IMAG-E-NATION the political & philosophical arts initiative blog

(re)imagining the political and philosophical in the 21st century

The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative is interested in the ways in which people interact with and compose political and philosophical ideas and actions through the various, diverse media of technology and the arts. Participants in PAI seek to explore the ways in which poetry, literature, music, photography, performance and other creative arts interleave with the political and philosophical life, either as vehicles for criticism, elaboration, theorization, intervention or activism.
The Imag-e-nation blog is a forum for interested parties to share stories, images or other contributions. Contributors range from students and faculty to artists and musicians to professional and casual commentators. Pieces can be short opinions, re-postings of appropriate materials, or original compositions. In addition, the PAI at LUC will make a selection of relevant or provocative news items each week for (re)publication here.


Finding Stillness: On Somatic-Informed Movement

Mens sana in corpore sano, pre-Socratic philosopher Thales reminds us.

To kick off 2016, let’s find stillness through somatic-informed movement with Natalie Heller, a dancer-choreographer who specialises in a variety of movement techniques in her practice-led research. Ahead of her five-week movement course at LAK in Leiden later this January, Natalie has found a moment to introduce her exploration of somatic principles with PAI. We are delighted to share a glimpse into Natalie’s theory and practice, especially in case her public workshops have piqued your interest.

[PAI] What is somatic-informed movement, and how does it differ from the way we move in everyday settings?

[Natalie] Somatics was a term first coined by Feldenkrais practitioner and philosopher Thomas Hanna in 1986. He made a distinction between the human body and the soma. The body, he defines as a phenomenon perceived from the outside. This is what we attend to when we are deciding what to wear or manoeuvring through a crowded city street. Whereas the soma, is the body as perceived from within, from a first-person perspective. We commonly talk about our experience of the soma as ways of feeling. For example, when you walk into a room full of unknown people, the sensation of tension you may feel would be an experience of the soma. Somatics has now come to incorporate a wide range of diverse approaches to the body that all aim at developing body awareness, attuning apprehension of sensation and augmenting perceptual experience. In my classes, I draw from a variety of somatic techniques aiming to bring together experiences that evidence a bodily way of knowing. 
[PAI] How does a heightened awareness of embodiment enhance education?

[Natalie] Becoming aware of the self as an embodied, moving phenomenon opens up a whole new dimension of knowing. It’s not so much about what you know but about how you know. You become aware of layers of sensations and of ways of perceiving that are made available to you through the practice. You begin to pay attention to ways of knowing and understanding the self-world relation through and with the moving body. One of the benefits of somatic work is that it helps us to recognise muscular tensions in the body. Being able to release this tension can lead to a realignment of the bony structures (feet - pelvis - ribcage - head) which in turn facilitates a shift in movement patterns. After a series of Feldenkrais sessions, for example, you may notice you are walking differently, or holding your head differently. This difference is a new way of experiencing your physicality. At first, the newness feels unfamiliar and unsettling as we are drawn out of our experience of our own corporeality which is what grounds us. Our corporeality is the sense of certainty from which we evaluate and interact with the world, so having this challenged feels uncomfortable. It's a bit like having your opinion changed about something you've stood by all your life. This type of work is fundamentally a critical and reflective practice. The reflection is happening in the fluid processes of the 'body-mind'.
[PAI] Beyond the studio and the classroom, what are the wider social implications of somatic principles and related movement practices?

[Natalie] The founders of the various somatic approaches always speak in some way about their work effecting behaviour and thinking patterns. Ida Rolf (founder of Rolfing) for example, would look at how repositioning the fascia tissue effects perception and thinking.  F. Matthias Alexander (founder of Alexander Technique) spoke of breaking habits that 'feel right´ through renegotiating the balance of body parts. There is an assumption that the way the body functions is linked to the way it perceives and acts. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (founder of Body Mind Centering) alludes to this when she asserts that our movement patterns are formed in the first year of life. “This is when the relation of the perceptual processes (the way one sees) and the motor processes (the way one moves and acts in the world) is established.” (Bone, Breath and Gesture, Johnson (ed.), 1995: 192). Working through and with the body to find new  movement patterns involves the breaking of habits both physical (how we act) and mental (how we think). Once we are able to recognise our automatic movement and thinking patterns the next step is a re-evaluation of  morals and a shift in ethical outlook.
[PAI] How do different movement methodologies inform your practice-led research, and how does this research support your creative practice?

[Natalie] My creative practice is the meeting point of my thinking and movement processes. My starting point is a philosophical curiosity with how we are in the world. It is this curiosity that brought me to somatic movement practices. Rather than approaching the body as an object that needs to be moulded and shaped into perfect forms, somatic practices view the body as an integrated entity that is a tool for understanding. In my research, I draw from different techniques with the focus of better understanding subjectivity and how the self is in relation. I select exercises, notions, movement ideas, approaches to the body from many different somatic techniques so as to build up a practice that is reaching towards an understanding of how we are in the world.
 An excerpt from Natalie's First Impressions which premiered in Istanbul in 2013.

[PAI] What motivates you to engage in this type of artistic research?

[Natalie] I guess I am motivated by my curiosity to understand. And also of course by my desire to share what I find on the way. I encountered this type of work by chance and it opened up new ways of thinking and sensing that drew me deeper and deeper into the work. With this type of work the deeper you go, the more it becomes an addiction. Eventually you end up feeling so much better when you are doing it than not doing it, that you need it. It is a little like practising yoga or going for a jog. Once you have experienced the sense of well being you get from it, you are always craving to re-visit it. 
[PAI] Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

[Natalie] The practice. :)

A lot of what happens in the studio--or in our bodies outside of the studio--is difficult to articulate in language. I believe that to grasp a sense of  the ways of knowing that come from the practice, we need to experience the practice itself. It is for this reason, that along side my creative work, I also teach workshops for amateurs and professionals.

I am teaching a workshop where beginners are welcome at LAK, and also a weekend workshop for professional performers at Cloud in the Hague in February.

I also hold regular Movement Labs where thinkers and movers are invited into the studio to experience the practice and share their own research questions. More info about participating in these sessions can be found on my website.
To experience Natalie’s creativity and pedagogy in action, participate in her course at LAK this winter, starting on 22 January for five weeks on Fridays 18:00 – 20:00 in Leiden.  To learn more about Natalie’s artistic research and practice, visit her website.

The Political Arts Initiative wishes everyone a happy, healthy 2016!



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