Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dancing Spring Eternal

Everyday you live, you age. There is an Irish saying, “do not resent growing old, for many are denied the privilege!” Time passes and either gives or takes, especially concerning the body. Range of motion, flexibility, power, endurance, etc. are all affected by the passage of time. Did I mention wrinkles? Taoists mention practices that”keep Spring (youthfulness) eternal.” These methods stress how you do, not what you do.

Co-teaching a class with Jane Shockley at Zenon Dance School, I am seeing the healing benefits of Tai-Chi on the bodies of dancers. There are professional, retired, long-time, as well as new dancers in our class. They receive instruction on relaxation, standing meditation, breath, Tai-Chi, Pa-Kua, and many other martial arts, including some swordplay. Many have had injuries due to the hard work they have undergone to train and rehearse as dancers.  Dancers in our class learn to work with principles and theories that help them train smarter instead of just harder.I can tell you, coming from years of vigorous martial arts training, dancing is every bit as difficult, challenging, and loaded with hard work, sweat, and tears, as any martial art.

Finding tension and poor mechanics is as valuable to a dancer as it is to a Tai-Chi practioner. One method is to go slow to recognize what is hurting you, or feel which part of your body is out of alignment with gravity. What Jane and I do in class is go from Tai-Chi to Modern Dance, from slow to fast, from easy to strenuous, and from the mind and theory to the body and movement. We explain and demonstrate the principles and movements from the Tai-Chi/Martial-Arts/Meditation point of view, and Jane takes them and either shows where they exist in Modern Dance, through various combinations and routines she choreographs, or she creates moves and phrases that use the principles just discussed and then demonstrates how to give expression of those theories in motion. She shows how to apply these concepts and training techniques to get more refinement and quality out of the dancer without taking more out of the body. Jane’s phrases and etudes are both beautiful and educational. Many students report back to us about feeling great after our classes. They experience energy and joy as a result of the instruction and pace of the class.

We also explore Tai-Chi movements, called postures, and techniques for two person Tai-Chi, called sensing-hands, and routines and combinations for Tai-Chi Swordplay. The focusing of whole-body power, and training tips from Shao-Lin, Praying Mantis, Lama, and other styles of kung-fu, give our dancers ideas for training, expression, and choreography. Jane and I are also cataloging our concepts and methods into seminar and workshop format. For now we teach weekly, on-going classes but will make our lessons available for a wider audience soon.

We can move in so many ways even into our old age. My teacher was 102 when he passed away and taught into his 90s. His movements became smaller and more refined, his jumps became little hops, and his kicks gradually went lower. Yet, he still demonstrated and performed and taught for decades. Dancers can still move, express, and enjoy all those lovely movements and actions they have done for years. We just need to allow the body to adapt as it ages. An old saying is “the wise person does not desire to become young again.” Dance as you dance now, not as you once danced. Let your wisdom and experience shape your movement as it does your body.

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