and the Pilobolus Dance Theater
Shihan Moti Nativ and the Feldenkrais System
Written by Molly Gawler - Dancer in Pilobolus show Shadowland
My name is Molly Gawler, and I am a touring dancer with a show called “Shadowland” created by Pilobolus Dance Theater. In December 2011, we traveled to Israel to perform in several cities. Along with our touring, Shihan Moti Nativ, Israeli teacher of Warrior Awareness and the Feldenkrais System, graciously offered to teach us. With the help of our dance captain, Damon Honeycutt, and our director, Matt Kent, 2 classes were organized. We, as a company of 10 professional dancers, took these classes together.
In Moti’s lessons we discovered connections between the inner world of our bodies and the outer world of our associations to each other as dancers and people. We observed how the micro movements related to the macro movements and how, if you are patient with small changes, over time they will make big changes. We paid attention to each other and felt our innate connectivity move us together with intuitive symphonic resonance. With gentleness and compassion, Moti planted seeds of profound change within us.
Moti arrived, and he entered the room with a graceful ease. He began teaching with these words of wisdom: “When we look at what we do, that is consciousness. When we look at how we do something that is intelligence. When we combine consciousness with intelligence that is awareness.”
Then we began. From a relaxed position on our backs, we started by raising one arm to the sky. It was a very simple movement but I found it exceedingly difficult. “Just lift your hand up,” Moti would say, but at first my body resisted and my movements were small and stiff. Then, with alternating repetitions and relaxation, my body began to let go. As I began to concentrate on what was essential in this movement, no more and no less, it became effortless and enjoyable. I noticed how the intention started in the ends of my body (my fingers and hand) and then, as it naturally began to grow with more amplitude, I found it useful to tune in to what my center was doing (hips, shoulders, and navel areas). There was a direct and natural connection between the distal and the medial parts of the body.
Moti then led us through the next steps of the exercise which consisted of very fundamental motions, like moving our knees side to side and then our arms in an arc up over the head. We found that with a few repetitions, we could actually curl into our centers, and then, with little effort, sit up and flow back down to the ground. Soon, it became faster and bigger and we were going from sitting on our right side, to lying down, to sitting on our left side in a fluid swinging motion. The next step was to pay attention to the people around us and to do the movement as a whole group. That required us to open all of our senses in a kinesthetic awareness that extended past our own body to the other people in the space. We started slowly, getting faster and bigger upon Moti’s prompting, and then it was as if we were of one mind, like a school of fish flowing together with simple joy and ceaseless awareness. It was beautiful.
In the second class, we started again with a very basic task. We began by lying on our sides with knees bent at a 90 degree angle and legs stacked on top of each other. Moti directed us to move a foot up to the sky, starting with the little toe. This was hard for me. At first my motion was too big, using my entire leg, until Moti told us that, in fact, this was a very small movement. The leg was to remain still and only the foot to move. I found that when I kept it simple and moved only my foot, I opened my awareness, as if seeing inside my body, and I could tell that the small movement began deep inside my hip joint. We did this on both sides, and then gradually the movements became bigger and more dynamic. Moti instructed us through some leg swings that translated through the spine and head. Naturally, that evolved into a dynamic phrase involving falls to the floor on the side, sitting, and then flowing to the other side, crashing like waves on the sea back and forth. Just as we did the day before, we tuned in to the people around us and moved together as one with an oceanic flow.
It turned out that the leg swings related to martial timing and could be used with throws. We experienced a taste of Moti’s brilliance in relating the Feldenkrais System to the ways of Martial Arts. We came to standing, and soon with little effort we were learning to throw our friends to the mat, just by an easy swing of the leg that we had already performed on the floor. I was amazed at how little force Moti was using (3%) to do a very powerful throw. I am a petite woman, and my partner Derek Stratton, tall with lots of muscle, was the biggest man in our dance company. I amazed myself with the way I could throw him to the ground with little effort. With Moti’s help, I found that it was about staying relaxed, having correct timing, and using the breath.
In every case, Moti encouraged us to move without effort. “Use the same amount of effort as it takes to breathe,” Moti would say.
Between exercises, Moti instructed us to lie on our backs for a full minute and notice the changes that occurred. This is a very important step, and one that may be overlooked because it seems as if you are doing nothing. Yet in the moments of stillness there is self-reflection, and the miracles that take place are apparent. I had several, such as... my gosh, my shoulders are touching the floor and relaxed downwards. When we first started they were held up with tension towards the sky. How can this be? Or... wow, my lower back is not so arched above the floor. My sacral and lumbar spine are relaxing down to the ground. Or, as happened when we did an exercise on the right side first and then lay flat... I found the differences between my right and left sides remarkable, my right side from head to toe noticeably more relaxed and awake. Then we did the left side and evened out. Sometimes the changes were subtle, and sometimes surprisingly substantial.
Within the class we moved through essential human functions such as lying down, sitting, standing, rolling, and walking. It almost seemed like Moti was teaching us just how to be as people in the world - pure and simple. This is very useful in my work as a professional dancer with Pilobolus, because we strive to find natural and efficient ways to move. The way to do that is to start at the very beginning.
This is not so easy, because it means I have to shed many things that I hold onto. I studied ballet for many years and my body maintains certain affectations from the technique. Ballet is beautiful and I dedicated my life to it in my youth, yet certain aspects are no longer useful. I must let go of what I don’t need but keep what I do need. My legs tend to turn out, my lower spine to sway, my shoulders to round forward and my chest to be tense. All of these are habits that have formed over many years, forcing me out of balance.
Now, I have the desire to retrain my body and let go of old habits so I can rebuild my movement with specific intention. To do this, I must go back to the basics and learn how to lie down, come to sitting, come to standing, roll, and walk in a fluid, effortless way. The two classes I took with Moti about Warrior’s Awareness rang true with me. Over time I believe that I can restore balance in my body with gentle perseverance.
The system helps me to define what I do and who I am by slowly washing away the limitations and labels that I have put upon myself. I found that the process created freedom and I was no longer confined to the idea that “I am a dancer” or “I am a martial artist” so “I move in a particular pattern.” Moti helped me to understand that I am a human being with a body, and that body has endless potential.
I have a tendency to think of the body in pieces. There are muscles, bones, nerves, skin, brain, organs, connective tissue, and much more. If the brain has a simple task, then the body as a whole will gladly comply and every part will fall into place. That is why, when Moti asked us to move only our foot, I felt my entire body respond and become awake. With repetition of the simple movement, the separation of parts merged into a body integrated as a whole. When I focus internally, a clear picture forms in my mind of a living, breathing system that is a vibrant matrix in which every part has a purpose.
The system Moti teaches can be used for absolutely everyone on earth. If you have a body, then this work can be of use. We were a class of ten professional dancers with young, adept bodies and an average age of twenty-seven. Moti told us he had recently taught a class with an average age of 70 and that he was teaching the same thing.
I found the wisdom within my own body. I have everything I need. All I need to do is give my body the chance to speak, and then I listen. There is plenty of information in there. If I get an injury, then I can call upon what I learned from Moti about the Feldenkrais System and Warrior’s Awareness to be honest about my habits, and I have the ability to make conscious changes. I can use what I learned as a tool to maintain health and happiness. If I treat my body well, it will serve me for a long time.