Last month, we spoke about the nine different movement forms that serve as energetic inspiration for Nia: three dance arts (Modern Dance, Jazz Dance and Duncan Dance), three martial arts (Tae-Kwon-Do, Tai Chi and Aikido) and three healing arts (Yoga, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Technique). With your permission, I would like to spend the following nine months delving more deeply into each one of these and contemplating its contribution to Nia.
This month we will place the spotlight on Modern Dance. Modern Dance began, not just as a reaction to the formalities of Ballet, but also as a social phenomenon in Europe and America, where the strictures of Victorian society were declining and the middle class was rising.
Modern Dance started to rebel against the huge emphasis on technique that exists in Ballet. Emotional expression was favoured above formal perfection. Gravity was no longer a force to be denied, but a fundamental tool of the dancer, who played constantly with balance, making shapes in space. Pointe shoes were mostly abandoned, often in favour of the bare foot. Clothing became adventurous. Following a parallel path to that of twentieth century music and art, dance became a highly explorative medium.
Many of the philosophies of modern dancers and choreographers have been espoused by Nia. François Delsarte proposed that each emotion or mental image corresponds to a movement. This technique has been used frequently in the creation of Nia routines (think of Shine from the routine R1, or the title song of the routine Rise). This idea, coupled with the lyrics of the music, contributes hugely to the therapeutic nature of Nia.
Mary Wigman, regarded as an Expressionist, regarded movement as being closely tied to spirituality, and her pieces were highly expressive of inner states. In Nia, through moving our bodies alone, we impact deeply on mind, emotions and spirit too.
The notion of imbalance as a basis of movement, as espoused by Doris Humphrey, is a common one during Nia's unstructured dance. In order to master the balance of our bodies, we need to start from a position of imbalance.
The famous Martha Graham school of dancing teaches various concepts that Nia uses: focus on the center of the body, coordination between breathing and movement and our relationship with the floor (taken to the extreme in Nia through extensive use of Floor Play).
All of these ideas, along with many more, can be explored very effectively during the unstructured parts of a Nia class, during which we give ourselves permission to simply play, explore and experience movement and sensation.
Next month, we hope to take a look at the energy of Jazz Dance and explore its contributions to Nia.