Alexandra Wells leading IMAGE TECH for Dancers. Photo by David Gonsier, Courtesy Wells

5 Somatic Techniques Founded By Dancers

Although somatic disciplines share a common set of values—internal sensing, increased ease, embodied anatomy, efficient action—the path to achieving all of that can vary wildly. How can you find the method that best speaks to you? It may be useful to look at some less familiar yet potent somatic gems founded by dancers and deeply tied to performance practices.


Noyes Rhythm

The founder: Florence Fleming Noyes was a prominent member of the free-dance movement of the early 20th century. She looked to patterns in nature, from the unfurling of a leaf to cloud formation, to better understand the work of the body. Noyes also emphasized deep rest, slowing down and outdoor improvisation to achieve "sentiency," her idea of aliveness.

What class involves: Noyes Rhythm includes a technique class to learn the "mathematics of the body," and a recreation class, which is a guided improvisation inspired by nature. Both take place outdoors most summers at Shepherd's Nine in Portland, Connecticut, the home of the work since 1919.

"Noyes is both somatics and dance—not somatics separated from or applied to dance," says Meg Brooker, a Noyes Rhythm teacher. "The use of music and work with ensemble awareness distinguish us from other somatic practices."

Is it for you? This is ideal for those who want to connect the inside with the outside, along with a chance to dance freely after somatic explorations.

Shin Somatics


The founder: Sondra Fraleigh, professor of dance emeritus at SUNY Brockport, is certified in Feldenkrais and craniosacral therapy, and also brings extensive study of myofascial release, effective communication, butoh, yoga and Zen meditation to the somatic table of riches she has created.

What class involves: Shin Somatics offers a range of practices, such as intuitive dance, somatic yoga and Shin restore bodywork. Workshop themes include "Dancing Down the Bones" (focusing on experiential anatomy) and "Land to Water Yoga."

"Body and mind unity guides our work," says Fraleigh. "The curriculum works in a spiral, and topics return with more enrichment each time."

Is it for you? Shin Somatics works well for those who want variety and agency. "The practice has just enough structure to provide a score for somatic exploration, while creating space to bring your own experience," says Denise Purvis, who is pursuing a doctorate in dance focused on Shin Somatics at Texas Woman's University.

Kinetic Awareness

The founder: Choreographer and filmmaker Elaine Summers, a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, was a proponent of deep listening to the body and a student of somatic legend Carola Speads.

What class involves: Students might start out focusing on one part of the body, exploring all of its potential in a free-movement section. Kinetic Awareness is sometimes known as "the ball work," because a class might include balls of varying sizes. "The balls are not just used as props, but as tactile and sensory aids," says master teacher Jill Green. "We press into the ball, and think of the ball as part of our body."

Is it for you? Kinetic Awareness is for those wanting a subtle, gentle and informative practice, respecting the intrinsic intelligence of the body. "The concept of letting my body stretch itself created a deep connection to myself as a performer," says Johanna Meyer, who brings Kinetic Awareness concepts into her popular Pilates for dancers class at Movement Research.

IMAGE TECH for Dancers

The Founder: During her time teaching at Juilliard, Alexandra Wells created IMAGE TECH for Dancers. Her ballet class directly followed somatics, and she noticed that students weren't carrying the information from their work with Irene Dowd and Alexander Technique into their vertical, weight-bearing classes, like ballet. Now senior director of training at Gibney, Wells continues to develop her practice, which is one of the few somatic methods that takes place in the vertical plane.

What class involves: The practice uses images and tactile prompts to inititate energetic directions, prompting muscle groups to activate, stabilizing the skeletal structure, and providing space for greater mobility. The aim is to connect the dots while standing. Wells borrows images from dance and somatic leaders, such as Victor Quijada's "nutella arms," Dowd's "visceral sphere" and Artemis Gordon's "marching ants."

Is it for you? IMAGE TECH can be used as a pre-class tune-up. "The combination of direction and images helps me engage properly," says Leslie Andrea Williams of the Martha Graham Dance Company. "I understand how my body works and feel the support I need in my back."

Topf Technique/Dynamic Anatomy

The Founder: Nancy Topf's seminal work with her colleagues helped lead to the development of Anatomical Release Technique. After intense study with Barbara Clark, Topf developed her own method.

What class involves: "Visualization changes the direction of our thoughts and leads toward an awareness of our center," wrote Topf in The Anatomy of Center. Before and after taking a close look at the anatomical focus of the day, such as the psoas muscle or diaphragm, the class offers time to explore. Topf's work is equal parts poetic and precise as students work toward internalizing anatomical knowledge.

Is it for you? This is a great class for performers who want to better understand anatomy and move from that information.

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July 2021