‣I can see why this kind of thinking would make something like a simple single pirouette from fifth position so fascinating.
Absolutely! As well as the breath… and playing with the coordination. If you inhale or exhale during the plié or during the relevé, or during the turn itself – maybe I’ll exhale during the plié this time, or exhale and see what, in my body, it feels like to change these things.
With that understanding, I got more sensitive to what was happening internally. Like, “Oh, why does that hurt to do this? Okay, my knee isn’t tracking, or my hip isn’t relaxing as much as it could be.” Really playing with the idea of which muscles are firing and which aren’t.
In Qigong, there’s the concept of yin and yang which is light and dark, or light and shadow. In a Western sense, they have a feminine and masculine connotation, but it’s more like what is active and passive. So some muscles are yin and some are yang. And if you can find the right balance, that’s where harmony and health comes from.
So I’d go through the checklist of which muscles are firing and which aren’t. In tai chi, your front body should be soft, because it’s yin and more nourishing, whereas your back should be hard – it’s more active and working. So you can also change those things, like making my front more active and my back more passive.
I’m studying which muscles are actually working and if they need to. So it was more about editing out what is overworking as opposed to adding on to what should be working.
‣That’s very much like what the famous teacher David Howard taught. He was very into the concepts of doing less, avoiding over engaging muscles, and efficiency of movement. Editing down the movement and the effort, which develops that smooth movement quality that not only looks effortless, but allows you to actually achieve the position and do the steps with fluidity, ease, and purity of line.
Yes! And another very interesting thing to think about is the gap between the mind and body. In the traditional Chinese sense, they are so connected that they manifest things in the other, like the mind can create damage if you don’t know how to deal with stress, if it settles into your subconscious and you neglect it.
I learned that I pirouette better when I’m in a good mood. So sometimes I’ll wake up anxious, and instead of doing warmup of getting ready, jogging, doing my ab exercises, I’ll just go sit by the river and just breathe. Reassess where my mind wants to be. I have to treat my subconscious like a child sometimes.
And though I’m not as warm for class as I could be, I end up having a much better class just because of where my mind is, and because I’m way more relaxed. I’m more observant now about the things I want to work on, whereas before my time away from dance, I’d hard-headedly go into anything 110% regardless of what I was feeling or where my body was. I just wanted to always do as much as I could.