to receive and give; to sense

Standard

“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.”[1] 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.[2] “To get to the real discoveries of [your] abilities and potential,” he says, “you must sense. It’s not feeling, it’s sensing.”[3] 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.

[1] Naharin, Ohad. “why i choreograph.” Dance Magazine Oct 2013: 88.

[2] 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.

[3] Lewis, 2006.