Moving Into Stillness, by Erich Schiffmann, is the book I came across when I was 18 that I attribute as the catalyst that sent me on this journey of exploring of human movement.
And it’s an interesting idea:
Moving into stillness…
But to find stillness, surely we need to be in control, don’t we?
Take a moment to think about what that word means.
For dancers, control is something we feel we need. Something we’re told we need. Encouraged to have more of.
I want to go to a ballet class and count the number of times I hear the teacher use the word “control”. (but I don’t do much ballet these days, so maybe you can do that for me and let me know what number you get…)
Indirectly, we hear that we need control when we are corrected to stand up straight, hold our core tight, keep our shoulders down, etc.
We try to control our appearance: Make our face look calm, not strained, try to keep a slim body by dieting, and appear graceful and fluid as we perform unnatural movements.
Dance is the epitome of being in control.
Any wonder it attracts so many type-A personalities?
But what if what we’re hearing when we are told to be in control, and doing as we strive to be in control, is different than the kind of control we truly need?
What is control?
“STAY IN CONTROL! CONTROL the movement”!
When our dance teachers shout this out it can send us into a sympathetic response.
“Oh shit! I’m not IN CONTROL. Better clench everything. Activate all my stress tone to stay on my feet, get my leg up and not fall on my face!”
Consider this: Do you want to “be in control”, or to have “control of”?
To purely “be in control” implies a rigidity. Every move controlled, stiff, thought out carefully. Everything bound by rules. Nothing free flowing. No balance. Always try, try, harder. Activate, clench, push!
Have “control OF” implies a constantly shifting specificity. That some part of you is taking charge, providing support, as another part of you fluidly follows the lead, but nothing ever static.
Control OF implies you are selectively choosing, no, ALLOWING something to take the reigns. Allowing something to control more, so that something else can ease up.
That fine balance of Yin and Yang. Control and ease. Hardness and softness. Stillness and movement.
Control OF implies a dynamic state, rather that a static state. “Of” is a transient term.
Control of what? At what time? For how long? In what way?
What you want to have control OF can change at any given moment, different for every movement, and every movement of every movement.
Allow, at any given moment in time in a movement, for some parts to have more “control”, and others to have more “ease”.
Center of mass constantly changing, and your body reacting to catch it.
In a grand battement, for example: On the way up, the supporting leg is more controlled. It’s planted, rooted, firmly into the ground, moving LESS (but still moving), and the active leg is barreling through space.
It’s the control of the supporting leg that allows the ease and flow in the swinging leg, and the unbounded movement in the battement leg that allows energy to be diverted into the supporting leg.
But nothing is still…
Control is a spectrum.
There’s rigid control, and there’s flowing, dynamic control.
Having control OF is dynamic.
You CHOOSE what you dedicate energy towards controlling, and what you allow more freely just to happen.
Dynamic control takes awareness. Focus. Conscious choice.
Dynamic control takes less effort, energetically, but is more difficult to achieve due to the hours deep, focused practice it requires. And it you’re stuck in a “be in control” mindest, dynamic control is nearly impossible and depleting of your energy.
Being in control prevents deep practice. Control OF allows it.
But the more you choose dynamic, the more natural it becomes and, suddenly, you find that you don’t have to think about it anymore. Your body chooses for you. You begin to feel that to let go of control, in absolute terms, feels better, and to selectively control the minimal number of of parts feels better.
More efficient. Less strenuous. FEELS better in your body to perform.
This is when dance starts to feel really, really good to do.
You have to let go of CONTROLLING, and find CONTROL OF, even when your teachers are screaming at you to control your body.
Rigid control is how we react when we are told to stay “tight” and hold positions. When we’re unsure what to do. At least we feel that we’re in control!
Dynamic control, which flows, is not about being tight and positional. It’s about movement.
Control OF is reflex that you don’t need to think about. Your body recognizes what it needs to do to not fall over, and it does it.
It’s an instinct.
Instincts are developed through experience, listening inward, and learning. And if your experience has been to control through rigidity, breath holding, and clenching, it is quite difficult to experience that beautiful sensation of your body catching you, being there for you, as you daringly move away from (and hopefully back towards) center.
IS A MOMENT OF STILLNESS TRULY “STILL”?
In dance, a moment of stillness is one of the most powerful things. As an audience member, you feel a sense of anticipation, not knowing what will come next. A beautiful moment suspended in time.
In reality, however, you are never still. Your body is constantly in motion, as the Earth is constantly in motion. As the seasons are constantly in motion. As are the oceans around us and the circulating fluids and energies within us.
Maybe it’s just that because everything is moving so fast around us, we can’t feel it at all. And when we move into a place where all movement, for a moment in time, is synced, we feel MOVED. Yes, we FEEL it when we see someone come into “stillness”.
When we perceive stillness, what we’re really feeling is the movement of everything else.
Your body is in perpetual motion. Reacting to the movement before it, anticipating the movement that will come next. It’s a cycle that never stops, that started before you were conceptualized.
This is natural. Why would you try to stop it? To control it?
Plank. Clench. Hold. Position. Tighten. This is the wrong vocabulary to apply to your movement.
Try these out: Flow, react, catch, allow, give, drift…
But sometimes, either from a learned movement behavior, trauma, chronic injuries and pain, we lose our flow. Lose our dynamic control. Our only option becomes to tighten up to keep things safe. To protect.
You do not want to be practicing movement, trying to get stronger, or trying to add technique from a place of protection, tightening, and excessive control.
It’s a strange thing to consider, but when you stop trying to hang on for dear life, you become liberated.
Stillness is an illusion.
The feeling of stillness, it only lasts for a moment. And perhaps it’s just one part of your body that is more still, while other parts are moving, but because we’re so used to being always moving, the stillness at one segment stands out.
But to be completely still? Impossible.
Stability exists only relative to what’s moving.
Rather than try to force yourself to be still, completely controlled, accept that this does not happen. Something’s always moving, but something else is always moving less, or moving more slowly, in a more” controlled” way.
But really you’re not controlling, you’re allowing.
Like descending into a squat, we may feel feel that our feet and spine stay rigid, and our knees are held outward in a controlled and stable way, but in reality, they are moving, reacting to the larger movement at our hips and knees as they flex. They have less movement, and move more slowly, but they DO move, and their movement is important for this idea of dynamic control (control “of”).
Try this: Squat down without moving your spine, grip your feet, do not allow your knees to rotate in or out. What does that feel like? How does your depth feel? Restricted? Blocked?
And now try the same squat, but choose to let your knees move in or out slightly on the way down, let your spine arch or round, and let your feet roll in or out. Did you get more depth, feel less restriction, by allowing movement to happen?
This is where it is important to know your body: Know where your body needs more or less movement to create an illusion of stillness and control.
I discovered that, while squatting, if I actively round my back a little, posteriorally tilt my pelvis, allow my knees to roll in, pronate my feet, and shoot my knees forward, I appear to be descending in a “neutral” position, in complete control.
And it FEELS good. It feels like I’m in control. But I’m not “controlling” or stabilizing. I’m moving. A lot. I’m selectively choosing what to move more, what to let go of, what to move less, to create the illusion of a stable structure globally.
Some of you might feel pretty bad squatting the same way I described. Know your body!
It’s ok to let go of control. Stop trying to be so stable. It’s necessary in fact, to let go, and experience what dynamic ability you truly possess, so that you can train your body to use it at the most appropriate time.
Let go of “controlling”, and allow “control of”.
Stillness can only be created through movement.
Movement is life. Stillness is…