Somatic practices have been integrated as part of contemporary dance curriculum, and its elements are often included in technique, improvisation, composition and performance classes. Classes conducted with a somatic approach may not be appreciated or understood by being productive. Somatic orientation in dance training can impact dance students as learners and aspiring dance artists.
What happens during a somatic-infused class?
Students need to have an attitude of openness and willingness to work with suggestions and feedback, together with the psycho-changes in perception. Students need to let go of pre-conceived ideas about movement and imagined limitation of what is possible. It becomes a process of discovery and investigating on the task. Gill Clarke and Eva Karczag notes that uncertainty and questioning are vital in a dance practice as these conditions are nothing less that ‘the substance of life’ itself (2007:28). The process of self-discovery and self-questioning is the bulk of being human and being a part of the world.
In order to find new spatial and organizational movement pathways and qualities, a leap into more risky territory regarding the moving self is required (Glaser 2011a). Hence, this is where somatics comes into play where the slowing down, undoing movement patterns and attending to perceptual and sensory processes helps to achieve this.
Rolland (1996) stresses that somatic consist of the processes that are ‘educational rather than therapeutic and are aimed at developing one’s own powers of thinking, intuition, and kinaesthetic awareness rather than relying on the power of the teaching or therapist to make bodily changes’
This further supports the fundamental principle of somatic education that allows the students to investigate their anatomy in an explorative, kinaesthetic way. Students learn to attend to their sensation, exploring a process of noticing what is going on in their bodies, known as the ‘first person viewpoint of one’s own proprioceptive senses’ (Enghauser 2007:33). This viewpoint provides one with an embodied understanding of anatomical movement principles. ‘By internally attending to sensory feedback, students find physiological cues that lead to a conscious kinaesthetic awareness of the self in action.’(Batson, 2007:48).
The student learns to work with their bodily selves, and by paying attention developed an enhanced kinaesthetic awareness as a tool for the ongoing growth of his or her dance skills and practices. The process is not about an independent acquisition of knowledge but about gaining a more deeply embodied capacity as feeling and thinking dancers. Somatics can allow a dancer to discover and manifest, inner impulses from her imagination, transferring them into his or her performance. Movement becomes stronger, more intriguing, attracting the attention of the spectator.
One gives attention to what may be present, such as the movement of the breath, various body parts, and their anatomical or functional characteristics. This may include the pouring of weight and mass that comes with rolling, shifting, falling and travelling across the floor and space. The use of concepts, images with physical touch helps to reorganize neutral pathways and influence improvements in the musculoskeletal system.
The principle of rest is a significant contribution to somatic learning by allowing other important sensory and proprioceptive sensations to arise, causing the motor nervous system to be less dominant. Slowing down the body offers time and chance to observe physical choices, for example, where to go, or how to engage parts, or the whole part and to notice where movement is initiated. It brings the student into a quieter state of mind letting that student sense gravity, support and stability needed to extend the movement into space. Activity and rest, with anatomical information, help to clarify and refine movement, orient students’ bodily selves towards a more holistic state of coordination and efficiency.
Various methods in somatic education facilitate the development of an enhanced kinaesthetic awareness and an increased range of movement choices. For example, the use of imagery and metaphor, guided tasks, anatomical diagrams, touch through partner work and cultivation and exchange of verbal feedback and reflection. While the embodiment and integration of somatic principles primarily focus on moving, sensing bodies, the practice is supported by other means. Including somatic principles in a dance class encourages enquiry into individual movement patterns and related decision-making processes.
Embodied anatomical information and felt sensations are integrated with functional and expressive objectives in improvisational tasks and set dance combinations. Somatic movement principles and their researching and reorganization of dancing bodies’ selves are aimed at supporting and increasing functional clarity, self-expression, and self-authority in future practitioners.
The student develops more confidence and skill in managing one’s kinaesthetic experience. One can build one’s physical enquiry and work imaginatively with questions, anatomical information, verbal exchanges, sensory information and spatial orientations. One can relate to oneself and others via a variety of learning methods and unfold a new understanding about their sense of place. One slowly becomes experts of their moving experience and start to own their learning process.
A somatic approach deals primarily with what is already there, rather than what is not there or what needs to be achieved. It builds self-understanding and a capacity to initiate change in attitudes, meaning making and movement patterns. Somatic processes support and create feelings of empowerment, relational aspects, and self-authority. It is the responsibility and creativity of the student to create the conditions for change and choice. Student notice a widening of movement qualities, improve in the ease and flow in one’s dancing and changes in one’s habitual patterns. Students claim to experience better ways of embodying set material including gaining tools to generate new movement material.
Somatic learning at its heightened state of embodies awareness, is a tool for processing information that enables the student to be better equipped at fitting into existing movement structures but being innovative with it. Chrysa Parkinson notes that dance artists today who experience these learning methods are not just being training, but become good at their art form, by engaging their education to change the field they work in (2009). The tools and benefits within somatic are a fertile base for a dance student to develop resourcefulness, creativity that has multiple implications, shaping and refining their practice towards a future dance practitioner.
Cacciatore indicates that ‘when our movement is restricted or challenged, somatic techniques have been shown to advance the re-organization of the individual and to have a profound impact on the manner of how the movement is being executed (Cacciatore et al. 2005). Somatic methods of movement re-education promote the expansion of movement choices, which can result in the reduction of musculoskeletal stress and promote an integrated use of self. Resulting in more control over movement and provides a preventive measure of bad habitual patterns that may cause wear and tear.
Laura, G. (2015) Reflection on somatic learning process in higher education: Student experiences and teacher interpretation of Experiential Anatomy into Contemporary Dance. Journal of Dance & Somatic Practice 7 (1) 43-61. Available at: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=ad7eb906-d530-4ebf-a75f-38f9b9ae053c%40sessionmgr114&vid=4&hid=102 [Accessed 3 April 2015].
Coleman, G. & Turage, P. (2013) Prevention of movement disorders based on somatic abstractions of human movement: Principles, computation and reflection. Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 5 (1) 47-56. Available at: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=ad7eb906-d530-4ebf-a75f-38f9b9ae053c%40sessionmgr114&hid=102 [Accessed 3 April 2015].