through movement, conscious embodiment and playful inquiry. Her classes, Moving Soul Dance, Body Landscapes, and others cultivate awareness of subtle, elemental, and primal forces that influence and inform the body/psyche. As a teacher, her joy is fueling this “prima materia” into soulful expression for healing and liberation. She has performed, directed and produced numerous events, most notably for SomaFest LA, The World Festival’s of Sacred Music (initiated by the Dalai Lama), EarthWays, Arcosanti, The Wrightway Foundation, L.A. Theatre Center, and Stanford University. She also performs Middle Eastern dance and is a recent student of Balinese dance. She is the author of The Soul of Nature (Doubleday) and Earth Dreaming and is working on a new book based on a heroine’s journey through the underworld. She is also a fabric artist/photographer and uses her “inner eye” to create sacred spaces to dance and explore within. She is a member and Chair of the Los Angeles Dance Collective and former director of the Spirit and Nature Program of the EarthWays Foundation.
After studying composition at the Julliard School in New York with Vittorio Giannini and Vincent Persichetti, Mr. Bernstein attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he received an Outstanding Graduate of the College Award, a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship and a Chancellor's Doctoral Teaching Fellowship while studying with renowned American composer Roy Harris.
This article is part one of our two part series on free form dance. Be sure to check out “Dancing Forgiveness: Part Two” where six dancers from the L.A. Dance Collective are interviewed by Georgianne on their relationship to dance, healing, and forgiveness.
Since the beginning of time, dance has been an integral part of every culture. It is a direct medium to express what is inexpressible in words. Dance is its own language. Originally dance, among other things, was a way to connect with nature, and to channel the ways of the natural world. It also is, from way back, a conduit for the inexplicable, and the invisible. Our “body memory” recalls all of this—including the evolutionary imprint of other species. In other words, somewhere deep inside us, we know what it’s like to spread our wings, crawl on all fours or swim in the depths of the ocean—we gravitate towards revisiting these primal places through movement. It is satisfying and invigorating. Movement is one of the most direct access points to feeling these “other” worlds.
So, when we dance in a “free form” way—without choreography or a learned style—a multiplicity of energies are stimulated and set into motion. Our movement expression is sourced from numerous places including our emotional landscape, the detailed “story” of our lives; and, as mentioned above, the body’s primal beginnings. Also, through dance we may connect to the world of the sacred or divine. The heart may open, you may feel a kind of radiance emanating from there. Then there’s that basic natural urge when you can’t stop tapping your feet, and you just have to get up and dance to the music, with no content whatsoever.
One moment you’re a bird soaring above the ground. Another, you find yourself beseeching the Gods and reaching upwards. Then, suddenly disobeying your inner critic’s constraints, you skip and frolic like a child… or, as the music intensifies, you might feel a fire rage inside your belly as you slice and punch the air in anger. Maybe a sensual memory tickles your “inner lover” as you spiral your hips in sync with your own sovereign intimacy. You might spin around and around like a whirling dervish and feel your gravitational placement in the orbiting of the spheres. Or, you may simply boogie to the music, stomp your feet to the beat, and forget everything on your plate that day! You might even find a partner to share this moment of connection, or not.
WHAT ONCE WAS INCOMPREHENSIBLE, A POSSIBLE REVELATION INACCESSIBLE TO THE MIND, EVEN A NUMB PLACE DEVOID OF FEELING, BEGINS TO HAVE LIFE… TO FLOW, TO BREATHE, TO ILLUMINATE.
However one interprets the music, whatever way your body’s imagination picks up the signals, the process of free form dancing, without prescribed dance steps, acts as a spark for integrating mind, body and spirit. What once was incomprehensible, a possible revelation inaccessible to the mind, even a numb place devoid of feeling, begins to have life; to flow, to breathe, to illuminate. When we are “in the flow” we bypass the judgment of the mind, one move leads to another, seamlessly. There is fluency. The truth is we are composed of something like 2/3 water. Fluid is a dominant element. When we are able to let go and move from an authentic place of “listening” to the body’s cues, we move with the characteristics of water. Water does not get impeded for long. It flows around obstacles. It fills a container—there is always the possibility of release, and spilling over. The same with us. If we jump into a body of water, we start to swim. In dance, a small drop of interest or curiosity goes a long way towards discovering an expansive inner universe that can flow unimpeded through us as we dance. You might begin to sense a narrative to your dance. You might follow an internal signal that leads you from an image, to a bevy of feelings, to heightened sensation. Oh, and not to mention, all the other “elements” might cascade into the picture, fire, earth, air. It is a constant surprise what particular “tone” or rhythm will seize the moment.
THERE MAY BE A HEAVY EMOTIONAL WEIGHT HOLDING US DOWN, BUT INVARIABLY EVEN “SHAKING” THE BODY A LITTLE, OR “WALKING” THROUGH THE SPACE DIFFERENTLY THAN USUAL CAN HAVE A TRANSFORMING EFFECT.
This not to say that we’re always ripe and in the mood to explore. There may be a heavy emotional weight holding us down, but invariably even “shaking” the body a little, or “walking” through the space differently than usual can have a transforming effect. Something held, imprisoned in judgment, shame or loathing, even on a small scale, can be shifted through a gesture or series of movements. We might come to find that we need to revisit the same places of an emotional trauma over and over. The body is wise, it tells the truth if you let it, and if something needs to be repeated over and over, until it doesn’t, so be it. There is no question that the body moves towards healing, given the opportunity.
Forgiveness comes in the softening process of letting go of resentment and blame. The sharp edges of how we hold our body in a certain stance of defensiveness can give way to permeability and opening of the heart. The dance of the body may be a healer of the emotions.
Sometimes healing is a slow process, sometimes, instantaneous. Every moment is new, change is happening from the micro to the macro at all times. We can align with this idea in dance. But, we must be gentle with ourselves and not rush to judgment if freedom doesn’t come fast and easy. It’s a process. One day is always different from another. Sometimes tears come from way back, sometimes laughter, sometimes remorse. It’s all part of the dance of fluency, to not hold on, to keep being curious about what’s percolating inside and in a meditational way, let the images, feelings and stuck places have room to move and uncouple, like clouds passing overhead.
REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG AND YOU JUMPED UP AND DOWN FOR NO REASON OR TWIRLED TO TALK TO SOMEONE OR FELL TO THE GROUND AND SPREAD YOUR ARMS AND LEGS OUT FACING THE SKY.
All it takes is a willingness to follow a thread of curiosity to start unraveling one strand at a time into the language of dance. I was having a conversation the other day with a girl about seven years old, she was pointing out different flowers at a nursery. With each description she twirled around as she spoke. Just like that, no thought. Remember when you were young and you jumped up and down for no reason or twirled to talk to someone or fell to the ground and spread your arms and legs out facing the sky. That’s what we’re hoping to remember, that unbridled delight in expression before the cultural taboos and the seven hours of sitting still at a desk in school took hold of our natural inclination to “dance”; to express joy, sorrow, and delight from the teeming inner world of our bodies.
I will remind you that the arts, especially music and dance, have been the first to go under historically repressive regimes. Because when you dance and when you play music, you are inherently “free." No one is controlling you. You are dancing and expressing your own inner spark.
So it’s more than a personal act, to keep dance alive, to engage freedom from the smallest of our cells, to the larger expressions of our bodies, to the very movement of our thoughts. It’s the dance of life. It’s a dance of freedom.