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SOUL is an eco-friendly centre situated in Titirangi in the lush rainforest on the west coast of Auckland.

It is created as an environmentally friendly space to pursue a holistic, artistic, integrated organic lifestyle. Enjoy weekly classes, weekend workshops, monthly programs, teacher training opportunities and lifestyle packages that support and integrate dance, art, creativity and spirituality into everyday life.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

SOMATICS IN NZ

An email interview with Wilhemeena Monroe and Felicity Molloy.

 


Felicity: Why somatics in the therapeutic/ bodywork/ movement sector? Please can you describe your influences - e.g Unitec, Butoh, Skinner Releasing, East West, Body Weather etc.


Wilhemeena: It is my understanding that somatics is “of the body” the body as experienced, the phenomenological body, subjective body or what Edward Maupin calls it the “body epiphany”, an initial discovery of the body/mind unity, a discovery which matures into a more sustained state of “embodiment”

In this way the question of why somatics in these industries seems absurd. Without the experience of the body in these industries we have no legs to stand on.

We are merely looking at the body as an aesthetic and not an experience. Like comparing a photograph of a dancer or a painting, with the living, breathing organism which is multi-dimensional and has a life force, an energy and an emotional body and a creative body as well as blood, bones and flesh that are constantly moving, constantly changing. This is somatics – the living breathing self.

So you can look at a body as a therapist and just see mechanics and work on that level, and the same with dance – you can see the mechanics of the body in that lift, the beauty perhaps of that pirouette from a mechanical perspective.

Then you can look at it from a somatics perspective – the breath, the energy, the magic of the dance, the healing moment that changes your perception. As well as the experience of the dancer, the experience of the audience, where they can feel the dance moving in them.  The experience of the client – what they can feel, and the experience of the practitioner – what they feel is important, from a somatics perspective.

For me my “experience” of being a dancer and a therapist has always had this approach. Perhaps I am not naturally a methodical person. I have always had a penchant for the magic of the dance, the magic of the moment – and I found this in somatics.

Over the years I have studied a vast array of somatic modalities, among them Skinner Releasing Technique, Shin Somatics, Chi Kung, Yoga, and Butoh, each with a unique perspective – Skinner Releasing, Shin Somatics and Chi Kung for me are pure somatics modalities because they are philosophically about the “felt” sense. Yoga and Butoh, like anything else “can” be practiced in a somatic way – but can also be practiced purely mechanically, or with an aesthetic in mind.

In Skinner Releasing for example – you move from your felt sense. That is the key to the work. This way you can find new pathways of moving that aesthetically are not what you would choose, but come from a creative source that is deeper than aesthetic.

It could be said that somatics maybe a longing for individual authenticity, because it has become more and more clear to me that our bodies are a key to a more authentic reality. Authenticity is a function of embodiment.


Felicity: Why somatics in NZ tertiary dance – what has the study brought to tertiary dance? can include other avenues where your somatic practices have surfaced - e.g drama/ bodywork?



Wilhemeena: In my mind somatics is essential in the training of dancers, as it cultivates creative impulse and a freedom and variety of movement. There is nothing sadder to watch than a beautiful dancer who can kick their leg high but lacks an essential spark – once they have done one or two high kicks, I am bored. However, a dancer with a somatics based training may be able to be engaged in the most inane task on stage and for some reason draws you into their world – how do they do this? Somatics! It is through their felt experience.

It is essential in dance training to cultivate this felt experience in our dancers. As a choreographer I want to work with dancers who know and can experience themselves as moving, as opposed to a dancer who is good at picking up movement taught to them. I want them to be able to think and move for themselves.



Felicity: What has this got to do with yoga and Pilates? – or Alexander and Feldenkrais? If you think of significant differences between the modalities that make them more or less "somatic" can you add..


Wilhemeena: Yoga and Pilates fall into the same camp for me. They can be approached through a somatics lens and practiced somatically. However there are plenty of people with a strong yoga practice who have never actually explored how an asana feels to them – they are simply putting their body in a position. It is aesthetically based.

Alexander and particularly Feldenkrais where onto something by slowing down the movement and asking the clients to become more aware of their movement pathways – this is a beautiful introduction into working in a somatic way – it is about awareness of self and I would say it is awareness of the moving self or the self moving.

Of Ida Rolfs work “Rolfing”, “If one tries to apply “the line” in Rolfing as an external standard, it is indeed an imposition, a coercion. But if one looks for the line internally, kinesthetically, then it is a powerful concept, leading to an inherently recognizable reality.”



Felicity: Who has been integral to the practices developing in NZ?

Wilhemeena: My first experience of somatics was a class with Raewyn Thorburn – Skinner Releasing Technique at the then Auckland Performing Arts School in Hargreaves street – this was an innovative dance school run by Ali East. This is where I discovered dance – in a whole new way, a way that fostered creativity and uniqueness and the whole person moving through space. It was a haven. I studied SRT with Raewyn, Contact Improvisation with Catherine Chappell and contemporary dance with whoever was the hottest teacher at the time.

As I became ready for full-time dance training, the Performing Arts School was bought out by UNITEC and the school was shifted there, the teachers remained the same and Ali East and her contemporaries created an innovative program which stood up to the then global phenomenon of “new” dance development – a much more somatic approach to training dancers. Among the tutors there was Felicity Molloy who was my first “somatics” teacher, she has and still does hold a leading presence in the somatics industry in NZ as a dancer, educator and therapist.

She paved the way for me to think about dance therapeutics and the marriage of dance and therapy as a valid career option – although there was nothing of that kind here at that time.

Charles Koroneho, although he may not think of himself as a somatic teacher, developed a strong sense of holistic creative process and introduced me to butoh, which become another main practice for me, which I developed through a somatics lens later in my creative process.

As I finished UNITEC, I segued into teaching SRT and choreography there until they slowly began filtering somatic practices out of the program.

Of those golden years of new dance, there are still some dancers who have held the flag for somatic practice here in NZ, among them Val Smith – who has kept Contact Improvisation alive, Brent Harris, Sarah Campas, Felicity Molloy and myself but there still wasn’t really anywhere to fully immerse yourself in it.

As a lifestyle I wanted to “Live” somatics and so with no where to go – I decided to create somewhere. A hub for somatics practice here on the outskirts of Auckland.

Since conception 8 years ago, SOUL – Centre of the Body and Mind has been creating and hosting workshops and classes with some of the worlds great somatics practitioners and dancers, including Al Wunder,(AUST)  Stephanie Skura(USA), Nate Dryden(USA), Ged Sumner (UK)  - to name a few and also fostered and hosted Sondra Fraleigh of Shin Somatics to come to NZ for the last 4 years to teach her butoh inspired somatics work here. This provided a host of NZ dancers and practitioners being trained in Shin Somatics methodology. And resulted last year in the first international somatics symposium in NZ in Dunedin, hosted by Ali East, and Otago University. Sublime.

SOUL now runs an annual somatics summer school where you can taste test a host of somatics dance and wellness practices, including Contact Improvisation, Skinner Releasing (Release Me), Butoh, Authentic Movement, Halprin Life/Art process, Embodied Massage, among others. It is glorious!!!!

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