We look back at an early Movement Research Studies Project that took place on November 12, 1996. Moderator Audrey Kindred, brought together for the first time two important women, Susan Klein and Joan Skinner, whose respective techniques continue to be highly influential in successive generations of dancing bodies, impacting aesthetic, facility, language, and artistic affiliations. Through their extended dialogue, a complicated conversation ensues invested in pedagogy, the performativity of terminology, and the possibility for "the work" to maintain didactic stability as it traverses across and through embodied and subjective difference. This event took place before an audience in the Garden Room at The Judson Church.
Studies Project Description: “The techniques pioneered by Joan Skinner and Susan Klein, though very different from each other in method and form, have greatly influenced a generation of dancers to dance from the inner body. These women have developed and matured techniques, named them in their own names, and now they face new and tender and awkward issues about representation and the posterity of their work in the world. In passing on their work, how do they protect the work’s integrity and complexity? How do they entrust the work effectively to those who embrace it? How are each approaching the training of teachers whose teaching is based upon the body of work that they have developed? How are they negotiating their “disciple’s” transitions from autonomous learner to resourceful teacher? How does individuality inform the teachings of a new generation of teachers to the strength or the detriment of the foundation from which they have come? Do these techniques become obfuscated from idiosyncrasies of their later teachers? And, how are Joan Skinner and Susan Klein negotiating these issues with their communities?”
Audrey Kindred: Please feel free to initiate Studies Projects. One of the things that I have found, in brainstorming about Studies Projects, is that it’s kind of a process of taking inventory in yourself, taking inventory in your community, and finding a connection in the questions that you’re asking and the questions that you’re seeing people toy with and find their way with. Each one really is a whole different event, a whole different concept, and a whole different challenge and exploration. I totally encourage you to indulge in imaginations in the prospect of inventing a Studies Project.
For the decade I’ve witnessed dance in New York and been involved with it and taking inventory on that decade of dance, I’ve seen two very strong voices in forming a dance community. More than two voices! I don’t really mean to say just two voices, but the work of Joan Skinner and the work of Susan Klein has found its way into a lot of people’s bodies in various degrees of depth or intensity. I don’t know how many people have done work with both of these women, but I have a feeling that—though, they met each other yesterday, as people—their forms have met each other for many years inside many bodies. That’s interesting to me. I feel like there’s a way that we’re all collaging a lot of the information that’s coming from these two people’s bodies of work. I’ve gotten interested in the idea that I wanted them to meet in the flesh and for that dialogue to actually find some words to it, to the private little experiences of each of the bodies that are informed by them. I want to do two things in introducing them.
I want to say that this night is an invention. It’s a self-exploration for probably everybody in this room. Certainly for Joan Skinner and Susan Klein. I’d like to encourage support for that to be the agenda of the evening. That this is not a forum for representation of their works. And it’s not a forum, not a lecture demonstration, in any way, or a comparison, of their works. What it is is an exploration about a place that both of them have come to in their lives with these dance forms. As these forms have gone out into these communities and have become digested by many bodies, they are being represented then by many bodies. And it’s this passing on of information that I’ve been interested in and that I’ve seen in curating classes and curating people’s “teachings.” I’ve seen this, these questions of, well... How is this information passed on? How do the teachers take on the information that they’ve learned? And, how do they do it with full respect to the people from whom they’ve learned? How can that communication be an open communication in terms of…What are the concerns that Joan and Susan are facing in this spreading of their work around the world and beyond who they can count? What are their concerns with how their work is represented around the world by people who are inspired by it? And how, on the other end, can people learn from those concerns and take on some sensitivity to the challenges they’re facing in particular at this point in their development of their work?
I want to say that there’s written words that talk about the forms and philosophies of both the work of Joan and the work of Susan and your welcome to take a copy and read it. That’s one thing. I thought I’d just read the description of the Studies Project for the Journal because it encapsulates these questions clearly.
“The techniques pioneered by Joan Skinner and Susan Klein, though very different from each other in method and form, have greatly influenced a generation of dancers to dance from the inner body. These women have developed and matured techniques, named them in their own names, and now they face new and tender and awkward issues about representation and the posterity of their work in the world. In passing on their work, how do they protect the work’s integrity and complexity? How do they entrust the work effectively to those who embrace it? How are each approaching the training of teachers whose teaching is based upon the body of work that they have developed? How are they negotiating their “disciple’s” transitions from autonomous learner to resourceful teacher? How does individuality inform the teachings of a new generation of teachers to the strength or the detriment of the foundation from which they have come? Do these techniques become obfuscated from idiosyncrasies of their later teachers? And, how are Joan Skinner and Susan Klein negotiating these issues with their communities?”
I’m going to introduce these women and I know there are many people here with many histories and I welcome you to be a part of this discussion as it develops. I think for the first little while we’ll keep it focused here a but, please, feel free to keep track of the questions that come up for you. With one thing in mind… Again, it’s not a comparison of their techniques. It’s fully appreciating the autonomy of their techniques and looking at where they are in their development right now.
So, Susan Klein is based here in New York. She runs a school down on Beach Street. And I want to acknowledge Barbara Mahler who is a central person in the passage of this work. She teaches it daily here in New York. Joan Skinner is based in Seattle, Washington, and comes to teach Movement Research workshops once and, if we’re lucky, twice a year, and has been coming for a decade, and also teaches intensive, summer workshops in Seattle that I think some people here have participated in. I both love and have joy in the fact that they have just met each other. [laughter] This was her idea. [laughter] And I really appreciate that they have come to the task of doing this discussion because I think that actually one of the things is getting to the place where you are asking questions you’re currently facing and have no answers for out loud in a dialogue.
Joan Skinner: We can sit down now. [laugher]
AK: Let’s start with a formal thing, which is if maybe each of you would like to say where you are structurally in the development of a teacher-training course. That might be an interesting way to start. [To audience] If anyone has any problem hearing, you can come and sit in the front if you want. [To Joan and Susan] Just coming to the point of identifying the need for a teacher training and when.
JS: Not long ago, I think it was even in the past year. Someone in New York at Movement Research workshop came up to me after class and said that she had been taking the class two or three times, and she would just go to the floor and receive the images. And she had no idea if there was any pedagogy or any structure to what I was doing, until she took DD Meyer’s class. And DD had been recently certified to teach the work! So, somehow, when she took DD’s class she said Oh, there’s structure here. Or, there’s something. There’s progression maybe, this comes before this. Somehow, for quite a while, she had no idea! Why? I’m not sure, why, when I teach… [laughter] And I think this was a fair, prevalent view of the work. Whereas, I have been developing for decades, I think it’s three, an evolving technique that has developed now pedagogy. Sometimes I’m leery of a pedagogy, but this work will not submit to a rigid form. It just keeps springing out and evolving and changing. It has a life of its own. The pedagogy is a way of framing it so that it can be taught effectively. We’ve worked at developing over the years better and better ways to teach it, more effective ways to teach it. So we keep honing the pedagogy so that we know now that in the first fifteen, two-hour sessions there is a progression that works. People go through this progression and experience this and by the time they’ve come through those fifteen, two-hour sessions they will have arrived at a certain level of understanding and experiencing.
So, I started just six years ago, out all these decades, to establish a certification program. I’ve done it only three times so far, every other summer. And I’ve tried to limit it to ten people at a time. It involves observing daily classes—those fifteen classes—observing them while having in their hands the class plan. And that’s discussed in seminars afterwards, what happened in that class plan. Why did this precede this? Why was this “partner-graphic” in that class with that image? Why? Because the classes are composed, shaped, almost like a composition. They study very rigorously the reasons why we chose to do what we do when we do them in the progression of things. They also learn about the function of music in the class. Because, for those of you who have read about the work or experienced it, there is a focus on the poetic nature of experiencing rather than intellectual. The emphasis is more poetic. The music has a very important function. What kind of music is chosen and how is it used? When are silences employed or music? All if it is shaped into an overall whole, an overall class experience. I like to think of the whole class as like a dance. And the teachers also get rigorous, supervised training of the hands on “partner-graphic” work that is part of every class. I could go into that but maybe not at this moment. They also get voice work because they are giving images in class that are poetic in nature. We work to free to sound of the teacher’s voice so that it can project and resonates the poetic nature of the image. They study for their content, for their form, when there are pauses, what is emphasized and so on. They have reading assignments and they have weekly essays. It is a very rigorous training. And they have to prepare charts, graphs of the entire pedagogy for the entire fifteen classes. With all of the totalities here, and graphics the here, and the images actions here and what goes with what in what class. So that they have that to refer to in their own class. The last two weeks of the summer session they do practice teaching under supervision. That’s pretty much where we are at this point in time for the certification program. Does that answer the…. [laughter]
Susan Klein: I’m going start by saying that I am forever struck by the paradoxes of life. How one side of an issue actually brings the other, and the other side brings the other. And that I, as you know I'm working with structure, not with images, and the way I’m going about teaching teachers is not through structure. It’s really through developing instinct and a sense of knowing the work on a body felt image so strongly that what needs to be done in the class is revealed by the class and then known to the teacher. That’s the process that I teach. I started this process in October. Is this November? [laughter] I figured it out in October. The first teacher certification week that we did was then too and there were eleven people there and four who will probably be involved who weren’t there. I am really, this is totally wrong, and I’m creating now as we’re going along and I’m counting on the people who are involved to actually help me co-create it. I don’t have a structure. Though the class is very structured.
JS: Which class?
SK: The class they will be eventually be teaching. But they don’t have anything like fifteen sessions. It’s open ended. A student starts wherever they start, they finish wherever they finish. They can start again. They can come back. It’s infinite. And the teaching has to be able to accommodate that, to accommodate a sense of infinity. A sense of open-endedness and a goal that’s never attained. So, as we started to do this week, I was personally struck with how difficult this job was going to be. It really blew me away. It’s much more that I imagined. And it was fabulous, it was really good. It helped me throughout with what I was doing. I haven’t talked to be people who were in it yet, but I think what’s valuable for the people who are in it and we’re construct as we go along.
JS: That was exactly what happened when I started too. It was trial and error.
SK: Did I answer that? [laughter]
AK: I’d like to hear you talk a little bit more about that developing process. The early process.
JS: Of training?
AK: Yeah and finding out what exactly you wanted from that.
JS: I should perhaps mention that this training program is for the introductory level. Those fifteen sections are the introductory level. There is an intermediate level which is called ongoing and it does go on until they’re ready for advanced work, so it’s open ended.
Audience member: So do you have to go through all three levels?
JS: There are three levels. Roughly.
Audience member: And then you’re certified?
JS: Oh, no no no. You’ve been certified to teach the introductory level, that’s all the training is. They are trained for the introductory level which of course is the foundation for everything that comes after that. My hope is, which does raise a question in my mind, is that they reach an understanding in that training for how to teach the intermediate, ongoing and advanced work. And then after that, after they’re certified, they plan their own classes for them, with the work that is there for them. The images that we use at the intermediate level, the ongoing level, even our progressions, what would perhaps be advisable to come in the early part of the ongoing level and then a little later in what would be, but they shape and plan their own classes once they’ve completed that first training. I haven’t done the advanced level yet. I haven’t organized it yet for teachers. It’s in how many decades of notebooks, and I’m still looking for that open space of time to get that ready for teachers.
I think it’s hard to know, and I’ve heard this from some of the teachers who’ve had the training, what there is for them still to learn about the teaching of it once they go forth and on their own. It has to be adapted to different populations as well because some of our people work with people with disabilities, mental as well as physical disabilities, or with AIDS, some people are giving classes with people with AIDS or HIV. Stephanie Schooner, she offered a class at Movement Research in releasing for intellectuals. [laughter] So, it has to be adaptable. Part of this evolves because, as Audrey mentioned, the work goes out and filters into one person and then another into a second hand and a third hand and a fourth hand and once in awhile you’ll catch someone teaching something from your work and you say Uh oh! We practice “smooth river running.” The teachers are drilled on “smooth river running,” but I happen to see someone teaching in the class, not a certified teacher, just someone teaching it in the class where they were demonstrating it like this [bounces hand up and down in the air] and so you wonder how to deal with this. You said you’ve had that kind of experience many times.
SK: That’s why, actually, I make the big mistake of saying I would never go teach a certification again. I never planned on this. In my experience, with my mentors and with people that I admire, I haven’t seen a teacher teach a certification program I think is successful. I see them all get bogged down in horrendous bureaucracies and nasty requirements and lose meaning and I pretty much swore I wouldn’t do it. Then this is pretty much what started to happen. The more it goes out the more the integrity and the quality starts to get lost. I felt that the only way that I had a chance to keep that, and have the work taught well, was to teach people how to teach it. Also make it clear to the world that was interested in studying it, who knew what they were doing and therefore who wouldn’t necessarily know what they were doing. That seems like the only way to have any integrity of the work last. So, I feel like that is what brought me to decide that the time was right and I actually had to do this. It’s proven to be a good thing. In this approach I’m trying to make a program that’s meaningful. My idea at the moment is to make it an individual process between me and each person who will be certified. At this moment I’m not planning on having any requirements per say, it will be between me and each person to design a program that’s right for them.
JS: That sounds wonderful.
SK: It’s a great idea. [laughter] That’s my idea. And as it’s been brought to fruition, that’s my idea, trying to make it relevant for each person. Everyone who is interested in teaching is in a different place, they have a different relationship to me and to the work. So that’s what I’m trying to do. There’s no time requirement; there aren’t any kind of requirements, and when it’s clear when somebody knows what they’re doing they’ll be certified.
JS: That sounds ideal. That sounds ideal.
SK: That’s my idea.
JS: You know, what I find fascinating is the way the whole situation in dance has changed in our current time from, a long time ago, when people would choose to train and study in one given form or technique, and they would commit to that form or technique and study it until they became really skilled. I mean, from beginning, intermediate, advanced. If you were going to be a great student, you studied in a great school until you became advanced in it and were extremely skilled. Or, you studied in the homeschool or private school. And, of course, in those days there wasn’t the explosion of information and knowledge that is coming out today about the body, the understandings of the body... we certainly didn’t have in those days, and even serious consideration to train in artistic sensibility of the dancer as well as the physical technique. All of that seems to be out in many, diverse forms. That’s a wonderful kind of richness available to everyone today. As a result it seems as if everyone takes everything, and that can be very enriching to have this approach to understanding the body, and this approach, and then you find a way to integrate those in yourself. I think it has enriched our dance life tremendously. It also presents some pitfalls. Does one go into depth anywhere, and really come to some kind of serious understanding of what that is and arrive at a level of skill? What were you telling me, when you met, about your two year... and I thought was fascinating, that people come for two years.
SK: It used to be. When I started the studio uptown, I was only 25 and I think that had something to do with it, the average life of a student was two years. What would happen is that people would come and they would study very intensive, they would come every day and they would come for two years. At the two year point I would feel like I had a group of students that I could work with, we could finally go on, and that was consistently the point where people would feel like they had it. It was consistent. It seemed to be this two year period. They would be like waves. They seemed to come in groups, and then they would leave in groups and as that happened another group would come. Classes were always about the same size, but they just turned over and that still happens but it’s a long period of time, it’s not two years anymore. I’m not sure what it is. They were just at the point where they were starting to learn what I was talking about, in my opinion. In their opinion they knew what I was talking about and they were finished. I never got to discuss it with anybody, they were gone. You know, it’s a daily thing, they would come, they don’t come. But the time, it’s changed. I’m experiencing more people going into more depth in it, especially in the last, seven or eight years, I actually feel that it’s changing. It’s probably because Barbara is teaching instead of me.
Audience member: I wanted to say, is there something about once you’re gathering information and beginning to perceive or see through that information, is there something that you may find that people start to step away in order to free themselves from that world? I know that Joseph Campbell once said he never felt like he got to take a spiritual path because he was someone who always identified and spoke about many, many different traditions. That he himself never developed himself a spiritual path although he felt himself a spiritual person. How does that relate to what I was asking? There’s some sort of rejection of the world, or need of other information in order to eventually come back and commit or go deeper. I’ve found that I’ve backed off and come back and each time I come back after pursuing other almost opposite information, I’m able to go to a different level, or feel willing at least to take in more information.
JS: Might be part of the nature of the phenomenon. That there is so much information out there that you almost feel, perhaps, limited by just being in one place. That you feel the need to have a breadth.
Audience Member (Stephen Petronio): I remember when I first moved to New York, I was studying with Susan Collette, several classes a day and I used to have to go to just crash around and be wrong, as wrong as I was at that time, it just was absolutely necessary.
SK: But that’s like going to the mall. [laughter]
SP: And yeah, it served that purpose. I don’t know if going to the mall is spiritual to me.
SK: When I was in acupuncture school we used to have to go to the mall because you’re so into this stuff that’s so pure that you just have to go trash it. We used to go and eat the worst food we could find and be under the neon lights. You had to get some balance. I’m not sure you were going there for information.
SP: No, no, no. Well, I don’t know.
SK: Maybe you were.
AK: I’d like to walk back a little bit, in time. I think it’s interesting, how does an individual dancer find their way? How does that relate to studying a technique or a collage of techniques? In some way, we’re very individualistic identities, maybe we each seek that vision of the body that you can come to somehow on your own. Maybe that makes people hesitant to follow one body of work. But I think, a lot of dancers are very interested in the ways they are negotiating those different informations. Because each of those different informations have a real strength, a real purity, a real sense of truth to them. And yet, in honoring each of them dancers have expressed argument and distress in how they struggle to find their way with these images. How they can take in all the information from various places and still make sense of the body. Is that a kind of individual depth that they can find, that collage?
JS: I’d like to clarify, I don’t know for sure about Susan but I have a feeling that neither one of us are suggesting it would be good to confine one’s study to just one approach and to go into that in depth. I don’t think that is ever in my mind at all. It is simply... Is there so much breadth that there isn’t depth anywhere? Can one go into depth in something and still get the breadth? Which I think would be wonderful if that could happen. I would think that you might find with all this wonderful breadth out there you would find something that you identify with, that makes sense to you, that has meaning in your life and that might be the way that you might go into depth and still know about these other ways. I’m not sure I understood your question.
AK: Within your own learning process, at what point did you, having digested information and study of dance, what is the process in which you arrived at something you felt to be teachable, or felt you had to teach? Something you felt you had a strong individual understanding of enough to embrace it within your own main and enough to begin to teach it in your own voice.
SK: I have an answer. Well, for me there was actually no choice. There was no decision, there was no choice, there was no figuring it out. What I’m doing is the only thing that makes sense to me. I don’t feel that, in a certain sense, there isn’t anything in particular. It seems obvious to me. I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t see it this way. So, in that sense, I don’t see anything special about it all. It seems like, what else can you do? This is all I have, this is all I know, this is all that makes sense. This is all I have to offer. This is it.
JS: How did you get there?
SK: The hard way. I got there through completely destroying my body. Through the advanced training I had from years five to nineteen, which was mostly German Modern dance and Graham. Then what I teach is really based on my own path and healing my own body. It’s basically what I found, how it worked and why it worked and I’ve basically just figured out what made sense and how it had to work. When I’ve talked to some people, some artists who have their own choreographic styles, and I’ve asked them, Do you have any choice in how you move, this is how you move isn’t it? This is it? You didn’t create anything, this is it? And they say to me, Yeah this is it, this is how I move. It turned into... I think what happens is it turns... it’s weird enough that it turns into a style, that it’s different enough, that they’re just not the way that everybody else moves, and it catches on. I don’t think it’s necessarily created, planned and plotted and made. That’s how I feel for myself. I didn’t sit down and say How am I going to do this? It’s the only option that revealed itself to me. That’s how it came about from all that I knew, and I can tell you who I studied with and who I knew and where it came from and that’s what happened.
SP: Was there a gradual process of realizing this is the only way it could be for me or was it like Ouch and then you sat down for a month and...
SK: No, it was real gradual. I treated somebody this morning, yesterday, and I was just saying to them, it’s a very slow process. It’s a trial and error process. You try things, you study with different people or you go to different people to get treated. For me, more often than not it didn’t work. Then it would take me months to recover from the experience before I could get the courage up or the need to try again. This was particularly with my injury with practitioners. I would go to this dance massage person who killed me, and then my knee would swell up and it would take me months to go back and then it would take me months to get the courage up to try and go to somebody else, and go to somebody else. Finally I realized why it took me so long to get better and why it took me so long to start to make a positive move. It took me a very long time to find help, and it was truly a process of trying and trying and trying. I think it’s the same thing with information, you go and you look and you look and you look and you look until you meet somebody where it actually resonates with you and you can use what they have to offer you. That match is not to easy to find. You really have to explore. After you’ve gone to a class or had an experience that isn’t good for you, you back off for a while until you decide you can take another chance.
It did take me a long time to even get started. And then in the process of getting started I hurt myself three times. I would try to dance again and end up... until last night I thought I was slow, a slow learner. Now I think, well, I was scared, and maybe slow. But it came that way, in terms of finding things that resonated, finding things I used. Then, because of my particular mind, everything has to make sense. I have to be able to put it together in a way that it can come apart and I can put it back together. So all the pieces have to fit, and so far they have. As I go along and get new pieces of information now, knock on wood, they all fit, haven’t ran into anything of substance that contradicts what my basic theories are. So I’m happy. Including our conversation yesterday, that was thrilling.
JS: We had a wonderful time.
Audience member: Can I ask you a practical question? What do you feel about technique, relaxing exercise, releasing exercise. Well, I understand if your body is really relaxed and your muscles are open and then you do the other side more like contracting type of movements, so the other side can be more complete too. Let’s see, even using small weights against resistance, what do you feel about that kind of mix in, let’s say, first soft and then hard exercises in more practical exercises?
AK: I just want to redirect the question just a little bit and say I don’t want to go into a comparison of their techniques to each other, how they would apply those techniques. What you ask makes me want to open up a little bit on what you two touched upon yesterday, which is the word “release” and how does it work for the dance-doing, in the way that it’s used in the dance community as a reference to a ton of different things. When we met yesterday Susan asked Joan, How did you feel about this word “release” and how satisfyingly did it represent her. I wonder if we could dig it up.
JS: I think she was asking a broad question about: how do you integrate what I’ve heard some people are calling soft techniques versus hard techniques? How do you integrate them (not specifically how do I), what is their relationship? I don’t know if we can answer that together but that whole issue of softness is a big one and can be very confusing. Everyone must know that Martha Graham was the first one to use the term “release,” contraction and release. For me, the first class that I attempted to teach any of the kinesthetic work that I have found, after working alone for three years, the students in that first class coined the work “releasing.” They just kept saying, We’re doing the releasing technique. It must have been because I was saying, Well, we’re releasing this, we’re releasing that. But I didn’t have a name for it at the time.
Several people were there in that university, where I was teaching that year, who studied it with me and then after I left after one year, continued on their own. Their own work came into a different base which was time-based, because they worked with Barbara Carr. She was there at the time. They went off as individuals to explore their own paths and they all called it “release work.” They also formed a network where they intersected with each other and taught together and so on. So this word “release work” just seemed to spread finally, like wildfire, and now it’s a generic term. I see in people’s descriptions I teach a release based warm-up, or something, whatever that means. I really don’t know what it means, it probably means a lot of different things. But it may mean, in general (I’m not even sure of this because I haven’t seen enough of other release work), working more efficiently with the body than the old ways we used to of working the muscles and building them up until you get the strength that you need. I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems as if they’re body based, all of them, they have some knowledge of the body they are based on, that’s what they all have in common. I like the word “releasing,” because I don’t see us as ever becoming released.
It’s an ongoing, endless process. It’s not a fixed thing. It’s a dynamic process of releasing. I like to use that term rather than release. Also, I know there is a misconception that releasing, at least in my work, of releasing being relaxation or let it all hang out. It couldn’t be farther from the truth, I used to say years ago, in trying to explain it to somebody or explain it students, that releasing is like a trap springing open. It’s a releasing of blocks and therefore a releasing of energy and power. Energy and power, and strength. We do go through a stage of having to let go of these blocks and these patterns- tension patterns that block the freedom of movement to get to the release, that get to the releasing. Some people never see beyond that, and think that’s what it is, the limp dance. I actually choreographed a limp dance, it really was a limp dance. But releasing is not limp when it’s releasing. I don’t know if I have an answer for the softness thing other than if you study one of these approaches that uses a less hard approach, and therefore they might call it a soft approach, it involves learning how to use the body more efficiently. You can apply that to the hard techniques. Hopefully that’s what you can do-take it right into a ballet class or a hard and fast... somebody else’s class and use it. That’s what I tell my students, that this is supposed to help. [laughter] Do you have anything you want to say?
SK: I don’t know if I could possibly add anything. I asked Joan that question yesterday because I’ve never… that’s not true, there are people that use it. Most people, that are called a “release technique” don’t like it. Most people that have that word relate, talk to about them, are not happy with it. I was very interested in what Joan thought about that because it’s Skinner Releasing Technique. I was thrilled at this answer of Joan’s because it’s exactly how I feel, and when people describe my work in terms of a “release technique” I always feel very obliged to explain this is not what the aim of the technique is for - to be released, to be limp. The aim is to be connected and coordinated, powerful, efficient, and to dance better. It’s use, it’s function that we’re looking at, and choice, options. It’s a word that I feel is a cover or umbrella word that has the potential to be very misleading and bog us down.
I wish there was another word that was more accurate. I brainstorm with people, nobody’s come up with one yet. It’s a catchy word. It’s a good word in a sense - it really has caught on. It’s used to explain everything and is unfortunately inaccurate for most things. I also never see anything. I have no idea what’s going on. I’ve been very single minded and I’ve been doing my work. So, as opposed to people exploring things, as I honed it on it, this is what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years now and I really don’t know much about other things or anything about anything else. This is what I know. The side of it is that we stand steady as a resource. If you want to learn this, we know something about this, and we’re here, happy to share it. Barbara probably knows something about other things.
In terms of addressing your question, what I would say in terms of lifting weights as an example you used, I’m personally not a fan of lifting weights because I see it used as developing isolated muscle strength and I essentially don’t believe in isolated muscle strength. I think it’s through coordination of the body, through the entire body that is the definition of strength. So unless it’s done… that’s not its purpose, it’s purpose is to build isolated muscle strength and I don’t see the body used that way. I see it used in coordination so that you don’t actually become strong by getting a bigger muscle, you become stronger by learning how to coordinate. If you have a bigger muscle on top of the coordination, you could be stronger. That isn’t the way to get strong. And then, of course, there’s need, how strong do you need to be? Because in a certain sense, the bigger the muscle is you’re limiting movement. You have to balance those two things out. The muscles move but they also stabilize. So, you can end up actually doing the opposite of what you want to do - the bigger this muscle get you can actually end up weaker.
AK: Joan can you talk a little bit about your research period, your time of working alone?
JS: Oh, it’s a long story. It starts when I was four. [laughter] There was a teacher where I lived teaching creative... what they called it in those days interpretive dance with scarves... and she happened to be one of three people in this country who had studied with Mabel Elsworth Todd at the Iowa Teacher’s College. She often had classes in Todd work for tired housewives and then interpretive dance for children and my mother was a tired housewife. She took these table lessons from this teacher and decided she had a high strung daughter and that I needed this relaxation work. So, she took me to these interpretive dancing classes and this teacher, her name was Cora Bell Hunter. I can see her vividly to this day. She taught a kind of organized approach to moving. She used images for children which I don’t remember, she even had a skeleton there. My sister had to go to the classes too and she hated it. She was into sports and she hated the dance class so she got the hand off the skeleton and got it caught in another little girl’s hair. [laughter] My mother finally took her out of the classroom.
Of course, I forgot all about that as I was growing up trained to be a modern dancer. I danced in modern dance companies and trained in ballet while I was dancing in New York and I forgot about all this but something prompted me to ask questions about the techniques I was studying. I finally, in my five flight walk-up in Greenwich Village, set up a little barre. I went out and got a banister, an old banister, and put it across an alcove in my little apartment. I would come home between classes and give myself class. I would have a little notebook handy and I would ask questions and in those days. Not anymore, not like that. We were taught to pull up, and grip, and hold on, and rip, and pull up. Those were the words you heard over and over over again - pull up and grip, and hold on. So I started to ask myself questions such as, How can you do this, pull up and grip, and hold on and breathe? [laughter]
I think you’re supposed to be able to breathe. I kept this little journal and I’d come across… Oh, and I had a mirror on each side so that as I was giving myself a barre you could see the body from three perspectives. Then I would come up with an idea... maybe if this suspension is deeper inside somewhere, deeper, not just pulling up the abdominals, maybe this is deeper inside. And then I’d go in and I would take a whole Cunningham class thinking about this inside, deeper suspension, somewhere deeper inside. Finally when I left New York, I worked alone for three years. I forgot something. There’s so many influences. I had an injury too during a brutal tour - a ruptured disk - and went to everybody, as everyone does with everything. I’d go back to class and it would recur or it would fail and I would know I wasn’t able to dance.
A musician friend of mine said to me, There’s an Alexander teacher you should go see, go check out. There were only three of these teachers in New York, in this country, at that time. Judy Leibowitz was the teacher in New York at that time, and this musician had studied with her and thought she was marvelous. So, I went to see her and she didn’t want to take me because I was a dancer. She said dancers are too set in their ways, but I persuaded her to try me and I worked off and on, between tours and things, with her and thought it was marvelous. It made sense immediately. It made it possible to take the pressure off the injury and made it possible for me to continue to dance. I learned how to use the back which made it possible for me to learn how to continue to dance. So when I left New York and started to work alone, I had those principles to start with. I would give myself a ballet barre - I like the ballet barre because it’s so logical, you’re not expressing anything, you’re just simply doing a plié. It made it simple for me to work on my ideas while doing a simple barre, and I was trying to apply those Alexander principles. One of them was a sort of multi-directional balancing. I began to experiment with trying to balance on one leg without gripping, or holding or pulling up anywhere and of course I’d fall. Then I’d get back up on that leg and pretty soon the barre just kind of faded away to where I was just working kinesthetically. It went from there - the exploration went deeper into kinesthetic work and then imagery work came out of that. The number of influences coming into someone beginning to do research or beginning to explore are just infinite, you can’t relate them all. So complex and thrilling to me, the kind of influences I’ve had in my life are… I’m very grateful for.
AK: Let’s look at the issue of how your work goes out into the world and the way in which the work inspires people to go into the world and teach it as one of their grounding sources. Many dynamics happen for them. One is that that spreads a word about the work, people reference their source and then those students eventually come back to the source. There’s another side to that, sometimes the work is taught deeply and sometimes it isn’t necessarily taught in the way you wish it to be represented. How does this create the intention of a teacher to share the thing that they value and their inspiration? How does that positive impulse successfully communicate this information and how does it communicate this information in ways that backfire come back to it and feel misaligned with the whole body of work? Maybe we can dig up the dilemma and the positive things that happen with the passing on of information to a new generation of artists and teachers.
SK: That’s the issue. Without being able to have some kind of formal teacher certification program that is what’s happening now and it is out of those intentions. It is very flattering to me and I do appreciate it and it’s also very often done without enough understanding of what the underlying principles of the work is. The serious downside for me is when instead of concepts being taught and understood it gets into a form. It starts to get presented as just a structure, just a set of exercises and it gets placid. And then it gets handed down from there, and goes out without understanding but with the language. And it’s very difficult to discern, unless you know, as a student what you’re being taught. Part of it’s the language, people can catch the language and teach it before they have an understanding of what they’re teaching. That I do find very disconcerting because it looks the same and it sounds the same but it’s not even close. That sometimes doesn’t happen in the generation that is going to teach it that has studied, that happens in the next one. And frankly that’s the big dilemma, that’s the modern dance, that’s still in everything. I think in our society that’s the downside of the superficial cruising, breezing material. It’s like see one, do one, teach one, just like that, without any pause for reflection of understanding. I personally don’t know what to do with... I’m not sure there is anything you can do with that, but that’s the fundamental reason for starting to certify people too. So there is, in the world, in the presentation to the world, there is a difference between people who have studied in depth and people who haven’t.
Audience member: Are you certifying them to teach your work? Because I know there are a lot of people who... well I don’t know if they know it but they’re teaching their work but their using your language. I think it’s confusing. I sometimes go to classes, knowing that the language were going to have in common, but I know I’m learning something totally different from when I go to your class and I feel like I can only learn what I have to learn from you and your class. And to certify someone to teach your work, it seems confusing.
SK: It is very confusing. I am attempting to do both, actually.
Audience member: That comment made me think, I’ve been thinking throughout your discussion, I think a certification course makes sense in some ways but then also in some ways you have to cultivate in each dancer, a desire to pursue their own, to pursue an in-depth knowledge of themselves and their own body. You have a certain technique, but cultivating a sense of exploration for dancers who, I guess most dancers want to be better dancers and learn about their bodies, but cultivating a sense of exploration and personal commitment to ongoing work of some sort, even if that changes.
Audience member: I didn’t understand that comment.
(Previous) Audience member: That’s ok, I’ve been thinking that the two of you have done your own work and thought about your own technique and what has worked for you and it seems like an important thing is cultivating that sort of desire in each person you come into contact with.
JS: Well there is a little bit more to it than that.
Audience member: Yeah.
JS: In that, I think we’ve searched for and found something that has some sort of universal application in it. It isn’t just that we as individuals have found the right way for us only, as artists or whatever. There is that distinction that many young dancers and choreographers search for that, what works for them, but not necessarily to teach something that has broad application to allow bodies, not just one body.
AK: Can I say something? One of the things that’s interested me in the work of each of you is that as a whole body of work both of you have addressed the creativity in the individual. The techniques that each of you have taught and have talked and written about, one of the things that I really see in them is that they are not teaching a technique that takes care of “the body” but that both of them emphasize a real sense of the whole person and what is the dancer as a whole person and what is the integration between the body and the creativity. I feel like each of these techniques have found a way to help people find themselves as dancers and, in that, their creativity. Not necessarily that it’s based on finding Susan’s creativity. The techniques have fostered a sense of how the artist taps into their whole selves as an artist. I don’t mean to put words into the mouths of these techniques but it’s something that I’ve really valued and seen in common in the way that you’ve both written.
SK: I want to say something about this, because what you said struck something for me, and what that is is that it is not my job to cultivate your individuality, that is your job. I don’t think I can say that too strongly, that it’s my job to be as clear as I can with what my ideas are in helping you to do that, but it’s your job to cultivate your creativity and find your own voice. That I believe really strongly. I believe really strongly, you can find through somebody else’s ideas or through their own. I don’t think that everybody has to recreate the wheel. There are dancers who have danced for choreographers who express that person’s work with the utmost vision, integrity, spirit, and every thing that the choreographer would ever hope for and they’re expressing themselves. It’s not their choreography they’re expressing, everybody doesn’t necessarily have to be a choreographer to be of value. It’s finding what really is true to yourself. It’s immense. You can be true to yourself and embrace somebody else’s ideas as well.
JS: In fact, some people become more fulfilled through someone else’s vision than having choreographic content.
SK: That’s right, that has to be valued. I feel that’s undervalued, actually. The dancer in general has to take it into its extreme. The dancer is undervalued. The choreographer gets reviewed, the dancers hardly do. Especially in the modern dance world. That’s a shame. I think there should be some work for that. The expression of the vision is important, people pour their whole life into that and don’t... not a word gets said about it.
Audience member: Ultimately, is that the best work a teacher is going to do? The teachers that you train, ultimately, don’t they put their own individuality into the work that they do for you?
SK: Yes, that’s what I’m hoping for. Yeah, absolutely.
(Previous) Audience member: Because if they just parrot everything that you say nobody is going to listen to them.
SK: That’s right. I think the best thing for me, I think for Joan to, is to find someone who really resonates with what we’re saying and makes it their own, and gets fulfilled through it, deeper.
JS: But it comes back to really understanding it, otherwise, if you’re not there, whether you’re doing it your old way or parroting someone else, it’s just not there. The understanding has to be there and then anything can blossom from that. It’s spawning new developments, new ideas, from one generation to the next. That’s what it’s about.
SK: It’s the only way it’s going to stay alive.
Audience member: Joseph Campbell keeps popping up into my mind every other day. What you guys are describing is a path of mysticism and as compared to a religious handed down, information or dogma. It’s a mysterious “get on the path and discover” with guidance, but a really mystic path. I just keep finding that parallel.
SK: Yeah, that’s really wonderful.
Audience member: As a student of Skinner Releasing Technique, it’s not mysterious to me. In some ways the tools and the path are sort of offered to me and it’s, as you say, up to me to discover it and become involved in it. But as a teacher it’s really mysterious, because there is that point where, that is the point of going on... What I’m confusing right now in the conversation a bit is we’re talking about a teacher training where you’re still a student when you’re studying to be a teacher. It’s an incredible, transitional moment, not even transitional, it’s constantly that way. But I think, as a teacher, I don’t think your goal as a teacher is to give your student mystery necessarily, or a solution... something about what you said just rung, it is mysterious, the path is somehow mystical, but then I’m thinking, well, I don’t know. Oops. Oops!
Audience member: I’m interested in, as you talk about reinventing the wheel, not having to reinvent the wheel. I’m interested in both your answers as to whether you could imagine having a teacher that could have brought you to where you are. I have been hearing you both talking about the personal pathway that has brought you to your work, that was so much the core of it. Can you imagine someone, and even though your work is certainly about teaching, going into learning about my own body through practicing, following a practice of yours? I’m wondering whether you can imagine being where you’re at without having to go through it the way you did. If there had been a teacher to provide, your work to you.
JS: Wow, what a question. I’m delighted. I really meant that that teacher, at the age of four, planted seeds that I were directly, even though I didn’t remember it, responsible for my exploration, the beginning of them. Can you answer that question?
SK: That’s a tough one. I think that the answer is probably not. I would not have done what I did if I had a teacher that would have brought me through. Part of my reality is that I got kicked out by my teacher. I was essentially left alone and I had to do something or not.
JS: You said you were kicked out?
SK: I was. Yeah. [laughter] I won’t go into the... I’ll tell you. But, yes, I was basically thrown out and I would have happily been a devotee, very happily, but I couldn’t so I had to do something else, so I did.
Audience member: With computer technology we get so fast. It’s like everything is right there so why do we need to research. Can we get so deep when we have everything already there? It’s like as soon as we start researching, someone has already done it. [laughter] That happens for a lot of us right now in this dance generation. What happens when you say get deeper?
JS: Quick information.
(Previous) Audience member: Quick information. So, technology also has changed the way we do research, especially physically.
Audience member who spoke earlier identifying as a student of Skinner technique: That’s what I was trying to address... That you do something and then you realize someone has already done it. But the reason why there’s a lot of teachers who study with mentors, and yeah, maybe as a teacher someone has already taught that but as a student have you done it? Speaking from my very personal place, you do it and realize someone else has done it and maybe as a teacher you realize that but then as a student you do it and it doesn’t matter if someone else has already done it because as a student you want to do it yourself.
SK: You know you only become a teacher by being a student, and the reality of everything is that if you’re going to teach you’re going to always have to be a student.
Audience member: Oh, yes and no.
SK: You don’t ever leave, but that’s serious. That’s not lip service, that’s real.
Audience member: You’re constantly researching.
SK: You’re constantly researching and it doesn’t really matter what another person’s experience is. It’s actually quite irrelevant. Except to learn from it.
Audience member: So, even through the teaching you’re a student?
SK: Yes. Always. Through the teaching you’re a student, and you learn from teaching but you’re also just a student in your own right, aside from that process.
JS: I think a good teacher never stops being hungry for anything that feeds him or her, anything that nourishes your own growth. I mean, we never stop growing and that always comes back around in the teaching.
SK: Or it dries up.
JS: That’s exciting to me, to always discover new things, or learn things from other sources. Whether it’s something in the other arts, not necessarily in dance. All kinds of things keep nourishing the teacher. That’s what keeps it alive.
Audience member: With that kind of philosophy, how do you feel about creating these certified/not certified demarcations, do you feel like it’s a line in the sand? Or do you feel as though you really have a strong sense of yes and no when you look at someone who’s been your student who wants to become a teacher of your work? I have this other side to that, do you worry at all about people being economically shutout to becoming teachers, or to be able to be your students? I know that’s kind of an unfriendly question, but it’s been running through the back of my mind.
JS: Well, we have scholarships, and hopefully enough equal opportunity for anyone who qualifies.
(Previous) Audience member: How do you have a sense for who qualifies?
JS: Talk about instinct. It’s when you feel they’ve reached a level of understanding with an overview and an analytical eye.
(Previous) Audience member: Would you trust someone else to make that choice for you, ever?
JS: Definitely people who have been working with me for twenty years. And they would recommend people. I often take their recommendation.
SK: For me, it’s been to a great extent self-selecting. People have come to be and said they want to do this. I haven’t gone out yet. Then it’s a question of whether they have studied long enough, whether it’s ingrained, whether they have it in their body enough to be ready to start teaching. So, here again, I don’t have a line in the sand at all - you have to study for six years. Because some people who’ve studied for six years have no clue and some people study for a year and they’re there because that’s what they know. That’s what they do, it has resonated with them. I have some people that actually, that’s happened with. It’s very individual. Money issues are not the driving issues. It’s never been an issue in terms of class or this. People pay us when they can. It’s after three classes you might have trouble with the key. No, I mean that’s not what we’re doing it for.
Audience member: I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about this issue, the commodification of a body of knowledge and how your schools developed into businesses and this need that everyone has to make a living as a dancer or a teacher has, the positive or negative impacts of the need to commodify a body of knowledge.
JS: I’m a seventy years old, that’s where I’m at right now. My financial needs are definitely changing, as I have a child I have to support. That’s making a big difference for me right now. It is partially my life’s need that drives some of that. I think it started having some value in the world and I needed to make a living and to feel like I had something of substance in the world. I think that is something that starts to get established in your thirties and you take stand about what you are going to do and decide who you are going to be when you grow up. I think, for me, it came out of that. I was very lucky that money hasn’t been an issue in my life. I haven’t had to struggle, it hasn’t been my struggle, not like I’m rich but that hasn’t been where the struggle has been. I’ve always taken the view of the dancer in my studios and I’ve really shunned away from it being a business. I don’t want it as a business and I never have. Which is partially why I moved downtown from uptown, but not to be a business. It supports us but I don’t feel like I’m selling it.
SK: I’ve been fortunate I think in that as the work evolved, there were a group of people who stayed with it and stayed with me and grew with it and became an organization. I would never have done it on my own, never. I never would have hung out a shingle, on my own, but they did it. They said Oh, let’s get a studio, let’s offer some classes, and that’s how it grew.
Audience member: As your techniques evolve, is that going to have an affect on your teacher training? Because I’ve had the experience of studying for ten years with a single teacher and he had developed a technique over something like 30 years or 40 years. It seemed like I had met people who had studied with him at the first ten years who taught a different technique from the technique that I studied and then a second ten years and it was still another technique that had all the same common principles. All these people were in different little time capsules. So what’s going to happen when the people you’ve trained over the past six years come back and look at your technique in another fifteen?
Audience member: I just imagine that in the process of doing the certification with Susan, that’s actually come up and I feel like if you’re going to teach something and you’re really committed to doing that then you need to check in constantly. That you need to be checking in all the time. Because it’s always going to be about either checking in with Susan or being at the studio as much as possible even if you live in another state. You have to constantly evolve with it, as much with it as you can. Hopefully by the time another generation is 50, by the time I’m 50, I will have continued to develop and that it’s a constantly growing thing that always has to be reestablished.
Barbara Mahler: I’ve been working with Susan for twenty years now and it hasn’t really changed. I mean, it’s gotten deeper and things have been more clarified and explored but fundamental aspects haven’t really changed. It’s this small amount of information that’s just gotten deeper. It doesn’t keep spreading out and changing, dramatically.
JS: We have retreats now and then for our certified teachers, and we also attempt to have a newsletter [chuckles] saying we’re no longer called this, this. [laughter]
AK: I think that process of checking in and staying in touch with the development of your source, same time as some of the things that have been brought up earlier about how you actually also might develop your own path and growth with that... That seems like a really interesting duality and little dialogue of growth. (Calls on Ivan)
Ivan: I have actually found in teaching exactly the opposite of what you’re saying, that in order to teach myself I have to stay away to develop my own work because then I would just got over to Joan and say, Oh that’s so much better. It’s a very important part of it, to completely break away.
Audience member: My mother went to a doctor recently, she walked in with an x-ray and the doctor said, I don’t want to see the x-ray, I want to examine you, I don’t want to cheat. So maybe it’s like that, because you don’t want to check because you kind of want to figure it out for yourself. Is that what you’re saying Ivan?
JS: That’s an example of a teacher who hasn’t taken the certification. She’s a wonderful teacher, and she’s been studying almost every year with me but she hasn’t gone through the training program, she’s adapting it to her own work and understanding.
Audience member: You mean you’re teaching your choreography?
I: No, no I’m teaching.
Audience member: So you’re teaching Skinner technique?
I: I have tried.
JS: She’s teaching some of it but adapting it for her own work.
Audience member: So Ivan, say you’re teaching Skinner Releasing.
I: I’d say it’s based on it.
Audience member: How does that make you feel Joan?
JS: This is true everywhere. I’ve run into it everywhere, Europe and Australia, everywhere. These people say, I’m using your work and I’m not a certified teacher. What can I say? Say, within study, that they’re using some of it, they’re using other things. Identify what other things, what other sources they are using in their work and that they’ve studied it. I’m making a distinction between those who have become certified and, I must say, I would like it if those who are certified kept in touch about how it’s evolving, about solving its problems because they have that inside knowledge. Where there are a myriad of people using it and adapting it to their own work, everywhere. I imagine that it changes and transforms when people are adapting it to their own work. It won’t be just this thing, this technique anymore it will be something else. But you know there is an example called how things can change.
I saw Martha Graham perform this last year, for the first time in a while and they did a piece I hadn’t seen since I had danced in it. It was a piece that Martha choreographed on her company for the first time without herself in it. It was called Wilderness Stair that year, that we did at the first summer in Connecticut. We were in residence there, and she choreographed Wilderness Stair which later became Diversion of Angels. I saw Diversion of Angels last year and there was one moment that really startled me, because I remember it vividly when Martha taught it to us. It’s a moment where a group of women are moving around in a circle and pause now and then on the half toe and do a little movement, very subtle little movement of the hands. This group last year did it this way (shakes hands fiercely). I was startled. Now, that’s a different thing, that’s not what Martha intended. It has a different expression, a different something, perfectly, very exciting. And then I understand there are a few others from my generation that when they teach that piece in repertory they teach the way it was done then, so I don’t know how it got to this version. I don’t know how these things are being handed down. I haven’t been in touch for a long time, so I have no idea who’s teaching whom what. But that’s how things can change and transform.
Audience member: Since you’re talking about the Graham dancers, what I understand is they contract, and studying with you it might be more like motion and slower contraction. Have Martha Graham dancers studied with you and your technique?
JS: Oh, mercy. When I do a Graham contraction and release I do it the way Graham wanted it done [applause and laughter]. In fact, in this morning’s class we did very sharp percussive movement. The release isn’t all very slow, we did very sharp, percussive movement this morning.
Audience member: I have sort of a complex question to ask. I’m not very familiar with either of your techniques, even though I have taken classes with Susan. I just want to know what makes your process a technique instead of a style.
JS: Oh interesting.
SK: I think that most of what’s called techniques - Graham technique, Cunningham technique - are styles, that they are not techniques. I think what we’re doing, though we hardly know each other, are the underpinnings, what you need to know about how your body works in order to do a style. So I think that both of us are actually teaching dance techniques, teaching people how to use their body in order to be a dancer or a mover. Whatever style you care to do is in your personal choice and that this doesn’t preclude any style, hopefully it will avail your body towards any style that you want to to, toward any choreographic work that you want to pursue. That’s why I think this is actually a technique, this is actually how people can learn how to move, that style is an imitative form of learning that way of moving.
JS: I would say that the Graham technique and the Cunningham technique, for examples, are techniques within the style. If you define technique as tools for making the body available, making it strong, facile, all those things that dance techniques talk about, strength, ballon, nuance, flexibility, all these things are techniques for dancing. The Cunningham technique trains you for dancing but in that style, in that form. The ballet is a technique within a form, I believe, most definitely, same with Graham, technique within a form. My hope is that the releasing technique facilitates making the body available to any impulse, in any style, just as Susan said, or in your own style. I sometimes talk about my work as the dance that underlies all dance forms. Underlies, dance forms.
Audience member: I teach Skinner Releasing and I’ve been choreographing a lot and working with Skinner very deeply and I think it’s become for me a matter of practice, continuing to practice the underlying elements but then the impulses that might come out from the practice will be individual for everybody. Then it becomes maybe a form, the more you practice it, but then again that can also change depending on other experience moving daily.
Audience member: I feel like I’m sort of second generation, doing these dance forms and I’m not doing these techniques because I haven’t, I’m starting there... for me it’s strange not having a form, where am I going there’s no form at all. I think it might end up looking like that. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s just a question for me, can it be a void performance?
JS: I think almost everything has its own form. Every movement idea has its own form. Why be so concerned with this form or that form, just looking at forms and formings, and I know you’re suggesting you don’t want to be an imitator.
(Previous) Audience member: I’m wondering, it seems to be a new intention in dancing or developing new techniques that you don’t want it to be a form.
JS: Oh, that you don’t want it to be a new form.
(Previous) Audience member: Yeah, because you kind of, at least Susan you were saying a little bit, that you don’t want it to be a form, but you want it to be something that goes under other forms so that I can become a better dance in Klein technique or ballet or whatever it is that you’re doing.
SK: Let me see if I can explain that a little better. I don’t want it to be an empty form. We have forms, we have lots of forms, we have lots of structure. We have lots of things that need to be a certain way but you can’t get to it by imitating a form. The only way you can get it is by discovering the principles that lead to... the form is a vehicle to help you discover the principles, the form is not it’s own end. And what happens sometime when it is taught without full understanding is that it’s taught that the form is the end. The form is not the end. The form is the practice. The form is the discipline to find what’s within it. You can’t find something without form. I don’t think you can, you can’t find freedom without a structure.
Audience member: Creative process. Although I’ve always been connected to dance and to dancing, I was drawn to a visual artists and respond a lot to Skinner Releasing because it’s such a nice blend for me. My question I guess is a little bit personal and I don’t know if it’s appropriate. It’s personal to me because, in that I’ve come to take the form of dance seriously at a very late age, being 47, and wanting now to perform, which didn’t happen earlier. So my curiosity is, it feels like these techniques were born out of your desire to express yourselves through dance and movement and does your creative urge now get expressed through creating this technique and building it and what happened or where is the dancer that originally brought you to this technique in yourself. I’m asking you that because of my own fears and struggles as a dancer now, and meeting a former artist in the street yesterday who said, You’re dancing? Are you sitting in the wind or something? And I said, Yeah, I am sitting in the wind but I love the releasing technique and the healing or way of finding the dancer in me. I’m just curious - your dancer came in earlier - where is the dancer? Is there a need for you to dance on your own, follow that expressive creativity or is your creativity going into something more about creating this work for the world? I don’t know if that’s an appropriate question. It’s an edgy question to ask.
SK: I’m retired, my dancer’s retired. I guess right before I got pregnant, So I was 39 right when I stopped dancing, and for me I was not working with my body myself anymore I was just whipping myself into shape to perform. It was a terrifying experience every time I performed because I was not prepared. I did it on a shoestring, just got it together and did it. It became so agonizing for me, and horrifying and painful, that I was so glad I had an excuse to finally stop. For me it’s relieving to have stopped, although every now and then I think about making a comeback. I can’t even clean the house. I don’t know, maybe in another five years. That does cross my mind. I’m just so busy with everything that I’m doing, I just don’t have time. That’s kind of where it is, where it is for me. I’ve definitely put my creative energies in trying to, part of the creative process I’m in with my work right now is truly trying to understand and explain the phenomena I know to be true. I’m trying to explain what I know, that’s not necessarily agreed on as fact by the world at large.
Audience member: Maybe that’s another way of dancing.
[Susan and Joan shake their heads yes.]
JS: What you’re describing, it seems, is the way some of the early Modern pioneers arrived at their techniques. They had a burning need to find some form for their creative ideas and they developed techniques to crystalize that vision. And then they had to train dancers so dancers could dance that vision. Not everyone comes from that particular source. I don’t think there’s any one way. I think we’re getting tired.
SK: But I think you can do it, go for it.
Audience member: Spit.
SK: Spit. Spit, Right? Turn another way and spit.
AK: I think that seems like a good end. I do think that the concerns and the greatnesses that come of this dialogue are things to continue an awareness and dialogue about. It seems like it’s a very valuable thing, to bring these issues up and bring them to the open space where people who are digesting information of these people and taking it on can know the issues of their own concerns. I would also like to plant a seed, one of the really great ways that something passes itself on is through language. I look forward to the point at which you each decide to publish some of the discoveries that you make.