Experiences of a Tutor of the Feldenkrais Method at the ImPulsTanz – Vienna International Dance Festival,
by Claudia Mader
Lie on your backs, please. Sooner or later, but certainly quite at the beginning of each workshop I utter this invitation. And again I notice the advantages of Studio 4 in the Arsenal. I relish the quietness and coolness. The hullaballoo is farther away here than in the studios facing the courtyard or along the aisle. That is good. It is an intimate atmosphere. It promotes encounters with oneself because it lacks the latent demand for presentation. I like this contrast: Creating an oasis of calm in a tumultuous place like this. Actually, that's a quality of the whole festival. Everywhere and always there's something going on, there is a wide range of offers, but every single course invites one to concentrate and pay attention.
My teaching has three main aspects:In the first place, there are curiosity and a craving for development. Where willl it lead if I reduce exertion and make such subtle movements that I perceptibly integrate gravity? This means that I perceive everything differently, and consequently also act different. The image which I create of myself and my actions becomes modified. Other questions and other solutions arise. Foreground and background are getting re-ordered. Do you lie on your back or on the floor?
More in the background, but on a very broad scale is a necessity which many carry around. The issue is building up a new treatment of oneself which prevents pain and signs of wear as much as possible and offers a tool for rehabilitation.
More pointed the third aspect: The improvement of the performance, meanwhile a term in general use for any kind of a person's demeanour. For professional dancers this naturally includes the stage performance.
Of course, these three aspects can only be held apart theoretically. During the workshop, they constantly intermingle.
The participants, too, are a mixed bunch every year. What they have in common is their joy in movement as an approach to themselves. Every year, some of them eulogise on these classes where one nearly falls asleep but experiences and learns so much. Some interrogate me about the method and the training for Feldenkrais Practitioner. Others say that while Feldenkrais has a good effect on them they can't find the quiet during the festival to arrive so deep within themselves. Some have newly or again detected Feldenkrais and want to integrate it into their training from now on. One or the other of the choreographers and dancers performing at the festival com and ask whether they can lie in to regenerate after their performance.
The experience from the last years with Open Level shows to me that an important skill of the Feldenkrais teacher is building up and teaching their lessons so that each unit makes for a rounded-off learning process, and that the course also presents a well-formed entity.
If you perceive anything in your movement that makes you pause then: Hang out there; a recommendation of the Feldenkrais Trainer Carl Ginsburg as an element of organic learning and teaching. This also means finding a respectful approach to not-yet-being-able-to. In the course of my lessons, many participants tell me how exhausted they sometimes feel or what pains and injuries they have. They tell about achievement pressure, nervousness and fears which have accompanied them for long. Feldenkrais lessons allow one to be aware of such things without pushing them away or overriding them. Often this is followed by a new state of being. Many feel relieved, liberated, redeemed, ready for something new.
Hang out there – being present up there in the Arsenal, seemingly inactive, and dawdling through classes as an observer or staying long in a single class, is part of my teaching practice at ImPulsTanz, like it is part of their learning for many students. Up there it is possible to watch and compare, talk with others or simply listen to what opinions are forming around one.
Then to return to the studio and, like I said: Lie on your backs please. Here you can discard all your opinions, attitudes, the entirety of contemporary dance and the festival istelf, and follow this simple question: How is your contact with the floor? Make small movements. Do less. Reduce your effort. Can you sense how you do what you do while you do it? Again and again I repeat those sentences. They are my most important instrument. Many are amazed who so little movement can feel so big and result in such clear changes and improvements. Feldenkrais works because it is functional. The exploration of movement sequences is playful yet follows a thread and orients on exactness and efficiency.
And at the end of each lesson. Find a way to standing and observe how you feel in standing. Is there any difference? When I was working as a model at the University of Applied Arts, a tutor once said something like the following to the students: "Actually one would have to be shocked when one sees a model. That's a human being standing there, we just take it as a matter of course, but if we're really able to grasp the liveliness then it's mind-boggling." That is my privilege as Feldenkrais teacher, too. I see human beings standing there who are present in themselves. I'm not shocked but again and again I am amazed and moved by this moment where I see so much of value: Grace, honesty, stability, strength, tenderness and readiness.
There are performances where I get a similar feeling as an observer when I see the performers. That is not an easy state, for as soon as conscious control and self-censure enter the game it's over, and the whole thing becomes profane and brittle. There is nothing one can attain and hold fast. One can only school oneself in this by e.g. practising Feldenkrais.
More and more often, choreographers employ a Feldenkrais coach during the development of a piece. This has an effect on the dancers' warm-up and what movement qualities they develop. Topmost is being aware of oneself and the others, as well as a more discerning handling of movement and presence in space and time. But it also influences the content, the message of the performances. When I'm working as a coach in projects, I notice how things brim over, are taken up as proposals and woven into the artistic process.
Feldenkrais enables one to work with more complex images and notions. E.g., "De Monstruos y prodigios" of the Mexican group Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes is a baroque, wild piece about the life of castrati singers. But it only develops its special charm when the frailty of the individual is allowed to glimmer through this wildness. That's a great challenge for the performers in each performance, and it becomes easier when I work on it for a while together with them in the warm-up before the performance.
The workshop can be an incentive to investigate this method more closely if you get to like it. There always are further co-operations after the ImPulsTanz workshops. Last year, it was an extra lesson for danceWeb. Many students take private lessons in order to get acquainted with the other way of teaching Feldenkrais, Functional Integration. In 2003 and 2004, encounters with the participants of the "Bocal" project by Boris Charmatz & Association Edna gave me lots of suggestions concerning teaching, education and mediation. Contemporary dance has many facets and provides space for further discoveries with the Feldenkrais method.
(first published, July 6, 2008, http://www.corpusweb)