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Creating the Workshop Movement Experience

Robert Tsai, PT, DPT

Published 7/26/2022

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"...a collaborative effort to affect change in the dance education space..."

In my current role as a physical therapist, movement coach, and educator, it’s one thing to convey information, and it’s another to convey information that makes sense to the movers in front of us, in the context of their movement experience.

Working with Peter Chu and his company, chuthis. over the last few years has not only been an opportunity to connect with this current generation of movers in the workshop setting, but also presents as a collaborative exploration between our organizations to affect change in the dance educational space and experience.

Peter’s dedication to providing a holistic movement experience to those who make their way to his annual chuthis. Movement intensive is reflected in his own personal studies where he seeks to understand, not just information, but application. At DANCE|PREHAB, creating a movement experience that is personalized, contextualized and applicable continues to be the overarching goal.

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Peter’s work and personal practice is deeply rooted in his study of taichi (tài jí quán / 太極拳), and qigong (qìgōng / 氣功), which inherently involves being aware of the relationship between movement and breath. In our conversations, being able to hear and chat with Peter about his movement intentions, his verbal cues, and how he connects breath to his work provides an opportunity for us to explore how we can help the movers understand, connect, and apply movement concepts from multiple perspectives.

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Class Observation
With the chuthis. movement intensive this year, the dancers were lead and guided through movement phrases extending from one of the companies' more recent works, Rhythmic Identity. Being able to observe his class not only allowed for movement analysis of choreography (partnering, floor transitions, etc), but also allowed insight into the faculty’s teaching methods.

What words and language did they use? What type of imagery did they conjure?

Generally speaking, “grounding” is often a cue that is given to establish a sense of stability and sturdiness. More specifically Peter invokes “rooting”, which connects back to his taichi and qigong practice. For the purpose of consistency, it was beneficial to invoke the same energy and imagery in the workshop sessions to help in contextualizing the anatomy and biomechanics as related to Peter’s work and beyond.

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"...creating a movement experience where the dancers would have to react, adjust, and adapt..."

Reading the Room/Movement Analysis
Age, experience, community - all these things lend to the nuance of learning. Through class observation, it doesn’t take much to identify specific movement phrases or concepts that can be directly tied back to our own workshop material, particularly with the partnering sessions. For the purpose of this workshop, it was creating a movement experience where the dancers would have to react, adjust, and adapt to various forces and positions, both in the context of movement and breath.

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The DANCE|PREHAB Perspective

On the basis of breath, we were able to talk about and experience:
- mobility (rib cage, spine),
- stability (diaphragm and pelvic floor as part of the “core”),
- coordination and control (trunk awareness vs limb movement intention)
- and a bit of recovery (rhythmic breathing).

The hardest thing about teaching one-off workshops is… where do we go after all this? How do these students build from what we’ve just given them? It’s easy to list a ton of information, but where do we go from there? Being able to draw attention to breath and breathing isn’t just about passing off new information, but rather, creating a movement experience, feeling, and conceptual understanding that the dancers can hopefully hang on to regardless of their movement demand or movement context.

Every exercise is a breathing exercise.

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The deepest gratitude to Peter and the chuthis. family for always having us be a part of their movement experience. It continues to be a learning experience for ourselves as well, as we continue to explore to possibilities of collaboration with incredible educators for upcoming generations of artists.