Sunday, February 21, 2010
sharing a center
So many titles surfaced -- you can take your pick – it takes two / two as one / seamless / mobius / give and take / giving weight / pouring weight / follow the weight / the flow of weight / flow the weight / the shifting of the weight.
Weight, momentum, inertia and what happens in relation to these forces when one moving body comes into contact with another moving body forms the basis for an art form called Contact Improvisation. I was fortunate to have Alexander Technique students who were teaching it when I first came to New York. Created by a modern dancer who was also an aikidoist, it is an improvised exploration of bodies in motion. Sometimes more interesting to experience than to watch, it has influenced post modern dance and the sensitivity training of young dancers for over 30 years. It is also an evident influence on the choreography of the most famous ice dancing couple ever, Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean.
A couple of summers ago, my horse riding friend, Annelie, visited the USAF Summer Camp where she bravely got on the mat with me and had her first experiences of the art of aikido. She had a rather unique approach to learning which involved asking me repeatedly, ‘where should my weight be now?’ A lot of people want to know where to place their feet or what to do with their arms, but Annelie always wanted to know where to shift her weight. Sometimes I had to go through the movement several times myself before I could answer her – my unconscious competence carried me through the techniques without too much analysis after so many years of repetition, but her questions led me to a new perspective.
The more I learn about riding horses, the better I understand why she approached this learning experience based almost solely on what happened to the weight in her body – did it shift forwards, or backwards, and at which moments did it change? She knew instinctively that the quality, location and movement of the weight through her body, down through her legs and feet was fundamental to what we were trying to accomplish in aikido, just as it is in horse riding. I thought about this for months afterwards and spent a lot of time on street corners and subway platforms and also on aikido mats and yes -- even on the back of a horse while riding -- experimenting with the shifting of my weight and also the accepting of weight through my bones.
The aspect of the interaction shown above which is most interesting to me is the progressive blurring of the boundaries between the two skaters as they mirror and then match each other’s movement, gradually closing the distance and eventually each maintaining their own perfect integrity of self while both giving and receiving weight. I watch the dance over and over, invariably swaying in my seat, following the hypnotic path of the weight which they expertly funnel back and forth between them. What happens during those rare moments when two become more like one? This is what continues to intrigue me about the art of horse riding, as well as aikido and other artistic forms involving partnering.
Now in the midst of the Winter Olympics, it’s timely to share this clip and some of the myriad impressions it evokes in me. If you have the patience to watch through the rather long introductory section you will be richly rewarded. In this performance filmed during their professional career, they push the artistic envelope, having the freedom to leave some of the rules and restrictions of competition behind.