Tuesday, 1 May 2012



Here is a term that dancers and dance students hear all the time. When I asked people around me to tell me what it is I got various vague responses. So in this post I'll try define it from a dancer's perspective.

The word "somatic" comes from Greek and means "From the body", "Relating to the Body" and according to Wikipedia "Somatics" is a field which employs holistic body-centered approaches to assist people in integrating and transforming self through movement and awareness practices intended to promote psycho-physical well-being. The field contains distinct disciplines, each with its own educational and/or therapeutic emphasis, principles, methods, psychology and techniques.

All of these distinct disciplines concentrate on exploring one's own body through sensory awareness. Each technique, in its own way, is attempting to make us feel and listen to our senses (proprioceptors). The aim is mainly to get to know yourself better which, supposedly, often results in better health. Although most of the techniques were developed as a way to treat a medical problem I don't think this is where their appeal lays for dancers. I find the idea of exploring and discovering the body far more interesting. These techniques can help us be highly aware and connected to our bodies. This is more important as a dancer as it will help avoid injuries and dance better. If I know and feel my body better I will be able to listen to it when something doesn't feel right (physically) and I will also be able to quickly understand the complexity of a new movement quality.

Thomas Hanna is the person who first coined the term "Somatics" in the 1970's. He was looking for a term to describe this new field that was being developed by him and others. He then went on to create "Somatics Magazine" and "The Somatics Society". Since then the field has grown and developed into what it is today.

The amount of disciplines that came out since the 70s is quite astounding. You will most certainly have heard of some of them, to only name a few.

Hanna Somatic Education created by Thomas Hanna
Body Mind Centering created by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
Feldenkrais Method created by Moshé Feldenkrais
Alexander Technique created by Frederick Matthias Alexander
Bartenieff Fundamentals created by Irmgard Bartenieff
Rolfing created by The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (Ida Pauline Rolf)
Progressive muscle relaxation created by Edmund Jacobson
Ideokinesis created by Mabel Todd, Barbara Clark and Lulu Sweigard
Authentic Movement created by Mary Starks Whitehouse
Gyrotonic Expansion System created by Juliu Horvath

All these practices are often criticised for their complete lack of scientific evidence to back up their therapeutic claims. This is the reason why I want to show that we can ignore these claims and use these techniques as the brilliant tools that they can be for dancers. Tools that will help us know our bodies (mind included) better. Consequently making us better dancer, and I don't only mean better technically but also creatively and artistically.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Choreographing on Commotions

I've just spent the last week end in Manchester choreographing on a youth dance company called "Commotions". The company has about 12 members ranging from 12 to 18 years old. It is a very nice non professional company with varying dance abilities.

I was asked to come and create a 6 minutes piece on the subject of "secret", in two days. Sadly the lack of founding doesn't allow for more time but I thought that it would be a great challenge. Being a choreographer is still something new to me as I am more of a dancer and teacher. I started planning the work about two weeks before going to Manchester, mainly by making lots of material. By material I mean dance phrases. I also decided on what the music would be and I created a rough overall structure. Although the time with the company was short I also wanted to make sure that some of the material would come from the dancers.

I arrived on the Saturday morning and we got started right away. First I taught a big chunk of movement and then we started playing with the rough overall structure. I wanted to see if some of my structural ideas would work. When the dancers had done enough learning we moved on to a creative task. The task was to pair up and play with the idea of:
- one of them walking and staggering and occasionally reaching with one arm. As if lost or in need of help.
- the other one grabs the arm and pulls it. Playing with pull and push.

I don't think I explained it very well but they still came up with some great stuff. I should have broken it down a bit more and made the first instructions more physical. We would then have been able to move on to a more conceptual idea.
For the rest of the day we worked on setting each of these duets and we played with the general structure of the piece.

The following day we started by running through what we had done the day before. Then we carried on working on the overall organisation of the piece. By then a much clearer structure had started to appear:
1st part - group section
2nd part - duet,solo with group in the background
3rd part - group section to end

I then asked the dancers to make one duet out of all the duets they had made the day before (only using the best bits). We used that material for the last group section. We also worked on the duet and solo that are in the 2nd part.

The idea of "secret" evolved into something a bit different. My first idea was about an oppressed state such as a totalitarian regime. Trying to show people that are sad and with no individualities. In that sort of environment people have secrets, but only in their thoughts.

Debbie, who was helping me, shared the fact that it reminded her of "1984" by George Orwell. So we thought about it for a while and decided to call the piece "101" in reference to the room 101 in the book. This is the room where people get punished by having their worst nightmare realised.

So the piece became even clearer:
- group section (showing oppression and lack of individualities)
- duet, solo with group in background (expressing how the group feels inside)
- group section (oppression leads to revolution)

The darkness of the subject never seemed to be a problem for the dancers. It is nice to explore dark ideas every now and then. The ending suggests a positive future without making it too obvious.

By the end of the Sunday we had a piece. There was still some cleaning and rehearsing to do but the piece was there. The dancers worked really hard. I didn't give them any break apart from a 30 minutes lunch. They were so good, patient and understanding with me. I am very grateful to all the people that helped during these two days. Debbie, who invited me in the first place, was amazing. She was so good at pointing me in the right direction and giving ideas. I feel I have learnt a lot through this experience. This was really a great opportunity.

Thank you Commotions!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Teaching in a vocational school

I've just been teaching students in a vocational school in London as part of my post grad diploma. I am  currently pursuing a Master of Arts in pedagogy. Although I already have the French teaching diploma (DE) I want to know and discover more. The reason why I went back to studying is to challenge myself and learn more. I have a lot of experience in dancing and teaching but it is nice to be observed and pushed into new areas.
I have been writing down my thoughts after teaching each classes. I thought I'd share them with you.
Here they are:

It was very nice to teach these six classes. It allowed me to see the evolution in the students and to give more personal feedback as I got to know their habits and weaknesses. As I am used to teaching company class it was good for me to work in a completely different environment. The class, in a student context, allows us to spend time searching and exploring while usually in a professional context the purpose is to get ready for the day ahead. In that sense it was a great discovery for me and it is something I need to remember as it is important to adapt the style of teaching accordingly. In a student context I should allow myself to give more time to the students and stay longer on an exercise. I also need to remember that I can take time to break down a difficult exercise into two exercises.

I really enjoyed having to work on myself and particularly on the aspect of "interruption". I constantly interrupt myself in the middle of showing an exercise. I have this need of giving information to the students as I am demonstrating instead of showing it once and then breaking it down. I managed to get better through the weeks but it is something that I will have to work on for a while as it is deeply engraved in me. Once I have managed to show the whole exercise without speaking I need to make sure I don't give too much information afterwards. It is important that I decide what I want to concentrate on so that the quantity of verbal information doesn't become overwhelming for the students.

An other aspect that I want to work on is the idea of giving positive feed back when there is no reason for it. Quite a few times I told the students that it was really good when it clearly wasn't. I do think it's important to keep the atmosphere nice and positive but I have to find the right balance between that and lying. The unnecessary feedback is absolutely not constructive and could probably become destructive if the students start switching off as they get used or even bored of hearing positive things only.

The other pattern that I seem to have is in the amount of time I give to the students to practice. I interrupt them after a short practice to give feedback and then let them do it again. Most of the time I could, not interrupt the practice so that the students have time to discover things on their own and use the time to give one on one feedback. However if I do end up interrupting the exercise I should maybe give only two notes instead of a huge overwhelming amount.

Teaching these classes was a very good experience and it reasserts my love for it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Big School Project end

This is it! I have finished the project last week. I managed to put on, a one hour production with 100 kids. I am really proud. It was hard and stressful but it was worth it. Most of the kids were quite sad that it was all over.

Since my last post I have been working on setting more and more of the choreographies. As the weeks passed the show was taking form. The media department was able to show me what they had done which allowed me to adapt the choreography.
In the after school sessions I worked with the time travellers. I came up with a script and we worked on it together. The three students would suggest changes so that they could say and learn their lines better. We worked on basic acting skills such as projection, articulation and timing.

Three days before the show we put everything together for the first time, the time travellers' scenes between each dances and the projections. I made a couple of adjustments with the time travellers. I had warned them to be ready for small changes at the last minute. It was very good that everything was ready at least a week before the show because when we got on stage to rehearse, the students could concentrate on all the new information they were getting. They didn't have to think about the choreography as they new it very well. They could work on their focus, their spacing and their entrances and exits.
These little details make a very big difference in the quality of a production.

The day before the show we did a dress run which went very well. It was a long day for the students. Technical rehearsals and dress runs can be hard for young ones as there is always a lot of waiting. The kids get easily bored so you have to make sure you have a good amount of staff to look after them and keep them busy.

On the day of the show we managed to do a rough run through, but not on stage. It allowed the students to have the choreography fresh is their heads.
The show went very well. The time travellers were brilliant and all the choreographies were beautifully danced. The projections were amazing and everything came nicely together. The audience (parents and school staff) loved it. It was rewarding for everyone. The hard work paid off.

One of the feedbacks I received was the fact that you could really see the kids' input. This is something that is very important to me and I am glad that people were able to see it. I questioned myself a lot on that matter. I could feel that some people along the process thought I should be teaching the students more moves. That is not what I wanted to do and I am glad I didn't. The choreography was made by the students and I. I came up with many ideas and moves but so did they. It was a collaboration.

The point of this adventure was to develop the students' creativity and it did. I had the last word on everything and I directed the whole thing but I got helped by the people dancing in it.

It might have been easier and less stressful to just come to each sessions and teach them every single move of the choreography but I strongly believe that it wouldn't have looked as good.

I am glad I kept going that way and didn't give in because the result was stunning.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Big School Project (2)

The project is going very well. I've started devising and setting with the students and I am very happy with everything they've come up with.

I had a session with them yesterday and was very worried that they wouldn't remember anything from the previous week, but they all did! Some of them struggled a bit but they all got there in the end. Remembering a choreography is difficult but, like anything else, it's a matter of practice. When done on a regular basis it seems really easy but most of these kids have never done it before.

Yesterday a friend of mine came to see how much work I had done and how the project was going and she was very positive and supportive. She thought the students looked good. We tried ideas together to set a theme for each group and a general idea for the show. It was so useful to have someone there watching and saying "yes you're going in the right direction, so keep going" because even though things seemed to be going well it is nice to be reassured.

I have now written down a "script" for the show so that everyone involved in the making can work together (media, dance, English department). I have four choreographies, one for each group. I have made up a story about 3 kids who are time travellers and each stop in time is represented by a choreography. The time travellers will come on stage in between each choreography. I have been given extra time after school to work with the time travellers.

Now that I have a theme for each group and that I've started making the choreography, the main job will be to make sure we manage to put together the dance and the media. It is probably going to be the hardest part of the project, but I won't have to worry about that until nearer the performance day.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Big school project

I have just started a new project with a technology college. It's a big challenge. I have four groups of about 25 kids aged between 9 and 15. Most of them with no dance experience. I see them once a week every week and after four months we need to have a show ready. It is very exciting and challenging. I have taught many workshops to similar kids but I never had to take on such a big project.

The show has to be about the history of the college as we will be celebrating its 140th anniversary. There is a media artist working with me. He is going to work with the kids as well. We also have the English Department involved. They will provide us with material such as poems, texts, etc. The show will be performed in the college so not on a proper stage but in a hall.

We're only just starting. I have seen the pupils three times so far. My aim is to get as much choreographic material from them as possible. It would be too easy to come and teach them every move. I want them to be creative and involved. It's not easy though. One of the groups in particular really needs to be spoon fed. So, for my next session I have decided to teach them a little choreography that they will have to transform. Other groups have been extremely creative with very little input so I think it will be easy to get something out of them.

The main reason why it is such a challenge isn't because they don't have much dancing experience. It is, I believe, because they are doing it as part of a school subject. They didn't really choose to be involved. The other thing making it a challenge is that each of the sessions are 50 minutes long. It is a very short time within which I have to warm them up and then create and rehearse a choreography. I have been talking with the teachers to maybe have some longer sessions.Creating with kids takes time.

The first three sessions went very well. I had them improvise, learn a choreography and make up their own. So from the next session on, we need to start devising choreography. The making of the show begins!

Thursday, 29 July 2010


I am just back from 2 weeks in the south of France teaching basic anatomy to future dance teachers.

It's a group of women ranging from 15 to 35 years old. Most of them choose to come to this 2 weeks intensive program. They get to refine and discover a variety of topics from ballet to music and anatomy.

Because the majority of them is here willingly and because a few of them are either the same age or older than me, it is easy to quickly become friendly. They are good students and we spend a lot of time together during two weeks. We joke a lot and because they feel comfortable, they tease me or laugh at me which, of course, I don't mind. I think that it's healthy to be able to laugh at yourself. The only thing is, that at the end of the two weeks, I will decide whether or not they pass on to the next level. I have an authority over them.
The question then is, how do you find the right balance between a good authority (laugh with my students, comfortable working atmosphere) and a bad authority (no control over the group or a dictatorial control)?

During these last two weeks everything went very well but for the first time I started questioning the meaning of the authority (power) I had over these women. I was joking with all of them but then had to make sure they worked enough to get their diploma.
How do you tell someone with whom you've been having a good time, that they didn't get their diploma and that they need to come back next year?

I had teachers, in the past, who would always keep a very strong dividing wall between themselves and us. We would never have laughed at one of them. I don't want to be like that, because when I was a student I kind of forgot that my teachers had lives outside the dance studio. This dividing wall, they used, made us forget that they were human beings.

I just hope that the students understand that a comfortable working atmosphere (where you can laugh at me) doesn't mean we're friends. I won't give any of them their diploma because we're friendly with one an other. That's why they need to know we're not friends.

The idea of authority and power reminds me that as teachers we have responsibilities.