The Somatics Infusion
By Nancy Wozny
More teachers are blending awareness principles with technique.
Somatics is a fluid movement science. It’s in a constant state of growth and assimilation into the dance field, whether it’s used as fuel for improvisation or as principles of awareness in dance training. Integrating somatics into the technique class can take many forms, from a shift in language cues to using more novel routes to discovery.
A dance class needs to keep moving, so the somatics’ super-slow pace with frequent rests can be at odds with the structure of most classes. But there’s no need to get the mat out, since there are plenty of body/mind ideas that work well without inducing a soma coma.
Somatic practitioners specialize in asking questions. It’s a trial-and-error process to infuse dance class with the soma savvy it takes to keep dancers moving with their whole selves. Dance Magazine spoke with two Alexander Technique and three Feldenkrais Method practitioners, all of whom teach technique in addition to their regular Feldenkrais and Alexander classes.
Alexander in Motion
The question of whether the Alexander Technique is best experienced separately or in a dance class has been on Rebecca Nettl-Fiol’s and Luc Vanier’s minds. So much so that they co-wrote Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the Missing Link, a guide that provides a clear blueprint to integrate Alexander principles into a dance or movement/somatics class.
Nettl-Fiol teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a virtual somatic mecca, and Vanier teaches at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. Both trained with Joan and Alex Murray, who integrated the Dart procedures into the Alexander Technique, giving it a strong developmental foundation (as in child development). “We can weave in the ‘primary’ forward curve of the back and the ‘secondary’ arching curve, keeping the focus on dancing,” says Nettl-Fiol. She finds her graduate students are well-versed in somatic principles, while the material is new for many undergrads.
Nettl-Fiol also teaches an Alexander-and-dance class, where she is able to go deep into exercises that embody the primary and secondary curve concepts. Students also have access to private lessons, which reinforce material covered in class. Starting this year, all freshmen take an introduction to somatics course that includes approximately two weeks each of such techniques as Alexander, Feldenkrais, Body-Mind Centering, Ideokinesis, Skinner Releasing Technique, and Bartenieff Fundamentals.
Building stillness into a combination can be a way to experience “inhibition,” the Alexander principal that allows one to simply stop and think before going into autopilot. “They are always so eager to go, so I will have them not move on count one,” says Nettl-Fiol. She finds that a simple pause can disarm overly ambitious readiness, leading to a fresher, more conscious approach to movement.
Vanier says he thought he would need to leave the ballet world when he started his Alexander training. The Murrays’ focus on the body in motion brought him deeper into his past as a ballet dancer. “It was a big revelation how well ballet and Alexander principles work together,” says Vanier. He sees ballet as a conversation between two spirals that, when activated, create a sense of ease. “There is so much in ballet that is based on the spiral, or épaulement, which creates an oppositional tension that is freeing.”
Luc Vanier sees ballet as a ”conversation between two spirals”; Above right: Rebecca Nettl-Fiol builds stillness into a combination. Photos by Natalie Nettl-Fiol, Courtesy Vanier and Nettl-Fiol.
Corrections take a different form as well. “Instead of doing something else, it’s more about stopping something, rather than adding something,” Vanier says. “Dancers are used to always doing. Old corrections, dogma, worries, and fears have a tendency to hang around in a dance class. The Alexander Technique can bring a student back in contact with their capacity to reason out what is going on. Sometimes, all you need to do is allow a dancer to ask themselves ‘What is going on?’ for them to wait for results (inhibit) and be curious (direct) in the activity, for the problem to go away by itself.”