“I am a dancer.” There – I said it!

 

Dancing where no one could see me . . . until now!

I am a dancer.

It only took me about forty years to realize that!  Yet, when I think about it, it’s always been the case.

Since early childhood, I have loved to move in response to sound (including the sound of silence).  Yet, because I never had formal training, and because when I would explore movement deliberately in a way that my body enjoyed, it never matched the forms I saw around me that were called dance, I was always sure that what I did was in some other category, something that “didn’t count.”

I have now been working with the Feldenkrais Method for five years.  This work has re-awakened the sensations of pure joy in movement that I experienced as a young person through soccer, skiing, running and, yes, through the years, “dancing.”

I have often told people that I was “raised atheist.”  Not only did I not go to church, but I grew up skeptical of anyone who did.  But, as confident as I once was that my family’s “scientific” understanding of the world was the right one, something was missing, something today I might call “spirituality.”

And somehow I knew it.  My solution was to tell myself: “music is my religion.”

One of my first religious practices was to turn off all the lights in my room, turn the music all the way up, close my eyes – and dance.  Sometimes I danced so wildly that I even crashed into things.  One of my favorite teenage “prayers” was the instrumental track “Any Colour You Like,” from Pink Floyd’s classic album, Dark Side of the Moon.

Ten and twenty years later, I still loved to move freely to music of every imaginable variety in the privacy of my home, but I rarely allowed myself to do so in public where others could see me.

Yet, slowly I realized what it meant that the music moved me.  Coordinating body movements with the rhythms and textures I heard made me feel more in tune with the sound and brought a freer feeling in my body.  While still refraining from identifying as a dancer, I shared with musician and dancer friends an idea I had that had grown into a strong conviction.

“I think that dancing is the highest form of listening,” I would say.

But, although I took an introduction to dance course in college and was invited into creative movement experiences on various occasions over the years, my creative path instead became defined as a musician, composer and improviser.  I played the stand-up bass, wrote music for small and large ensembles, and experimented with my voice, learning to throat sing, beatbox and experimenting with speaking in tongues.  Eventually, I even invented my own imaginary language, Beeayboll, to recreate the musical pleasure I always derived from hearing foreigners speak a language that I couldn’t understand.

But later twists and turns in life, including a transformative trip to socialist Cuba, led me to drop my active involvement in music and become a social activist.  During this period, I worked for nearly a decade in meat production facilities in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.  I learned to speak Spanish in factories where I was often the only English speaker.  After work I marched against police brutality and deportations, for a woman’s right to choose, and in solidarity with workers on strike, among many other things.

I was no longer a performer, but music continued to live in my body.  And as I worked with my hands, standing on my feet for eight hours (or more) per day, I began to rely more and more on rhythmic, musical movement to get me through the boredom of unvarying repetitive tasks.

I can remember some nights, working third shift in a provisioning house in NorthEast DC, cutting up bones on an electric band saw, jacked up on coffee and absolutely in the zone: generators whirring, my co-workers laughing, cursing, and singing in three different languages, and my fascination with the sequence of sounds and bodily movements involved in my job as I worked hour after hour with hundreds of pounds of product.  Sometimes I smuggled a microphone into work to try to capture the experience, but the recordings were never the same as my direct bodily experience.

(But a couple times I even smuggled in a camera – yes, that’s me!  Maybe this gives you some idea of the world of sound and movement I used to live in . . . and, sorry vegetarians!!)

But eventually, my factory experience would also run its course.  Among other things, I was destroying my right shoulder, so I quit that line of work in order to move on to . . .

. . . something . .  I wasn’t sure what!

Yeah, for a while there, I was a “lost soul.”

Eventually, I would find the Feldenkrais Method, the path I have followed until today, the discovery that began to weave together the disparate threads of my previous lives.  That discovery was the result of a search that began with a very simple idea: that improving my life had something to do with improving my health.

In my final factory years, I began running regularly.  But instead of thinking of this activity as  “exercise” (which bored me to no end), I saw running as a laboratory where I could conduct musical experiments with my body.  I used to count all kinds of different numerical patterns as I ran, using the asymmetrical durations to synchronize my breath  to the rhythm of my feet on the ground in non-habitual ways.  As time went on, I began to  compose mental melodies that matched the number patterns in order keep track of the durations when I got sick of counting. This produced a new series of experiments where, for example, I got curious about differences in sensations that I felt when moving in relation to a high pitch vs. a low one.

(At one point, I described these experiments in detail in a lengthy three-part series of blog posts on a previous site.  If you want to slog through it, please – be my guest: Part one  . . . Part two . . . Part three )

Later, when I began to work with the Method, lying on the floor to do Awareness Through Movement lessons and doing hands on Functional Integration sessions with clients lying on my table, I understood everything I was doing in similarly musical terms.  The sequences of movement explorations reminded me of musical compositions, and as I studied the experience of my internal sensations, I was always aware of bodily rhythms and a sense of whether or not I was in harmony with my movement or the person I was connecting with.

Today, I work with people from many walks of life, but it gives me special satisfaction whenever I can show someone that movement can be an expression of creativity.

And, regardless of whether one identifies as an “artist” or not, I believe that each one of us is naturally creative.

There was a time in childhood for each of us when walking and dancing were not so different than each other.  Revisiting that sense of ourselves in a playful way as adults can often provide the key to unlocking rusty joints and routine patterns of thinking that limit our lives unnecessarily.  And this is one of the central ideas of the Feldenkrais Method.

In the past year, I have become increasingly clear with myself about this focus of my practice.  This is why it also makes more sense to me today to recognize my own joy in moving creatively and openly share it with others.

In the DC area, three wonderful safe spaces I have discovered where I can express myself this way are the Five Rhythms events led by Ann Kite, Ecstatic Dance led by Atticus Mooney, as well as the DC Contact Improv Jam, led by Ken Manheimer. (If you are a reader outside of DC, you can likely find something similar in your area by searching under these same titles).

The basic rules of most of these events are: no alcohol, no shoes and no talking on the dance floor.  And, so long as you respect the right of everyone else to do the same, there are no rules – and no judgement – about how you “should” move.

So, If you feel a creative energy inside that you haven’t given the full opportunity to bring to life, I’d like to encourage you to come out to one of these events and see what happens . . .  

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If you want to experience how the Feldenkrais Method could help you deepen your experience of creativity in motion, I hope you’ll join me on the morning of Sunday February 26 at the Dance Loft (4618 14th St NW, 2nd Floor) for an Awareness Through Movement lesson to be followed by Ecstatic Dance.  To receive the announcement for this event and others like it, you might want to join this Meetup group or sign up to receive my newsletter.

I’m also excited to be collaborating with local dance legend, Michelle Ava, founder of the Joy of Motion dance center, to offer a series of creative PLAY-shops where the Feldenkrais Method will often intersect with improvisational expressive movement.  These events, on February 4, March 4, April 21 and June 23, are leading up to a collaborative multi-media performance at the Jack Guidone Theater on July 16, 2017.

(If you are a creative mover or musician and curious about getting involved, please send me an email: sethbdellinger [at] gmail.com)

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If you prefer to explore your movement creativity on your own first (I still do that too!), I’d like to offer you one other way to do this.  Since I have spent so much time collecting music that has, for me, the quality of inspiring movement, I recently decided to start creating playlists on YouTube to share some of my favorite tracks. 

I have made four lists so far and there will be many more.  The styles will vary a lot, but I will try to always give you with a thematic title and description so you can have some idea if you’d like to explore it or not.  The first four lists, “Slow Build”, “Serenities”, “Can’t Stay Still”, and “Transporting” can all be found right here.

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So please – don’t be afraid to move!!  

Your creativity, no matter what form it takes, begins in your body, but it doesn’t have to stay trapped inside.  Give it a chance to come out into the light of day!

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Parkour Day 2 – More Baby Steps Towards Freedom

This is a follow up to my post yesterday about my first explorations with parkour.

I got really great feedback and that encouraged me to write about it again.  I’m definitely no expert yet, but I’m reporting directly from my experiences as I enter a new territory that seems to promise me a whole new universe of learning and inspiration.  It feels important to record some of these thoughts while they are fresh.

I’ve been very gratified by the response to the first post, and if you didn’t see it, I hope you’ll look at it before continuing to read this one.  Meanwhile, one experienced traceur sent me a terrific video that really gets inside of the mind of how this game is played and I think it adds a new dimension to what I’m trying to explain here, especially for others like me, who are new to parkour.  (Look for the link at the bottom of this article)

But first, I want to report on my second day of solo explorations, because I had some more fun experiences and insights, even being the beginner that I am!

Here’s some of what I discovered this morning:

A surface doesn’t always need to be under you to support you . . . 

Anyone who has seen crazy traceurs running sideways on walls on YouTube already knows this, but here’s how I learned the lesson directly: I was at the playground again and decided to run up a slide.  Given the angle, the slickness, and the moisture on the bottom of my boots from the snow everywhere, it didn’t go so well!

But I was pretty sure that those guys and gals on YouTube would have done it, so I tried to think of it another way.  The first thing I realized is I simply had to be fast.  But even as I worked with speed, the next two attempts were fails and I went slipping backwards and down.

But then as I looked at the slide, my attention was drawn to the raised edges that serve as guard rails for the kids.  The next time I went up, I wedged my feet in sideways in the corners of the slide, meaning I had to also push myself a little left and right as I went.  A little more progress.

The final piece was to identify a railing at the top of the slide to leap towards for a hand hold since there was no way I could stop part way up and rely on my feet not to slip back.  Two attempts later I made it to the top of the slide and then celebrated by sliding back down on my butt, the “old school” way . . .

I climbed a tree – by mistake!

Having mostly practiced jumps, I decided to start looking for things to grab with my hands.  At first I tried to grab things to climb upwards, but at a certain point, I just starting to test “what can I grab?!”  That took me away from only aiming for things that were strictly overhead, meaning that after jumping and grabbing, my momentum and body weight took me in all kinds of new directions.

So, there was a tree, on a bit of a slope, and tree branch.  I jumped and grabbed and then my legs were swinging way out in front of me, threatening to pull fingers away from their grip.  Luckily, I saw (surprise) the tree!  So I just put my feet on the trunk and pushed my hands on the branch and suddenly . . . I was in the tree!  Having cleared the hurdle of the trunk, now in the branches, it was a simple thing to go from one branch to the next and go further up.

I looked down at the earth below and enjoyed the feeling.  When the hell was the last time I climbed a tree?  I couldn’t remember!

OK, it was inevitable, I took my first real fall this morning.

It wasn’t bad, but I definitely just lost control and went down!  All that moisture again . . . I hopped up onto part of the playground equipment and when I landed it was just like a banana peel under my feet.  I fell backwards, very fast, my feet slipping out from under me.  But I didn’t hit my head – I stuck my elbows out behind me.  The left elbow was banged pretty good, but I determined quickly that nothing was damaged, so I decided to keep moving.

Turned out to be no . . . big . . . deal!

(Then there was the time back in college when I was walking about in a fog and did a similar banana peel thing at the top of a staircase . . . I did hit my head that time, on the top step – and then on every one of the next 20 steps down to the next floor!  That one sucked a lot more . . . glad I’m working on my movement these days!)

Rolling . . .

I’m not ready for super-high or long jumps yet, but I was just trying to imagine the idea a bit. One thing I knew from the videos was that a key thing to do in landing a jump from a height is to not try to kill your momentum all at once, but, instead, keep moving.  One of the main ways traceurs do that is by rolling.

Oh, I thought, I should practice my rolling . . . then my next thought: but it’s cold and snowy and I’ll get all wet and dirty!  In other words, I might as well have said, “forget this parkour thing, it’s not civilized!”

Hmm, well, anyways, I’m glad to report that I snapped out of it a couple of seconds later and I can still give people my business card (which says “move like a child again”) without feeling like a hypocrite!

Just another imaginary limitation – in this case, like many others, tied to ideas of social correctness.

Testing . . . 

On my way home, I got curious about a high fence I saw. Could I climb it?  Not today, I knew, I was tired.  But I found myself drawn to it anyway.  I didn’t even really realize what I was doing at first, but I just had to touch it, just to know.

Know what?

Oh, I saw that this fence was not well anchored at all.  No, let me find a different fence to mess with!  Only afterwards did I realize what this touching the fence was all about.  I realized how this practice was now drawing me into a new and more intimate relationship to my surrounding environment.

Wire fence

The evolving self-image . . . 

Finally, the Feldenkrais practitioner inside of me was happy to discover that all this action and playing around had brought me a new sense of my own body. We all carry certain habitual patterns of tension, overworking some of our muscles, underutilizing others, and this is what a Feldenkrais teacher can draw your attention to in a class or private session.  Awareness of the pattern is the first key to letting it go.

I’m no different than everyone else, and often feel stresses and strains that I can’t so easily release.  And that’s probably why I found all day that it was easier to place my hands on a bench to my left and swing my legs over it to the right, rather than the reverse.  But I worked on both things and afterwards, I found that my awareness had been refreshed.  My pattern hadn’t disappeared, but I was looking at it from different angles now and I had new ideas for ways to make little shifts inside myself.  Some of those little shifts were suddenly making a real difference for me.

Hey, cool!  I don’t always have to lie on the floor and move slow to know my body better.  I can also do it by running around outside!

I’m coughing and sneezing at the moment and it’s cold outside so that might mess up my plan to go out and practice again tomorrow morning.  But I doubt it.  I’m having too much fun!

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If I don’t end up going, I’ll probably end up seeing a few more videos for inspiration.  Here’s the one I mentioned already – it really illustrates how this practice can grow a path towards a greater feeling of freedom in your life.

I think that feeling is what is what is really drawing me in right now!

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Parkour Vision: What I Learned in One Day and One Night…

 

I love to lie on the floor and do Feldenkrais lessons.  But, as a Feldenkrais practitioner, I feel it’s my duty to tell you, if you really want to change your life, you’ll need to take some of that exploratory curiosity that you embrace in class and take it with you up into the field of gravity and out into the big, bad world out there!

I was just reminded about this . . .

The other day I was doing something I often do, sitting on my butt watching YouTube videos of people doing amazing movement.  Trying to be a little more proactive, I switched to watching a video about how to do amazing movement, in case it might be useful the next time I actually got off my butt.

And, actually, it was useful.  This video helped me start to see that the basic first steps of the art of parkour are not so crazy and flashy as those other videos I was watching.  I thought: hey, I could probably do that!

As fate would have it, the internet delivered me another gift – a real human being named John Cedric Tarr who I “knew” on-line since he is a Feldenkrais practitioner just like me.  John lives in Sweden, but he happened to be in DC and had a few extra hours the next morning.  Would I like to meet up?

“Yes, of course!” I shot back, my fingertips making daring leaps from one letter to another across my keyboard.  As we discussed logistics and it became clear he’d have some time to kill before I could connect with him, he wrote, “no problem, I’ll just do some parkour…”

OK, now I had no excuses left!  Long story short, John gave me my first parkour lesson in a playground near my house yesterday morning.  And tonight I went back to the park to explore what he showed me for the first time on my own.

Wow, my entire world just changed!!

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John Tarr, Feldenkrais practitioner, adventurer

 

Here’s some what I learned from John:

  • The main thing isn’t being a daredevil, but yes, you must face your fears. So, start small, where everything is entirely safe!  Jumping from one ledge to another is no different than jumping from one line on the sidewalk to another.  So start practicing your precision jumps where the height of the jump doesn’t pose any danger.  And start with short jumps . . . there’s no hurry!
  • Vaulting over a bench or a fence starts by placing your hands down and kicking your legs behind you.  That doesn’t require half the work that would be needed to lift them over the bench going forward.  The first few times you don’t even worry about going over to the other side.  Just place your hands and kick your legs up behind you, then start over.  Later you can add a little forward momentum and your legs will fly right over the obstacle.
  • How do you pull yourself up to that high place above you that you can just barely catch with your hands? It’s not all about pulling!  Swing your legs and you’ll get more momentum.  Then hook one more part of your body on the support and swing again, you’ll get there!
  • Repeat! Repeat!  Repeat!  Jump over the bench 20 times.  It will get easier!  And, guess what?  There isn’t any such thing as a “right way” to do it!  Did you land on the other side of the bench?  Yes?  OK, that’s the “right way” to do it!
  • Just a little bit of parkour makes the entire landscape look different.

About that last point: there we were in the playground and John spotted the swings.  He jumped up and grabbed the bar they were hanging from.  Then before I knew it, he hooked his elbows over the bar, swung his legs and used that momentum to carry himself all the way up to resting the front of his hips on the bar with his entire arms above.  Then he jumped back down.

 

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Voila!

I tried, with less success.  He suggested that I use a different hand grip and then proceed by swinging my legs over the bar.

I thought, “seriously?!”, but on my third try, I hooked one ankle.

“Now see if you can get your knee over it.”  I could, but my next move was a false one and I jumped back down in order to avoid further embarrassment and/or injury.

But this was my just first try.  There was a bigger lesson than the success or failure of the effort at this stage  As I told John, “When we came here and I saw that swing set, I never imagined we could get on top of it!”  By encouraging me to try and giving me a couple of simple suggestions, John showed me that something I had ruled out completely was actually possible.  I hadn’t “conquered” it yet, but now that swing set looked entirely different!  I see it and think of it has potentially being part of the territory where I can move.

Thanks John!!

So today it snowed in DC and I spent most of the day indoors.  But at a certain moment, I thought, “what the hell am I doing inside?!” and I knew I needed some fresh air to keep myself sane.  I decided I would go back to the park and see what else I could learn.

I just did what John showed me, but this time I really practiced, repeating each little movement adventure dozens of times and running all over the playground, having more and more fun as I got more used to the idea of being a kid again.

Here’s what I learned from my own adventures:

  • One of the key ingredients to turning the environment into my playground is making decisions. 1) I look around for something to do.  2) I decide: I will jump over that bench.  3) I decide how I will jump over that bench: I will put my hands right THERE in order to support myself and swing my legs over.
  • Another key ingredient: the eyes . . . once I decided that I was going to jump over that bench by putting my hands there, then my eyes would zero in on that point out of all the other possible stimuli of interest in the environment and my entire experience would be in relation to that single point until I was on the other side of the bench.
  • Once I developed the understanding of my eyes and how they could zoom in on the points of support that would help carry me from one place to the next, I realized that this way of seeing the space changed the way I saw everything. Suddenly, I was looking at each structure and judging it – can it hold my weight or not?  Is it close enough to reach or too far away?  I began to see pathways of points that led from where I stood to places I might not previously have imagined that I could arrive to.
  • Nothing I attempted was a test. Many times I began to try to jump a fence and a clear voice inside told me, “NO WAY DUDE!!”  At that point, it was a simple choice: injure myself or bail out and start over?  Never a hard decision!  But usually, after a few more attempts and adjustments, I jumped the fence.  Other times I said, “this fence is for another day.”

. . . And, tomorrow is another day!!

My conclusion: we can all do more than we think we can.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to question your idea of your limits.  Some of those limits are entirely in your imagination.

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Practicing balance + having fun = making practicing balance more fun!

 

 

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