Hi! My name is Nika Antuanette, and I will be writing the blog, “On the Beat,” for the next 4 weeks, as I dance, learn & grow with the Steps’ Summer Study NYC 4-week program.
In just this past week, I have learned so much from the wide-ranging and knowledgeable faculty, hard-working and dedicated dancers, and fellow talent around me. It is exciting to know that I am just dipping my toes into the water. There are so many possibilities and ventures to undertake.
The most important thing that strikes me is the fact that everything is connected and feeds into the same circuit. Whether I am taking ballet, contemporary, or even Pilates, it is true that the corrections and insights I gain from one instructor are certainly applicable to the broad spectrum of dance techniques and styles.
My first week, I had the pleasure of dancing with Stephen Petronio and his dancers (Emily, Joshua, Barrington, and Jackie) on a daily basis for the Contemporary Masters series. I really dig his approach to dance, as it is rooted in efficiency and simplicity. Yet, if you have seen his work, you know it doesn’t look “easy” or mundane. We learned sections of “Locomotor” and “Non-Locomotor”, two pieces from the company’s repertoire. Some of the movement was fast, fierce, spacious and rooted in balletic shapes and lines. However, it all boils down to one thing…taking the energy from inside of you and releasing it out into space. Mr. Petronio emphasized that on day one, and it is important to remember. We are just exploring the natural spirals and figure 8’s that already exist inside our bodies. By coming to class and enhancing our technique, we are thoughtfully preparing to send energy out into space. We go through a series of exercises that align the body with integrity. It is important to take the time to consciously realize why we do our plies and tendus…it is not a mindless task. Dance is extremely integrated in mind, body, and yes, spirit. What are we saying to ourselves as we do that grand plié? That inner monologue is critical our own improvement, because we can be our own best teachers.
Next, we are a part of nature, and nature just works on its own. No one has to make the sun rise or the clouds precipitate. These are naturally occurring processes. I like to think of a tree from its roots to its strong trunk to its branches and leaves as an example. It is important to have a solid foundation. It starts with the feet and proper alignment from the ground up. From there, we can add the details and flourishes that make dancers have their own idiosyncratic movement vocabularies.
But first, we need to start with the structure! Mr. Petronio talks about setting up an “engaged neutral” in which we find our center between our coccyx and our pubic bones. He has us literally palpate the area to feel where we are moving from and explore the spaces and breath in between those bones. Similarly, on each side, we have trochanters, and we also breathe into this space, so they expand and contract with each conscious inhalation and exhalation. From there, we travel all the way up the spine and remember the importance of the atlas, the top vertebra that our skull rests upon. I like when Mr. Petronio says to have a “curious head.” We all know what that means…we instantly achieve a natural lift through the crown of the head. It is essentially weightless when the bones are stacked properly. This same head can have tremendous weight when we release it or let it lead us as we charge through space.
So what is the point of all this? It is all rather simple, but simple does not equate to easy. I am constantly reminded of the importance of setting up an honest structure in my body and moving from a genuine place. Technique is merely the set of rules and principles. We have to start there, and it shouldn’t be overlooked for many reasons including safety and functionality. It is what we DO with it that is truly dancing, though. I want to dance! In order to do that, it is important to remember to have trust in the memory of the body and just be. We do all the work, so we can abandon it mentally and start to think about artistry. Our technique should be in the body before we venture to the next layer.
Vulnerability is key, and we talked a lot about that in Heidi Latsky’s Performance Skills this past week. How do we let the audience (even if it just our fellow dancers and ourselves) see us for who we are? We do not need to put anything on, but sometimes we forget this simple notion. For example, I sometimes hold tension in my jaw, and when Heidi asked me to release my jaw and just let it hang, it felt awkward because I was not used to the sensation. However, it gave me something to pay attention to that allowed my body to be efficient and free with the movement I was executing. This simple thing made all the difference. I heard Mr. Petronio give a similar correction to a fellow dancer and when he dropped his jaw, it made a world of a difference in his dancing, too. Why might this be? Apparently the jawbone and is connected to the pelvic floor, so if the jaw is not released, the pelvic floor cannot release either. Everything is connected! The pelvic floor’s engagement is the seat of our being and core of it all. As dancers, we know this well. It important to know how to activate it, but conversely, it is also critical to know how to let it go.
Balance is key, and we are searching for it daily – literally and metaphorically. I look forward to the next great week of dancing! Let’s just remember to keep it light – we already have everything we need inside of us. It is just the process of self-investigation and revealing our findings visually that offers us a real daily challenge. Fortunately, we have every technique class to play with this task at hand!
Photo: Nunzio Paci’s Graphite and Oil Paintings Merge Nature and Anatomy, to view more in this series click here