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Dynamic Alignment (2003)

A funny thing happened recently that opened a whole new angle to my teaching – in fact it’s so distinctive that I decided to name it and offer it as a specific class in future – I’m calling it Dynamic Alignment and here’s how it came to be (apologies to anyone who’s already used the name or devised the approach – I’m well aware that I’ve reinvented the wheel … again)

I was engaged to teach three-weeks of morning classes in a workshop-style format to the new intake of MA Dance Pedagogy students at TEAK in Helsinki – my brief was wide, to teach whatever “new dance” techniques I felt appropriate so that this highly-skilled, multi-styled group of dance students could meet, dance and work together for the first time.

The previous year, a contemporary technique class had been offered in this slot and the students had treated as a drop in class – this year they wanted something that would challenge the students and elicit the kind of everyday commitment that would make them a group – they got me – the thing was that the class had been labeled on there schedules as a “contemporary dance” class – it made me smile but some of the students were disorientated

The first week was a short three-class week since I had another teaching commitment elsewhere so I just decided to do a little bit of everything in what I recognise as the new dance oeuvre (as much as I could at least – some developmental work, some release technique, some impro scores, some exploratory hands-on work and some contact) to see what clicked with them – fishing somehow

I can’t remember exactly how it came up – maybe my explaining about the kinds of “intelligent bodies” that a new dance training hoped to cultivate, maybe something from a course in Somatics that the students were also taking alongside mine – but we got to talking about “alignment” and what that actually meant

Through this discussion I realised that not only did I have opinions on what alignment was but also a whole string of exercises (some borrowed, some modified, some invented) to illustrate what I was talking about – before I really realised it we were embarked on an exploration of “Dynamic Alignment”

my opinions were these:

1) that alignment is only really useful when thought about dynamically since we are dynamic beings – a static image of alignment while good to look at in books isn’t really useful when we’re moving

2) that it’s really hard to “think” analytically about dynamic alignment using images (as illustrated in books) or theoretically (using physical mechanics as a model) when we’re moving

3) that alignment for me is a SENSATION and it’s the sensation of alignment that students can be taught to recognise

4) alignment is something that’s changing all the time – it’s dynamic – from day-to-day, minute-to-minute, second-to-second

5) “good” and “bad” alignment are relative and always context dependent

6) alignment is personal

Of course I do have some idea of what “good” alignment is and this is what I want to teach – for me good alignment is when the bones are positioned so that the muscles can do the minimum amount of work required to achieve a particular action BUT …

… from the inside at least (somatically in otherwords) that can only be sensed and therefore “good” or “bad” is what feels good or bad

… nobody’s perfect, least of all me, and “good” alignment is always a product of pure physics and personality – personal history, mood, etc

… there are choices – even in a relatively restrictive position like standing, which I experience as dynamic, there is no single position which is good, more a range of possibilities – there is a certain sweet spot but even there there are possibilities

… alignment is an individual thing – we all walk differently …

So “good” alignment” for me is when I feel like moving is as effortless as I can make it