The restrictions of movement and patterns of habit many young dancers feel are all part of the human condition - the same condition those of us with chronic aches and pains all face: overly contracted back muscles in a "green light reflex," or a "trauma reflex" that hikes one hip up causing more effort and work to find balance. Dancers just happen to have a bigger stake in the game, a more pressing reason to find a way out and to regain muscle function. Their livelihood might depend on it.
I teach Somatic Movement for Contemporary dance to the BFA students of Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. It’s a lovely treat to work and teach a group of students who share a common language and understanding with each other, and with me. I know the rigors of training they face every day; I lived it many years ago as a professional modern dancer with the Trisha Brown Company. These dancers are hungry for more learning, and ready to be guided into their own somatic awareness. They arrive open to new learning.
Eyes closed, moving slowly, sensing and feeling come fairly easily to them. I watch as they regain muscle function they had no idea was temporarily lost. They drop into their weight and awareness of what touches the floor. The experience brings a small grin to their faces. When questions and confusion float up to their consciousness, I see a wrinkle of the brow. The questions are forming. I guide them to notice what they feel and to state it…sometimes out loud. Others agree and confirm the same awareness.
These young dancers spend much of their day “doing,” so the permission to ease off and focus on exploration and awareness is a welcome change in their training. Once they come to their feet, they notice feeling different on their legs. Standing grounded in their own sense of neutral, equally weighted. The back pain and leg strain they walked in with is a shadow of past awareness. They think the dramatic changes they feel are magic. It's not magic; it's "somatic." I remind them of the concepts and tenants of Thomas Hanna’s work, the neuroscience and all that is possible for them going forward whether as professional dancers, future dancer teachers or all of the above.
Many of my students already teach others. They have a unique perspective as students of Dance and Somatic Movement. We discuss the responsibility they have to themselves and their students to sift through the conflicting information about muscle function, efficiency of movement and full body function. A somatic perspective is a profound awareness of one's own physical experience and is with this awareness and knowledge of our selves that we experience the world of Dance, life and art.
Gena Rho-Smith of Emergesomatics is a certified Clinical Somatic Educator in the tradition of Thomas Hanna. She owns a small studio, The Somatics Loft, in Maplewood, NJ. Her practice is in both Maplewood and NYC where she see clients privately and teaches Somatic Movement, yoga, workshops and classes. She is a co-adjunct professor at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
Gena has been practicing and teaching yoga since 1998. Prior to her yoga practice, she had a career as a modern dancer, performing and teaching internationally as a member of the Trisha Brown Company. She has an MFA in Dance from NYU TISCH School of the Arts.