some reflections on warming up

Each of the four days of workshop began with a warm up activity. This was much more than simply making sure that our muscles were ready to work hard.

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Sara led the group through a series of activities which began simply by walking at various speeds from one end of the workshop room to the other. New gestures and patterns were progressively added to the basic walk. As the patterns became more difficult, we had to concentrate harder on making sure that we could keep in time and to the new pattern – for example, walking while pointing one foot forward, back, back then forward and repeating this until we reached the end of the room.

Reflecting on the walking warm-up, it seems to me that:

(1) Walking was a non-threatening activity. The non-dancers in the group were all able to achieve what was expected. It wasn’t ‘dance’ which required prior training, unusual postures or actions beyond the capacities of any of us. It was an ‘everyday’ movement, used differently. It was inclusive.

(2) But it was also challenging. In order to actually keep to the walking patterns we had to focus intensely. Our minds centred on the movements. We became aware of the connections between mind and body – the oneness of them. We stopped living in our heads, and lived in mind-body. As one of the participants put it “You were situating yourself in your body”. Another noted, “ You were just so focused on the movement, you weren’t thinking about anything else.” Our minds, to marginally mis-quote Yvonne Rainer, were muscle.

(3) Our walking was both alone and as a group. We were doing something that was simultaneously together and by ourselves. We were however not isolated from each other. One participant said “We relearned how to walk… we walked past someone and noticed they were there.” The me-together activity produced a sustained feeling of silent sociability that, judging by the subsequent films and the discussion about them, was something everyone experienced.

(4) The warm-up activity was rhythmic. The rhythm itself was slightly hypnotic, it seemed to assist our concentration, it had something about it that was pleasing, an affect that was somehow health-full. Talking over the rhythmic quality of the warm-up with Emily made me remember a text I had read.  Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis. I’d worked with this theory a little before, but I can now see more reason to engage with it again, and more seriously.

Henri Lefebvre offered rhythm as integral to understanding space-time. Rhythm is the way we travel through everyday life. Together, space-time-rhythm constitutes the trilectic of human experience. Lefebvre suggested that life has quotidian rhythms which are both everyday and repeated, but also different in each repetition. The conscious experience of quotidian rhythms thus inevitably raise questions of change/sameness, contrast/continuity. This was certainly true of the warm-up, which was both the same and different each day. It provided continuity of activity but also signalled changes in our capacities to manage more complex patterns each day and to make our own variations in interpretation.

Warm-up was what Lefebvre would call a eurhythmic process that brought the body and mind together in harmony – and interestingly at the time Sara did mention Eurhythmics, the early C20 routine of physical activities developed by Dalcroze that were meant to signal good health. According to Lefebvre, eurhythms are part of the polyrhythmia we experience everyday, as breathing and beating heart for example. We are often not conscious of these eurhythms until they are disrupted, and become arrhythmic. Eurythmic movement however can bring these physical cycles more directly into our wakeful awareness.

And as researchers, Emily and I were certainly working as Lefebvrian rhythm-analysts, using our own bodies, participating in the warm-up, integrating our feelings from and observations of the dance workshop in order to understand it more completely. Lefebvre says that being a rhythm-analyst is like being on a balcony – both inside and outside at the same time. Working in this way, he argues, allows researchers to bring both the present and their presence together. As they feel speed, frequency and repetition  integral to rhythms, researchers also understand human activities differently.

So, there is much to think about in relation the process of our contemporary dance/choreography workshop. Too soon to write anything formal, but not too soon to begin to look for themes, narratives and emerging ideas! What do inclusion, challenge, sociability and eurythmia say about and/or to the cultural value that might be attributed to participation in the workshop?

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