Dance in the Academic World…summer camp extraordinaire!

It was my great pleasure to be a part of the 2018 Dance Science and Somatic Educators Conference held in Buffalo, New York this August.  To be able to look at the scientific approach to dance through Dance Science as well as the approach to qualitative movement was amazing.  To see dance considered in the scientific community is a huge paradigm shift from a fine arts focus looking at performance and culture.  I chose to join this incredible group to find a way to bring my work with movement in dance for healing using Muscle Testing or Autonomic Response Testing as well as Injury Recall Technique.  I was not sure how the conversation would go as I was not familiar with the central focus of Somatics in relation to the dance form and performance.  It was a beautiful experience to witness the level of dedication and compassion that the group has for bringing dance forward in the scientific community as well as in the experience and performance community.

One of my first observations to the group was their level of dedication to understanding the anatomy of the body and biomechanics of the bones and the muscles.  Their focus on proper placement and use of the anatomical function of a joint or a muscle is at center focus.  Their method of approaching this science is with the dedicated focus of ballet technique with modern dance movements.  There is a synergy of information that flows with this connection.  Two of the presenters represented traditional Indian dance, or Bharatanatyam, and indicated how they were taking the information produced for ballet technique and translating that to their dance form.  My first observation to this is twofold.  One, the study of the body is expressed through anatomy structure of bones and muscles with a lip service to the electrical system through nerve impulses as well as other significant tissue in the body.  Second, their dance form of choice represents only a small portion of the dance communities in the world.  Ethnic dance, urban or hip hop, foot percussion (tap, stepdance, Irish, Scottish etc.), African and more create a different dynamic in movement exploration.  By including the biomechanics of the other dance forms there might be more scientific information about the functionality of the body and the role that dance plays in using the body, integrating movement, and providing a quality of movement through the dance forms.  Through the understanding of many different dance forms there may be an opportunity to begin to include the information in the body for the dynamics of Reflexes and Neurokinesiology, as well as vibrational medicine which includes the frequencies within the body as well as the interaction of the music and surroundings with the body and its function.

My second observation was the use of traditional movement bearers.  To work with and understand the experience and knowledge of Kitty Daniels was delightful.  Her body moved so fluidly with her ballet techniques, despite injury challenges, and her understanding of the flow of movement and dynamics to achieve the movement were wonderful to observe and participate in.  This led to my second observation which stems around emotion.  The use of emotion in dance is explored from an emotive position.  That is the performer is trying to convey a message and they embody the emotion involved in that message to share their story or their message.  With my background in Touch for Health, the opportunity to work with the emotional memory within the body and understand its function in movement patterns and tension in the tissue means that I have a different understanding of emotion than Somatic practitioners.  The use of Injury Recall Technique to explore the impact of emotion within the body, and to muscle test and determine the emotions within an organ system that may be held within the movement patterns or structural integrity of the body creates a holographic possibility for shifting dance movements and the quality of the movements.  When one of the physical therapists asked one of the presenters about their knowledge of the psoas muscle and its link to emotions, the presenter could only comment that there is a cultural connection within the body to synergize movement.  It was at this moment that I recognized that there is a huge gap between the information that science is sharing about emotion, and the understanding of emotion through the many centuries of traditional Chinese medicine, the use of emotion and goal oriented intention, (rather than intention of movement), and the exploration of emotion in specialized kinesiology.

My third observation involves exploration techniques.  Specifically, I was intrigued with the myofascial work presented which explored the fascia as a dynamic organism that can be stimulated and experienced through movement.  As I was participating in the exercises I was brought back to my training with Dr. Svetlana Masgutova in Reflex dynamics as well as Neurokinesiology Tactile Therapy.  Her work had the same humble beginnings as the exploration we were sharing, but her research and training has taken the Neurodevelopment to a very high level.  By finding a way to link the conversation of these dance explorers with her work, as well as the work of Dr. Richard Gerber in Vibration Medicine, as well as Dr. James Oschman in Energy Medicine, there can be an opening of ideas to explore dance in a whole new light.  I know there are other researchers in the area of Neurokinesiology and vibrational medicine who can add to the dynamics of the conversation, and Dr. Keown who has authored, “The Spark in the Machine,” helps to bring this conversation closer together.

My fourth observation centers around reflex work.  As dancers we work within our movement dialogue of experience in a way that allows us to produce the look and flow that is desired for our respective dance discipline.  However, we do have movement patterns and muscle inhibitions which can hinder our success with a particular movement or phrase of movement.  By rehearsing through this with our mind and body as a connection requires us to make conscious choices and conscious movement.  However, our parasympathetic system and our autonomic responses are determined from our subconscious awareness and response, as well as the reflex programs used by our body for survival.  There is also a link with emotional response to particular movements that are stored and our present emotional state to access the patterns.  As dance science evolves and grows, I hope that the conversation with other science explorers becomes more predominant.  What is so exciting about dance is that it is the integrating factor of all the science explorations, and it is the way that we can express this dynamic in an integrated fashion.  We are so privileged to have the passion to explore dance and movement in such a creative, emotional, intellectual, physical and inspiring way.

How did my material influence our roundtable discussions?  I was a part of “Dance Science and Somatics:  Integration into coursework”.  My colleagues spent much of our discussion talking about their respective programs and what they were able to include in that program at their university.  There was a lot of dialogue around this.  I had spent months preparing materials in different ways not sure how to approach the conversation.  When my turn came around to introduce what I do in 5 minutes or less, I decided to show people with exploration – after all, that is what dancers do.   I began with who I am and what I do.  I am a dancer, a dance educator, a Touch for Health instructor and a student of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Akamai University.  I use muscle testing and many other techniques to determine what the body requires for warm up and exploration in a dance class, and I use my understanding of traditional Chinese medicine concepts with the  5 Elements to create movement sequences to support the energetic needs of the body.  I had everyone participate in trying the Body Pendulum as a muscle testing source.  I demonstrated how to use a 14 Muscle Test to find out what muscles in the systems are supported energetically, (I had to do this on myself in order to stay within a 5 minute demonstration).  Then I had them experience the Meridian sweep to feel the way that dance can be involved in an energizing exercise.  I did not use my full experience of the dance version with music because of the brevity, but everyone was amazed at how they felt afterwards.  Finally, I had one person with a former ankle injury, lay in the center of the group.  I used Dr. Sheldon Deal’s demonstration method of exploring the leg flexibility of the person, use the forward manipulation of the skull while the person lies passive and thinks about their ankle, and then rechecked flexibility.  They were amazed at the difference.  I then invited them to think of something that was bothering their physical structure at the moment that did not come with a big life shattering event, (to save any extra angst that could not be explored in the presentation).  I use my alterations to the technique by including the cone fingers at the jaw, the holding of Governing 20, and the final manipulation with holding the injury.  We also tapped into the Talus joint for anyone with an injury below the neck.  These techniques have been presented by Dr. Deal, but I have adapted them for dancers and brevity.  Everyone experienced a change in flexibility in the group.  Because I was able to offer experience there was an awakening of possibility to the information.  We did not include the techniques in further discussion in the roundtable as the group was interested in how programming was handled for different aspects of the academic programming.  However, once we had finished the evening activities, we had a gathering of people in our dorm to understand the techniques further.  As I discover everywhere I can share these techniques, people are amazed and they want to know more.  They haven’t heard of muscle testing and they are not sure of how it works.  I have made it a point to be able to use scientific language and experience, to offer a way for people to realize the potential of the techniques and the validity of their nature.

The experience of being in such an incredible group with years of experience, techniques, ideas and creativity was fantastic.  I believe that dance will continue to grow in the science community and find a voice that bridges the gap between medical science and biophysics, neurodevelopment, energy dynamics and more, while enhancing the artistic and performance grace that is a part of being in dance.  I also look forward to how the different dance disciplines find their voice in this dialogue.  I remain committed to the idea that the more we explore all the dance disciplines through somatic awareness and science, the more in depth we will be able to enhance performance and embrace the beauty of movement and our synergy with the music.


Michelle Greenwell, pictured with Mariah-Jane Thies (Brain Gym)  and Michelle Ikle (Hobart and William Smith College)


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