Knowing how controversial an abstract word like soul can be, how unsettled people can get about anything they think alludes to religion, and questioning how indeed the soul can be expressed through dance – I looked up the definition.
Here it is – soul: the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal, a person’s moral or emotional nature or sense of identity.
Soul – indefinable through verbal language – I am certain we touch the source of something I would call soul sometimes as we dance.
At the same time I’m endlessly fascinated and engaged with the sheer physicality of dance and movement, the interrelation between body and mind that offers up more and more the deeper I go.
‘Mind is located in every cell of the body.’ Today I came across this statement by the cell biologist, Candace Pert, as I was reading Eric Franklin’s book Conditioning for Dance. It reminded me of Joseph Pilates' statement - it is the mind itself that builds the body.
I'm not interested in the battles and arguments between scientists from different camps, I don't know enough, and I'm not sure they do either. But I'm interested in the discoveries I make as I reflect on the body and dance, and as I observe the people I teach.
I recently attended two ballet classes in London – both apparently for beginners. I observed my own reactions, and those of other dancers. The ballet class is such a strange environment. It should, especially for the adult non-dancer with no pressure to perform well, be a happy place. But this is far
from the case. In the first class I sensed the tension as soon as I entered the studio - a wall of negativity and
fear that almost made me turn round and walk out. Ballet training is fraught with all kinds of issues for so many people, frustrated longing, sense of failure, negative body-image, competiveness, despair about injury and age and body weight, but I wouldn’t expect to feel such tensions in a class for adults, unless many were ‘failed dancers.’ With all that going on it was so difficult to feel any pleasure in dancing, and I came away exhausted and dispirited.
A week later I attended a class for absolute beginners and had an entirely different experience. Here were people who wanted to dance for fun, with a teacher who knew exactly how to gauge and manage the mood of the class. We worked slowly on accurate placement with plenty of encouragement given, people laughed, relaxed and worked hard. For myself I was able to return to the very basic building blocks of posture and balance and work deeply. I experienced my body and mind working in balance to create movement that freed tension, and later a sense of such well-being, as if every muscle had been washed with
Franklin writes ‘without a feeling of safety and belonging, a dancer will tighten up and lose his ability to improve.’
I'm in the process of exploring how simple exercises performed mindfully might bring about a transformation in movement – more strength, fluidity, balance, and absence of pain. And how much is enhanced by the quality of teaching, and the openness of receiving.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.