back or twisted to the side, when our movements are unencumbered by what Moshe Feldenkrais called “parasitic” muscular contractions. It was really elegantly simple.
I scheduled an optional private hands-on session with Winslow Bradley for a Functional Integration® lesson. Like many dancers, I am a body-work junkie. You name it, I’ve tried it—chiropractic, Rolfing, shiatsu, acupuncture, reflexology, massage, craniosacral, etc. I found this session to be quite different from anything I’d experienced before. I told her I had a nagging shoulder problem and she took my hand and made tiny movements with my forearm. Her touch was very subtle, like craniosacral, except she was clearly working with my bones. I lay on her table and she continued with the little movements of my skeleton. The sun was streaming through the big studio windows and with my attention focused on listening to the subtle movements, I drifted off into a hypnotic state. I found an hour had disappeared in what seemed like fifteen minutes when she had me sit up and notice a new relationship of my arm to my ribcage. Remembering the intense effort involved in a Rolfing session, I was stunned at what major shifts in my alignment she was able to make with such seemingly little effort. The shoulder problem completely disappeared in just one session and later I was able to rehabilitate an old hamstring injury myself with just a few movements that she suggested.
By the sixth and final day I found myself quite changed. My body was feeling more flexible with more room to breathe. I felt deeply relaxed. I returned home bubbling over with enthusiasm for what I’d learned, eager to start to weave it into my teaching. I wrote my final report for the grant funding I’d received and had a chance to reflect on the benefits I derived. I found that I wanted to teach in a way that would allow my students to discover their alignment and body mechanics, the way that Awareness Through Movement lessons did. I didn’t want to be that outside authority that comes up behind them and pokes and prods various body parts until I see a position that my eye finds to be “correct alignment.” I wanted to be more of an authority of my own mechanics and to help others to find that for themselves too.
When I taught my first class after returning, I was thrilled to see that by allowing the students to explore and discover movement on their own they learned spontaneously. Every student attacked the final combination in a way I had only hoped for in the past. What an amazing shift! I set my intention to make the workshop an annual event in my life to continue my professional development. After attending the workshop a second time I decided to enter a Feldenkrais training program myself.
On a side note, it wasn’t long before I discovered that it wasn’t the high altitude in Taos that had made me feel at times queasy during the workshop—I was finally pregnant!
Tammy Rosen, Director