Motors in our bellies, moons in our hands

by Guest Blogger

Dancer/choreographer Ariel Freedman taught a master class in Gaga technique on Oct. 10 at the Harvard Dance Center. Guest blogger Sofie Rose Seymour '15 participated.

When Ariel Freedman began her master class, the first thing she did was to grab the corner of the curtain, and pull it shut in front of the mirror. The second was to find a space in the center of the room, and instruct us to fill in the whole space around her. In a few moments, she had excused many of the norms of a dance class -- where the emphasis is on what you look like, as informed by the mirror; where there is a clear front of the room and direction at which the choreography is performed; where the teacher leads or observes, but is clearly distinct from members of the class. Finally, she said "In Gaga, we never stop moving." And so we began.

Freedman's dance background is as impressive as her teaching style is welcoming. While earning an undergraduate degree at The Juilliard School, she was awarded the Martha Hill Prize. After graduating, she has performed with AszURe & Artists, Baryshnikov's Hell's Kitchen Dance, and David Parker and The Bang Group. As a Gaga student and dancer, she performed in the Batsheva Ensemble for two seasons and with the Batsheva Dance Company for three. She now teaches Gaga, and can be found on stage with Kidd Pivot, Motley Dance, and Keigwin + Company.

Coming from her extensive and varied training, Freedman says that Gaga dance has changed what she notices, both in the studio and outside of it. For her, sitting "still" has become a changed experience, one that now incorporates a desire to have awareness of the sensations of movement inside the body. At the outset of the class, she introduced the idea that we never stop moving -- and she meant it. She encouraged us to find places in our body where energy got stuck, and to work to send movement through those points until there was "no dead flesh" throughout our bodies.

Using the imagery of motors in our bellies, moons in our hands and feet, floating our bones away from each other and our bodies through water and a smile for our fellow dancers, we brought every part of our bodies alive. With a class driven so much more by imagery and ideas than the prescribed steps or combinations found at more traditional dance classes, Freedman struck a beautiful balance between creating community and encouraging individual exploration. She encouraged us to maintain an awareness of the energy of the full class and to stay focused on exploring a particular idea, image or sensation.

At the same time, she reminded us when we were implicitly following rules that had not been defined: "I never said you couldn't move around the space!" "We haven't made a rule that you can't go to the floor!" "No one has said you can't change tempo!" Her class emphasized the importance of identifying and interrupting patterns, of "throwing yourself off." Letting go of how we looked, we were free to devote ourselves to the ceaseless sensations of dance.

My overwhelming impression of Freedman's master class was that of healing. Given Gaga origins, this should not be surprising. Though most know Gaga as the signature of Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance Company, Naharin originally created Gaga in response to a very serious injury. As Freedman told us, Naharin was injured to the extent that he was never supposed to be able to dance again.

The principle of not allowing any blockages of movement or energy to build up is a key tenet of Gaga, but the idea of "don't stop moving" is not limited to our time in the class. It is just as much a lesson in continuing forward, to just keep dancing, or doing, or discovering, without allowing ourselves to get stuck at blockages in our bodies or our lives.

As Freedman said, "Gaga is within everyone." Her class presented ways of approaching my life as much as my movement: identifying and interrupting patterns, throwing yourself off, feeling to your fingertips, moving past points of being stuck, asking what rules you implicitly follow until someone points out that "no one has said you can't."

[Caption: Sofie Rose Seymour '15 ]

[Caption: Sofie Rose Seymour '15]