Countertechnique Wants to Change How You Think About Dancing
American dancer Kira Blazek Ziaii was hooked after her first experience with Countertechnique—so hooked that when touring to Europe with Hubbard Street 2, she would go to Amsterdam to take class with creator Anouk van Dijk.
"Many older techniques have a strong inner logic," says Van Dijk, who now directs Melbourne-based Chunky Move. "But I found they didn't prepare the body for when the dancer has to be highly versatile." Countertechnique equips dancers with a range of skills and teaches them to apply them within familiar movements. This gives dancers more agency, which van Dijk believes can reduce anxiety in performance and even help dancers prevent and recover from injury.
From the outside, Countertechnique doesn't look so different from other contemporary classes. But one major distinction is that it doesn't use the concept of the core. "Instead, we direct and counter-direct parts of the body away from each other," says van Dijk. "This creates a dynamic sense of balance, and allows for quick changes of direction and fast problem solving."
PC Sarah Walker
For example, a teacher might say "Send the volume of your brain away from the volume of your lower legs," says Ziaii, who now teaches the technique at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. This encourages dancers to use the weight of the body to their advantage.
A key feature of Countertechnique is the "toolbox," a virtual set of problem-solving tools. "For example, 'Your shoulder girdle is not your rib cage.' Obviously a dancer understands this intellectually," says Ziaii. "But to realize it while dancing can be a huge relief for someone who carries tension in their upper body." James Vu Anh Pham, a soloist with Chunky Move, says that one of his favorite tools is "See what you see," which encourages dancers to take in their surroundings rather than staring straight ahead. Pham says this makes him feel and look more engaged in performance.
Van Dijk uses Countertechnique for company class and repertory development, and says this shared base facilitates communication. Ziaii feels the technique is especially useful for college students. "The organization of thoughts helps to declutter their mind and body," she says. The tools can also be applied in other classes to clarify principles dancers struggle with.
The technique has helped Pham care for his body throughout his career. "I rely on it when I'm dealing with an injury or extreme fatigue," he says. "The philosophy is to accept the body you have at the time, and that releases a lot of mental tension."
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.