Embodiment

We don’t want to be precious about this. We certainly don’t want to impose limitations on who should integrate Limón-based materials into their classses. We believe deeply in the value of these materials. So we have begun teaching workshops dedicated to ‘Principles of Limón’. Whenever possible we involve multiple teachers in order to have different perspectives on the same fundamental ideas. Although the principles are intricately intertwined, we try to isolate them and offer sessions entitled:- Breath, Weight, Suspension, Fall and Rebound, Opposition, Succession, Expressive Gesture, Time and Musicality, Spatial Awareness, Isolations. These need to be experienced to be understood.

— Ann Vachon [1]

What is embodiment? And how do you recognise it when you feel or see it? Do you wear it like a coat, or do you reveal it like sweat from your pores? In a technique class, is it something intrinsic that is gradually revealed? Or something which begins outside the body and is assimilated? Does a technique become embodied because we practice it day-in day-out, or do we gravitate towards systems of movement which merely endorse the movement patterns that we prefer, or already enjoy experiencing?

If we ask this question about Limón technique, Alan offers this:

Certain people are drawn to this, and they are people that are drawn to moving as human beings and relating to each other as human beings.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 19/7/11)

We may talk about the embodiment of an idea, but what about its origin? We believe that our bodies are culturally inscribed and that our values, beliefs, perceptions and attitudes about our bodies are revealed physically. But, more simply, in a technique class we may be more likely to communicate:

  • I’m big
  • I’m tired
  • I’m injured
  • I can’t do this
  • I like this
  • I’m resisting this

In dance, when the thing exists in/with/on/for the body, what use do we have for the concept of embodiment? It’s my body. It’s movement with me doing it. More specifically for this project, it’s my body in a Limón class with a focus on my sensation – breath, weight, suspension etc … so the question becomes how do I know when I’m dancing Limón?

When we are dancing, we are not consciously aware of the complex sensory-motor bodily functions that are at work, but we are attentive to the physical feelings, images and experiences which travel fleetingly through our awareness.

In the pursuit of embodiment, are we reacting to new information, or integrating it? Dancing (by being filled with motion) feels like flux with any movement existing as a point on a continuum. In order for the concept of embodiment to be helpful it needs to be experienced as a journey rather than as a goal – sentient engagement rather than, ‘Yes I got that!’ ‘I felt that!’ ‘I understand that!’ ‘I can do that!’

Tellingly, neither Alan nor Geraldine used the word ’embodiment’ during their interviews. Alan was pragmatic:

When they’re just explaining [the movement] they do it perfectly. It’s because they are not getting in the way of the movement.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 22/7/11)

Alan also talks about the manifestation of learning as an articulation of self – a process of becoming, transitioning into something else; a continuum or a journey.
Geraldine usefully deploys the Feldenkrais term Awareness Through Movement.

Feldenkrais has given me the chance to be really profound with myself and in a way that makes things simpler. My resolutions are really simple.

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 22/7/11)

And (in slight contradiction):

I use myself as a self-reference to contribute to more options. That’s what I’m interested in I think in the teaching … I like transmitting my passion for movement, that no matter how specific you are in terms of what your brain is understanding … dance is a physical experience. And I remember, since I was very little, I remember liking that and having that feeling. So I try to be very clear about transmitting that: [students] don’t need my permission to feel that. They need to find that in their own movement.

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 22/7/11)

Geraldine also talks about the discipline of awareness and how it’s not just about locating a feeling:

Then you go to the other side of teaching, which is the somatic practice about feeling … we’re in a context that has very specific principles that need your body to be ready in terms of the kinaesthetic sense, the skeleton sense, the anatomy sense, the muscular sense … everything needs to be ready. So it’s not just going deep into your own feeling and then ‘Well, I feel it!’ But then we have to do this and this and this and this – very consistent and concrete ways of moving.

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 22/7/11)

And of course, our participants propose different views:

We all have our ways of understanding it … I internalise a lot and my emotions get frustrated because being able to put it in a sentence isn’t quite right for me. I need for it to go to another level, where I stop thinking about it … I don’t know what people mean by embodiment, but I suppose it could be a good word? I’m not sure? My first language is not English (or any other verbal language).

— Sameena Mitta (interview, 22/7/11)

There was a greater sense of me embodying what I should have been embodying when I was dancing just because I was giving feedback to somebody else.

— Edel Quin (interview, 20/7/11)

So it’s that thing when you just learn material and it’s fresh, you’re just doing the material. Whereas when you know the material, you can really do it how it should be, and dance it and feel it and understand it.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

Sometimes when I’m doing some movement and it’s all about getting the steps right, then I’m thinking, ‘What about me feeling the movement?’ I want to embody it. I want to know where I am in the phrase rather than just rushing, doing the movement so-so. And then it’s done and over with. Or I’m embodying … I’m feeling … I think I feel where I’m at in a space. I’m noticing things like that as well. I know, when I’m going to the floor, the touch of the floor, or the support of the floor, the space above me. These awarenesses I think help dancers to embody the movement that they are doing. It brings their presence into the space.

— Evelyn Tuul (interview, 20/7/11)

So what about knowing when you’re dancing Limón?

What is Limón technique? How can there be such a thing, when every teacher offers such different material?

— Ann Vachon [1]

In defining the feeling of dancing during class, we consider parameters which go beyond the movement material itself. The environment, the relationship with music, the language of class, the ethos and values at work within its process. What are the perceptions of these influences and how do they inform our dancing in a Limón class?

[Limón is] 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 triviality, 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.

— Alan Danielson (interview 19/7/11)

We can touch on the presumed empathy and shared assumptions that come into play in creating a space for sharing our experiences in a Limón technique class. We’re not only talking about the recognition of particular movement principles, but also the use of language, the deployment of humour, the way that the movement itself ‘respects’ the body. We are revealing human qualities such as dignity, humility, aspiration and tenacity through moving together in class. There is an essential accessibility to the Limón technique. It employs gravity space and time so intrinsically that dancers are compelled to reveal themselves without embellishment.

It’s not codified in steps … (‘This a Limón movement and this is not’). Really the codification comes in prinicples, ideas. A human being is always working with and against gravity. So that’s a major part of what we do. A human being exists in space and time … our lives are finite. That really shapes who we are as human beings  – that we will die. So time is really important. Those are the basic elements that we work with and we try to be as articulate in those elements as we can.

— Alan Danielson (interview 19/7/11)

I think the thing is … if you fall, then you need to fall. But you can fake it – you can fake your falling and it doesn’t look good. Or, it doesn’t feel good, first of all. And then … it’s something different.

— Evelyn Tuul (interview, 20/7/11)

So we can propose that the Limón class is a community where dancers respond physically, emotionally and intellectually to the physics of motion.

I love all the centre work that we … start off with, and everyone’s dancing together.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

This ‘common purpose’ also provides the technique with an aspirational philosophy, as the inevitability of the intervention of gravity infuses the technique with both heroism and humility.

And now, when I came back, first week … things started clicking and I felt … the principles in my body. And … it definitely has [been] a step. For me as a dancer as well, I think I have learned and developed through these two weeks. Because I think that it’s just not that I just have learnt them here. I probably have learnt them already … in New York, but something clicked now, after a while, maybe a different use of describing the movements, or describing the principles. Every little detail sometimes — it’s kind of a like, ‘Woo! Now I understand it!’ It’s just something [about] how the movement, or the principle, or the phrase is delivered to you. And with what kind of state you are [in] as a person at this time. … Maybe a couple of months ago in New York, I was really distant from the space and from the class. And maybe the teacher told me that but I didn’t take it on board maybe at this time, but now I was ready for that. I think there are stages to go through as a dancer as well, trying to be patient sometimes and I think, ‘Oh, no! I want to do this and that and the other. And it’s like, why can’t I do it?’ … I will eventually. Because there are still challenges I can’t do and I am struggling with it. It’s like, ‘Ah! It’s so hard!’

— Evelyn Tuul (interview, 29/7/11)

And it feels like there’s been a lot of changes over this week. … I feel it in my body as well because I haven’t danced like this for a long time … dancing, rather than teaching dancing. So now I feel like my body’s actually remembering what it’s like.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

Our participants respond to the significant things that they have learned during the course of the summer programme:

Movement. The whole notion of it being a technique of movement. And I know that sounds ridiculous because it’s dance. Of course it’s movement! But I think Alan mentioned that in one of the first few days (and I made note of it), and [also] it was then watching the various choreographies and performances from Doris Humphrey and José Limón and Alan himself, during the lunch breaks. It is so clearly movement. It is not about position. It’s not about endpoint. It’s not about snapshot moments. Those snapshot moments happen through movement, not through stillness. And even when there’s stillness, there’s some sense of dynamic energy. So it really is that notion of moving. It sounds simple but actually is quite complex.

—  Edel Quin (interview, 29/7/11)

I didn’t have an understanding of what exactly Limón was. … I had been taught by Erica in my degree, in my first year (and that was my first year of contemporary dance) and I knew that that was a Limón-based technique. And I knew that Sonia Rafferty, who teaches at Laban now (and I sneak into as many of her classes I can), she also teaches from a Limón-based principle. But 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 these two weeks have 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)

I think just want to be … engulfed by (that’s not the right word, but whatever it is – entourée is the French word [‘surrounded’ – Sameena’s translation] by the essence of Limón and education. I love education. I love learning. So being around all of these people who want to learn and want to learn how to make other people learn. … That’s the part that I love.

— Sameena Mitta (interview, 19/7/11)

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

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