Friday, 8 November 2013

How to Let Go

I often get stuck during choreography, as I start to over-think the movement and get too caught up in trying to make something work.  Sometimes it's good just to set a few rules, then let go and improvise.
I was flicking through my workshop notes and musing about some choreography (like I do), pondering intent, order, chance, improvisation and mindfulness.  I found my notes from a dance/movement workshop I attended in the middle of nowhere near Llandysul last summer.  Not belly dance (for once) and not just any old workshop either.  I had the great privilege to attend a small workshop on Skinner Releasing Technique (SRT), given by Robert Davidson, one of the seminal teachers of the technique.

I had previously come across a mention of SRT when I was doing some reading into kinaesthetics. It is an approach to dance and movement training developed by Joan Skinner in the early 1960s. The following extract is a very good description from the Skinner Releasing website:

"Skinner Releasing Technique™ is a gentle but powerful system of movement training that encourages a deepened sensory and imaginative awareness of the body. Through its use of improvisatory movement, guided by visualised imagery, music and touch, it also awakens creativity and imagination. SRT teaches the fundamental physical skills and awareness that underlie almost any style of movement and dance.
We're all born dancers, with innate coordination and animal-like grace. As time goes by, we tend to lose touch with this natural ease. Muscles tense unnecessarily, and our alignment goes askew. The Skinner Releasing Technique™ (SRT) lets us practise letting go: letting go of stress, letting go of unnecessary holding in our body, letting go of preconceptions about what is supposed to happen, letting go of fear of awkwardness, letting go of the belief that we don't have the right body for dancing. We let go of habitual holding patterns and habitual ways of thinking in order to let something new happen. Eventually, we find energy and power. We rediscover our natural alignment, improve strength and flexibility, and awaken creativity and spontaneity."

Oh, so true!  I hadn't realised it, but the more my knees and feet hurt, the more I was holding myself, tensely ready to adapt or stop movements when it was painful.  Trying to dance with all that tension wasn't working in terms of avoiding pain; all it was doing was reducing flow and freedom of movement.

We worked with awareness of different body parts and qualities of movement such as sponginess, skating or gliding, leading movement from different parts of the body by imagining puppet strings attached to the head, elbow, wrist, hips and melting down to the floor and up again.  I found that I had let my tension build to the point where I could scarcely relax and release my shoulders and arms on demand! I discovered that if I let go of the tension and used a wall or corner for support, I could flow and melt down onto the floor without hurting myself or my knees.

It came as a shock to realise that it had been 20 years since I did any contemporary contact-style improvisation. I don't remember enjoying it as much as I did during the workshop.  I think I used to be too preoccupied with trying to get it right and create something.  It was still about me, and the revelation, the 'light bulb moment' from this workshop was: it's not about you.

As far as my belly dance is concerned, I've realised that there needs to be an element of release in the movements, as tensing and grabbing for a move often reduces isolation and flowing transitions from one move to the next.  When improvising, it's important not to try to think too hard about what to do next. It's not about you, it's about the music, so let that lead you. The heightened awareness of body and mindfulness in movement can result in self-consciousness and doubts as the inner voice emerges. You have to let go of all the self-talk and just explore your body's movement, and enjoy!

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