Don’t swallow the movement without sensing the flavour – taste it, chew it, digest it.

— Alwin Nikolais [1]

In examining the desire to take a dance class or in this case, a two-week summer programme, it is hard to describe the feelings that we have prior to and during the event. Appetite seems to come close to expressing the need that dancers have for the movement experiences of class – usually a daily class. When dancers display a curiosity about dancing and are willing to explore the possibilities of movement, it seems as though they are making themselves receptive to personal development, and not just learning to (or about) dance. Diane Frank, Acting Head of Dance at Stanford University writes that, ‘when movement appetite and intellectual appetite come together, the outcome goes way beyond the execution of steps’ [2].

During our classes with Alan in the summer school, he reminded us that, ‘action is a verb –you are doing it! You’re not trying to give it a name!’ (Alan Danielson technique class, 17/7/11). It sounds so simple, but how do we do that? Before that activation happens, we might need to overcome injury or inertia, not succumb to tiredness or outside distractions, find our personal reasons for being in class (again) and embark on the often-difficult reiteration of our dance practice.

It started off really nicely. I guess at this point, doing an intensive workshop, you go through phases every day. So, Wednesday was very painful, muscularly, and then Thursday felt great. [I] woke up [with] tonnes of energy. The day went by so fast and I felt like I accomplished a lot. And then today the energy was just … calm. So I thought that was good except that now we’ve already had the four days, by the fifth day … you really try to get things into your body at that point and try to understand all the concepts that you’ve been working on. And it’s not quite enough time for me. So today I’m feeling unbelievably frustrated because I can’t quite get the concepts into my body. I understand them but I can’t physically do [them] yet.

— Sameena Mitta (interview, 22/7/11)

So I suppose the resources are [that] I have a body. I have inhabited this body and moved in this body and learned different dance styles in this body and experienced different movement patterns, weight patterns, timing patterns. So somewhere within this complex system some of it has been experienced before, and some of it has been experienced but in a different way before. So it’s about allowing it to be experienced, explored again, by getting out of the way. I went home to my partner and I was [saying], ‘I just need to get over myself. As long as I get over myself, then it will be fine’.

— Edel Quin (interview, 25/7/11)

This process of satiating our appetite as dancers can be allied to our general sense of motivation, our willingness ‘to engage in the learning process [and] to persist in the face of confusion and uncertainty’ [3]. It is important to recognise our intrinsic motivation as dancers – our willingness to keep practising and our ‘tendency to engage in an activity for its own sake, for the enjoyment it provides, or the feelings of accomplishment that it fosters’ [4].

Conversely (and perversely), we can also try too hard and in our efforts, get in the way of our capacity to dance:

when we dance, we suddenly go into this performing mode … whatever our experience of dance is, we put out this other thing. And [for] a lot of these movements, to be alive in the motion, you have to allow them to work. Often when we dance, we don’t movement to work. We’re controlling it a lot.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 22/7/11)

Practice. Practice and confidence. … I love receiving feedback. I don’t enjoy being watched. So I like to receive feedback when I don’t know I’ve been watched (which doesn’t really work!) I don’t mind being watched but I am very conscious that as soon as I am being watched I become a bit cerebral, a bit cognitive, rather than just allowing it to happen. So that’s a personal battle for me … to still just be in the sensation of dancing and not be conscious of being watched. But, I think in human society as soon as we’re conscious of being watched, we change our habits.

— Edel Quin (interview, 20/7/11)

… you’ve got one person watching you. And so it’s one-on-one. And that’s not intimidating but to start off with it’s a bit: ‘Ooh! … I feel very self-conscious’. And actually that defeats the point of what you’re trying to do, because you need to be able to do it full out to then get corrections to be able to do it better. And then you get self-conscious and then the movement gets smaller and worse.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

So how do we find this balance between appetite, engagement, motivation and control? Is there an optimal state for learning new movement and how do we recognise it? It is clear from both the teachers and the participants that in making our involvement personal, we are making the learning process meaningful and hopefully, memorable. And that the process is just that – a process; there is no destination. When we dance, we embark on a journey without a preordained ending.

So once you realise nothing is perfect, then you’re always in it, working it. We say you’re in play. You don’t go from one stationary point to another.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 28/7/11)

It feels amazing. As much as I would complain about the soreness or the emotional rollercoaster of the week, it’s still a feeling that I really can’t put words to.

— Sameena Mitta (interview, 22/7/11)

I know the theory, I can recognise the textbook stuff happening in me. But when you feel it, when you sense it, when you are living it, it’s different. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Apply this solution and it will all be right as rain again’. So it’s a good reminder. This past week, and I’m sure this coming week, have been a real homecoming. It’s fantastic.

— Edel Quin (interview, 25/7/11)

These two weeks are going to be my best weeks this summer … I’ve been working so hard just to find my feet and manage to survive. So these two weeks dancing is just – ‘What else could I want?’ So, it’s great.

— Evelyn Tuul (interview, 20/7/11)

And the depth that [Alan] has gone into, particularly with timing and rhythm and music, has ben really, really interesting. That’s what I love about Humphrey/Limón – it’s very musical. And also the way that he’s teaching is really showing you how you can use that, how you can use the accents, how you can use the phrasing.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

There is too much to learn you know? … But it’s fun to learn, to be curious about it.

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 28/7/11)

Different approaches to teaching affect movement appetite considerably. Alan reminded us that ‘experiential knowledge is different from any other kind’ (Alan Danielson class observation, 21/7/11) and that the quality of movement is strongly affected by the learning environment and the various relationships that are built up within a group.

The changes are so [many], big and small. I think it’s the depth of their understanding that is developing – it’s actually changing – and their willingness to let something they know go so that they can get something else. You can see that kind of relax during the week … and after a while, they’re trusting. The thing about teaching Limón is so much of it is trust: trusting the weight of your body to go, trusting falling (because we’re always falling). So, you can’t yell. You can’t scream at someone in this, ‘Drop your weight!’ which makes her just go ‘Eeeee!’ and pick up her weight! Here you have to give them a safe place so after a while they learn that it’s a safe place, and if they try something and they fall, they’re not ridiculed. … So I think that allows them to let go and change.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 22/7/11)

But actually the more you get to know each other and get used to watching each other the easier it’s getting. And the same with the groups. When you’re splitting off into two groups and watching each other it’s less intimidating each day. But that’s part of what dance is. You’re dancing, you’re communicating, you’ve got people observing you. But then it depends what your motivation is for dancing. And I think sometimes it’s in a performance-driven way and sometimes it’s an expression (that’s your creative outlet). And sometimes you don’t want to be observed …

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

In continuing her thoughts about pleasure in, and curiosity about, movement, Geraldine also emphasises the importance of the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) work in her practice and its relationship to our attitude towards learning. It can help us to understand our role as learners – learning about yourself and learning about learning – which gives dancers, ‘a chance to be more active in the process of learning … giving them that tool so they are more active in their learning instead of expecting it all from me’ (Geraldine Cardiel interview, 28/7/11).

This state of readiness to dance and to learn connects strongly with the inner dialogue that we conduct when we are dancing, as we muster our physicality and draw our resources together to focus on action; on doing.

Adult students welcome the opportunity to talk with fellow students and their teacher, and actively use private speech [5] as an aid to mastering this new language of movement vocabulary. Private speech accompanies new activity and provides a channel for self-expression and release of tension associated with intense effort. These are instances of thinking out loud.

— Johnston [6]

The relationship between this private speech and peer observation was a key component of the summer programme. Allowing dancers to feel comfortable so that they could retain their appetite for movement whilst being observed was an important issue for Alan:

That’s one of the reasons why we pair people up. They build a bond and they get comfortable with each other, and then they don’t feel so much like somebody’s judging, because they also turn around and give them feedback. So they’re giving each other feedback, they develop a relationship, and it’s a little less judgmental. They get used to it, I think.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 22/7/11)

Kate elaborates on what makes a good observer:

I think someone that’s not judgemental (and this is for a teacher as well) – that you’re looking at that person to help facilitate them to achieve their potential. So it is being non-judgemental, but it is also [having] a good eye to see the details and also to recognise, if there have been previous discussions about what the aim is of each movement, or if there’s a certain way of moving for each thing or a certain way of using the weight, that that person’s got the eye to look for those details. But then also there’s no point in just observing if you can’t then communicate what and how [it] needs to be done. So it’s non-judgemental (so you’re not self-conscious), good eye (to recognise) and then good communicator (to discuss and improve and help).

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

It is easy to over-complicate our relationship with learning to dance. In defining our desire to dance as appetite, perhaps we can connect to something more visceral, or intuitive? Could this help us to experience our learning as a continuum, or to enjoy the unexpected?

Try – See what happens if you – let’s see if we can –

— Alan Danielson (interview, 22/7/11)

Suggested citation for this page:
Stanton, Erica, Simon Ellis, Gemma Donohue & Lil Boyce (2012). ’Limón Project: Appetite.’ Retrieved <insert date>, from


[1] Nikolais, Alwin and Murray Louis (2005) The Nikolais/Louis Dance technique. A Philosophy and Method of Modern Dance, New York: Routledge p.255

[2] Frank, Diane (2011) ‘Dance Teacher magazine honors Diane Frank’. Retrieved 28 October 2011 from

[3] Lazaroff, Elizabeth M. (2001) ‘Performance and Motivation in Dance Education’, in Arts Education Policy Review, Nov/Dec2001, Vol. 103 Issue 2, p.23

[4] Lepper, Mark R (1998) ‘A whole much less than the sum of its parts’, in American Psychologist Vol. 53 June  Washington DC: American Psychological Association, p.675

[5] A concept originally proposed by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, but with disagreement about its purpose. For further reading see: Tryphon, Anastasia and Jacques Vonéche (eds.) (1996) Piaget-Vygotsky The Social Genesis of Thought, Hove East Sussex: Psychology Press

[6] Johnston, Dale (2006) ‘Private Speech in Ballet’, in Research in Dance Education, Vol. 7 no. 1 April pp.10-11 Abingdon: Taylor Francis Group