Sunday, February 06, 2005

Feldenkrais 101

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Photo by Mark Wozny

The Feldenkrais Method can be an extraordinary tool for dancers. The Method was founded by Engineer, Nuclear Physicist, and Martial Artist, Moshe Feldenkrais. He predicted a systems approach to understanding the brain/body connection. His early training in three disciplines highly influenced the making of his Method. His experience as the first European black belt in Judo laid the groundwork for creating a effective movement experience.

After a debilitating knee injury, Feldenkrais applied his complex understanding of how systems function to retrain the rest of his body around his knee. Often the medical model focuses on the place of injury. In Feldenkrais work, we focus on patterns over problems or symptoms. Feldenkrais’s knee was injured beyond repair, but he could address how the rest of himself supported his injured knee. He began working with his pelvis in slow gentle movements to bring more awareness and flexibility to his whole self.

Eventually he codified his Method into two modalities. Functional Integration (FI) is the hands-on work. Performed on a low table, fully clothed, the practitioner guides the student to new ways of functioning. The group modality, known as Awareness Through Movement (ATM), employs guided movement sequences that bring a more easeful mode of action. Most lessons are performed lying down on a soft mat. The experience can be deeply restful and restorative. Lessons revolve around a theme that serves as a lens into a global understanding of movement. Feldenkrais created over 1500 documented lessons. There is no demonstration and students keep their eyes closed during most lessons. Students listen and try to figure out what to do based on verbal instructions. Most of the movements are deceptively simple and easy to perform. Effortless action in each movement allows the student to find the path of least resistance. The process of discovery is key in awakening a deeper form of learning.

People participate in the Feldenkrais Method for a variety of reasons. Often chronic pain brings them to the work. Feldenkrais work can be ideal to help someone become aware of their compensation patterns due to the amount of unconscious protection habits. The work is highly potent as a means of prevention. Weekly classes keep your brain-to-body highway tuned. For dancers, this can be useful do to the amount of repetition involved in dancing. Dancers also find their creativity and skill in movement invention improves. ATM lessons are full of novel ways of moving. It’s not unusual to find a rich improvisation experience after an ATM.

The Feldenkrais Method is considered a form of education rather than treatment. An experience with a Feldenkrais teacher is called a “lesson” rather than “treatment.” The focus is on bringing an individual to an awareness of how all of whole self participates in every movement.

Feldenkrais teachers attend a four-year training and come from all kinds of backgrounds from the health professions to the arts. The work has been embraced by the musicians as injuries are so common. Washington, unique in the history of the work. Donna Blank, a former dancer and now a world renowned Feldenkrais Trainer, began offering ATM classes for dancers at The Dance Exchange during the early 1980s. This was a rare introduction to the work when there were fewer than 100 practitioners in the US at the time. Currently about 55 trainings are ongoing throughout the world. This past May the somatics community celebrated Feldenkrais’s 100th birthday. Celebrations took place all over the world to celebrate his contribution to movement science.

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This piece was originally published in by the Dallas Dance Council Newsletter.