Tuesday, 1 May 2012



Here is a term that dancers and dance students hear all the time. When I asked people around me to tell me what it is I got various vague responses. So in this post I'll try define it from a dancer's perspective.

The word "somatic" comes from Greek and means "From the body", "Relating to the Body" and according to Wikipedia "Somatics" is a field which employs holistic body-centered approaches to assist people in integrating and transforming self through movement and awareness practices intended to promote psycho-physical well-being. The field contains distinct disciplines, each with its own educational and/or therapeutic emphasis, principles, methods, psychology and techniques.

All of these distinct disciplines concentrate on exploring one's own body through sensory awareness. Each technique, in its own way, is attempting to make us feel and listen to our senses (proprioceptors). The aim is mainly to get to know yourself better which, supposedly, often results in better health. Although most of the techniques were developed as a way to treat a medical problem I don't think this is where their appeal lays for dancers. I find the idea of exploring and discovering the body far more interesting. These techniques can help us be highly aware and connected to our bodies. This is more important as a dancer as it will help avoid injuries and dance better. If I know and feel my body better I will be able to listen to it when something doesn't feel right (physically) and I will also be able to quickly understand the complexity of a new movement quality.

Thomas Hanna is the person who first coined the term "Somatics" in the 1970's. He was looking for a term to describe this new field that was being developed by him and others. He then went on to create "Somatics Magazine" and "The Somatics Society". Since then the field has grown and developed into what it is today.

The amount of disciplines that came out since the 70s is quite astounding. You will most certainly have heard of some of them, to only name a few.

Hanna Somatic Education created by Thomas Hanna
Body Mind Centering created by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
Feldenkrais Method created by Moshé Feldenkrais
Alexander Technique created by Frederick Matthias Alexander
Bartenieff Fundamentals created by Irmgard Bartenieff
Rolfing created by The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (Ida Pauline Rolf)
Progressive muscle relaxation created by Edmund Jacobson
Ideokinesis created by Mabel Todd, Barbara Clark and Lulu Sweigard
Authentic Movement created by Mary Starks Whitehouse
Gyrotonic Expansion System created by Juliu Horvath

All these practices are often criticised for their complete lack of scientific evidence to back up their therapeutic claims. This is the reason why I want to show that we can ignore these claims and use these techniques as the brilliant tools that they can be for dancers. Tools that will help us know our bodies (mind included) better. Consequently making us better dancer, and I don't only mean better technically but also creatively and artistically.

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