Dancers, Start Your Engines


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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.


[1] Boon, Maxim. “Batsheva’s Dance Will Literally Drive You Gaga.” Limelight. October 7, 2015. Limelight: Australia’s Classical Music and Arts Magazine. Online article.

[2] Ibid.