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Dancing from the Inside Out

By Barbara Forbes

Opening night. The Joffrey Ballet is performing at the San Francisco Opera House, and I am to teach company class. However, my upper back has “gone out.” I am hunched over, breathing is difficult and I can barely turn my head. I anticipate an old familiar pattern: three days of painful, restricted movement, and another three or four days for the spasm to gradually ease. I am sitting gloomily in the green room backstage when I glance up at the bulletin board, and notice a flyer. “Chronic Back Pain?” it reads. There’s a phone number, so I call. Alice Brydges comes to watch me struggle through class, then we retire to my dressing room, where I lie down on the floor. Alice verbally guides me through various small, gentle movements for about an hour. When I stand, I am breathing more easily and can hold my head up again. The Feldenkrais Method® in action!

I was intrigued. I had felt lacking in inspiration both personally and professionally—unable to hold my head up, so to speak. So when I returned home to New York I began taking Marcy Lindheimer’s ATM lessons regularly. Gradually, my awareness of having 24 individual ribs available for movement rather than one rib “cage” (a completely new sensation after years of holding ballet’s rigidly erect spine), released the holding pattern in my chest which had contributed to my recurring back spasms. Moreover, I realized that the lessons were changing not only my way of moving, but my way of being. Instead of striving to achieve a goal of perfection, I began enjoying the process of exploration towards that goal. Instead of judging myself, I became content observing what I was doing.

Surprisingly, awareness itself facilitated changes which in turn increased my sense of possibility, potential. When I realized I was also becoming less rigid in my interaction with other people, I knew this was the path I had been seeking. I applied to join the Professional Training about to begin. I had no idea if I would ever practice the Feldenkrais Method.

Now, six years later, I teach at The Feldenkrais® Learning Center in Manhattan. I also teach at Sarah Lawrence College, where I encourage my students to explore dancing from the inside out; to work towards the aesthetic form of classical ballet while developing an easier, more integrated way of moving; to improve their technique while exploring their creative potential for movement and for life.

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