Monday, December 27, 2010

Educating The Dancing Body

Sara Murphy
December 2010
For a long time I didn't make, because my body was super colonized by this very particular vocabulary. I was like, 'that's just not me, that's Stephen or this particular era of New York.' I felt very defined by this. - Becky Hilton, former member Stephen Petronio Company
As I browsed through the latest Movement Research Performance Journal, I came across the above quote from dancer, teacher and choreographer Becky Hilton in an interview with Rosalind Masson. I loved this idea of the body 'being colonized'- the word has so many connotations- colonialism, robotic technician, being swallowed up. I remember feeling like my body was a bit "colonized" after I graduated from a BFA program in dance. But this is somewhat inevitable. When we're sent off into the "real" world, we get to discover how our body moves. When I was swimming in the sea of contemporary dance in New York, I realized I had to de-colonize and re-educate. I found my guidance from Susan Klein's work, Klein Technique (see December 26th posting, Healthy Practice: Klein Technique.)

One of the hardest things for any young dancer to do is to be asked to stand still. To be with their body in quiet stillness is the bane of many 20-something dancers' existence. 'I want to move,' they say. What may not be apparent to the naked eye in Susan Klein's work is the immense amount of movement that's happening during her class. Because stillness is never really still.

Stepping into parallel to begin each class with a Klein roll down has become my meditation. When I first started studying, it was hard as hell! To be there with my body, with my tightness and my anxious thoughts- it was not easy. But as I pushed through the first few classes, I realized the power I was gaining by peeling back my layers. These "layers" hold years of movement colonization- overworked muscles, unhelpful habits and an utter lack of an anatomical education. Susan has helped me learn that the power of movement doesn't come from the muscles, but comes from the bones.

The idea is that by aligning our skeletal structures first, the muscles will follow, not vice versa. As this re-patterning happens, Susan teaches her students how to be "grounded." A popular term amongst dancers and dance educators, she breaks down what being grounded really means- working the connections between the sitz bones and tail bone to the heels- allowing the pelvis to sit on top of the legs without tipping forward or tucking under. Rather than focus on the abdominal muscles or the "core" (a term dancers have borrowed from pilates), Susan stresses that it is not the center muscles that dancers need to concentrate on in order to gain the floor. It is our skeletal structure that supports us and should, in my opinion, be the focus of traditional Western contemporary dance training.

I read an interview with Janet Panetta, the ballet master for Pina Bausch's company, who I've longed to take class with due to my Pina Bausch obsession. When asked why Pina wanted her dancers to study ballet Janet replied,
Pina loved good ballet. I think she believed in the ability of ballet training to inform the dancers’ bodies. I think she was partial to the physical attributes of the ballet body: the legs, the feet. She appreciated educated dancers. That is now clear with the ones who have no classical ballet background, but are very schooled in dance from their own cultures.

Notice here Janet's use of the word "educated." Susan often talks about how she thinks there needs to be a paradigm shift in the minds of dancers and other dance educators in order to understand her work. She hates the word "training." And Janet proves that a similar kind of understanding is possible in mainstream ballet technique. When asked why Pina chose Janet specifically to work with her dancers she explained,
...I teach technique in a very specific way that isn’t always done in ballet classes. It encourages less muscular tension by placing the bones properly and allowing the muscles to follow. Dancers do not fight with their bodies in my work, they gain function that makes them released in their movement. There is no ballet affectation. It is never my desire to make them better ballet dancers, just better dancers. In that sense, the form works as well as any and often increases the range of movement possibilities.
Gaining function by allowing the muscles to follow has become my new mantra as I continue to explore educating my dancing body. After gaining insight into Janet's teaching philosophy, I'm not surprised Pina put her in charge of her dancers. Janet has fostered dancing bodies with some of the most exquisite physical capabilities. Now, if only I can find a way to get Susan and Janet in the same room- a meeting of the minds surely not to be missed!

Sara Murphy is a freelance dance writer and anthropologist based in New York.

Read more of Gia Kourlas' interview with Janet Panetta in Time Out New York

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dance on Camera Festival 2011


Tuesday, January 25
1-6 Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
7-9 Judson Memorial Church – Movement Research program

Wednesday, January 26
1-6:30 Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
2pm Beacon School – Workshop with UK director Caswell Coggins
3pm Beacon School – DESTINO
6:30- 8 Baryshnikov Arts Center – Reception/Billy Cowie performs “Hi Jinks”

Thursday, January 27
1-6 Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
6-8pm Bar Basque – Big Screen Project/Open Bar

Friday, January 28
11am Gallery/WRT – Laura Taler
12 noon Gallery/Walter Reade – Distribution Panel
1-6pm Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
1:30pm Walter Reade Theatre - A NEW DANCE FOR AMERICA & ON THE SOUND
3:30pm Walter Reade Theatre – SHALL WE DANCE
6pm Walter Reade Theatre - CLAUDE BESSY, LIGNES D’UNE VIE
7:30 Frieda & Roy Furman Gallery/WRT – Reception
8pm Walter Reade Theatre – CHAPLIN DANCES

Saturday, January 29
11am Gallery/WRT – Screendance talk: Douglas Rosenberg
12 noon Gallery/WRT – Presentors Panel: Neil Sieling, Judy Gladstone
1-6pm Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
1:30pm Walter Reade Theatre – CHAPLIN DANCES
4pm Walter Reade Theatre - CLAUDE BESSY, LIGNES D’UNE VIE
8pm Walter Reade Theatre – FLAMENCO FLAMENCO

Sunday, January 30
12 noon Gallery/WRT – Talk on FELIX: Gabriela Estrada
1-6pm Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
3:30pm Walter Reade Theatre – FLAMENCO FLAMENCO
6pm Walter Reade Theatre – ALL THE LADIES SAY & EBONY GODDESS
8pm Walter Reade Theatre - DANCING DREAMS

Monday, January 31
1-6 Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
1:30 Walter Reade Theatre – SHALL WE DANCE?
4pm Walter Reade Theatre – ALL THE LADIES SAY & EBONY GODDESS
6pm Walter Reade Theatre - BÖDÄLÄ – Dance The Rhythm
8pm Walter Reade Theatre - PASSION: LAST STOP KINSHASA

Tuesday, February 1
1-6 Baryshnikov Arts Center – Billy Cowie Retrospective
1:30pm Walter Reade Theatre - PASSION: LAST STOP KINSHASA
4pm Walter Reade Theatre - BÖDÄLÄ – Dance The Rhythm
6pm Walter Reade Theatre - A NEW DANCE FOR AMERICA & ON THE SOUND
8pm Walter Reade Theatre - DANCING DREAMS
10pm Gallery/WRT – Reception to celebrate Jury Winner

Healthy Practice: Klein Technique™

Sara Murphy
December 2010

This article appears in the 2010 Winter issue of Dance UK News (

Susan Klein’s movement education system, Klein Technique,™ is the most comprehensive system of educating dancers I have come across in my training as a contemporary dancer. Susan has been teaching her codified exercises to the international dance community for 40 years, yet her work has gone relatively under-noticed by dance academia. Why hasn’t the Western dance academy been more receptive to Klein Technique™? One reason may stem from the dance world’s tendency to segregate, particularly when it comes to training and technique methods.

Klein Technique™ has a significantly different approach to the body than traditional ballet and contemporary training, yet it has the ability to train dancers just as sufficiently, if not better, than more widely practiced techniques such as Cunningham, Graham or the RAD system. Instead of focusing on an aesthetic outcome- focusing on form- Susan created exercises to help increase coordination and connections throughout the body on the level of the bones using the muscles of deep postural support. Students who study Klein Technique™ increase their movement potential and artistry, but don’t reach the frustrating plateau often seen in traditional training, because they’re taught to use principles that underlie all movement. Without the restriction of a formulaic style, these principles allow for an in-depth understanding, so each student can reach their unique movement potential. Though Klein Technique™ was developed as a result of Susan’s own personal struggle with a knee injury in her early career as a contemporary dancer in New York, her system benefits healthy dancers and non-dancers alike.

“Klein Technique™…serves as a way for people to work through individual injuries, to understand the workings of their own bodies and to heal themselves…the aim of my work is…for each person to get a body felt understanding of who they are, what their injury means and how to access the innate intelligence of their body rather than to ignore it. For the healthy dancer, it is a technique of discovery…it’s a way to learn to dance and move from an internal knowing rather than an external shaping,” explains Susan.

By going directly to the bones rather than the superficial muscles, Susan believes there is a better chance of changing and improving the function of dancers’ bodies. In her work, the body is discussed, analysed and understood--both intellectually and somatically--to teach dancers how to gain a highly developed kinesthetic awareness of their bodies by teaching them to move from an anatomical perspective rather than just a visual one.

You won’t be directed to “hold your center” or “pull up” in a Klein class. Alternatively, these are replaced with directions such as “lengthen your tail bone down to your heels” and “connect your sitz bones through your heels into the floor.” By educating dancers about how the human body functions in movement--taking theoretical concepts and applying them to the dancing body through daily exercises--Susan’s work has the ability to fill a void in traditional dance training. By working on the level of the bone, dancers learn to stop gripping their muscles and let their skeletal system work for them, maximizing their unique movement potential and minimizing injuries.

Sara Murphy is a freelance dance writer and anthropologist based in New York.

Information and articles written by Susan Klein can be accessed at

Classes are held at:
Susan Klein School of Movement and Dance
60 Beach Street, 4A
New York, NY 10013
Click below for class schedule

Contact Susan Klein:
Tel 212-226-6510

Free Performances at Judson Church

Presented by Movement Research, I have really enjoyed going to these Monday night events and you can't beat the price. Be sure to arrive at 7:45 because seats do fill quickly.

Where & When
Mondays at 8pm
doors open at 7:45pm

Location: Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South

seating is limited, so arrive early

Selection Committee for Fall/Winter 2010-11:
Liliana Dirks-Goodman, Vanessa Justice, Judith Sanchez-Ruiz, Michou Szabo, Layard Thompson, Larissa Velez

January 3
Sara Yassky, Liz Santoro, Christine Suarez

January 10
HeJin Jang **, Maggie Bennett**, Martin Lanz Landazuri**, Renee Archibald**, Jillian Peña**

January 24
Lorene Bouboushian, John-Mario Sevilla, Netta Yerushalmy

* Movement Research Artist-in-Residence 2010
** Movement Research Artist-in-Residence 2009
• MRX Romania

Dance Review

Resurrecting the Spirit
of Judson Dance Theater:
Movement Research
Fall Festival 2010

Monique Jenkinson as her drag alter-ego, Fauxnique.
(Courtesy of

Sara Murphy
November 29, 2010

“I am the bastard son of Steve Paxton and Trisha Brown,” joked Stephen Petronio as he read out excerpts from his memoir in progress, Notes on a Life in Motion. The statement could not have been more fitting as he was surrounded by the walls that his “parents” helped build. It was without a doubt the most memorable line of the night.

Monday, November 29, 2010 marked the kick-off of Movement Research’s Fall Festival, Truly Madly Deeply. Simultaneously, the evening was also part of Movement Research’s free weekly forum for emerging ideas and works-in-progress that takes place every Monday night at the Judson Church near Washington Square Park in New York. The program included dance on video, a drag performance and a group improvisation that was very reminiscent of Judson Dance Theater.

Beginning with a 3-minute excerpt of a dance video by Cathy Weis entitled, The Pupa (1998) (originally part of a 70- minute live performance piece at The Kitchen in New York), the video– performed by Jennifer Monson and arranged by Steve Hamilton – was an unusual choice by curators Jon Kinzel and John Jesurun to include in an hour-long program. Dance Magazine’s editor-in-chief Wendy Perron tweeted after the show, “Movement Research showed my fave 2 vintage videos last night: odd, pioneering, mysterious.” Odd, pioneering and mysterious yes, but a stand-alone excerpt- I’m not so sure.

The other dance video on the program was Lisa Nelson’s Jump Cut (1979). An optical illusion on video, the title refers to the film editing technique in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from slightly varied camera positions. This type of edit makes the subject – in this case Nelson – appear to “jump” positions in a discontinuous, fragmented way. In the film, the impossible becomes possible when Nelson is preparing to jump into the air in the foreground, and then immediately thereafter lands in the background with no visible motion in between. In violation of the time–space continuum, jump cuts draw the attention of the audience to the constructed nature of film.

Nelson made the transition from working in dance to video in 1974, remarking in a 2008 online interview, “By teaching myself a new medium, I was able to track my own peculiar learning process and discover the sense of vision and the profound part it plays in the act of dancing.” In addition to serving as an experiment with dance on camera, Jump Cut also appears to be an early reflection on Nelson’s continued self-analysis of her own movement practices.

The most avant-garde performance of the night was Drag Movement Study: ‘These Shoes Are Called Pleasers’ by San Francisco based performance artist Monique Jenkinson. Wearing nothing but her brassiere and silk panties, and going under her drag queen alter ego “Fauxnique,” Jenkinson instantly earned the audience’s respect by attempting to dance in 8-inch heels. Glamorous, kitschy and inventive, Drag Movement Study takes “act” and turns it into “art,” as Jenkinson intentionally places her performance art between disciplines. “Yvonne Rainer said ‘no to spectacle’ so that I could say yes to sequins,” comments Jenkinson with her characteristic camp. By opposing what made the Judson Dance Theater infamous, Jenkinson is truly a second-generation post-modern torchbearer for experimental dance.

Exploring the construction of identity through dress, Jenkinson creates an intimate world of visual splendor. Her performance includes live-streaming video of a close up of Fauxnique lip-syncing to Roxy Music as she applies her makeup and false eyelashes in front of a vanity mirror. Moving to center stage, she slides on a pair of saucy black stilettos – stilt like and seemingly painful to walk in – slips on a red wig and slithers into a black sequin sheath. Defying the odds, Fauxnique urgently hustles around the stage collecting sequin tops and dresses that were being thrown at her from all directions. As the glittery garments drown her in sorrow, Fauxnique captivates the audience slowly pivoting on one leg, unraveling each article from her body. Jenkinson left me contemplating all the high heels sitting in my closet as she tossed her amour aside. How much of female fashion is really about men and the male gaze? Fauxnique is Jenkinson’s vessel for confronting these dilemmas.

Transitioning to a different style of soliloquy, Stephen Petronio’s reading was a thrilling, funny and brash glimpse into his life and career. Emerging from the audience dressed in jeans, a black sweater and sneakers, Petronio received the undivided attention of a packed house. “Ready. And begin,” he uttered into the charged silence. Taking the audience briefly through his years at Hampshire College in the 70’s where he was meant to study medicine, he shared his memories of falling in love with Limon and Laban instead. He also shared stories about his Italian-American family from New Jersey where “there were no secrets, emotions were high and it was never quiet.” Human, endearing and personal, Petronio spoke lovingly of the women in his life, and relived for a moment his mother’s tragic battle with breast cancer. Taking us through a landscape of words constructed only the way a choreographer can; Petronio peaked my interest for the memoir to come and left an impression unmatched by the rest of the evening.

The night concluded with an improvisation from Temporary Collective, a group of eight New York based dance and performance artists. Refreshing after a night of intense solos, the improvisation paid respect to the notorious Judson Dance Theater by echoing the sparse and informal presentations that gave rise to some of dance’s most seminal postmodern artists. The drawn-out performance did make me think of a comment from Time Out New York’s dance editor Gia Kourlas a few years back: “Too many dances…[look] like American Apparel ads.” Ditto on Temporary Collective’s showing in 2010.

Sara Murphy is a freelance dance writer and anthropologist based in New York.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Apollo's Angels

I'm looking forward to reading former ballerina and NYU professor Jennifer Homans' new book, "Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet." I'm happy to see she's titled it "a history." The book is on The New York Times bestseller list, and Homans has been popping up all over dance publications recently with the release of the book. I particularly enjoyed reading an interview with her in The Wall Street Journal, addressing writer Stephen Kurutz's questions about her impressions of "Black Swan."

Kurutz: What did you think of "Black Swan"?

Homans: It draws on the darkest features of the ballet world, exaggerates them and makes them the vehicle for Natalie Portman's extraordinary descent into madness. If "Black Swan" is a portrait of the ballet world today, it's certainly a portrait of an art form that lost its soul. Everything is through a glass darkly and magnified. If you were watching that film, why would anybody ever dance?

Kurutz: One of the stars of the film, Mila Kunis, said ballet dancers exhibit obsessive compulsive tendencies. Do you agree?

Homans: Dance attracts a kind of person who is often very able to submit to discipline. It has a monastic side to it. It demands tremendous commitment, tremendous sacrifice. I would call it ritualized, not compulsive. Yes, some dancers are compulsive but so are some writers and some actresses. I think people who are artists are fully engaged in their art and there is something compulsive about that.

I think most dancers can relate to Homans' thoughts about the kind of person dance seems to attract! To read Kurutz's interview in its entirety, go to

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vicky Shick

Dance Spirit Magazine recently asked readers to tell them who their dance idol is. I have many:

Susan Klein
Bill T. Jones
Julia Ritter
Pina Bausch
Asli Bulbul
Savion Glover
Marybeth Eibeler

And the list can go on and on, but the first name that popped in my head was Vicky Shick. Her quiet humility and generosity spill into her work and she has an amazingly resilient body. I liked what Vicky had to say about her work and the journey her life has taken through dance.

Although I have been in America since age five, the effects of growing up in a displaced household of mostly women remain with me, even now. I'm often surprised that the urge to somehow touch this dislocation continues to preoccupy me. In my choreography, I want to build a vivid and evocative visual landscape in a delicately skewed and spare world. More than movement invention, my fascination lies in refining a physical language to reveal persona and mood. I'm haunted by small details. For the past decade, I have had the wonderful privilege of sharing an intimate dialogue with and inhabiting dances in the clothing and set pieces of collaborating visual artist, Barbara Kilpatrick. My work has really been our work. I cherish the rigor and odd luxury of everyday dance-work. Performing in, teaching, and seeing the dances of others in our community has been a deep pleasure and honor. - Vicky Shick

Vicky Shick and Diane Madden perform a tribute to Trisha Brown.