Movement Exploration – Dance & Embodiment

Dance improvisation has always been one of my biggest fears since I restarted my dance practice as an adult, which was due mainly to the preconditions I had in my head in relation to dance. I remember joining five rhythms inspired free-dance class about six years ago, where people just floated around without any guidance for an hour. At that time, it was the most terrifying experience I ever had in dance, as I was filled with feelings of inadequacy, and feelings of boredom towards my own movement. This anxiety shifted completely once I started to become more familiar with dance improvisation cues and since I understood that all movement was ok. I took on the practice of shaking, joined some movement improvisation classes online, and started attending ecstatic dance parties where I witnessed all the amazing ways in which people could move. Most of these people never had professional dance training, and still, most of them seemed to enjoy their practice.

I wondered, however, if a regular guided movement research practice could enhance the experience of free-form dance, in what ways, and why? How would such a practice change or enhance the ways people feel about their movement, their bodies, and their relation to themselves? Could guided movement exploration become a tool for self-development? How does music influence the way free movement evolves? To research this topic in practice I joined weekly movement research classes through the ZeroPlus dance training program with Viki Matisz and Gaga movement classes online with Rachael Osborne. I base my theoretical framework on a thesis written by Morgan Bernat Climb into your skin: A Look at Personal Intimacy in Gaga Practice and Performance.

  1. Movement Improvisation Toes and Balance

These are some notes I took following the practical workshop at ZeroPlus. The movement explorations as seen in the videos were inspired by the class, the first one is an extract, while the second video is a guided movement exploration video.

Start with massaging your feet, turning each toe out to open the space between the toes. Stand up after working on the first foot, and sense the difference. There is a big difference, as the one that you worked on will be more stable and grounded. Repeat the process with the second foot, then roll up to standing and notice how both are now grounded and ready to dance. Place your weight on the right inside of your sole, then left inside of each sole. Bend your knees, start changing weight from one leg to another, rock side to side, rock back and forth, change height and levels by pushing into and away from the floor. Explore circles, shapes of eight with your hips initiated by the movement of the feet. Lead from the feet. Allow the arms to join the movement, explore circles, spirals, eights, move faster, then slower. How does the movement feel standing in a wider position? Allow your shoulders and shoulder blades to join in the dance. Bring weight on one foot only and allow the other foot to come off the ground, explore space with the foot that is free. Become like an amoeba floating around in a thick liquid. Allow your arms to help you with balancing, it’s ok to fall, find the ground and then use your foot to press up again. Step out to the side, then to the front, feel the ground with your toes, groove to the music. See what happens to the rest of the body, you can bounce or change levels, press the foot against the ground to come up higher. Explore leading with the toes, with the head, with the elbow, with the tailbone. Change space on tiptoes, walk as if on a slackline
allow to fall, step out, move, push back.

2. Movement improvisation – Waves and Spirals

These are some notes I took following the practical workshop at ZeroPlus. The movement explorations as seen in the videos were inspired by the class, the first one is an extract, while the second video is a guided movement exploration video.

Starting on the floor, feel the weight of your hips, find freedom in the limbs by engaging from the core. Wave arms laterally on the floor, reach with toes and arms away from the centre, swing side to side, lead with the head, see what happens, where does it take you? Lead with the hips, is it different? Find a way to spiral up leading with the head. Continue in a seated position leading waves with your body, with your head, with your shoulders. Explore waves, circles and spirals with your hands, find different ways, leading with the elbows, with the fingers, with the elbows, or even starting the movement from the shoulder. Find ways to change your position through the waves and spirals. Can waves and spirals help you find easier ways to change levels or come up to standing? Create waves in space leading with the head, come in and out from the floor, lead waves with your chest, forward, back, side to side. Add arms, create waves with the elbows, your hands, add the wrists, add ripples. Find juiciness in the hips, find depth, find ease, find ripples. Can hips initiate the change in levels? Alternate leading once with the hips, head, chest, arms, hips again, and so on. Add isolation, stop the waves, make them bigger, make them smaller, allow the waves and spirals to take you across the space. How do you stop a hip wave and turn it back? How do you stop an arm wave and turn it back?
How do you stop a chest wave and turn it back? Try now leading mostly with the hips!

Potential for further explorations: Add one sudden move to your wave, then add two consecutive moves to your wave, then three, and form a rhythm. Accentuate one of the moves. Change directions. Which corner of the room haven’t you been to yet? 

My personal experience in a live guided movement exploration class

I took part in a total of eight classes with Viki Matisz at ZeroPlusz, and each session was an extraordinary experience. Each was different focusing on a different topic, on a different area of the body, or on a different approach to movement. I remember however one class that was most difficult, which was about the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, and moving or not moving accordingly.  I did not have enough background information on the topic thus I was never sure whether I was allowed to move or I should just focus on sensing. I realised during these lessons, that for me, not moving was difficult, as I always had the urge to move when improvising. Looking back at my practice and the video recordings, however, sometimes the most interesting actions come from a place of stillness. Thus for, me, not moving, and being still more often would be an advice to consider. This discovery was also important because it highlighted my continuous urge to please and perform thus satisfying my inner critic that never lets me rest. The few times I opened my eyes I noticed that some people were just sitting or being still, and that was ok. I also understood the importance of starting movement exploration lying on the ground. Relaxing the muscles, releasing into the floor, bringing more awareness to gravity and to my center while lying on the floor gave me a sense of security. Being guided in the exploration from time to time gave me direction and kept my mind in class and on the movement. Even though I did not always fully understand instructions, it helped keep my presence and built a sense of trust. The different stages of the movement exploration were built up gradually, whereas different qualities and movement accumulated by the end of the class-leading us the movers into full extasy.  


Work in progress…


‘Embodiment is a concept pertaining to lived-body and phenomenal experience that is crucial to better understanding what it subjectively means to be human. In addition, it can be described as a continuum, requiring at least part of human awareness to be grounded in the internal subjective sensations of lived-body experience, from little awareness at one end to considerable awareness at the other. Also, a subjective sense of the lived-body experience may be more grounded, for example, in a kinaesthetic awareness of some muscles, bones or organs rather than others. The extent to which one is grounded in the lived-body experience affects one’s perceptions, understandings and sense of relatedness to the world.’

Without movement, there is no life. Dance is the only art form based on the body and body movement. In fact, ‘Movement is the medium in which we live our lives’ was espoused by Marian Chace, one of the most influential dance/movement therapy pioneers (Chace et al., 1961).

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