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Dance Generation | Pamela Matt

PAMELA MATT - SITE EDITOR

My interest in the field now best known as Ideokinesis began indirectly in the late 1960’s at the University of Illinois. There, as an undergraduate, I was privileged to be among a small group of dance majors exposed to a new approach to dance technique based on improvisation with body imagery. Marsha Paludan and Joan Skinner collaborated in this venture and my learning thrived under their tutelage. When Miss Skinner left Illinois to start a new dance program at the University of Washington, I followed her and completed an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree with her guidance. The formulation of the method she eventually called the “Skinner Release Technique” was in its early stages during that period.

Although Skinner’s somatic background was grounded in the Alexander Technique, her students also learned that the writings of Mabel Todd and Lulu Sweigard contained important information about the body and the use of imagery. Thus, when I returned to the University of Illinois in the early 1970’s for graduate work in dance, I was pleased to become acquainted with Dr. Laura Huelster, director of the University of Illinois graduate program in physical education and former student of Dr. Sweigard. Dr. Huelster provided me with an extensive bibliography and clearer insight into the educational process Sweigard developed from her research on Todd’s approach. Huelster was delighted when I met Barbara Clark, another protégé of Mabel Todd, and helped to convince her to come to Urbana to complete the writing of the third of her body alignment manuals.

Over the course of the next seven years, lessons with Miss Clark provided the foundation for my personal knowledge of the educational process. It was a rich period of learning, although not in the traditional sense. Our sessions were very informal, often lasting several hours and were always punctuated by reminiscences of Barbara’s childhood and her association with Mabel Todd. The lessons usually centered on the study of an image Barbara was developing for her newest manual. Barbara did not give me her version of Todd’s “table work” as she had for her students in the past. She explained that as an octogenarian, teaching table lessons was rather taxing for her own body and insisted that when an image was clear enough, students really did not need tactile guidance to be changed by it.

Through Barbara I met Andre Bernard and Joanne Emmons, former students of hers who had become teachers of the work. Both of them enthusiastically supported my interest in promoting greater awareness of Barbara’s unique contributions to Todd’s approach in the academic dance community. My master’s thesis, “Mabel Elsworth Todd and Barbara Clark Principles — Practice and the Import for Dance,” completed in 1973, was my first effort in this direction.

When my family moved to Arizona, Barbara transferred the copyrights for her manuals into a trust for which my husband and I were named the trustees. The language of the trust directed us to devote all proceeds from any sale of her material to, “promoting the works of Barbara Clark relating to body posture and movement.” After Barbara passed away in 1982, writing her life story and compiling her writings for publication seemed an ideal way to uphold our end of the agreement. I completed the book A Kinesthetic Legacy: The Life and Works of Barbara Clark in 1993.

I gained experience in teaching the work through my faculty appointment in the Department of Dance at Arizona State University. I taught introductory level courses in “ideokinesis,” at least once a year from 1979 until 2004. While developing another teaching area in dance kinesiology, I became even more cognizant of the genius of Todd, Clark and Sweigard. Although dance kinesiology places emphasis on the objective observation and analysis of dance movement, in contrast to refining inner knowledge of one’s body through somatics, I found striking relationships between the two areas of study and often used examples from one area in the teaching of the other.

The idea of creating a website devoted to Ideokinesis arose in response to complaints from students that information on the field was not available on the World Wide Web. Students found library searches equally frustrating because the lack of a historically consistent name for the approach impeded the systematic classification of its foundational articles and texts. On a more practical level, I also observed that although most dance students knew the name “ideokinesis,” they often confused the approach with other forms of dance somatics or new dance techniques. And thus, I came to agree that a website devoted to the dissemination of information on the approach might be useful.

The feedback from individuals I contacted in developing this website has been overwhelmingly positive. Irrespective of their previous affiliations and unique interests, all share the common conviction that open access to a broad presentation of information on the field will yield greater understanding of its complex history and enduring principles. All have recounted the significance of the approach to their lives as movers and their sense of privilege in being students, teachers or researchers in the field. I look forward to the possibility that this site may stimulate further dialogue and open avenues for continued inquiry.

I can be contacted through my e-mail address.


Bibliography for Pamela Matt


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