The very last class I took during my study abroad in Paris was a Countertechnique Workshop taught by Anouk Van Dijk, Artistic Director of Chunky Move in Melbourne, Australia. I need to mention that this workshop taught me so much even before attending. Knowing that it was scheduled for the last official day of our studies, I simply assumed it would be out of the question, because we would have to do some sort of wrap up or event with the whole group. Not having our schedule for the last week made me simply abandon the idea of taking the workshop even before asking. However, the old adage, “If you want something bad enough you need simply ask,” kept poking and prodding at me like the nagging little sister I sometime was. “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” as I put my finger only millimeters from my sisters face. So, I decided upon arrival in Paris about a month ago, to ask whether or not the workshop might actually be an option being that the last week’s schedule was not yet finalized. I thought it was a shot in the dark but my desire to learn from this technique through the various friends that have attended their workshops spoke a little louder than my doubt and in the end I was able to attend. Although I could only attend the first day of the two-day workshop, it was absolutely worth every single second! Two other students from the Dance in Paris study abroad program took the workshop as well. We took the RER to Pantin, which was only one stop from Gare du Nord, to Centre Nationale de la Danse. What an absolutely beautiful facility! I recognized the name from books I had read where the publisher of record was Centre Nationale de la Danse. It sits on the bank of the River Seine in a modern looking building with the word Danse at the top. Turning the corner and seeing it was enough for me to realize how truly blessed I am to be taking the next three months abroad and having the opportunity on my last day to attend the workshop.
Anouk van Dijk was truly welcoming and gave us what she called an introduction to her life’s work. In Countertechnique, elements of Alexander Technique are peppered throughout with a focus on functional anatomy that is accessible and helpful in every way. We discussed, among many other things, the knees moving forward in space when performing a plié as well as the shoulder girdle’s attachment site and where the axis and atlas are located. We started with a class. It was based in grounded movement with some focus on the above but namely allowing us to move. Afterwards technique and concepts were broken down in a more focused and diligent way. An easel, paper, marker, and a pretty torn up skeleton we called Oscar, were the tools used for this portion. We were encouraged to repeat some of the exercises from the class so that we could put the concepts of the class and anatomy lesson into physical context. I was amazed at how my body acclimated to the work. I loved every second and left with an ability to move my body in a way I never had before. We played coordination games and focused our attention on first one stimulus and then multiple. We played with the planes of the body (15 of them to be exact) and performed a version of Forsythe’s 9-point improvisation. I walked away with an appreciation for simple anatomical concepts that changed my dancing in the short span of time that I was there. I felt alive and happy to have exposed myself to a dance technique that I might otherwise not have had the opportunity to study. After lunch myself and another student talked about heading to Melbourne next summer for the two-week intensive. Throw it out there right? See what comes back, a ball? A Boomerang? Regardless of my inability to study countertechnique on a regular basis due to physical distance, I think the concepts can truly be applied to all dance classes because of their foundation in functional anatomy. Bottom line, if you have the ability to study countertechnique, even if for a short while run at the chance! The closest classes for me are in San Francisco and I’ve already been on their website in the hopes of finding another workshop soon! The entire workshop also sparked debate within me about anatomy and it’s role in the dance class, particularly in college and postgraduate work. I absolutely think that studying anatomy as dancers as well as teachers is an extremely important subject and having taken Amy Ernst’s Biomechanics class at the University of Arizona certainly helped. After having attended this workshop and studying with Professor Ernst, I honestly think that anatomy courses should be two parts as with most science classes at the college/postgraduate level, lecture classes and a lab at least once a week to really delve into the anatomical material. Of course time and funding is always an issue but the amount of information that can be covered will literally change your dancing and teaching. After the workshop we concluded our study abroad with a farewell dinner at L’Auberge du Louvre. It was nice to have one last moment to celebrate the growth and achievements of all in the program. In preparing to write this particular blog I went back and took a look at my very first blog post, “My hopes for Paris.” In it I had three goals, to re-engage in my French heritage, to immerse myself in the Paris dance scene, and to learn about what other MFA students are doing at different universities. I feel as though all of my goals have been achieved. There really is something to be said about setting long and short-term goals. I remember this lesson in one of the college prep courses I took but never really took too much stock in it until now. Re-engaging in my French heritage was something very important for me because I don’t often get the chance to do so in Arizona. In Paris, I took every chance to speak French, eat French foods and attend a French exhibition of artists that happens only twice a year so I’d say I did pretty good there! Not to mention the fact that now I’m in Germany and several strangers have come up to me speaking French somehow knowing that I speak their language. Immersing myself in the Paris dance scene also seems to have been achieved in my 28 days in Paris I took classes and workshops, saw 7 shows and made connections with several artists sharing my dream of moving to Paris. I will be returning to Paris on June 27th and have made it a point to meet with some of my new French friends and take more classes, I have also already purchased another ticket to another show. I can’t wait to see where the next trip will take me. Side note upon leaving the Centre Nationale de la Danse we ran into Nathalie the woman who gave us the guided tour of the Paris Opera and helped to set up the French American class at the Opera Bastille. Dance is a small world even here in Paris. We had previously exchanged numbers and I hope to reconnect wit her as well. I’ve also emailed Nina Dipla to see whether she will also be teaching when I return. And finally making connections with other grad students at different universities is something that I am forever grateful for as well. The dance industry is small and discussing, debating, and sharing tales is something I hold so very near and dear to my heart. We can only learn more by sharing more and the experience in Paris has only further solidified my thoughts on this. I am so unbelievably grateful for my new friends, some of them attending or teaching at ADF this very instant, others researching and studying similar interests, and still others trying hard to find out how we will fit into this industry after we graduate. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for welcoming me with open arms despite being two days late to the party. In French we say, “Au revoir” and “á Dieu.” So of course those things but also,
“Merci milles fois du fond de mon coeur! Tu me manques déjà!”