Dancers and Rolfing – Posted by Lesa Sol Pensak
Dancers and Rolfing
MARIA F. — Dancer, member of Modern Dance Company
I’m in the Susan Warden Dance Company. Everyone else in the company has been Rolfed and used to tease me and ask when I was going to get Rolfed. I was looking forward to it because of the changes I saw in the other dancers’ bodies. Linda’s chest really opened up and seemed to grow. She was better able to hold her shoulders back and they too became larger. At the same time, her arms got stronger.
The dancer is always struggling with the chest, fighting to lift the sternum and pull the shoulders back. It always seemed so difficult, something you had to hold in or push out or manipulate to get that lifted stance. Suddenly Linda was standing taller without manipulating her torso.
I felt the enhanced posture would make it easier to dance because I would no longer have to concentrate on it. I would already be lifted and spread throughout the shoulders and more relaxed.
I noticed that when Karen was Rolfed her legs became longer, less bowed, and she was more sure footed. Her chest got broadened and her back was more relaxed and bigger.
With David there was a new refinement and suppleness in his dancing as well as more subtlety. He always had very high arches which caused his feet to pound the floor audibly when he ran. He had beautiful feet and Rolfing softened his arches. He could run, jump and land noiselessly because his arches were more balanced.
The first session instantly gave me what I was most interested in, a lifted chest. Everything seemed to lighten up without my having to use my muscles to lift my chest. All the work in the centre of my rib cage allowed my chest to expand, and I worked on breathing deeper, taller and wider.
I used to sleep curled up, because if I slept flat, I would wake up in the morning with an aching back. Now I can wake up flat on my back or my stomach and my lower back is not aching. Dancing is my daily life. I teach or rehearse or perform. The physical changes from Rolfing have increased my confidence as a dancer which carries over into my confidence as a teacher. I’m able to trust myself to teach correctly because I can see it in my body. Dancers train their eyes to see dance and movement, and what I see reinforces what I’m feeling. My students can see it too.
One of my students has also been Rolfed. She’s a masseuse and dances for physical exercise. I’m able to help her integrate her Rolfing even though she did it several years ago, because I am able to show her the placement of her upper body, her shoulder girdle and her arms when she’s dancing. We discovered one day in jazz class that she had been pressing her shoulders down in front of her rib cage and that it was giving her cramps in her arms.
I’ve been with the Susan Warden Dance Company for the past four years Susan always does work on the floor that uses the arms, such as pratfalls — where you fall and catch yourself with your arms, and handstands. This year my arms look stronger because of the Rolfing. I feel like they are getting bigger and releasing more energy when I work.
In the profile photographs taken before Rolfing, my shoulder girdle and upper arms seem to drop forward. The After pictures show my head up, shoulders square and the arms dropping directly down rather than to the front. My legs appear longer and lifted. My knees and ankles are in a straight line. My entire back and neck are longer. My right hip, which looked higher than the left before, is now down and more rounded while my left shoulder is opened back and on the same plane as the right shoulder.
My eyes look out of my head differently. Before, I looked up to look out and now I’m looking straight out. My whole body is centred, and I look as if I’m really stretched through space even though I’m just standing.
Being a dancer, I watch my body very closely and have noticed many changes due to Rolfing. My dimensions from side to side, top to bottom and front to back are more in line. Because I am more relaxed, that alignment has been much easier to achieve. This has made a big difference, especially in ballet class which used to be such a struggle for me.
During Rolfing, my body always called out for the next session. Something would start to hurt and Briah would say, “That’s what we’ll be working on next week.” I think my body was eagerly awaiting those adjustments and dancing became more challenging and rewarding.
The Rolfing also helped me adjust to some emotional changes — to resolve the residual feelings of fear I still had in my body. I don’t feel like I’m vulnerable to those any more. During the seventh and eighth sessions I pulled something in my inner thigh and shoulder, and it seemed like everything hurt. I’d been dancing a lot. We had a big performance coming up, and I didn’t want to feel like this. I couldn’t even turn my head to the left. After the eight and ninth session, I felt so much better. The eighth session was on my hips and legs, and it released the pressure on my back and gave me vitality. The ninth session released the pull in my back and lifted me up. The discomfort was gone!
Rolfing is a sort of maintenance for dancers because they use their bodies so much. I think pain is experienced before an injury and being Rolfed right at that time can realign and release all those places that are tense and pulling so that injuries don’t get worse.
As a teacher, I can observe a student’s body structure and be able to predict when they’re likely to have injuries. I can see the places where they are limiting their dance and movement and can help them become aware of these “holding” places and the interrelationship that takes place when the rest of the body has to compensate for the symptoms of weaker areas.
I discovered this interrelationship through Rolfing and am now beginning to work on the cause of a weak area rather than the symptoms.
I now have a better ability to talk about alignment and the proper placement of the hips or direction of energy that the body should take or support it. This heightened awareness of my own alignment has been helpful in working with my students.
The members of the dance company are still integrating the changes from Rolfing. Each individual opened up and changed. And as we’ve all released and broadened, we’ve come to a better understanding of each other. After the Rolfing, we can go back and dance and work better as a group.
This is especially important in contact improvisation, which depends on knowing the people you’re working with and being able to trust them. Being extremely sensitive to the quality of the contact and support builds a network or mesh. The more the group works together, the more woven and secure the mesh becomes. This security allows each individual to take more risks, which causes the performance to be more exciting and spontaneous. Incredible things can happen within this mesh.
Karen and I were talking the other day about how, as you work with other people, you are always reweaving that fabric, reweaving, reinforcing, and reconnecting. When we’re away over the summer or when the group forms again, we have to reconnect, reattach, refamiliarize ourselves with each other and open up to the new things we each have to offer. We’re continually reweaving that fabric and making it stronger.
KARIN R. – DANCER
This article appears in the book Rolfing – Stories of Personal Empowerment, by Briah Anson
I’ve always been interested in Rolfing, and when Linda came into dance rehearsal one day and said she was going to get Rolfed, I thought, “Wow, that’s wonderful.” Then she mentioned that Briah was interested in Rolfing the entire dance company, and I thought that would be great.
When I went into Rolfing, I was hoping it would make me feel taller and more alive. I also wanted to get my legs straightened out because they were really bowed which made me look funny when I was dancing. I was sure Rolfing would help.
When I was little, I was pigeon-toed and in corrective shoes until I was four or five. Now when I stand, the weight is distributed evenly on my feet rather than falling to the outside. It’s interesting trying to get used to the feeling that everything is centred. I’ll be doing something like brushing my teeth and can’t believe that I’m completely balanced on my feet.
I’ve also noticed that when I put on a pair of shoes I haven’t had on for a while, they feel really uncomfortable because of the way they’ve been worn on the heel. Now I feel as if I need to get new heels on all my shoes.
My legs feel a lot straighter and make much nicer lines when I dance. I’m much happier about the way they look. There is also much more open space in my shoulders and arms and more range of motion than I ever noticed before. I used to feel as if I had blockage points that didn’t allow me to express myself as much as I could have. Now I feel these points releasing and am hoping my legs will become more unblocked in time. It’s just going to take a while because of all the “warping.” There was always a kind of space between my legs that bothered me because I thought there was nothing I could do about it.
Then I discovered Rolfing and my legs did change. I would never have thought it was possible. Even if I lost ten pounds, it would not have made my legs look any different. But Rolfing did.
I think everyone should be Rolfed. I wish my whole family, especially my dad, could be Rolfed. As a matter of fact, I think everyone should try it.
Linda, who is the ballet instructor of the dance company, has mentioned how much she thinks my legs have improved and that my torso is so much more open and in line with my body. I feel I have so much more space to breathe with now and that’s an eye opener.
I don’t think I ever really thought of this before, but I remember times when my brothers and sisters would make me so angry I would hold my breath until I turned blue. It’s funny to make that connection now but I’m sure that must have a lot to do with my breathing.
I have also noticed that I have more stamina for dancing. I’m not as wiped out. Doing three or four pieces used to take a lot of energy. The difference after Rolfing is really apparent to me in terms of the increase in both my mental and physical energy level.
There have been so many changes in the way my body reacts. I remember after the first session I went to the movies and that the movie seat was not hitting my back right. I was really uncomfortable. I also used to walk around with my head down, but that’s not comfortable for me any more either. So I’ve been changing that and feeling more open to the world. I’m having fun going out and re-experiencing walking — just the simple thing of walking down the street and what it feels like.