tummy
If this year's internet New Year propaganda bears fruit, it may be the greatest year of fatness, ever.

No one I know has been talking up their diet plans on Facebook. ReVolutions not Resolutions is all happy and inspiring. PDA Nation is video-mad about it.

Some people will be FATTING IT UP ALL OVER.

Aaaaand fattivists have hopped on the blogger teleconference bandwagon with Body Love Revolution. I am seriously sick of invitations to teleconferences, but this one I will make a special exception for.

Finally! If you're in the UK (or just like to talk in a posh accent), Endangered Species Women is kicking off their Ditching Dieting campaign this month, too.

I'm serious, y'all. 2012. The year fattivism wins.

er, hi there.


Hi, lj. It's been awhile. A while I've spent periodically complaining to people that the slow dissolve of lj and like communities has turned the internet into an entirely public space that isn't near as much fun. And wants to sell me shit. Or tell me how to sell shit.

There's a new kind of old-people-complaining: "oh, the internet was sooo much better back in my day".

But it was! So. Let's try this again.

be three!


I like the little kid illustration in this article about Alexander Technique being three years old at least once a day. Kids are pretty great at balancing without a lot of extra attention, letting the rest of themselves sorta flow along with their heads, getting physically into the middle of an activity and just flopping on the floor when flopping is called for.

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

posture! huh! what is it good for?


Posture! When we see that word, a lot of us spring to attention: lift our chests, through our shoulder blades back, our shoulders up, tighten our necks, suck in our bellies and raise our heads while attempting to “straighten our spines”. Proper posture, we think, is not-slouching; it’s also, apparently, waiting for a punch in the gut.

I’d argue that it isn’t even one universal thing. Posture, like fitness, is activity-specific. The posture that works for an activity depends on what matters most:
• what’s visually appealing
• what generates the most power or action
• what requires least extra effort to do, or is most efficient
• what’s least painful
• what’s most natural, and most sustainable

As a performer, I’ve learned a slightly different language to talk about the shape of the body: posture is a form we put on (perhaps a physical character, perhaps just a neutral, ready state); alignment is a practice of removing impediments to movement. Posture, then, is about presentation, the first half of that list. Alignment is about health, the second half. I find this differentiation handy in my own understanding of dance training.

Dancers spend a great deal of time adopting posture, and rarely train in alignment. Your body needs both to be your best possible performance vehicle. You can force dance posture and maaaaaybe get it right without first attending to your own alignment issues, but you’ll never have a truly neutral body to start with.

How to get aligned in three easy intentions

There are tons of techniques and practices that get you into good alignment – chiropractic and Rolfing try to bring you there from the outside, yoga and tai chi spend attention on this, many martial & modern dance traditions do, too – but there are a few schools of body work almost exclusively focused on you finding your own perfect alignment.

My favorite practice for understanding alignment is the Alexander Technique. You can read and try some exercises online [Try this list of self-study tools.], but these are the lessons in finding an easy, neutral, healthy alignment that I’ve taken from Alexander into dance. [Please note that I am not an Alexander instructor. I’m just a posture nerd and a performer. I recommend taking a class in this stuff so you can experience it firsthand.]

Part one. Your head. Alexander teachers tend to start with this litany. With a teacher, you’d intend these things mentally & then get gentle physical hints from their hands, but you can do this in your head, too.
1. My shoulders are free
2. So my head floats up and forward
3. And my neck follows

Alexander starts with the head in part because human development, at least of the spinal curve, starts with the head. [If you want to be super-nerdy, it’s the “cephalocaudal trend”, cousin to the “proximodistal trend”. We develop from the head down and from the spine out. Alexander also loved spines, and bones.]

Try it. Imagine your head is unbelievably light, a balloon on a string. Float it around on your neck a bit. My current Alexander teacher likes to remind us that our spines continue well up underneath our skulls – not in the back, mind you; we’ve got our heads on a nice little hingey floaty thing at the top of our necks.

Do as little as possible with your shoulders. Don’t hold your shoulders in any place – don’t shift your shoulder blades back, don’t push your shoulder socket down, just try to feel a sense that your shoulders are wide, deep, and released. Try letting your arms just hang at your sides; looking at yourself sideways in a mirror, they want to fall about halfway between your front & back.

And then check out your neck. Lots of us like to lift our chins crazy high and crunch the poor backs of our necks. Pretty hard to float our heads that way, though – and man, heads are heavy. You want to keep your giant head balanced on something nice and springy like your spine, not try to hold it up with the sheer strength of your neck and shoulder muscles.

One thing I love about Alexander is how gentle the practice is. It really inverts western conventional wisdom about posture, not just in the position of the body, but the way you arrive at those positions. Alexander is about gentleness, attending to what’s happening in the body and intending to release and align. No drill sergeants, no snaps to attention – just doing what you’re built to do. You needn’t even do this rigorously. Every time you draw your attention to the position of your spine with these intentions, you get a little more comfortable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

video reviews


As mentioned! I acquired some dance videos to work with this week. They got here Saturday, so I haven’t been through every hour of each of them (though shockingly close – my project not starting as planned this week means I have tons of time for practice). For dancers who might want practice videos, I’ll talk about what I picked, why & how they’re working out so far.

This is what I got! I ordered them from Amazon, even though Amazon wussed out at Joe Biden & disregarded due process over the Wikileaks thing (which is in turn kinda difficult to get all excited about when the conversation turns to Julian Assange who’s probably a complete skeeze at minimum). They were much cheaper from Amazon, is what I’m saying. I can be bought. On some issues.

  • Asharah’s Modern Tribal. Admittedly I have no interest in dancing in Asharah’s style, but she is incredibly technically awesome. Her warm up & conditioning work (I’m guessing Suhaila-Method-infused?) clearly has a huge influence on that kickass thing Natalie Brown taught some of us locals a few weeks ago. She also uses the “keep your feet parallel” posture thing, so just practicing along with this thing is a helpful reminder of that.

    I have to confess here that I thought for some reason that it’d be a good idea to do a part of her conditioning segment after a day long workshop on Saturday. Ha! That was great! Let’s never do that again. But it’s not Asharah’s fault I underestimated how much work I’d already done that day, and a hot bath cures most dance ills. This video is an awesome practice companion just for the conditioning work. I’m pretty sure it’s guaranteed to make you more badass.

  • Ariellah’s something something with yoga video is probably the easiest of the four I’ve gotten recently. The yoga segments are fine, though they’re totally eclipsed by the vinyasa segments in the next video I’ll talk about. The drill segments are very accessible, and it’s important to look at where you have or don’t have mobility and control. Her pace is slow enough to give you time for that. I went through all but the choreography piece yesterday. It was work for my muscles without taxing my poor brains.

    The main thing I got from Ariellah is a different posture for drilling. She’s a pelvis tucker, and a weight-in-heels kind of girl (also, apparently, she digs turning out her feet). Shifting my weight back helps me keep my low back in a better position in general, and I swear it makes my arms lighter. [Next: I'll learn why that might or might not be anatomically true, and tell you.]

  • Rachel Brice’s Serpentine is the most attractively produced of these. Probably if you were the God Empress Rachel Brice, your video would also be beautiful & shot in a comfortable studio.

    You would also be a pretty great yoga instructor! I want to commit the finishing yoga on this one to memory & do it after every practice. It is seriously the best yoga cool down and closure that I’ve found in 10+ years of dancing.

    This is, overall, the most difficult of the videos [also the longest, at 4 hrs vs 2.5-3] her drills won’t crush your body, but they’re not easy feats of coordination.

I’ll likely end up using Asharah’s stuff to add some things to my day-to-day practice, Rachel’s to carry around with me when I travel (both for the yoga and for those “bah, I need something new to do” moments when your conventional practice is booooring), and Ariellah’s on the days when I Just. Can’t. Get. To the dance room – it’s enough work to be meaningful, but not hard on my brain. They’ll all be useful.

The fourth one I got, btw, is a replacement copy of Fat Chance Volume 1 – which I had on video. And oops, we don’t have a television anymore… so I needed this old reference on DVD.

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

too much in one day!

pomegranate

Not too much to do. Too much to reflect on. I’ll try.

Today: my third foray into Balla Guerra and first look at the combos that make up the vocabulary. I may have forgotten everything we did, but it’ll be in writing this week. It’s cool coming to these workshops with a fairly small group; no one seems set on being a Balla Guerra dancer exclusively, but I know each of these dancers well enough to excite my curiosity about what they will do with this new knowledge. Maybe we’ll all do something together?

I could talk about the brain overload that comes from workshops like this, but if you’ve been to one, you know… and if you haven’t, your experience will be different from mine. The knowledge that you keep after a workshop I think tells you a fair amount about what you love most in the material. If so, what I’m going to take away isn’t exactly the schemata or pantomime steps, but applying that stuff as a sort of theory of dance character development. I have ideas, is what I’m saying. BRILLIANT IDEAS.

I won’t tell you right away, because even though she thinks I broke up with her on the internet, Die gets to hear them first.

Also! I ordered myself a passel of dance instruction videos to help further my now-officially-365-days-of-dance efforts. More on that, too. Like I said, these are a couple of days too full of dance to share all at once.

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

feedback


Where do you go for feedback as a dancer or athlete? I don’t feel like I get enough meaningful feedback on my movement right now.

This came up in conversation with another dancer (who was doing an awesome job of coloring my hair at the time) yesterday. Bellydancers tend to be very generous with compliments, and will tell you that performance was wonderful even if it doesn’t meet your own standards. Others’ feedback is… sweet, but suspect, maybe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

watching as training

kills fascists

I’ve been rather quiet on this topic for the last several days. Not that I haven’t been working – just, it gets a little boring to report on my fairly routine training day after day. “Did same thing. Improved.” or “Did slightly different thing. Not feeling well.” kinds of updates don’t yield much insight for me. Getting stronger and better prepared is surprisingly the same, this year or 5 years ago.

Training does ignite flashes now and then, though. Friends were sharing beautiful videos to watch, too last week, which led me to spend some more time in study. And! There have been live dancing humans to observe tons this week!

I tend to take away from observation specific things I love and want to do or loathe & vow never to repeat. Seeing many dancers in rapid succession, though, I started to see a few things that stand out as differences between bad, good & brilliant dance; I was stuck by the consistent threads across performers of different genres and taste.

  • Stillness. Every great performance I can think of exploits stillness, even if only tiny pauses, to pull you along with it. Bellydancers seem to make less use of stillness and silence than most performers (I suspect it’s for love of shimmies and rhythms that seem to ask for movement), but when we really get it, the results are striking. Dancers who know Johara, for instance, know how powerful it is to watch someone who can shimmy like a madperson just stop on stage for 5 seconds.
  • OMG YOUR NECK! I tend to lift my chin somewhat ridiculously, which leaves a little tension in my neck – with the probably subconscious intent of being regal, I end up making my whole posture sloppy. I’ve been hyperaware of this in other dancers as I watch them, because having a poorly raised head and compressed neck (whether it’s from slouching or from delusions of grandeur) gives us all floppy noodle arms. [ETA: By the way, I saw video of myself later in the week that proves exactly this point. Poor soba noodle arms. You're going to Alexander class for sure now.]
  • Extradaily posture matters. A lot. It doesn’t have to be any specific posture (case in point: Spoon, whose postural choices are varied and often far from bellydance convention), but assuming a dance “character” in your body infuses the whole performance with intent and focus. This week I also watched a series of videos of myself dancing (over the past 5 years or so) for the purpose of showing a colleague, and this is so very true for me – without ATS posture to fall back on, I fall apart. Schadenfreudian that I am, I feel much better having seen other good dancers look “meh” when they disregarded carriage.
  • Caring and intent. Which are not dependent on having a Deep Inner Feeling. The performances I’ve most enjoyed recently – Cattleya, who I got to see live, or these videos I’ve watched and re-watched from Isidora Bushkovski (Izzy does that thing I mentioned with her neck, and is still so awesome to watch) and Asharah – share little but the dancers’ skill and passionate engagement in the performance.

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

resting and riding bicycles


Yesterday my main physical activity was getting a massage [I currently see Gracie Hardy at ArtWorks, though I'd recommend everyone I've ever seen.] I rarely leave a massage feeling “yay, melty goodness, zzzzz” – more balanced and ready – but it’s still nice to not do a lot physically after. Drink a gallon of water.

Today! Die came over to practice in my room. The tiny space kept us tight and together for ATS (good!) but severely limits the traveling of our Balla Guerra drills (awkward!). We worked for probably 2 hours, mixing dancing and discussion. Die was also pretty excited to share in the “keep your feet seriously, all the time, parallel” discovery. [I share the discovery with you, in case you haven't heard: it's easy to end up in a slight turnout in life, and to continue this into your dancing, if you don't consciously choose to put your feet in parallel. Turning out (naturally; forcing a turnout would likely lead to injury) isn't wrong for bellydance, but everything is much cleaner without it - hips get more crisply vertical. We also noticed more consistency between the two of us.]

We spent a bunch of time paying attention to our lead/follow, stopping to work on vague cues and poorly remembered details of steps we don’t perform often. It took surprisingly little work to feel like we were in fact doing better than we were some months ago; most ATS steps want to stick with you & are so responsive to even a little study. Responsiveness and Stickiness, I think, are part of the anatomy of ATS – little breakthroughs should be easy & steps are supposed to “feel right”. So, much like the proverbial “riding a bicycle” [though I know more than one person who has learned and forgotten that skill], everything feels familiar even after months of disuse.

Later, we’ll take the familiar and the new, and come up with a new kind of bike. First we start with this catch up.

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

relearning


Why, hello, 5am. I did not expect to be meeting you here in the kitchen.

I remember (maybe wrongly) reading that perceived hunger is enough of a learned behavior that when you start or stop training your body has to relearn to be hungry for whatever you need. I vote we roll with this “science” no matter how bollocksy it is, since it explains why I woke up an hour ago so hungry I could not go on without this bowl of cereal.

Maybe after this I can go back to sleep?

We’ve remade my training room. It’s much improved – both over its most recent incarnation as an enormous storage closet for three people worth of stuff no one’s using and over its former life as an empty room with a matted floor. Plants. Mirrors. Places for stuff. A place to sit. It’s come to life in the past few days. Yesterday I hardly left it (and how awesome is it to get a day when I’m doing work-for-pay but also in my dance room doing that work?). Drills! So many drills! And then just dancing for fun.

Today I spent some more time in there, just doing ab work and loosening my hips. And then on to Erin’s sweet beginner Improv Tribal class. It is the best, coming to a beginner class after you’ve studied for awhile. She’s teaching technique so close to what I do but just different enough to need learning. The parts that are close make for more fun digging into the details of a step.

You rarely get to do that in classes if you’re pushing just ahead of what you already know. If I can find good dance classes, this is a thing I loved about traveling: you get to go back to basics. When I taught, people with intermediate levels of dance experience in utterly different styles often thought they should join an intermediate class. I’d like for them to know what I know now, Take the beginner class! Everyone’s basics are a bit different; some basics are a lot different. Coming back to the ground floor is valuable, for those differences and the new view they give of your own work. Best thing, though: the depth you can find in studying a technique when you’re not also dealing with the burden and thrill of learning it.

It’s exciting to be able to approach my whole body like that.

Cross-posted from i'd like four tacos, please.

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