Dancing past self-judgement

Click on the image to read my interview with Tamar Rogoff; photo of Emily Pope & Brandin Steffenson in a BodyScripted duet by Tamar Rogoff

Body Scripting: Tamar Rogoff’s liberatory dance practice

Does your mind judge you harshly when you move your body in wild ways and take up space?

Many people tell me they feel way too shy or clumsy to take a dance class. This is the dark side of the mind-body connection!

Our bodies deeply believe the self-judgmental thoughts in our minds. Yet science tells us that you don’t have to be good at dance to get all of the health benefits, which are considerable.

If you have ever wanted to start dancing, or return to dancing after a humbling hiatus, this post is for you. Dancing, done in a certain way, will keep your mind too busy to give a damn about what you look like! That’s what Mobile Body Alignment is all about.

I once felt shy, clumsy, and that my dancing days were over. What I can do now at the age of 60 just does not compare to what I could do in my professional dancing youth. I started to believe my own self-judgmental thoughts and made them more important than my body’s needs.

I’m so glad that those feelings didn’t stop me from claiming my place as forever a dancer!

However, I couldn’t get to that place alone. Even I needed an external spark, a whirling bit of fire, to get me to a new place.

One of those sparks for me is Tamar Rogoff. I’m thrilled that my recent interview with Tamar and Shawn Shafner is finally published in Movement Research’s online publication Critical Correspondence. Finally, I can give readers a better idea of what her work is like.

Shawn has been studying with Tamar for 20 years and teaches his own version of Bodyscripting. I’ve studied with Tamar for a mere 4 years, but feel free to let her work inform and inspire my teaching as well. That’s just how Tamar is.

Bodyscripting is by it’s nature very difficult to discuss in words. That’s why we decided to do this article as a kind of guided practice, instead of just “talking about” the work. I hope you will read it and follow along.

I re-learned from Tamar how to make a dance class into a rehearsal, the kind of rehearsal that is waaay better than the performance.

Let me give you some context for what that means. A dancer’s whole self is most activated, present, and utilized when engaged in creative process. That’s probably true of everyone, actually! However, metaphorically and practically, rehearsal is often more rigorous, mentally, than performance.

Life outside this highly active, creative state can seem flat. The transition to a non-dancer identity is perilous. It’s very similar for anyone who is intensely athletic.

That’s why one of the hardest decisions I ever made was to stop dancing professionally. I’m certainly not alone in making this difficult decision. At the time, it was a profound statement from me to the world on behalf of my own body.

Dear body, I know how much you love this. I know how crazy you feel when we are not dancing, like you are dead and have entered the 9th circle of hell in Dante’s inferno. But something has to give.

My body was worn out and really needed healing, which couldn’t happen if I maintained the level of activity I was used to.

I knew this because I had just completed my training as a teacher of the Alexander Technique and couldn’t deny the truth of my own body anymore. There were financial and emotional reasons as well, but that’s a whole nother post.

The funny thing is, I stopped what I thought was “dancing.” My love for movement, it turned out, was not something I could turn off. After 5 years of “not dancing” my body was in a worse place. I had no energy, I was weak, and my body was falling apart.

There had to be a middle ground. And it wasn’t going to be about going to the gym.

I continued to be drawn to movement, movers, and movement lovers of all sorts. I took the creativity and rigor of my dance making and put it all into my teaching. My classes for actors started to turn into a choreography lab.

I re-discovered myself as a kind of movement slut – I’d get down with just about anyone!

Oh dear, that doesn’t sound very good…I tried ballet classes, I studied traditional Hawaiian hula for ten years, but there was still something missing. Out of this period I created Mobile Body Alignment.

Then, one day, I discovered Tamar Rogoff as a teacher. I’d known about her choreography for many years, but I didn’t realize she taught class every week. After seeing Enter the Faun, I met Tamar at a performance in Manhattan and she invited me to come.

At first, class was an emotional roller coaster. No two classes were alike. There was no repetition. My body couldn’t do all the things I could imagine with my mind anymore. The neural connections just weren’t there. My judgmental mind would take over and it could get brutal, emotionally, though no one watching would have known.

Maybe you can relate?

I don’t think I’m alone in that. Most people I know feel a little bit mortified when they really let themselves go full out on the dance floor. And there is a reason that once they retire, many dancers stop going to class. Mortification is normal worry about what other people think, intensified 10X. Well, Tamar’s class was too challenging for me to think about anything but the next action.

Dancing through mortification challenges you to step past what your brain recognizes as “right,” and that’s really good for you.

In fact, I’m convinced that it’s this factor – dancing your way past the judgmental mind and into connection with imagination, space, other humans, and music – that produces all of those health benefits. Furthermore, It’s so empowering, you can’t help but let it affect other areas of your life.

The high I started to get when I got the hang of it again is something that I am no longer willing to live without.

That’s why, in addition to taking Tamar’s class when I can, I’ve continued to teach a weekly class myself online. It’s a magical space where you are going to be challenged to go beyond what you think you can do, without risk of injury. That’s because the class is so grounded in anatomy and the principles of the Alexander work.

And you’ll be shocked to find out how much better you feel when you do that on a regular basis! I hope I can be the spark that gets you going.

To find out more about my class, go HERE.

To find out more about Tamar’s class, go HERE.

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