Group Mind – Rhythem & Motion

So I’ve been taking these follow-along-dance classes for about 18 months. I feel like I’ve stumbled into one of the best kept secrets in San Francisco. Who knew that there was this vast community of people who, for the last 40 years, have been plunging into dance classes where the choreography is not so much as taught but absorbed at atomic velocity? Rhythm & Motion (RM) classes are led by professional dancers, but offered with the philosophy that dance is for everyone. Personal flavor is prized over technique.

Dance may be for everyone, but I find R&M to be a significant challenge, and I’ve dedicated big portions of my life to practicing triplets and pointing my toes. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t been so hell bent on attending SUNY Purchase dance conservatory. I imagine a second life, where my intellect was featured, where I became a neuroscientist, or maybe a literature professor at NYU. I have a nice flat, a mensch of husband, grown kids, my hair is ironed out, and all the rest. Something much more posh and conservative. But that wasn’t my path, and here I am in San Francisco, a teacher of an arcane mind-body practice called the Alexander Technique, somewhere in the middle of my life, discovering what dance means to me all over again.

In R&M classes, students often spontaneously clap at the completion of a song. The spirit is not so much self-congratulatory as amazed, as if the room is thinking, “Can you even believe we did all that crazy material. We had fun! We were a group mind.”

Group mind is a big part of the joy. You have to rely on the people around you to catch all the choreography. Fast moving limbs are piloted by brains that barely know what’s next, yet we do not collide. The students who have been coming for decades transmit the choreography to us newbies. Back when I was a more serious Yoga student, my teacher would instruct the advanced practitioners to psychically radiate knowledge to less experienced students. In this environment, Visvamitrasana or Eka Pada Galavasana were achievable. Rhythm & Motion is a lot like that. We become entrained and my singular consciousness is no longer so separate. I’m sure half of the pleasure is in the merging.

These classes challenge perfectionism. When I can’t grasp the choreography quickly enough, or I’m off my leg, or I see my belly poking out, or whatever might trigger the critic, I falter. But there is no time to languish in negativity. Too much rumination and you’re likely to trample or be trampled. Years of Alexander Technique have taught me to pause and be thoughtful. In R&M classes, there’s no time for stopping. It’s a different way of being to see if I can speed up, and still show up with presence.

To my great surprise and pleasure, a year and a half in, the technique and strength that I thought was lost forever is coming back.

I am dancing again.

Big gratitude to all the incredible instructors, and especially Rhythm & Motion Artistic Director Dudley Flores

Redirect the holding into movement.

A friend commented, “Interesting technique! I feel I’m holding between my shoulder blades. Suggestions for release?”

Perhaps you are holding your shoulder blades together and leaning back to counteract slumping? You could reverse all those arrows pointing in towards the space between your shoulder blades. This might look like letting your chest soften down as your arms swing forward as if embracing a giant redwood (I’m a tree huggers at heart). Or maybe feel the back expand as the shoulder blades glide down the slope of the ribs, letting the shoulder movement cascade the elbows into a gesture? Perhaps, when you stop leaning backwards you will stagger forward in a step, or even a lunge to a leap? Perhaps letting go of the pinching will cause an unraveling and lengthening motion in the arms with a rush of blood into the hands? I’m not sure. It’s play time.

The concept is that holding anywhere in the body is too much energy going in one direction. To release, let the direction of holding reverse and see what happens.

Often we can’t articulate where and how we feel the holding. Luckily our hands are often much smarter than our minds. Try and describe what you feel with a gesture. Perhaps your fist crumples into a tight ball describing the pain between your shoulder blades. Let your fist unwind. Now imagine that unwinding happening in between your shoulders.

Redirect the holding into movement.


anticipation and forward head posture

Meerkats exhibit beautiful head poise. Photo by Jeroen Wehkamp

Here’s a nice study* showing that anxious anticipation is associated with forward head posture, and that the ability to prevent this habit is related to a person’s scores on measures of mindful awareness. The more aware you are, the more easily you can prevent dysfunctional postural habits. Thank you science!

Try Alexander Technique to become mindful in 3-D**!

*Neck posture is influenced by anticipation of stepping, J. L. Baera,  A. Vasavadab , R. G. Cohen, Human Movement Science, vol 64 (2019)

**Mindfulness in 3D is a phrase coined by British Alexander Technique teacher Peter Nobes