A midweek rendezvous, to consider how we move and how we're moved by what we do.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Half-day Movement and Dance Discovery Workshop

Learn to use the Basic Tools for Effective Movement.

Awaken Potential and Bust Discouraging Myths.

Orlando, Florida
December 10th
11:00 - 3:00

John Parnell Dance Studio
1949 Sand Lake Road, Orlando
cost: $80
information and reservations: (407) 375-0198

The Movement and Dance Discovery workshop is a warm and fun first step into the world of contemporary dance. More than that, it's for those who dream of moving with ease but only find themselves struggling and getting more stuck.

Let's face it, most coaches and instructors tell us what to do, but rarely how that 'doing' fundamentally happens. If you can pull things off, we say you've got a natural talent. If you can't... (Well, I'm sure you're cut out for something else.)

But, what happens when you try different things and still can't find your niche? What happens when an activity holds a special place in your heart and, yet, you still scramble and flail to no avail?

Talent can be a crushing word when you think you don't have any. Whether it's through genetics, karma, the planets or God, we just assume that some people are gifted and others, not. But, is this really true? Do we really know our own potential?

Look around at children. Watch how they dart, spring and roll without strain. Watch how toddlers stand still for long periods, no shifting or shuffling in sight. We forget that we were once like that. We, too, had an uncanny knack for living in our bodies.

Yes, we need to learn techniques -- the gestures for weight-machines, stretching, and bowling and tennis swings -- but those efforts won't go far if we don't reconnect with our body's innate intelligence, first.

I've had a long and varied career as a performer. And, I love to teach what I've learned over the years -- especially to adult beginners. I encourage them because I started dance late (and with no visible signs of talent) and know, through experience, that great changes can happen at any age. You don't have to start dance classes young to become a good artist. Nor, do you have to stop dancing at thirty because you're used up.

I used to wear leg-warmers; I dreamt of doing the splits. I had seen Flashdance and Fame and bought into all the ol' dance myths. Among my ideas of how dancing should be, there were words like discipline, control, sacrifice and mastering. But, years of arduous work finally proved those concepts to be extremely limiting and, even, physically dangerous.

In order to continue dancing, I was forced to reconsider movement in general. And, I came to realize that rich, effective movement needs what children give it instinctively and what most adults have left behind: deep intention, a sense of play and a big craving for the mysterious.

That's how we approach dance in my workshops. In terms of body work -- alignment, coordination, flexibility and support -- that's what brings about seriously good results. Good results and delight. The delight of letting go and, yet, feeling everything come together.

P.S. The doubtful and seemingly uncoordinated are welcome.
Daniel Bodiford has performed professionally for over 25 years in more than 30 countries. In venues such as the Moulin Rouge, the Folies-Bergère, the Barbican Centre, l'Opéra de Paris, Johannesburg Civic Theatre, Shrine Auditorium, Hué Imperial Palace...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Do you remember the last time you picked up a cat? As you cup a cat's stomach and lift him up, his body just hangs in your hand. His legs dangle down, ruminating over the ground.

Cats rarely clutch to new situations. They're hard to convert or rally to your side. And, anyway, once they come and all the rallying's done, they'll never get quite as giddy as you think they ought to get.

Cat's are sleek and slick.

Sure, they may rub up against you and purr, for a while. But, they might just back off or continue on their way. Cats are all about choice. They step solidly from one option to the next. And, because of this, they pass through the day gliding like shadows, shifting furtive as shade.

Watch a cat roaming about your house or neighborhood. Watch him sprint like delicate lightning or twist, as he falls, to land on his feet. For that matter, watch him sitting there quietly, his four feet tucked underneath...

How can so much force come from something so loose? What kind of tension allows both flexibility and support?

Focused and open, strong and soft, here and elsewhere, social and not... the cat seems to arch his back and bridge the difficultly reconcilable.

Lots of dance students I see only connect tight, sore muscles to stiff, bandaged knees. And, though they slam into their limitations, again and again, what they've heard about dance says to never give in. In movies and on TV, the world of dance is largely lopsided.

Passion, determination, sacrifice for fame... fierce competition and 'No pain, no gain'... triple-threats, sweat, submission and discipline... a corps being honed and led into perfection...

Are we talking about dancers or an elite military strike force in training?

I got off lucky. I've had a diverse career, starting out in Florida, in a theme park parade, and ending up in France, in a modern ballet. In between, there was jazz, folk dance, musicals, cabaret and opera.

But, there were periods of great frustration and conflict, too. Times when nothing that moved me moved from within. Times when I tried and I tried, only to feel knotted and tied.

I was brought to reconsider my approach to dance.

Our consumer-oriented society values enthusiasm and bright, chipper smiles. And, as markets open up and competitors grow, we're pushed to let our deep caring show and show, no matter how crisp it becomes.

Distant just doesn't sell. It's got a bad name. It has been put in the lot with haughty, cold, indifferent and lame.

But, we need a certain distance. It's the first step towards autonomy. And, afterwards, it lets us stay healthy and free, even following teachers or programs, expectations or dreams. And, though it's hard to sell contemplation, patience and risk in a market full of contests, high-kicks and splits, teaching distance is a major way to help inspiring artists.

Dance needs incertitude and questioning. Dance needs the intrigue that gets us to stray until we stumble and tumble upon something innate: our body's natural knack for choosing the right way to move.

Dance also needs to be reminded of a basic truth: The indirect is as pertinent as the direct, and artistry comes as we find how they connect.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

¡Viva la Resistencia!

After being politely ignored by a blog promoting dance blogs, I've just had my posts wiped off a dance discussion board... Am I that radical?
Maybe. After all, instead of writing cleanly -- about dance wear, the perfect gift for your dance teacher or costly competitions that will transmit the values of combativeness and expediency to impressionable children -- I'm making a mess trying to write about movement.
Words set ideas down and movement always moves; the two worlds are hard to reconcile. When you try, you usually end up sounding vague or mashing together a bunch of metaphors, each one a facet, a point of view that just might, for someone, trigger something interesting. Urgggh! I know: it's unbearable to listen to!
Luckily, there's other inspiration to be found out there.
Today, I went to the Secours Catholique Christmas party in Paris. Each year, they help thousands of polical refugees with, among other things, housing, food and legal advice. There was couscous, cakes, gifts and I don't know how many languages, cultures, religions and other views of the universe mingling coherently. There were Caribbean songs sung in French, a poem read in Bangladeshi, a traditional Indian dance that looked suspiciously like a Bollywood video clip and a group dance performance that went from calm gospel to the hip-moving World Cup theme song: Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).
It's the second time I've seen that group dance and the second time I've felt slightly embarrassed by the lump in my throat and the watery blurring of my eyes. Seeing people dance in front of others for all the right reasons -- joy, playfulness, curiousity, generosity and gratitude -- is a rare enough thing. And, though I'm always a bit shock by being deeply moved in public, isn't that what being in an audience should be about? Not succombing to manipulation, but releasing yourself into healthy, happy hands.
For three months, now, I've been dishing out my pyschedelic soup, and I started doubting my ability to convey anything helpful. But, today, I saw a group of dancers with little resources or training (or even a name for their group) get everyone dancing in their seats. It triggered the best in everyone. I thank them and the Secours Catholique for reminding me that, even when one community shuts the door, there are others who keep reaching out. They just ask you to keep on doing what moves you the deepest, and they have faith that it's the right thing for all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Out of Bounds

Keep your energy circulating. It can sound hippy-ish and vague. But, we all understand it when put a different way. Try this one: If you lift something heavy, make sure you bend your knees. Who doesn't understand that?
We know that straight legs and a bent, flat back are dangerous when hoisting heavy. It cuts us in two. We know that if we squat down with our torso more erect, the push of our feet can go up through our back and connect with our arms. We know to push off harder for heavier objects and lighter for light.
However, pushing harder doesn't necessarily mean better results. How is just as important as how much.
When we were younger and had a less clear sense of self, our energy circulated differently. Babies, as we know, can grip a finger with an amazing amount of squeeze. And, yet, despite an almost brutish force, they just lie there, smiling and soft.
Babies are also impressive when they just start to stand. For long minutes, they watch the world, calmly swaying with ease. They don't sink, slouch or shuffle their feet. Like little bamboo, they grow in two directions, with no clear sense of their highth or the ground. They're in a continuous state of reaching out. They haven't, yet, focused on their limits.
When we push down to lift a heavy object, we tend to put a limit on our push. The ground starts here, so my push ends here is how we think. But, like a boxer punching further than his opponant's face, we need to push down further than the obvious place of contact. That way, the energy doesn't burst and dissipate quickly. That way, our muscles work all the way through the movement, connected and uncrinkled, and our intention stays vigorous from start to finish.
Where's the finish? There, too, we should have no set idea. After all, the push moves up from legs to our back, then to arms and heavy object -- so it finishes somewhere out there. Somewhere well outside our body.
Amplitude Exercise #1
1) Find a wall and place the palm of both hands against it. Try to feel the contact in all fingers, in all parts. (That means a good dose of both relaxation and intention.) Stand close enough so that your elbows are bent, but don't lean into the wall. Feel the weight of your forearms and upper arms hanging there, like a hanging bridge, attached to two verticle surfaces and drooping in the middle.
2) Now, imagine that the contact goes deeper. Imagine that you're feeling into the wall, somewhere inside or beyond it. Already, you may feel a difference in your body. If space opens in one direction, then space opens in the opposite direction. Can you feel your shoulder blades relaxing and becoming more mobile? By touching deeper into the wall, can you 'touch' your shoulder blades?
3) Push gently into the wall with one hand, then the other. Keep your knees relaxed. Notice how far down your body the movement goes and how you sway from side to side. Can you feel a circuit opening up, from one shoulder blade down and around to the other?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Don't Worry. It's Just a Ph(r)ase.

A friend of mine, who recently immigrated from the Balkans, speaks English in a haphazardly creative way. Among his recent classics: I go now to the bank to buy some money. You know that story called Snow Witch? and You're always looking at my sweater... do you have a crush on it?
Sometimes, wrong has a way of being right. If I stopped thinking of ATMs as friendly helpers, I'd certainly be better off at the end of the month. And, 'witch' seems fitting for Snow White, in a way. I've always thought she sent an extremely bad message to kids. Oh, a little house, with no one home... Maybe if I clean it up, they'll let me stay with them! Conniving suddenly seems more innocent than simply asking for help.
Even the crush-thing -- which is flat wrong, on all levels -- gave me a thrill with its unexpected turn. My friend's English is improving rapidly, and I already regret the day when everything becomes straightforward.
When you start experimenting with movement techniques, when you start letting your body reorganize itself differently, there's always something wrong about what's more right. After all, the old way is the norm. There's something soothing about it, even if that means more tension, more effort and, even, discomfort.
In the past segment exercises, we started exploring the weight of our body segments. We felt how the hand, forearm and upper arm have their own distinct weight. At first, this new sense of weightiness can be a drag. New ways of functioning mean muscles working differently, which, in turn, means a new (although temporary) type of fatigue. It's only when we start experiencing the poetic side to it -- how weighty segments allow movement to pass from one part of the body to another, how the different parts can coordinate instinctively, how our minds can relax in a bath of sensations -- can we appreciate what we've taken on.
In the past walking exercise, we started exploring how our walk can become more dynamic and design-oriented if we give up some control. Of course, giving up control when we walk means a newfound wobbliness. We lived it once, as toddlers, and often feel no need to go through that experience again. (Memories of booze, cold sweats and up-chucking might add to that reserve.) However, as we start to feel how our steps can massage our feet and legs and how that extra mobility can pass up through stiff hips, backs and neck, we begin to find charm in all that lack of composure.
Vision Exercise #1
1) Stand in an open space, looking forward. Tilt your head, slowly, from one side to the other. Ask yourself if, through some mental effort, you're not trying to keep the horizon horizontal, if you're not trying to keep order in the universe.
2) As you tilt your head from one side to another, try to lessen your hold on the objects you see. Accept that, as you tilt to the left, they tilt to the right, and vice versa. The more they tilt, the more you relax in the neck. Let the tilting movement go further down, into your torso. Do this very calmly: there's no reason to fall over. Explore and don't forget the importance of comfort and amusement.
3) Very carefully, try tilting your head slightly while taking a few steps. Do this in a safe place, every chance you get. Notice how your body can adapt, get used to and, even, enjoy a certain chaos. Can you feel any body parts coordinating instictively? Do you feel anything poetic or charming happening? Does your mind feel as though it no longer has to hold up the world?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Backwards, to Bounce

My sneakers are light and cushion my steps. They give me spring even when I'm feeling fatigue. Unfortunately, I get a little lost in them. I get soft in them..
Our bodies are made to pump on their own: to stretch, suspend, relax and come down, again. We have certain curves that are excellent at this: our cervical curve (the neck), our lumbar curve (the lower back) and the curve of our legs -- the reason why dance teachers harp on about unlocking the knees. The diaphragm is a horizonal curve. It curves up and down and keeps our lungs pumping. We think about the diaphragm a lot in yoga, because it can give us insight into how to connect everything.
But, there's another curve that often goes unnoticed: the arch of the feet.
I had a teacher, named Regine, who once told me to feel the bottom of my feet, just before the pads of the heel, where the arch starts. She called this area 'the heart' of the feet, even though it's not in the middle. It's the spot where pressure comes down through the legs and goes either forward, through the toes, or back, through the heels. And, that spot, it turns out, can be far more active than we think. It can act like very subtle pump.
In other words, our heels don't just stand there. When our toes reach out, they're reaching back. Or, to put it in the most dramatic way, our feet have the dynamics of the claws of birds of prey.
Standing Exercise #1
1) Stand barefoot on a pleasant, firm surface. Knees unlocked and head floating, happy and round as a helium balloon.
2) Imagine that you're wearing skis. The skis go in both directions until out of sight. Give special attention to the back half of the skis. We spend our lives looking down and into mirrors and already have a pretty good sense of 'front.' (We often have a good sense of other people's butts. But that's where our sense of 'back' usually ends.)
3) Feel how this image -- skis going out, forward and back -- gives a sense of direction to your feet and, thus, reinvigorates them. When a part of the body snaps out of it after it has been half-asleep, other parts can finally relax. Can you feel where you relax -- where your weight falls better -- somewhere else?
4) Imagine that spot towards the beginning of the arch of your feet, towards the heel -- the heart. Imagine it letting go of tension and opening up. Don't force anything. Just imagine and invite. Do you feel the pressure from your body going more clearly in different directions? Do you feel your arches becoming light? If you normally stand with your weight back on your heels, do you feel your body moving slightly forward, realigning itself? Is your weight more evenly displaced? When you breathe, do you feel a slight pumping effect in your feet?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't Wanna Cramp Your Style

When my mom got home, she'd kick off her shoes. Following in her steps, I would, too. She was my reminder that bare feet feel great.
Of course, in a world of chemicals, rocks, broken glass and rusty nails, shoes make sense. Flip-flops make sense, too. They're comfortable and cool and usually protect us enough -- a happy compromise. But, though they're flat and look relaxed, watch someone walk in them and you can see that they're not totally unlike high heels: both of them substantially change the way we naturally walk.

According to my anatomy book, there are 26 bones, 31 joints and 20 muscles in every foot. It's a complex design made for high demands, in strength and subtility. Feet carry our weight (and more), cushion our steps, adjust to the floor and roll us, not just forward, but also backwards and sideways, at many an angle.
Dancers spend hours massaging, pointing and flexing their feet. They draw circles, inwards and outwards, to ease up their ankles, where foot and force of the leg meet. And, when this is done, some dancers slip their flip-flops back on and shuffle off, as flat-footed and stiff-ankled as a geisha.

Next time you see someone in flip-flops, stop and listen. It's rare that they go flip and, then, flop. They would if, like normal, we rolled through our feet. But, instead, we tend to carry and place them down carefully, so that the sound is minimized. In other words, we consciously carry the very things that are supposed to support us. (With high heels, we stabilize the things that are supposed to support us.) It defies a certain structural logic. It seems like self-sabotage.

Now, I'm not very interested in fashion. I just like variety and the fact that people can change. But, I also like continuity. I like that we can do our thing -- dance, yoga, qigong or tai-chi -- and, then, continue exploring when we pack up and leave. Because we can't be schizophrenic about deep change.
Luckily, we can't be too earnest, either. Awareness of difference is a major part of exploring movement. Differences can clarify each other -- and the whole. So, if you've bought Birkenstocks and feel like you're losing your soul, throw back on something unreasonable, at least, once in while. It has to do you good, somewhere. And, if you remain curious, that's a good-enough place to start.