Deep curiosity about movement:
Refinement and efficiency
And Experiential Nuances Expressivity
By Felicity Molloy
Felicity Molloy traces somatic practices over the last 20 years in Aotearoa New Zealand and aligns them with changes and developments of contemporary dance education and holistic well-being practices.
If you do not teach a traditional or idiosyncratic style and instead you set up a situation to move in, you systematically give people the opportunity to develop a full range of original movement. (Halprin, 1995, p. 12)
This brief article does not effectively describe how somatic studies have transformed the well-being of New Zealanders. What it will do is bring together remarkable contributions early tertiary dance educators made to a physicality that defines our nation. In Aotearoa, as in other countries, somatics evolved from adjunct training to becoming integrated into institutionalised dance programmes. Tertiary dance exposes a unique status that somatic studies hold as an educable form of human movement enquiry. The insinuation of somatic practice is hinted at by listing our key practitioner-based educators, traces found in their experienced, experiencing bodies. I am mindful of singular and combined perspectives brought about by thousands of hours of thinking through the body, in a community-of-practice. Underscored by various somatic forms and pedagogical approaches, I align professional development with a philosophy about contemporary dance as movement education and in doing so invite reflection about embodied lineage.
Written into the narratives of New Zealand dancers are travels overseas and subsequent extensive resources for dance methods. I came to somatics via previous teachers Maxine Graham (Ballet), Arthur Turnbull (Graham) and workshop educators from outside New Zealand; Linda Caldwell (Body-Mind Centering - BMC), Hubert Godard (Rolfi ng, Ballet, Dance Research, Feldenkrais Method - FM), Robert Schleip (Rolfi ng, Fascial Fitness), Peter Thompson and Donna Farhi (Yoga, BMC), Sylvie Fortin (FM, feminist somatics), and more lately Sondra Fraleigh (Shin Somatics). Somatic processes eventuate from a deep curiosity about movement: refi nement and efficiency, and experiential nuances of performance expressivity. Within tensions between conventional uses of dance technique in the developing field, and increases in non-Western dance in academia, an eclectically derived pedagogy of movement is a common story.
An important feature is the role somatic studies have played in the development of tertiary dance. Beyond the article’s timeline, readers’ attention is drawn to holistic dance practices of Barteneif Fundamentals (BF) and Skinner Releasing Technique (SRT™). Integral to each subject are somatic references to artistic self-determinism. In 1984, Susan Jordan taught technique with a Bartenieff approach at the New Zealand Ballet School (Director, Anne Rowse), Impulse Dance Theatre, and Jordan & Present Co. Somatics has recently been re-introduced to Te Whaea by American Tommy Truss with AT, BMC and Laban taught to contemporary and classical students. Within its distinctive models of anatomical clarification, injury prevention and postural habit awareness, I think of somatics as essential to learning dance: each individual in dialogue with how and why their bodies dance in relation to environment; internal and external.
Auckland Performing Arts School's (PAS), Contemporary Dance Diploma was a future-focused programme, teaching dance through experimental, contemporary ways. PAS became the first undergraduate degree (Unitec, 1989) with students of increasingly diverse prior dance experiences. As New Zealand somatic educators, Ali East (Director) and Raewyn Thorburn (SRT™) drew on self-generated, movement vocabularies as teaching approaches. Their substantial infl uences became provision for other teachers to value awareness, spontaneity and intuition. The intellectual asperity of Raewyn Whyte has, no doubt, contributed enormously to links dance practitioners have made with tertiary education and the persistence of somatics in the scene here.
A career in performance and chronic injuries led Felicity Molloy and Debra McCulloch to develop pedagogies suited to less conventional movement forays. While not recognising somatics as distinct from contemporary dance education and training, East established Movement Fundamentals (MF) developed by Molloy from 1992. Intricacies of ballet technique combined with yogic extension became a sensitivity method for students to fast-track movement efficiency. As an eclectic base for understanding movement, MF provided clear links with codified somatic methods of FM taught by Annie Minton and then Warwick Long; AT - McCulloch, Katrina Todd and master ballet teacher, Timothy Gordon; and of course SRT™. For Lyne Pringle, Charles Koroneho and Michael Parmenter, Butoh heavily informed their choreographic practices and, inevitably, the educational roles they play in the tertiary scene, by providing advanced holistic approaches to performance and choreography.
Bodywork colleagues Maggie Harper, Geordie Thorpe and Amanda Levey connected with somatics in dance with only slight differences in who they were teaching movement and body awareness to. In terms of educational qualifications, in 2008, The Creative Arts & Therapies Certificate, now part of Whitireia Performing Arts, advertised the course as ‘not limited to those who wish to pursue a career in the performing arts’. Whitecliffe’s Arts & Design programme advertises integration of movement/dance, visual arts, performance techniques and therapeutic practices, designed to “provide an excellent base for therapeutic arts”. The Clinical Arts Therapy Director, Levey, with a psychology degree from Melbourne University, extensively trained in the Halprin Method (US). SRT™ is no longer taught at Unitec but two graduates, Wilhemeena Monroe and Katherine Tate, feed expertise and Somatic qualification opportunities through SOUL, Auckland’s community centre for integrative practices.
Aforementioned practitioners bring somatic experts such as Fortin, Godard and Fraleigh back to New Zealand as important reflective inspirations for university educators, such as Dr. Alys Longley and Dr. Barbara Snook (UoA). Keeping in mind the extraordinary feat of setting dance as a mandatory subject in mainstream education in 2005, I was curious to fi nd out who taught somatics at the formerly known NZ Colleges of Education. My MEd thesis explored Dance in the NZ Arts Curriculum and found that somatics as a vocabulary for self-awareness was present but less activated by mainstream level educators.
Today somatics is investigated through critical lenses with old and new generations of dance educators contributing and arguably led by Ali East (Otago) and Dr. Karen Barbour (Waikato). Michael Parmenter (Unitec), Wood and Molloy (UoA) are studying somatics at doctoral level, with Kristian Larsen, Val Smith (Post-Improv), Dr. Carol Brown (UoA), and others incorporating somatics into scholarly and choreographic research. Julia Milsom, Erica Viedma and Paul Young (REMAP/ Hagley Dance Company) describe Iyengar yoga and Gaga technique as perfect vehicles for teaching somatic approaches to younger dancers and experimenting with performance. Somatics was certainly not invented in Aotearoa, but our legacy of ‘body’, which surfaces in cultural media of music, song and dance has founded an acute appreciation of the importance of sensory awareness when learning to become contemporary dance artists. Aesthetic preoccupations with bicultural issues of belonging, body and land, has become a particular New Zealand lens, and an ethos of eco-somatics is evolving.
The article’s brevity does not allow direct references to anyone’s contributions. I acknowledge the generous and thoughtful responses to my provocations from the following colleagues: Ali East, Dr. Alys Longley, Amanda Levey, Annette Golding, Dr. Barbara Snook, Dr. Carol Brown, Debra McCulloch, Donna Farhi, Erica Viedma, Jan Bolwell, Dr. Karen Barbour, Lyne Pringle, Dr. Mark Harvey, Michael Parmenter, Raewyn Thorburn, Raewyn Whyte, Tommy Truss, Val Smith and Willa Gordon.
Useful follow up references
SOUL - Somantics in NZ
Barbour, K. N. (2013). Cultivating embodied ways of knowing: Integrating dance and yoga practice in tertiary education. Close encounters. Contemporary dance didactics: Explorations in theory and practice (pp.105-116). Stockholm, Sweden:
University of Dance and Circus.
Fortin, S. (2002). Living in Movement: Development of Somatic Practices in Different Cultures, Journal of Dance Education, 2:4, 128-136: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1529/0824.2002.1038722