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Art's Advice

A long time ago when Sebastián encouraged me to start a blog, the idea was that it would be a technique blog. Naturally that is exactly what it became. However, some technique lessons are less esoteric than others. Here's what I've been exploring in my more literal technical exploration lately.

I was lucky enough to take a class recently with the biggest rock star anyone knows of in the bodywork world, the great Art Riggs [that's his real name]. The master of masters, the inscriber of tablets, the international gold standard of bodywork. He watched me walk and said only one thing, and it blew my world apart and plopped me into a brand new somatic wonderland that I infinitely prefer to the old world. Marty and he agreed that my movement looked fixed in my shoulders and head, and I said it should look fluid and the energy should go all the way up, it should look still, not fixed. And then Art said:

What if you imagined your body was hanging down from your occiput?

And from that, Gentle Reader, I rewrote the Principia Mathematica. More or less. Suddenly I understand primary control. I had been staring at animals in the zoo and at my fish for hours and I saw that they moved from their cores, and they had beautifully integrated and stabilized cores, and that was wonderful. But I was missing something. I figured it would take me the rest of my life working out, to get a proficient and understood core like they had, and without that proficiency and understanding, how would I a stable and supportive core, and without that, how would I ever be able to move? What in the world was getting me to and from the grocery store? —And then, once I started pretending my whole body was hanging from my occiput, and the movement started there and not “in my core,” I got it!

The animals all initiate the movement with their heads! Yes, heads, those things we try so hard to forget in dance, those things to be set aside, those things with which one must never, ever lead. Guess what: lead with your head. Yes, Everybodysfavouritedancer's brilliant summation of tango advice still holds true (“bitches, move with your cunts”). The movement happens in the core. But the intention starts at the head, and the whole body follows that intention.

I noticed that if my whole body was hanging down from my occiput, I collected, I was aligned, I suddenly had no trouble with my upper body, I was grounded, my core was working but not efforting, and I was stable. I also noticed that as I felt everything hanging down, I felt an up happening at my occiput. It felt like going up. And it felt like going in the direction I was going. I got fascinated at how at the occiput thoughts turned into action, potential turned into kinetic energy, and everything was so blurry: I could physically feel thought and then the ensuant action felt like an embodiment of intention. I felt my body literally following my thoughts.

I read up on the cerebellum, since that's the brain part hanging out right there. Go figure: its job is to help thought control movement.

I noticed how delightful it felt to let my intention at my occiput turn into physical movement in that body that was hanging down off of it. But then I noticed sometimes a little hiccup, a bracing, right at that magical spot. I would have an idea but then my body directly below the idea would catch me. Hold on just a second there, it would say. And I would have to say, undo that, so the idea can go through the body! And then I heard my friend the Alexander Technique teacher's voice in my head, saying, “and then the body says, 'oh, we're going to go on the tango ride!'” —And I knew what I was doing! And then I heard the great Jorge Torres's voice in my head and felt his hands stroke my neck once again (it was an extremely memorable day), as he said, “shh, rest. Rest. Find the floor. Find the floor. Rest.” Rest: release that catching between occiput and body, so the idea can flow freely. Find the floor: open up the body and let it hang loosely and heavily.

I imagine that I'm a silk scarf being held up by a hand, but that's a little too floaty. The only thing that's got the right consistency is a body. I take my new hanging body to yoga and discover that the yoga game is suddenly, the joy of turning “down” into “every direction”. Sure, the body is hanging down from the occiput. If by “down” you mean “away from,” and if by “the body” you mean “everything including the head.” This then makes me feel like my whole body is in a sphere of space and my energy is falling through my limbs and head out toward the perimeter of the sphere. I have fun playing with the shape of the sphere and feeling my energy dropping against it, pushing it out.

All that heavy hanging makes for a persistent little me, sitting right at my occiput, that pokes its head up and toward where I'm going. So when I walk down the street, I think, “I'm taking my head for a walk now.” When I dance, instead of keeping track of a billion body parts and remembering a bunch of Pilates rules, I think, “where does my head want to be?”

I walk down the street and notice that even the greatest doofuses out there, straggling along like misshapen trolls, all instinctively do something incredibly brilliant. With every single one of them, their intention starts in their heads. And then they follow the intention. Most human beings are nowhere near as good at it as my fish is, but they've all got the blueprints in them. The basic idea is there (for them to screw up as they see fit).

After a while I realized that I was the person who told me that tango was all about core. This explained how so many of the great milongueros have bellies. Alexander Tango, not Pilates Tango! Do the Alexander, which they've all been saying forever, in their protestations that you “just do it natural, like you walk down the street,” and the Pilates takes care of itself. Somehow people were managing to dance before the word “core” even came up. And remember the famous technique lesson from the great milonguero couple quoted by Rafael: “what technique?”

If you do what actually is natural, then you will have great technique. Whether you come to this by dint of intellect, by dint of practice, or by dint of repeated exposure, it doesn't matter. I suspect I am smarter than Everybodysfavouritedancer, which tells me that her gift is not intellectual, but rather, either a highly sophisticated somatic awareness, or a highly integrated somatic awareness. She doesn't have to understand every single cog and wheel of what she's doing to do it. The fish doesn't understand what she's doing, and she's a better dancer even than Everybodysfavourite.

My desire to understand Core? Eh. I guess it's nice to have a general road map of Core, a rudimentary awareness that it exists. But we're never going to “understand” it or how it really works, and it does its work without our understanding. Understanding is for the head. The head thinks. The body does. It does so much, magical stuff, stuff we're not even aware of, and picking it apart would be an act of pointless folly. Put the understanding up where we usually keep it. Become aware of becoming aware, and then you'll get where you're going. Sebastián was right all along. The question “where am I going?” is a lot more productive and useful than focussing on whether or not to engage one's glute medius.

….So, all that Pilates? Am I just going to throw it out? Nah. I just realize that it talks to a part of me that I don't have to rationally understand. My job is to take my body to Pilates like a soccer mom takes her kid to practice, and then set it loose on the field and let it do its thing. It will learn what it needs to learn. I won't get it up in my head, but that doesn't matter. I have a much more important head trip to enjoy: after all that “get out of your head,” it turns out that in my head was where I needed to be all the time.