Attention

Sometimes during the process of learning our attention can go very inward, but our aim has to be to make the form and experience connect to a world.

— Gill Clarke [1]

In a dance technique class, the priority for most participants will be to learn to dance, to train, to develop as a dancer and to hone their instrument. This focus on ‘steps’, on correctness, or the striving for physical improvement, can obscure the other challenges and accomplishments that are available to students. These may or may not be about dancing, and by paying more attention to the dialogue between teacher and students, an abundance of skills can be brought into the foreground of a technique class. The identification of themes or principles, an emphasis on group activity, or peer feedback, the anchoring of movement to music or the space of the studio and the verbalising of experience [2], can all provide grounds for exploration which go beyond physical mastery. Ann Vachon reminds us that, ‘Students don’t learn through their eyes, imitating a presented ideal, but from within themselves’ [3]. We are encouraged to draw on our somatic awareness and to emphasise the ‘first person experience’ [4] of our dancing. In reflecting on what this means for a Limón class, Alan identifies that, the emphasis seems to be an encouragement to approach class as ‘human beings that are dancing, instead of mere dancers … mere technicians’ (Alan Danielson interview, 19/7/2011).

I learn by doing. I don’t learn that much by watching. But as a teacher, I get a lot from watching and I can see a lot. But being able to put that into my own body is another thing. But the more I do it, do it, do it – that’s probably the only way I can do it.

— Sameena Mitta (interview, 19/7/11)

I enjoy it because we have a technique class in the morning. We have principles. We work together with the groups. I think it’s extremely useful to witness other dancers. I always found it helpful for myself, but I think it depends on the learner. I learn a lot when I watch. And I have a visual memory [of] whatever I see and I think a good eye to see what’s wrong, what’s correct. So I learn this way.

— Evelyn Tuul (interview, 20/7/11)

There is also the problem of finding the right balance between activities in class. As we endeavour to make the technique class a fertile place for learning, then the dancing, observation, experimenting and peer-feedback need to work in synergy: the general to-and-fro of doing, watching, and responding has to be brought into focus.

Dancers are used to doing things. And that’s like talking! And what they find they have to do is to listen to their bodies’ sensations, to actually feel what they’re doing. And it’s incredible how many dancers don’t feel what they’re doing. The other extreme of that is the people that only feel, so usually they only feel what feels good, so then they don’t push themselves beyond their limits.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 28/7/11.)

Limón based technique is experienced as a way of moving which ‘transcends steps’ [5]. Breathing, falling, and relating to gravity are fundamental to all of us (and to many dance techniques) and it is often how a dancer moves rather than what the material is that gives us clues to a Limón heritage but, ‘there are some specific things that belong with this dancing’ (Geraldine Cardiel interview, 19/7/11)

A lot of people say they’re teaching Limón and then you see it and … not quite. Because it’s really open, but within that openness it has some points that are specific, it’s really confusing and it takes time. And the feeling in your body to realise, ‘Is it this, or is it this? Do I go close to my body, or do I go away?’ – tricky!

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview 19/7/11)

Now that there are so many ways of approaching dance training and the variety of technique classes that are available to dancers is so extensive, it is possible to become ‘well-versed’ in an enviable range of techniques. This does have its disadvantages, however, and former Nikolais dancer, choreographer and formidable dance educator, Phyllis Lamhut reminds us that, ‘Now, many people study different things and the information that goes into the body is eclectic. It’s great to know other techniques and other ways of working, but I question if the bodies are really available, or if it’s just a pinch of salt in a very large stew’ [6].

Another thing is that we realised that within the principles there is a super-wide range of freedom. But still they belong to a very specific style of moving and sometimes we don’t see it when they teach. So … we’re trying to be soft with them but at the same time telling them, ‘Let’s not make it generic.’

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview 28/7/11)

A dance technique class offers up much potential for our development both as dancers and as people. The class is social: we do it as a group activity and it can be a forum where we learn about ourselves and each other. We can examine group dynamics and experiment with how to promote a healthy working environment. We can make our contribution to the group by participating actively, developing effective relationships within the class and acquiring collaborative skills. We learn about how things work and examine the everyday physics of moving. We can make associations with the other arts, particularly with music. We can find inner resolve, self-discipline, tenacity, courage, confidence and the ability to express ourselves eloquently in words and movement as we attend to the process of a dance technique class.

Geraldine and I are setting an atmosphere that’s supportive and allows them to feel like they can experiment and fail and exceed and succeed – that all things are possible; that we’re just working in that way. So it becomes a very familial atmosphere [which is] warm and supportive. As dancers, we are half artists and half athletes. So the artistic nurturing is a great thing. But we also are athletes. We need a coach to push us to go further, to give us the impetus to go further, to test us to push our boundaries – which is not a comfortable thing. While we can laugh while we’re working, really we’re working. Even if it’s an open and generous atmosphere, it’s not playing. It’s concentratedly pushing ourselves in one direction.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 28/7/11)

Teachers have often used phrases like:

  • stay in the moment
  • be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it
  • give the movement its full value
  • focus on your sentient experiences and perceptions. [7]

So if this scheme of motion is Limón technique, what kind of attention should we be paying? And as teachers, how do we go about creating this optimal state for learning to dance this way? How do we help learners to recognise that their bodies have the potential to give them what they need? [8]

We don’t have a series of movements that are Limón. We work with principles – weight, breath, space, fall, recovery – and we try to prove or attend [to] the fact that those principles can be alive today in the way you dance. So that’s the way we’re trying to teach basic principles that are really specific, but they’re not restrained to a series of movements that have to be this way or this way or this way.

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 19/7/11)

In paying attention to the movement itself, the underlying principles and their analysis with the considered use of language, a cohesive whole is created for students to experience. Laban’s frameworks for analysing motion are not too far removed from the Limón principles and they can relay useful information to a dancer with respect to action, time, weight and space.

[We’re seeing] an awareness of the things we’re talking about: motion as opposed to shape; and knowing how to define motion in terms of time, space, energy and weight, and moving efficiently with weight and breath. All of the things that we’re talking about, they’re starting to be more aware of as they move, more conscious. And they are starting to have a vocabulary for not only seeing but [also] talking about, and creating and doing.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 28/7/11)

I wasn’t sure if it was their particular teaching that I liked or whether it was the underlying principles of their teaching that I was intrigued by. And this two weeks had definitely made it clear to me that it is both their delivery … style and teaching approach but also the underlying principles – that there are those two things.

— Edel Quin (interview, 29/7/11)

In this creation of a shared, holistic class environment, Alan returns frequently to the theme of the humanity in Limón technique:

It’s a humanistic dance form so we think that everything that there is about a human being, we should be able to express that in our art. So dance should be able to express all things about a human being: the greatness, the trivial[ity], the sense of us living and dying, of feelings, of thought and clarity and precision – everything should be able to be expressed. We are human beings that are dancing, instead of mere dancers … mere technicians. We are human beings first.

And:

As we approach a class, we approach them as human beings. This is a human experience that we’re doing here in a group.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 19/7/11)

It’s more about the experience of sharing what I know (or what I think I know) but also listening [to] what they think about that, instead of making it a steady concept (‘this is what I know; you will learn from me’) because it is really enlightening for me to see what the other person has to say about what I feel.

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 19/7/11)

Ann Vachon reinforces this holistic approach which pays attention to communication and a shared discourse between teachers and learners: ‘teachers communicate with language and metaphor, intuition and imagination, insight and example. They are teaching people first of all and Limón technique is the vehicle’ [9].

Both Alan and Geraldine talk about the experience of learning as you teach and that there is a relationship between the awareness of what is going on in class from a teaching perspective and the learning potential of the students. There is a careful decision-making process about what to identify for reflection, based on the participants’ ability to share that reflection. We can revisit the tired cliché that we teach in the way that we ourselves were taught, but in becoming more aware of this, we can use our own experiences of learning (even if they were not good ones) to become more effective as teachers. Continuing to take class and to experience learning situations remind us of the pressures that we put on ourselves: Sameena Mitta remembers this as, ‘the whole internalised discussion I had with myself about why I’m not getting something’ (interview, 22/7/11). It is important to remind ourselves that struggle is part of the process of learning (changing) and to remember that learning can be ‘a mixture of epiphanies and frustration’ (Edel Quin interview, 25/7/11).

It’s one thing when you’re being a participant yourself and you’ve got your own expectations and all of that with you. It’s another thing when you’re being a participant in front of your students. … You want them to have a certain image of you and then you’ve got several layers of expectations. You’ve got the expectations of what you want them to have of you, layered upon the expectations of what you’ve got of yourself, layered upon actually learning new material.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

Because they’re coming in as students, they’re learning about themselves and learning about their students at the same time. Erica, who’s such an experienced teacher, after the first week she said: ‘It’s so interesting. In my classes, I’m always telling them: ‘It’s OK. We’re here to experiment. There’s no right and wrong. You try your best, you discover, you fail. There’s no pressure in this – you go at your speed’. … and I come in and say, ‘I’ve got to do this now!’ She does the same thing. And I think that it makes her realise, makes us all realise why our students do that. Because it’s a natural reaction.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 28/7/11)

Limón technique covers a broad range of movement, as Alan would say, ‘the infinite possibilities of movement’ (Alan Danielson interview, 28/7/11). But as dancers, we know that we have preferences and as teachers we have a tendency to favour those preferences, both in our moving and in our observation of movement. Alan notices that, ‘we tend to control. So that’s why in this class we’re working a lot to find the allowing – the movement that is allowed – the passive activities instead of the active activities’ (Alan Danielson interview, 28/7/11).

Alan fantastically uses the terms repeatedly, ‘Try not to do. Try just to allow things to happen’. And I’m a doer. I do things. So for me to allow myself to let go, and allow myself to allow things to happen, rather than do things, can be a struggle. And then you just get into that mental spiral of getting to that point where you think you can’t. You have to just stop that. You have to stop that and find a way of [exhales deeply] just doing, just letting it happen. Stop thinking and just do, be. So that was a battle for me last week, definitely, which was a good learning experience for me in terms of being back on that side, and being able to recognise it or acknowledge it in students that I might have in front of me in the future. … It was good.

— Edel Quin (interview, 25/7/11)

They struggle with how to do this and through their struggle, they understand more of how they teach. Because they understand their students’ struggle.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 28/7/11)

When you’re uncomfortable I think the risk is then you lock up, then you hold, then you create positions and shapes. And then actually you’re not finding that fall and recovery and flow. So, you’ve got to be able to relax to be able do this technique.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

Because our bodies are constantly changing, those weaknesses and strengths will likely evolve over time, sometimes even one day to the next. So I’m not sure that it’s possible for somebody to come and say, ‘This is what you have to see now,’ and I don’t think that’s fair to do because … I’m bringing my experience and what they are bringing is something good as well – it’s just different.

— Sameena Mitta (interview, 19/7/11)

Your comfort zone can change from one exercise to the other. Or it can change from just a mindset. There are so many different things that can change. … And sometimes you don’t care or mind when you go wrong and mess it up. And you can enjoy it and you find something new.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

How different we are from each other and how being aware of yourself gives you the ability to grow from where you are. It doesn’t matter where you are. So it makes the palette broader. It makes it like, ‘Wow! Human beings!’ Not dancers that are waiting for me to tell them. Because at the end, you know movement hardly matters, but what you see in the person – that’s what I’ve been learning the most [about].

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

We need a way to signify movement. To signify a shape is easy. You just point at the picture and that’s it. But to signify movement – how do you do that? … Metaphors can explain these things. So many metaphors about the movement and the way we [dance] are also about our lives and the way we are, I think?

— Alan Danielson (interview, 22/7/11)

It seems as though the aesthetic framework in use (principles of Limón) and the functional aspects of moving, create a way to recognise yourself through dance. Dancers’ attention in this technique is directed towards a continuum of action and ‘allowing’ (Alan Danielson interview, 28/7/11), which enables them to engage with an acutely personal way of learning.

Suggested citation for this page:
Stanton, Erica, Simon Ellis, Gemma Donohue & Lil Boyce (2012). ‘Limón Project: Attention.’ Retrieved <insert date>, from http://roehamptondance.com/limonproject/attention

References:

[1] Clarke, Gill (2010) Diel Ingo and Friederike Lampert (eds) (2010) Dance Technique 2010 Tanzplan Germany, Liepzig: Henschel Verlag, p.203

[2] van Dijk, Anouk, (2010), in Diel Ingo and Friederike Lampert (eds) Dance Technique 2010 Tanzplan Germany, Liepzig: Henschel Verlag, p.88. Anouk van Dijk presents some very interesting ideas about the importance of precise verbal communication in a dance class proposing that “language triggers physical action”.

[3] Vachon, Ann (2007) ‘Honing in on Limón’, published 1 May 2007, and available at http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Honing in on Limon.-a0162920613

[4] Hanna, Thomas ‘What is Somatics?’ In Johnson, Don Hanlon (ed.) (1995) Bone, Breath and Gesture. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. pp.341-352

[5] Varone, Doug (1998) ‘The Fourth Generation Speaks’ in Mindlin Naomi (ed) ‘Doris Humphrey: A Centennial Issue’, Choreography and Dance, Vol 4, part  4. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, p.117

[6] Mattingly Kate (2004) ‘Teacher’s wisdom: Phyllis Lamhut’ Dance Magazine vol.78 no.10 October pp.74-76

[7] Nikolais, Alwin and Murray Louis (2005) The Nikolais/Louis Dance technique. A Philosophy and Method of Modern Dance, New York: Routledge p.27

[8] Hay, Deborah (1998) My Body the Buddhist Hanover, New Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England p.xiii

[9] Vachon, Ann (2007) ‘Honing in on Limón’, published 1 May 2007, and available at http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Honing in on Limon.-a0162920613