In the previous chapters, dance imagery has been explored in terms of its definitions, how it works and the scientific evidence behind the theories put forward to explain its effectiveness. The next step in the analysis of ideokinesis and mental practice is its use within the world of contemporary dance.
Ideokinesis pioneer Lulu Sweigard said “in this work, each individual will use it different, will use it according to their background” (interview with Bernard, 2006, p.10). True to this, the practitioners highlighted in the following prose used different aspects of the overall study of imagery to apply to their own practice. Throughout the research undertaken for this dissertation, these uses have been divided into five main categories: Alignment, Relaxation, Performance, Choreography and Education.
The final chapter of this dissertation aims to explore these five uses of imagery, looking at how imagery integrates into the purposes outlined and the practitioners that put those methods to use.
The primary use of imagery in dance is to improve alignment, a practice defined in earlier chapters as ideokinesis. The research of pioneers Lulu Sweigard, Barbara Clark and Mabel Todd influenced several practitioners into expanding their findings and further establishing the use of imagery in contemporary dance practice. The most prominent of these was dancer André Bernard (b.1924-d.2003) (Bernard, 2006, p.9), a former actor who discovered ideokinesis through classes with Clark (Matt, no date) and went on to teach imagery himself. In his classes, Bernard referred to Sweigard’s Nine Lines of Movement in his approach to “re-educate movement patterns” (Bernard, 2006, p.14). Following on from Sweigard’s philosophy that movement is a neuromusculoskeletal event and that the whole body is involved in every movement (Sweigard, 1988, p.3), Bernard believed that each nervous system has a pre-programmed muscle pattern for every change in position. Bernard’s use of imagery was to aid the student’s body to correct any “established inefficient patterning” in order to facilitate improved movement and posture (Bernard, 2006, p.15).
A practitioner heavily influenced by Bernard was Eric Franklin, an author of various books on imagery for dance technique, alignment and performance. Franklin used theories from Bernard, Sweigard and Todd to develop his own school of movement: the Franklin Method (Johnson, 2007, p.94), which has been used in dance schools such as Julliard in New York and the Royal Ballet School of London (Institut für Franklin-Methode, 2008). The Franklin Method divides the use of imagery from the understanding of the body, allowing students to study them separately and in further depth before bringing them together in practice (ibid). Whilst studying the Franklin Method, students undertake an intensive study of the anatomy and body conditioning each day, divided by a period of constructive rest, resulting in an integration of scientific anatomical study with movement to enhance existing forms of dance training (ibid). The aim of the Franklin Method is to supplement existing dance training by expanding the dancer’s knowledge of human anatomy and enriching their ability to engage in imagery, which would lead to a more efficient way of harmonising misalignments in the body (ibid).
Another institution inspired by primary studies into the use of ideokinesis is The School of Body-Mind Centering, which was founded in 1973 by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (Franklin, 1996a, p.12). Cohen founded the institution as a means of furthering previous research and formalising ongoing studies, and soon developing it into a school where students create a balance between their body and mind (Cohen, no date). This is achieved through establishing a deeper understanding of the body, studying it in depth and recognise the effects the smallest muscular tissue can have on the movement of the entire body. As each minor manoeuvre has a different effect on the quality of overall movement and how it expresses the mental processes, it is important in Body-Mind Centering to be able to differentiate between these and establishing the various methods for the physical expression of individual psychology (ibid). Unlike the Franklin Method, the aim for Body-Mind Centering is not the ultimate alignment of the body, but to allow the student to create and maintain a dialogue between the actions of the body and an awareness of those actions (ibid). As stated by Olsen (1998, p.11), the human body is both simple and complex, causing it to be frequently ignored during the study of movement and dance. She argues that, by exploring both the facts and questions regarding the mystery of the human body, a dancer can open up new possibilities within their training. This is the sentiment presented by The School of Body-Mind Centering.
The second use of imagery is to aid relaxation. This particular use often ties in with a correction of alignment, as it is often used as a prelude to physical work involving imagery. The reason behind this practice is that a thorough relaxation of the mind is necessary to facilitate mental receptivity towards movement imagery (Minton, 1990, p.29). According to Todd (1937, p.293), relaxation is a process leading to a goal of balance and receptivity between the body and the mind, a concept shared by Body-Mind Centering. Todd describes that the process of relaxation allows the body to tune in with itself and create the “ideal state of wellbeing” (ibid). Todd also stated adamantly that relaxation is not about being in a complete passive state, instead to “hold the bones softly” although the strain of muscular tension is released (ibid). From this ideology, the Constructive Rest Position was developed, designed for the user to limit unnecessary tension without being passive (Franklin, 1996a, p.59). Continuing from describing the ideal state of rest, Todd also explained that a balance between work and rest is also highly important, as an imbalance can cause inefficient “bodily economy” (Todd, 1937, p.294), another sentiment shared with Body-Mind Centering. This philosophy has evolved and become integrated with the use of imagery itself, creating a new method of using imagery to aid the body in movement. An example of how this is practiced in contemporary dance and fitness training is presented by Robin Powell, a fitness instructor who specialises in imagery guided relaxation in New York City. As a former dancer, Powell’s practice reaches out to both dancers and non-dancers in her approach to facilitate the release of muscular tension (Sagolla, 2006, p.1). Powell’s work with imagery began while she worked as a dancer and choreographer, finding that a use of visualisation allowed her to explore movement at a deeper level. This was extended to her students, where she found the use of imagery allowed them to gain a more thorough understanding of the movement material she initially provided (Robin Powell, 5th March 2009, [interview]). Powell’s motivation behind her work with imagery is that it helps to facilitate a deeper understanding of movement, which can lead to the ability to express oneself with greater ease (ibid). This relates back to both Body-Mind Centering and the Franklin Method, through the ideology that a strengthened mind-body connection initiates a better expression of psychological processes. Powell’s focus on imagery for relaxation, especially with dancers, is because of the daily stresses that cause muscle tensions, believing that they can eventually result in strains, serious injury or an inhibition of movement quality (Sagolla, 2006, p.1). This particular focus means that, in Powell’s classes, an emphasis is put on focussing on specific parts of the body in order to relax them, which in turn limits the possibility of mental distraction during movement as well as the periods of rest. This also aids in Powell’s philosophy of “relaxing into the image” and letting oneself go in order to achieve an ideal resting state (Robin Powell, 5th March 2009 [interview]).
The third use of imagery in dance is to aid performance quality. This ties in with the primary goals of imagery as stated by Taylor (1995, p.95), the third of these being performance. This aspect of imagery involves using visualisation to aid dancers to achieve a greater artistry of their performance or a greater consistency of their movement quality (ibid). Often, this form of imagery occurs during pre-performance rituals in order to become more familiar with the venue before a performance and to have a mental review of the material (ibid, p.94). In other cases, imagery is used during the rehearsal and workshop processes, where the dancers are provided with the opportunity to generate imagery based on successful class work, lending to a more effective collection of images for the purpose of mental practice (ibid, p.93). During rehearsal time, imagery can often be used to clarify and develop the quality of movement content. An example presented here is Candoco, a professional dance company that has both disabled and non-disabled dancers. As a company that has to adapt to a variety of bodies and abilities, the use of imagery is a tool on which they often rely to assist certain dancers in developing their quality of movement (Annie Hanauer, 28th November 2008, [interview]). The use of imagery is also helpful to develop the movement material for dancers who “learn conceptually” (Lynn Smith, 1990, p.17), a tool that Candoco dancers often use when they conduct workshops for children or for those either new to dance or to their particular style of performance (Annie Hanauer, 28th November 2008, [interview]).
An example of a dance technique that utilises imagery to orientate movement would be Skinner Releasing, developed by Joan Skinner (Skinner et al, 1979). However, unlike most schools of thought discussed in this chapter, this technique puts a stronger emphasis on the use of indirect and poetic imagery in order to initiate a solid base for the successful performance of this style (Franklin, 1996a, p.9). The primary use of imagery in Skinner Releasing is the release of excess tension, as this is what Skinner believed to be the cause of an inability to achieve the principle of natural effortless movement in this technique (Skinner et al, 1979). Skinner’s concept of relaxation is not unlike that of Mabel Todd, believing that the body should not be required to become completely passive. However, Skinner’s approach to achieving relaxation is on a more psychological level than Todd, encouraging a release of pre-existing conceptions about how the body needs to be held and releasing conscious control of the body (ibid). Skinner Releasing also follows the same school of thought as Body-Mind Centering, in that the body and the mind are not two separate entities, and should not be treated as such. Skinner states that the body and mind should be treated as a “dynamic network of energies”, where the dance is a result of non-linear cause and effect as a result of mental relaxation (Skinner 1974, cited in Skinner et al, 1979). This energy allows a higher level of creative flow within the dancer, keeping movement within a constant flux as long as the dancer is willing to “let go” of their existing schemas of dance performance (Skura, 1993 [interview] cited in Franklin, 1996a, p.9-10). Skinner calls this a “self-propelling aesthetic process”, where the student of Skinner Releasing is able to use their existing experience of imagery to create their own images with the intention of facilitating a higher quality of movement through a more organic process. However, this process can only occur where the dancer feels a connection with the images and can identify with them (Skinner et al, 1979).
Another practitioner that has used imagery in the development of technique and performance was Doris Humphrey (1895-1958), although in a different way to Joan Skinner. Humphrey’s philosophy of dance involved breaking down the barriers between performance and emotion (Humphrey, 1997, p.113), a technique known as Active Imagination (Franklin, 1996b, p.198). Active Imagination is defined as a process in which a stimulus from a choreographer’s everyday life, such as a dream or a strong emotion, is internalised and pursued through a journey of associated images in order to create a dance piece (ibid). This was a frequent element of Humphrey’s work, where she held a belief that strong emotions, positive and negative, can have an immediate impact on the body’s centre and inspire movement material (Humphrey, 1997, p.113). Whilst other practitioners use imagery as a way of releasing these emotions in order to realign the body, like Sweigard and Franklin, or to open up new avenues for choreography, like Skinner, Humphrey believed that emotions were not a hindrance to dance performance. Humphrey maintained that, because dancers do not have words to express psychological states, as actors do, emotions needed to be experienced at their height to initiate movement that would express these states explicitly (Humphrey, 1997, p.114). This use of imagery is unusual compared to more conventional methods, which either aim to remain emotionally neutral or emotionally positive in order to facilitate successful performance (Taylor, 1995, p.42).
André Bernard is another practitioner that used imagery to train his students for performance. Bernard’s work was a continuation from the research of Todd and Sweigard, which had established that quality of performance is almost directly linked to skeletal alignment (Bernard, 2003, p.34). From this central idea, Bernard developed his own philosophy when preparing for performance, focussing especially on Sweigard’s concept of “structural patterning”, where each body has a set of muscular patterns which alternate depending on the physical activity (ibid, p.18). Bernard’s imagery training was isolated to the rehearsal process, as he believed that developing technique for performance cannot take place during the performance itself (ibid, p.34). This ideology is shared by Eric Franklin, who discovered from his own experience that a dancer can easily fall into older patterns of movement under the stress of a performance, regardless of its lack of efficiency (Franklin, 2004, p.1). Bernard stated that he frequently reminded his students that, when they perform, they should dance freely instead of appearing as students of posture (Bernard, 2003, p.34). This ties into Joan Skinner’s work with dancers, where she uses imagery to allow her students to let go of their previous dance habits to prepare for performance.
The fourth use of imagery in contemporary dance is its role in choreography. In this form, imagery provides a collection of stimuli that form a basis for the creation of movement material. This collection of stimuli can fall into one of two categories: visual or tactile. Visual imagery, as the title suggests, involves the dance composer utilising a visual image in terms of its shape, purpose or associations to inspire movement (Smith-Autard, 2004, p.21). Tactile imagery involves the general idea of an object to inspire movement, such as the feel of a type of fabric or the motion of an animal (ibid, p.22). The use of metaphor is of greater presence in tactile imagery, and relates to the principle of Active Imagination. Nagrin (2001, p.50) states that every initial metaphor behind a dance piece requires play and free association for it to gain a degree of depth. This is the idea portrayed in Active Imagination, where an image is allowed to “unfold in its own time” and eventually reach the stage where it can be developed into movement material (Franklin, 1996b, p.198). A prominent example of this particular use of imagery has been demonstrated by Humphrey, who used strong emotions as an initial stimuli to create movement material. Active Imagination in Humphrey’s work happened through a mainly physical process rather than a psychological process, in that she believed that all powerful emotional reactions occur within the centre of the body (i.e. the location of the vital organs), after which the motions of the upper body take place. However, Humphrey never used these specific movements to denote emotion, but as a springboard into developing richer metaphors in her choreography (Minton, 2003, p.61). Like the later practitioners Cohen and Franklin, Humphrey believed that a strong connection between the body and mind was integral to successful dance making (ibid).
The fifth and final use of imagery in contemporary dance is education, where it is frequently used as a vital part of training (Overby, 1990, p.24). Imagery is a tool often used in teaching dance to students of all ages because of its ability to assist students in “transcending oneself to become another”, which is often required in the performance of dance (ibid, p.26). The use of imagery in a class setting can aid in developing creativity where the images serve as stimuli for movement material (Hanrahan & Salmela, 1990, p.18). André Bernard is an example of a practitioner who used imagery in this way. According to Ursula Stricker (Bernard, 2006, p.38), Bernard followed the ideology of “let it go”, providing his students with an initial set of imagery and giving them freedom to take their own journey of imagery and create movement from the result. In other classes, imagery is utilised to clarify movement material for young students or those who are new to dance. This particular use is employed by Candoco, who conduct workshops for a variety of age groups and abilities and often use imagery in place of formal dance terminology (Annie Hanauer, 28th November 2008, [interview]). This use of imagery is considered to improve communication between teacher and student, providing both with a solid basis for movement intent that can be referred to during the workshop and rehearsal processes (Lynne Smith, 1990, p.17). A guideline provided by Eric Franklin (1996b, p.70) is that imagery in a dance class should be provided as a springboard for the student to follow their own journey. Franklin reasons that a teacher should not tie their own exact experience to their students but ensure that they are relating their imagery to their individual needs (ibid). This ideology is evident in Franklin’s classes, where he has his students perform movements and prompts them to discuss how they would describe the physical sensations. This is done in order to help them develop their own imagery, as he believes that this will produce images that are meaningful for each individual dancer (Johnson, 2007, p.95). A common thread that runs through the different examples provided for educational imagery is that creativity is one of the most important elements, integral in the creation and use of successful imagery.
To summarise, the use of imagery is evident in several, if not all, areas of contemporary dance, from initial training through to performance. It has been said by various theorists and practitioners to be an effective method of facilitating movement and aiding technical skill, an idea that has been demonstrated by dancers of a variety of abilities and styles.