‘Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth’, ‘Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose’, ‘Send the heels down into the floor to lift the hips’, ‘Make sure you don’t push the heels into the floor to lift the hips’, ‘Arch the lower back’, ‘Keep the lower back in neutral’ 'There's no point in doing yoga, you're flexible enough' 'You don't need to be flexible to do yoga'……
These are just a sample of the various pieces of advice and instruction I’ve been given in recent classes. Over the last few weeks I have attended Pilates classes in both matwork and reformer, hot yoga and partner yoga classes and explored Girotonics. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I am now tied up in knots, not knowing which way is up. Well not quite, but it has had me thinking.
I do these classes to support my dance technique, and because I’m fascinated by the effects they can have on the dancing body, and bodies in general. The physical benefits are of course evident, improving strength, balance, muscle tone and flexibility. But I think above all the awareness of one’s own physicality that these various practices brings about is hugely valuable, for anyone, not just dancers. I know that I feel much more tired after a day in front of the laptop than I do after a day's moving; we must be kind to our bodies even when they're not performing split leaps or spring ball changes (insert favourite move here!).
My experiences of Pilates, yoga and Girotonics have led me to question whether, while of course each extremely valuable in their own right, there becomes elements of contradiction between the various practices. I know there are moments in my yoga classes where things only make sense by applying something I’ve learnt in Pilates, and then there are moments when something makes no sense at all, perhaps because my body is used to doing things in a certain way.
I think this reflects something which dancers may well experience when taking a range of classes in a range of techniques and styles. One teacher’s desired way of moving is often completely opposed to another’s, we might take a Cunningham class one week and a release class the following week, each with different advice as to how best to use our bodies, and what to strive for.
Whilst dancers should of course be adaptable and versatile, I think there's an element for everyone of wanting to discover one’s own signature style, as opposed to simply being robots or puppets who instantly morph perfectly into the preferred movement style of the choreographer or teacher they're working with.
I guess it’s up to us as artists to discover for ourselves what our ideal is. To harvest the elements of the various practices and experiences and in turn develop our own individual practice. Joseph Pilates’ exploration into his method came as a result of health problems as a child, and then through his experience as a gymnast, boxer, diver and body-builder. Interestingly, he also worked with Rudolf Laban. Juliu Horvarth, after suffering an injury which ended his dance career, originally dubbed his practise (now known as Gyrokinesis) ‘Yoga for Dancers’. These methods have evolved over many years, and continue to do so, which is why things are constantly changing, new standards are being set, and new ideals for the moving body are being represented. This has to be what keeps things interesting.
Whilst having roots in dance, these practices are now benefiting people from all walks of life. And out of these practices come the fitness fads; the zumbas and the body sculpts. These are somehow more easily accessible and perhaps less intimidating than the spiritualism of yoga or the focus of Pilates. But either way, we all know that keeping our bodies moving, in whatever which way, will allow us to reap the rewards physically and, sometimes more importantly, mentally.
I will continue to explore these things, I will probably continue to be a bit confused (nay, curious), but I'll do this with a body that is, hopefully, aware and intuitive to what it needs and how to work efficiently, even on 'laptop days' when much less actual movement happens.