8 Things I Learned from Anna Halprin

I was fortunate to observe a class taught by Anna Halprin earlier this week. Halprin is the 95-year-old visionary dancer/choreographer/teacher/healer who pioneered postmodern dance as well as somatic practices. I visited her mountain home studio in Marin County, California, after my weekend of judging for Youth America Grand Prix in San Francisco.

Halprin with Veronika Czieslik, photo by Perron
Halprin with Veronika Czieslik, photo by Perron

The Tamalpa Level 2 training group, an international group of dancers and therapists, were in Halprin’s indoor studio because it was too rainy to be out on her famous deck. It was inspiring to see how Halprin dispensed her wisdom, referring often to the friendly skeleton in the room. As she did when I interviewed her in 2011 (see Teacher’s Wisdom), she talked about scoring as a creative process. In this “score,” Ritual 1, the students passed through sequences on the floor like the yogic wheel and a spinal spiral. When she wanted to end a particular exploration, she gently blew a tone on her harmonica. Here are some other things she taught that day:

 

 

1. Use gravity to stretch: Lie down with a cushion under the shoulder blades to open up the sternum area. Let the breathing take on a sound.

2. Move the cushion down to the pelvis and let the vocal sounds get lower and deeper in the body.

3. If you explore during your warm-up and find new ideas, it will stimulate the brain.

4. Wash your eyes with the sun. With lids closed, look toward the sun. Every day be sure to focus on three levels: foreground, mid-ground and background.

5. When you stand, think of yourself as a tree, with your roots under the ground. Jounce until you feel solid enough that no one can lift you.

6. When you touch a student or patient, you can use the fingertips, the center of the palm or the heel of the hand. Know which to use for different purposes. A single finger can point to a specific spot, the palm can give warmth, and the heel of the hand can move a bone, for example, the iliac crest.

7. Use gravity, momentum and inertia when swinging the arms. Swinging is a way to experience freedom. Give yourself permission to explore or to rest.

8. When you lift your arms up, keep your fingers extended as if light is shooting from them. The position of the body can determine your mood. Lifting up brings uplift.

I love the way Halprin guided people to release and to explore. She was facilitating their creativity, allowing them to take the time to come up with variations on the designated shapes. The session ended with a discussion about their discoveries. I felt like I was witnessing how this legend’s curiosity has kept her vital well into her ’90s.

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