As homework for my apprentice teaching gig, I am Reading All The Books.
Conveniently, all the books Anne wants me to read were already on my Choreography, Teaching, & Technique reading list.
Anyway, on the way over to Mixed Apparatus at noon today, I found myself contemplating some of the Improvs in Blom and Chapin’s The Intimate Act of Choreography (ISBN: 0-8229-5342-0 … and, look, it’s available in electronic format!) and, simultaneously, thinking about the problem of shaping proprioception, which is a huge part of teaching dance.
As a quick illustration, one of the things we’re focusing on is making a graceful line through the arms. That’s one of the most challenging things to do for a number of reasons, but not least of all because what we think or feel our arms are doing and what they are doing are often, in short, quite different.
For example, I had no earthly idea how strongly I tended to break my wrists until I saw a picture of myself playing around on the trapeze (or was it the lyra?) the first time we went to PlayThink (I though I had it in my WP media files, but evidently I don’t, so I’m going to have to add it in later).
The difference between what I felt like I was doing and what I was doing was so stark and so shocking that it produced a powerful mental image; one I was able to use to very consciously correct the carriage of my wrists (and, over time, my port de bras in general).
Anyway, all of this led me to think of a potentially-useful little improv game that could, potentially, be useful for improving proprioception (which, like other forms of perception, is malleable through training).
I’m calling it “Snapshots,” though part of me was tempted to call it “Selfies,” since I am a spectacular selfie-junkie (actually, I love taking pictures of people in general; it just happens that I’m always there when I need a subject). The choice of names relates partly to the greater historical strength of the word “snapshots” and also to the fact that selfies are often (perforce, because one’s arms are only so long and we don’t all own selfie-sticks) taken at weird angles.
Chances are someone else has already invented this game, but that’s one of the cool things about good ideas. So, in short, if you’ve already invented this game, please know that I’m not intentionally stealing your thunder.
Here’s how it works:
- Get yourself into a neutral position in a room or studio with a good mirror. (If you’re in a large class, make sure everyone has a good “window.”)
- Close your eyes and think of a position, pose, or phase in a movement (perhaps that moment in renverse when you begin to transition from arabesque to attitude? …Only on the flat, so you have a better chance of remaining upright) that you can reach and hold for a little while.
Consider starting with an isolated zone or part of the body: just the arms, just the foot, just the right leg.
- Find your way into that position, pose, or phase-of-movement. Work slowly: without your eyes, this is going to be a bit more challenging than it usually is.
- Once you’re “there,” open your eyes. Get a good sense of what your execution actually looks like.
- Compare and contrast the image of yourself executing your chosen position/pose/whatever with your mental picture (you can close your eyes again if it helps; likewise, you can probably stop holding the pose in question now, if you need to).
Ask yourself: in what ways do I “match” what I envisioned? In what ways don’t I match? What looks better than what I envisioned? What doesn’t look as good? Why? What might I need to adjust? What should I leave alone?
- While looking at yourself in the mirror, slowly move the parts of your body you need to move to match your original mental image, giving yourself time to know what it feels like to get there.
Edit: I left out the last step!
Over time, the second-to-last and last steps can help your mind’s eye and your proprioception (in short, the sense that tells you where you body parts are in relation to one-another) work better together. At least, they do for me.
I haven’t tried this yet with dancers other than myself, but I plan to deploy it on my dear, patient husband and anyone else who’s willing to be a test subject and see how it works for them. It works well for me, but that isn’t always a great indicator of … well, anything, really.
So that’s it for now. Today we did lyra and silks in Mixed Apparatus, but none of us took any pictures. There were only three of us in class (the lovely advantage of daytime classes — often, they’re quite small!), so there was no one waiting for an apparatus while someone else worked.