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Blog: Craft or the Importance of Technique

Updated: Apr 21

I began my dance training with jazz dance at the age of 15. I quickly realized, that if I wanted to become a professional dancer I needed to train in ballet as well, for, well, the technique. Back then in the 1980's there was no way you could become a professional dancer without training in ballet. I had already had a late start, having started my training only at age 15, so I knew I needed to train as hard and as fast as I could "to make it".

Technique is a term in dance that is used to mostly refer to line, balance and strength-qualities of a dancer. These are qualities that are concerned with the visual effects of a dancers body on an audience. Are you able to hold a certain shape? Is the silhouette of your body readable from a large distance? Are you capable of balancing on one leg, turn around your self in different fashions and or execute and repeat a number of steps with precision and accuracy?

Different styles of dance have different parameters on which these technique are measured by, each dance style has its own esthetics or rules by which the technique is judged by. In general though, they all refer to a certain standard of physical proficiency in moving.

At the end of my twenties my body started rebelling against the technical aspects of modern dance and wanted to focus on the improvisational and expressive qualities of my dancing.* This is when I stopped performing formal choreography and dove into the world of contact Improvisation, improvisational scores and Authentic Movement. The elements of connectivity, freedom, spirituality, community and a sense of being "in the here and now" became more important than spending hours on end in the studio training and rehearsing steps and combinations. I was still dancing and performing professionally but with a very different interest.

What is important to note here, is that of course improvisational practices such as Contact Improvisation do require technique (this seems to be more and more overlooked by people who are just joining the a CI jam as beginners, because in some ways everybody is invited to participate in the practice), but the looks and definitions of it are very different. What we might call a technique in CI might be more considerate to be a principal: less a specific move or look of the body, but rather a movement quality (like reaching) or an intention in your quality of relating to your partner (like listening).

Same goes for improvisation and instant composition practices: we need skills that often take years or decades to develop in order to communicate with each other as we share the space while dancing, to read the room, make cohesive decisions, create an overall arc or dynamic changes. Another way of stating this: improvisation is an art form and each art form needs a certain skill set. So the technical details of an improvisation may not be as easily detected by an untrained eye, but will make for a more enjoyable and or inspiring performance.

Technique for me has a lot do with accuracy, precision, details. The little detail in the engineering of a machine, may alter the course of its functionality completely and may decide over lives of people, like when driving in a car or flying on an airplane. Little details can either safe the day or annoy the hell out of you. Depending on what personality type you are you might love details or hate them. For me, it depends on the day, honestly, and the topic.

Sometimes I can get into the love for details especially when it gets artistic: is this piece of music better fitting than the other one? Would this facing be more powerful or that direction ? Could you turn your hand slightly this way? In all my years of training, performing and teaching both dance and bodywork techniques I have come to appreciate technicality a lot.

Technique supports, grounds and shapes whatever you are working on. Energetic, somatic and artistic expressions move into form, they receive clear contours, there is a beginning and an end to what you are doing. Technique also brings focus into an activity, this creates a sense of clarity both in the solo dance, as well as in partnering. Intuition and creativity can flow freely once there is a certain technical and structural integrity established. Are we safe here to play, fool around and turn things upside down? I think really great artists know their techniques from the base up and then know how to let go of it equally well.

Now in my fifties I have become more interested in technical, structural and anatomical studies again. I am studying the cranio anatomy for my visionary cranio-sacral training and along with it I am reviewing a lot of anatomy from my earlier years of studying. I see that in the overall arc of my career I am moving back onto the scale of technique and structure again, into integrating the free-flowing, unbound sense of sensing and moving from within, with a structural, compositional sensibility of my earlier dancing years. This shall be interesting!

*Part of this development was my engagement with Klein technique and Bodywork techniques such as Rolling and Feldenkrais.

(c) Photo Bill Frederking 1995 Chicago

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