Saar loves to tell us to ‘be cool,’ but before that happens I’m going to need somebody to teach me how to do that. I have firmly accepted the fact that I am not ‘cool’ nor ever will be ‘cool’ in the calm and collected sense (or any sense really but that is not being asked of me in this instance). How am I supposed to be calm, cool and collected when my hands are dripping with sweat as I roll less feet away from a work of art that 3 people warned my of its fragility? The part I most related to is in ‘cows’ when we trip over ourselves and then look behind us to see what we tripped over (a daily occurrence for me). I tear up in my classes when I become overwhelmed with joy, fascination, and awe as we discuss a major discovery in the field of discussion; I definitely do not possess a calm response mechanism. All I can do in between now and our performance is watch Saar and my fellow dancers in order to get as many tips on how to ‘be cool.’ From what I have observed it’s a matter of remaining loose and receptive. Whenever I am in the midst of a very ‘uncool’ moment like when I ended up horizontal on the corner of York and Elm, my body tenses up. While I laid on that sidewalk, I could barely respond to Holly as she attempted to pick me up off the sidewalk, due to laughter and full body contraction. So maybe in this example if I were ‘being cool’ I one probably wouldn’t have fallen, but two could have responded to Holly and the fellow observers. So maybe ‘cool’ is more a state of peak availability. It is the mode in which we can do the most research and receive the most information. This definition of cool is not as alienating for me and seems more along the lines of what Saar intends. However, I still need to work on being cool if that is the definition and will continue to observe the other members of YDT. If any one has any tips on how to be cool, in either the availability or calm and collected sense, please let me know.
Yvonne Rainer after watching a portion of our rehearsal was fascinated with the clump section, specifically a group of people doing movement in synchronization. I tend to avoid synchronization when I choreograph dances because I don’t want to accidentally fall in the trap of it occurring at all times, and I don’t find my movement/arrangement of dancers to make those moments interesting. However reflecting on this section and ‘cows’ I find that synchronization provides the dancer, or at least me as a dancer, with a substantial amount of power. Nothing feels better to me than nailing a group unison section, the energy that I am able to pull from those moments can help carry me through the rest of a piece. During the clump section I feel a buzzing energy of anticipation and preparedness as each dancer waits for the cue for the next movement sequence. I feel a strong sense of community and collective energy during unison moments. I am now beginning to have a fascination with unison and it’s impact on the dancer and what aspect of that the audience is able/should feel.
I’ve been thinking and reading lately about pleasure as a radical tool.
Many of us can relate to the feeling of not belonging somewhere, of putting ourselves in places that were not constructed for us. That feeling can obviously vary widely based on our identities and contexts, but the essence of what I’m trying to say is that often we feel hopelessly subjected to our surroundings.
When I feel this, it’s easy to give into grumbling. Coping mechanisms for feeling stressed, out-of-place, tired, trapped, bored, etc. include losing focus, closing off physically and mentally, and wallowing in mental agony and self-pity. Never am I more aware of this than in a particularly dull morning lecture in which I feel subjugated by the clock, forced to endure the remaining minutes.
I mention all this because one of the wonderful surprises about the construction of Gaga movement is the simple notion of allowing pleasure to guide one’s movement. Inspiration and novelty can wane, but pleasure is the river flowing in a steady stream through us — it will always tell us a step forward if we are present enough to listen to it. And in the times when I feel I am following pleasure, the notion of endurance withers. My attention is effortlessly sharp. It’s the equivalent to laughter breaking out — the joy of it snaps me to my senses.
Perhaps most excitingly, pleasure gives me agency in any context. Whether in the studio, the classroom, waiting in line, driving in traffic, or any other situation in which I’m aware of time passing, tapping into pleasure gives me power over my surroundings. Rehearsals can be long, physically taxing, and challenging, but even during moments of effort, Saar reminds us to find the pleasure driving everything we do. In seeking out the pleasure, the effort itself lessens. It’s for this reason that these rehearsals, though initially a daunting time investment, have become havens for me. It takes work to stay focused and present, but the rewards have been more than worth it. I step into the studio, put up my hair, and take off my watch. With no mirrors, phones, or clocks in sight, I’m swept up into the daily rhythm of my body much more easily.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
– George Harrison, “Any Road,”
inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
Personally, this quote has always meant a great deal to me, not only because I inherited from my music-loving father his preference of George Harrison above the other Beatles, but also because it really speaks to me. It is more than just a song lyric, but a motto for life.
College spans four critical years of a young person’s life, a self-formational time filled with difficult questions and the often-stifling inability to answer them. At this juncture in my development into a “real person,” people constantly ask me what I plan to major in, what career I want to pursue, where I see myself post-graduation, etc. It seems like the need to plan is inescapable; I can’t even schedule my day without thinking about when and what I’ll eat. (Well, maybe that’s a personal struggle, but I digress…)
Point being, we live in a tomorrow-centric world, often causing us to forget about right now. Really, right now is all that matters because this moment holds infinite possibilities. Right now, I can choose to walk away from this entry and never look back—Screw it, I can say, (Saar Harari might even use stronger language for the concept of abandoning a plan) and forget all the plans I’ve ever made, whether to become an English major or to have grilled chicken for dinner.
Carpe momentum. Seize the moment. No plans, no predictions, no schedule. No pre-meditation, no artful anticipation, no built-up motivation. That is the spirit of Gaga.
I was drawn to Gaga for its adherence to this mantra of availability: letting whatever wants to happen in that moment happen and being open to anything. Much of the movement is generated through improvisation, in which the dancer does not follow the typical process of inventing a motion then figuring out how to adapt her body to move in that way. Instead, the movement comes from the internal engines and the body moves however the impulse inclines it.
Ohad Naharin describes how “the letting go, the yielding, is an important concept in Gaga. It is not about collapse or relaxing but about turning to where we block the flow of energy, where we are holding ourselves and do not allow our joints to be available for movement so that our movement becomes stiff instead of soft.”
Gaga is all about eliminating limitations and “giving more” to the movement. Whenever we feel a blockage or a stiffness, we need to get back in touch with our engines, especially our lena, and move energy through that area, leaving it “available” for motion and the transfer of energy.
Saar Harari often reminds us to maintain our “ball movement availability.” We have to release all tension in our joints and places where body parts connect in order to facilitate any motion that wants to manifest itself there. This frees us to move in all directions, reaching into space and engaging with it.
Availability is essential because it allows communication, both within a dancer and with other dancers around her. Openness and freedom of motion within the body clear the channels that carry impulses throughout the body from the various engines.
Energy flows through the body and expands outward into the space around the dancer. This impulse can then travel to other dancers, facilitating the process of “giving and receiving,” which Saar Harari cites while we improvise in class. We have to be available to take the stimuli we receive from others’ movements and internalize them, at the same time as we give something to them as we move.
Availability, the possibility of doing anything in the moment, giving in to whatever wants to happen, gives Gaga its refreshing spontaneity. No one knows what will happen—what movement will spontaneously generate from the dancers’ bodies, either individually or considered together—so dancers are always attentive so as not to miss what is occurring among them.
Saar Harari tells us to “stay alive” and present in the space so we stay in tune with the energy flow. We cannot lose focus and daydream about the past or future because none of that matters. What matters is happening right now, and we need to be there to feel it and take it onward. We need to be available to take all roads, because any and all lead to where we want to go, if we let them guide us.
 Naharin, Ohad. A Toolbox for Dancers. Interview. Tanz Raum Berlin, October 2015.
Gaga encourages losing control – giving in to gravity, to one’s body, to the external forces. It is this loss of control that epitomizes the stark contrast between Gaga and all other dance I had previously encountered. Frequently during our classes, Saar directs us to “Give in to the forces. Let go.” He urges us to move without thinking or predetermining our movements and, instead, to rely on that which is innately driven. It is the movements that arise when one gives up all control that reveal the most authenticity and vulnerability. For myself, many of these movements form as momentum builds and I continue in paths naturally appearing from each preceding moment. To move with the things that move me is to relinquish all consciousness of control, to admit these forces upon myself.
Today, we were instructed to capitalize on this feeling of giving in: to release one’s body “into water,” indicating a lessening of bodily effort, and to use the movement gained in this moment of release. We collapse our boxes, our centers of structural support – chest, ribs, pelvis, shoulders – and fold inwards, riding on the wave of travel gravity provides. Gaga work with these forces – natural laws of the universe, bodily desires, naturally ensuing movement – instead of attempting to counteract them and, thus, the innate human joy of dance flourishes.
I find myself repeatedly writing about the distinction between the mind and the body in my Yale Dance Theater Blog posts. Saar Harari’s Gaga classes have prompted me to further explore this distinction. More specifically, they’ve prompted me to question it. Harari’s classes challenge me to think using my flesh. I think with the skin under my elbow, my pelvic muscles, and the fleshy pads of my feet. I listen to the rhythms of my body. All the while, using my eyes to pay attention to what’s going on in the room around me. I find it challenging to combine an inner focus with an outer awareness. We have to both listen to rhythms of our own bodies and be ready for anything that happens in the space around us. And as this careful attention and action grows exhausting, Harari encourages us to give in to that exhaustion. But you don’t give in by stopping. You give in by connecting your pleasure to your pain. You bend more, you jump further, you reach higher. And it seems that a kind of humility is necessary for this giving in. You don’t give in by becoming more than human. “Be human,” Harari tells us. I’m still unsure of what being human means in Gaga. But maybe it has something to do with erasing the barriers we put up between our minds and our bodies.
“Keep your eyes open.”
“Take in information from the room.”
In a Gaga class—especially if it’s your first class—the immediate instinct is to close your eyes.
“Float. Feel water around your flesh. Let it lift your bones.”
“Open the doors in your joints.”
“Feel the movement echo in your body from far away engines.”
To see the image in the mind’s eye, to translate it into the body’s physicality, is a difficult undertaking. Especially if the prompts are new—unfamiliar to the body and strange to the imagination—your mind wants complete focus. To reduce distraction, you let your eyes close softly. This after all, is a time for introspection, for individual research, for discovery.
“Keep your eyes open.”
Though the impulse is understandable, to close your eyes is one of the (very) few no-no’s in a Gaga class (add to the list, no mirrors, no late-arrivals, and no stopping, and that pretty much covers it). While you grapple with continuously changing prompts (not to mention the layering of prompts), Gaga instruction encourages you to STAY HUMAN. Yes, the language of Gaga asks that you continuously see with the mind’s eye—see your seaweed spine, see balls in your joints, see the thread that connects one arm to other, traveling through the chest—but at the same time, the rules of a Gaga class ask that you continue to see what’s right in front of you, with your very normal, very regular, anatomical eyes. Take in your surroundings. See the other moving bodies in the room; see what information they give you. Remain curious.
When I first delved into a Gaga practice, this simultaneous “double-sight” was the sensation I most struggled to internalize. My mind wanted to live in a world of pictures: imagine melting flesh; imagine balls circling throughout your body; imagine engines in every unit of your body and ignite them. Even with my eyes open, I failed to see beyond the pictures, beyond the bounds of my own body. Only when I watched my instructor demonstrate choreography did I begin to understand the difference. Although the choreography itself was not and could not be Gaga, Gaga was the practice that informed her movement and you could see it in her every step. But where I saw it was her eyes. She had this look that I couldn’t identify; something that made it impossible for me to look away. Only after many rehearsals did I realize what the look was: even while she danced (with all the aliveness of Gaga imagery: melting flesh, floating bones, multiple engines firing at once) she continued to see—the walls, the floor, the dancers—with curious eyes.
This is what a Gaga class asks of you: to see inwardly (the images that elicit multidimensional movement) and outwardly (the world which surrounds you) with equal attentiveness. Such a feat is nothing short of very impressive multitasking, but I believe that’s exactly what Gaga is after. In an interview in which he was asked to make a choice—choose one person you would like to be stuck in an elevator with—Ohad Naharin responds by saying, “Whenever you choose one thing, it’s always the wrong thing. We should always choose more than one. Like one idea, even if it’s the best idea, is a bad idea.” Although this comes in answer to a rather light, silly question, I believe it speaks to an important ideology that can be seen everywhere in Gaga. As you move from floating to shaking to grooving, you’re asked to keep each of the prior ideas in play. Float while you shake; float and shake while you groove. Similarly, in the concept of bodily engines, you are encouraged, as you awaken more and more engines, to use as many as possible, all at once. Surprise yourself. MULTITASK. Choose more than one idea.
 Lewis, Kristin. “The Elusive Ohad Naharin: A Conversation with the Artistic Director of Bat Sheva Dance Company.” Dance Spirit Feb 2006: 103&125.
“Cancel the box of your chest.”
We stand scattered around the room, eyes wide, collarbones reaching for the ceiling, threatening to escape our chests. The top half must strain, you see, to make room for the leg bellow, which wants to float outward and up.
“Cancel the box of your chest.”
Come back collarbones! Stop! Don’t pull away! Give in to the effort of that reaching, stretching, floating leg. Come back, be soft, and let the effort move you. Listen, and you will hear its echoes. Give in to the effort. Revel in it, even. Enjoy.
As dancers, we have a pesky little habit of dividing our body into parts: right arm; right leg; left arm; left leg; chest; core; butt; back; collar bone; neck; right foot; left foot; head. Even when the parts work simultaneously—right leg rises, left leg stands, head tilts ever-so-slightly upward, collarbones reach for the sky—they are worked as separate entities. Each part follows a separate command (lift; stand; tilt; reach).
The language of Gaga however, aims to disintegrate the barriers between parts. Throughout class, dancers are urged to consider “the thread of their arms,” “the rope of their legs,” their “seaweed spines.” One imagines a single thread that reaches from fingertip to fingertip, traveling through the chest; a single rope that reaches from one foot to the other, traveling through the pelvis; a fluid spine that will have nothing to do with boxed rigidity. When a body translates this imagery into its physicality, there can be no movement in the right arm that doesn’t affect the left—for they are of one thread; there can be no movement in the left leg that doesn’t implicate the right (as well as the pelvis in between)—for they are of one rope. To feel this sensation is to feel the connection between body parts, to feel the channels of the body open.
The channels of the body. This concept is key. In Gaga, the body is composed of a network of channels (the thread of the arms and the rope of the legs, connected by the seaweed spine). When open, these channels can carry movement, the memory of movement, and its echoes. When open, these channels can give movement or they can receive it. A rolling motion in the right ankle travels through the rope of the legs and up the seaweed spine, causing it to undulate. The undulating spine then sends a wave of movement through the thread of the arms, causing one arm to lengthen and the other to rise. Fingers splay and curl gently (and every-so slightly). Here, the right ankle “gives” movement and the fingers receive it (along with the rest of the body, the entirety of which partakes in the movement’s “journey”). But in a Gaga class, the body is constantly moving; in fact, this is one of the few rules of a Gaga class, that you never stop moving. So the channels of the body are constantly giving and receiving, often doing both at the same time. While one arm jerks and sends a wave of movement to the opposite foot, a knee bends and sends a shoot of energy through the pelvis. Simultaneously, a circular motion passes through the seaweed spine. At every moment, the channels of the body must be ready to give and receive, give and receive. Give movement and receive its echoes.
To allow for this “transfer” of movement however, one must be able to listen. If you command your chest to pull towards the sky—tensed and perfectly placed—while your right leg floats freely beneath you, the channels in your body break (the chest becomes a box and severs from the seaweed spine, which in fact becomes rigid and no longer responds to the movement of the pelvis) and information ceases to travel. You eliminate the possibility of hearing the legs’ movement echo in your chest. And in the lexicon of Gaga, this is a great loss. Reflecting on his love of moving, Ohad Naharin writes, “I’ve learned that listening to the body is a lot more meaningful than telling it what to do.” More meaningful, he says. Perhaps this is a matter of movement potential. While a command to the body only allows for a certain range of motion (there are only so many ways you can tilt your head the right), listening to the body allows for limitless possibilities. A jolt in the leg can send a quiver through the spine, which radiates through the head and arms, moving you in ways you’d never expect. Maybe this capacity to surprise oneself makes listening more meaningful. Maybe the process of constant discovery and play gives the movement meaning. But there’s also more to this meaningfulness, I think, and it has everything to do with the ability to give and receive. In class, Saar has told us repeatedly to give and receive. Receive the floor, receive the room, receive information from your fellow dancers; give information to the floor, give yourself to the room, give information to your fellow dancers (be “generous” Saar once said). Give movement and receive its echoes. This constant giving and receiving creates an inherent multi-dimensionality in one’s movement. It creates a sensitivity in one’s body—so that you’re ready to receive at any given moment—as well as a readiness and availability to both move and be moved. This, I think, is what Naharin refers to when he talks about the meaningfulness of listening to one’s body. To listen is to be constantly sensitive, constantly available, ready to give and receive at a moment’s notice.
In a brief tirade against mirrors, Naharin discusses what the body should aim to do without the influence of soul-spoiling mirrors. “To get to the real discoveries of [your] abilities and potential,” he says, “you must sense. It’s not feeling, it’s sensing.” Clearly, the difference between feeling and sensing is imperative, and once again, I think it has everything to do with giving and receiving. To ‘feel’ is to experience a sensation (perhaps passively) with one aspect of your physicality; to ‘sense’ is to know a sensation with the full artillery of your person, to let it travel throughout the body, to let it ripple and echo unimpeded. To sense is to give and receive, to know the full engagement of your awareness and physicality.
 Naharin, Ohad. “why i choreograph.” Dance Magazine Oct 2013: 88.
 Ohad is quoted in various interviews saying, “the mirror spoils the soul.” Here, the quote is from: Lewis, Kristin. “The Elusive Ohad Naharin: A Conversation with the Artistic Director of Bat Sheva Dance Company.” Dance Spirit Feb 2006: 103&125.
 Lewis, 2006.
One of the most important aspects of Gaga is the pervasive, underlying drive. All movement originates from a point of power and emanates outward, causing a chain of reactive motions that leave the body and “echo” in space. This power center is the engine of a dancer’s body, from which it derives and channels its energy.
Ohad Naharin, the creator of Gaga, calls this engine the lena (LEY-na). He locates it at what is the true middle of most people’s bodies—“between the navel and the private,” as described by Saar Harari, the creative director of YDT’s spring project. He always tells us to form our motions “from the lena.” It initiates and leads where we go.
For several reasons, this seems like an odd concept for most people, even many dancers. Depending on the dancer’s body and training, she initiates motion from different places. For ballet dancers, the engine is the back, from which stem long, graceful lines and deep arching. This often causes an opening of the chest that gives a regal, floating quality to the body, but it can also give it a rigidity that seems cold, serious, and aloof.
We can take another example from hip hop dancers. Their engines often lie in the torso, especially the chest and pelvis. At first, the pelvis may seem similar to the lena, but they are not the same; the pelvis is the region around the hip bones, often including the pubic area. Motion that comes from the pelvis is first felt in the lower body and passes outward. Because hip hop often uses isolations, the initiator can change between steps. Even if a step is initiated by the pelvis, it soon transfers to another location because the active body part is the initiator of the movement. While these parts are working, there can be stillness in the others, and the movements in different parts of the body do not need to be connected or originate from one area. Motions reverberate (think of a body roll), a form a path that gives this style its dramatic effect. The focus and action shift continuously through the active parts. There is also a grounded-ness to this style that contrasts Gaga.
On the other hand, Gaga is supposed to display connectedness of motion. No matter what the motion is, it is caused by the lena, which is always “on;” even when we are not moving, the lena’s energy stays alive in our bodies, keeping them ready for whatever the lena leads us to next. All parts of the body, in order to move, need to receive energy from the lena. Because it is at the body’s center, energy flows outward in all directions at the same time.
There is no delayed reaction; an impulse from the lena moves all appendages together—the whole body moves with its force in a clear, concise path. There is “a buoyant, instinctual immediacy to the choreography by creating a direct conduit between the physical and the visceral: in a very palpable sense, it is movement that is as guided as much by the mind as it is by the muscles.” In many ways, the lena is not strictly a physical entity, but an vessel of a dancer’s mind, which guides what the body should do based on where it is and what it has just done.
Because it is guided by the lena’s response to the mind, each motion has a force behind it. The reason or “story” behind the movement is not as important as the apparentness of drive. An audience can make up whatever story it wants about the movement; what is important is that they see a motivation for it within the dancer, which is the lena.
Because so much of its movement is improvised by each dancer individually, Gaga does not have a set of steps or motions that must be memorized and re-used in different sequences to form new pieces. Instead, Gaga provides a set of terms, like the lena, that help facilitate each dancer’s personal creative process. This vocabulary allows dancers to tune into their bodies’ sensations. Ohad Naharin describes this Gaga “toolbox” as “a process of listening to the body rather than telling it what to do; a self-analysis which responds and reacts to the echoes of movements as they travel through the human form.” Dancers move according to the demands and commands of their engines, especially the lena. Movement is not arbitrary because it can be traced to specific sources, both within the body and outside of it.
The lena’s energy does not stop at the tips of a dancer’s fingers or toes, though. It keeps going outward, into the shared space, inspiring and informing other dancers. In this way, each dancer’s lena is connected to those of others, because their energies interact in space and go back through the dancers. Every person’s movement affects others’ in a sort of sharing of energy, power, and motivation.
 Boon, Maxim. “Batsheva’s Dance Will Literally Drive You Gaga.” Limelight. October 7, 2015. Limelight: Australia’s Classical Music and Arts Magazine. Online article.
While Gaga class offers a place to freely research, I find that in the process, I am also constantly struggling. I grapple with the verbal prompts that we work with, because the neural connections that we must make are new and unfamiliar to me. It is much like carrying out a task using the nondominant side of my body, or clasping my hands together with the other thumb on top. As a result, I experience new sensations and awaken the dormant areas of my body.
What I currently find to be especially challenging is making connections between opposites and extremes. Connecting horizontal to vertical forces. Connecting pleasure to pain. Letting go to receive more. Being simultaneously aware of internal sensations and external surroundings. Keeping effort to certain areas of the body. Letting go to explode. Giving and receiving both at once. Falling into floating in water. Hiding the beginning.
At times, they seem like impossible tasks, but perhaps they are meant to be impossible. Maybe we are supposed to be overwhelmed. Maybe failure is okay. And in this struggle, I find my mentality changing. I recognize and accept when I fail and simply try again. I attach less value and judgement to being able to master a prompt or skill quickly with relative ease.
In fact, I am beginning to wonder if mistakes even have to exist and if it is all in our perception and control. For example, Saar often says matter-of-factly, “If you fall, you fall.” But it is about the way we fall. By riding the fall, we harvest that movement for investing into something new, thus, reappropriating a would-have-been mistake. By opening our bodies to possibility and new perspectives, we are able to perceive the moment as something other than just falling. I can fall, but I don’t have to.