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Notes from “The informed Bodymind” a workshop by Nita Little

This was a workshop held at The Trinity Centre, Bristol with Nita Little over 2 days in Summer 2016.

Preamble

This article is a set of note I took at the two day workshops by Nita Little, written up so that they hopefully make sense to people other than me. They are by no means endorsed by Nita, though I have kept quotes as accurate as I could write them down on the day. The illuminated meanings of the quotes I provide are based on purely on my personal interpretation and have not been reviewed, or even currently seen by Nita. Please read and feedback.

Nita Little – The informed Bodymind: Beyond dance/The invisible CI skills

Mind and Body

Nita started the workshop by asking “Who thinks they are (our body)? Who thinks we are this skin bag?”. The braver of the the “Yes, of course we do. Because we are social”. Nita emphasised that we live as the socialised self. We abide with the illusion that we are this physical body, the farting eating bag of bones we appear to reside in. Yet we are not it. We have a body and mind. They are separated. Not necessarily separable in a physical sense, but nonetheless separate entities. Nita asks us to comprehend this separation of mind and body, and then states:

“We are interested in the space where they are not distinct”.

Key Statements

Nita spoke many words at her workshop, but some really stuck with us, personally, and as a community. Here are some and what I thought they meant.

Move only at the speed of your attention

This has become the most repeated statement of Nita’s workshop. We need to remember that our movements are our partners too, and hence, move at the speed of your partner’s attention. It’s very easy to move at your own speed, whilst ignoring the speed of the other participants. I’ve also elsewhere recorded this phrase as “move at the speed of you awareness”.

If you catch yourself anticipating what you are going to do – don’t do it

For me, this was the most helpful statement of the weekend. When doing contact improvisation, I often enter a state where I’m purely experiencing. I have no judgements or conscious thoughts, but exist in moment. Getting to this state could take a while, and didn’t always happen.

It turns out that for hat if we react to those judgements, plans, or idea that come up when we dance by refusing them, they quickly go away, leaving an in the moment consciousness in their wake. Beautiful and simple. This strategy has worked for me consistently since the workshop.

We usually think in big chunks of time. I want you to use thin slices of time.

What? So a big slice of time, experienced as a thought, would be “I’m going to go the shops and get a loaf of bread” or “I’m going to get ready for a jam now”. Smaller would be “I’m going to put my trousers on.” smaller would be “I’m going to put one leg in the is trouser leg”. The slice Nita was looking for were much much smaller than this. Not the time scale of plans at all, slices thin enough to experience where we are, and to be moving our shapes. Nothing thicker.

“If you are thinking at the level of behaviour, that’s too thick a slice.”

Experience each moment

Needs no explanation, but harder than it sounds. How true is you direct experiencing of each moment?

Feel the other person Feeling You

We were asked to be aware of that experience of being

This is where the the quantum physical concept of entanglement comes in. We are not one consciousness, but an entanglement of two or more. Just as the states of entangled quanta cannot be ascertained until observed, and yet are intrinsically linked, so the movements two human bodies, each aware of each other is the same. Only when we see the results of the interaction can we see what it was to become, both parts had a true and real moment together. Nita called this ‘Entangled Attention’ (see Karen Barad).

About Falling

We did a numer of exercise about falling. The focus was falling on to each other. Nita related the fact that we could fall onto someone. She wanted us to fall due to gravity. Our bodies would be solid. This is one of those things that’s much easier to demonstrate than describe. It proved difficult enough to describe that we witnessed various demonstrations of the mechanics required. Nita’s description proved not adequate to get everyone to perform as required. I was however still very useful, so I relate it here.

When we are falling into someone, we can fall at a range of intensities, between 1% and 100%.

At 100% someone is taking all our weight. We might be pushing or forcibly presenting our weight.

At 1% we are ‘falling’ into someone. Our weight is our own, and we simply prop ourselves against each other. We do not flop, we do not push. We do not push. This should be our default strategy, fall into each other, not pushing. This is a strategy that was demonstrated for standing partnerships.

What can we do with a falling partner?

This 1% transference, yet still falling under gravity into someone is always on it’s way to falling undergravity. Our partner can let this happen. We can allow the fall to happen. As our partner falls faster and faster under gravity, we can catch them. It turns out that if you let them fall completely under gravity, they hit the flour, probably with some kind of injury. This is less that ideal. Nita suggest the be might be somewhere in the middle of the falling process. I created this sophisticated (ahem) diagram to help me remember:

Exercise that touched my brain and body

Feeling the weight of you arm

Nita spoke a lot about a how we are bodies under gravity, and how we feel that. One exercise went like this “Feel the weight of the underside of your arm. Hold your arm out and feel the pull of that underside downwards. Twist your arm (slowly) and feel how the weight is still on the underside. Place your arm on someone’s shoulder. Feel the underside weight on them.”

This feeling of gravity, subtly sensed was a profound feeling for me, and one that pay attention to in moments of stillness.

Lie on top of someone

Lie on top of someone. Start with distributing your weight. Match their shape and cover them. Not they move, you allow (facilitate?) them. You think of

  • distributing your weight provding more surface against them
  • taking some weight yourself on whatever is touching the floor

Nita said whilst giving me some help, she felt I didn’t know how to but light “You must learn to always hold your hips up (with your hands and your feet), because you have mass”.with I am a fairly bulky person, so this felt like a sideways comment about the excess body fat. It amused both my and dance partner. I always remember now that I have mass, and usually more than the people I’m dancing with.

Question I asked where: How can I concentrate my weight on the floor bound parts of me. To what degree can I do this? How can I distribute my weight on the other person better – how can I give more surface. This is an ongoing project in my CI practice.

Footnotes

Teaching Style

I felt I learnt a lot from Nita’s style of teaching. She was a very open person who involved a huge range of interactions in her teaching. She had a dark humour at some points, was variously a clown, serious academic, a friend or a critic.

She would not allow anyone to indulge in wandering in the pseudo spiritual. She was dogged pursuer of truth. “I have no time for fantasies” she said. I asked her about this after the

When Jamus Woods ask for a clarification of the term body/mind idea, she demonstrated her observing Jamus – she was subject, Jamus object. She then mocked the situation as if she was treating Jamus as an object and sneered at him. We all laughed.

This may have also related to her idea that in very connected dances we are in a state of “feeling the other person feeling us”. To not do this is not to connect with the other person in a way that make contact improvisation happen.

Karen Barad

Nita introduced a person who she admired. Karen has take ideas from Quantum Physics and woven them into a philosophy of existence. I usually dislike these sorts of things, but she does not have the usual hall marks of this kind of work. She does not:

  • demonstrates a half understanding of science
  • come to overblown conclusions
  • demonstrate very little link between the two
  • add some new age nonsense

I’ve made a plan to get more in touch with her work at some point. I’m reminded a bit of Terence McKenna https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ezv0cBO0xA

Original Blurb

This was the original text used to publicise the workshop:

This dance form invites us to have a self-sense that extends spatially to include our partners and our environment. Its skills ask for physical/mental states beyond our normative modes and modalities. And, it stretches our understanding of physicality and perception. The aim of this class is to increase our ability to act responsively through developing new physical and perceptual skills that enhance our peripheral intelligence. By discovering new forms of awareness we will learn to dance safely in a state that gives us an ability to read each ecological moment spatially and energetically. With the dance as our teacher, we will come to able to trust ourselves to meet each moment successfully whether we are falling or flying.”

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