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New Contributors | Nancy Lyons


Betty Jones, the brilliant dancer/teacher who performed with Jose Limon, first introduced me to Ideokinesiology. I was an eager young dance student who drank up the imagery like a thirsty camel at an oasis. Then in the early 70's I took Andre Bernard's summer workshop in Berkeley, California and was so drawn to his work that I continued to study with him until the end of his life.

Ideokinesiology has left a profound imprint on my nervous system. Whenever I chop a vegetable, walk up the stairs, pick up a box or teach a dance class, the principles of Ideokinesiology live within me - not as rigid rules but as embodied knowledge. My muscles and nervous system know it, as a bee knows how to make honey - in their cells. Unlike bees, this information was acquired. The master teacher Andre Bernard passed along his understanding of the work as received from his teachers, transforming it through his own inquiry. And so on down the line.

By aiming toward a balanced and aligned skeletal system through the practice of Ideokinesiology, ease and clarity of movement naturally follow. Injuries are diminished. When dancers/movers are better informed anatomically, that body knowledge communicates to an audience. I use the principles of Ideokinesiology directly and indirectly in my daily teaching.

At Sonoma State University in Northern California, we have crafted a dance curriculum that includes body/mind/spirit disciplines such as Ideokinesiology as a vital training component. In their junior and senior years, all dance and acting students gather four days a week for a class called "Foundations." The modes of investigation rotate over a two-year period and can include study of Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, Pilates, Yoga, Improvisation and Ideokinesiology. After Foundations, actors and dancers separate to study their specific disciplines of acting and dancing. As the dancers learn about center of gravity, line of gravity, skeletal alignment, etc. through Ideokinesiology, they apply the experiences and kinesthetic information to their work in the dance studio. Once the knowledge is embedded in their nervous systems, they don't have to consciously think about it as they are moving. Intensive workshops in the summer at Sonoma State, taught by Andre Bernard while he was still teaching, allowed for deeper study of Ideokinesiology.

In addition to the direct study of Ideokinesiology, I frequently use its principles, kinetic experiences and imagery while teaching dance... balancing on the sitz bones sitting on the floor, on the Nancy Lyonsfemur heads while standing, head floating upward, etc. Many current college students have learned to process the world through visual language -- underscoring the powerful presence of the visual image in our culture through advertising, television, film, and Internet. Imagery becomes an easy-access broadband connection into their nervous systems. When images are used in a dance class, I find the students more engaged and more likely to move in a way that is internally motivated and less reliant on imitation.

Western-based dance students are often traditionally trained to focus on the shape of a movement, using feedback from the mirrors. The image they are attempting to copy is an external body (usually the teacher's), using the mirror image of themselves as feedback -- mirrors used for mirror modeling. The students can be patterned into striving to mold themselves into some Platonic ideal -- to mimic the shape of an arabesque rather than dig into the sensation of an arabesque. The use of imagery and Ideokinesiology in teaching dance can deepen movement, rooting it in sensation and kinesthetic experience. The intention for the movement becomes driven by internal combustion; by aiming for the function and feeling of a form (content) rather the hollow shell of a shape, movement becomes more alive, more engaging to watch.

I also use the principles and methods of Ideokinesiology when choreographing, rehearsing, in choreography class and in children's creative dance. Rebecca Fuller, (former chair of the Dance Department at Mills College and my mentor) and I have spent over 30 years developing and writing the Moving Box, the Moving Book and the Moving Disc, tool kits for exploring movement and making dances. Movement words on cards describe and inspire movement -- body, action, time, space, and dynamics. The cards are randomly drawn and produce combinations that can be quirky, beautiful, unexpected and/or challenging. Numerous improvisational and compositional structures give ways to use the cards resulting in a potentially bottomless pit of possibilities. Although specifically targeted for K-6, I have used the resource for college composition classes and for my own choreography. Like the imagery in Ideokinesiology, I have found that using the words as a starting point empowers the mover to come from his or her own kinetic experience and not rely on rote imitation. As a result, beginners and experienced choreographers alike find movements that are authentic, fresh, and kinetically alive.

The imagery and discipline of Ideokinesiology also has the quiet simple power to dissolve destructive holding patterns of tension, the way water or wind can transform the hardest rocks. This puts the power into the mind of the person practicing Ideokinesiology. It's a choice you can make in your own nervous system, to continue with a habit or adventure into new patterns. When students discover the capacity of their own thoughts to transform themselves, they begin to realize what a powerful impact they can have on their outer world. What a delicious reward to a teacher!!

Nancy Lyons

Nancy Lyons is Professor of Dance at Sonoma State University in Northern California. She received her M. A. degree in dance from Mills College. With co-author Rebecca Fuller, she has published several creative movement resources for grades K-6 linking language acquisition with movement and dance. She can be reached through her e-mail address:

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