First day of workshop taught by Martin Keogh
Scribed by: Brenton Cheng, June 4, 1997
Scribe note: Before the intensive began, the scribes met to discuss the future format of our documentation and what purpose they would serve, whether as a straight transcription of what was said, as a way to convey a teacher’s particular style, or as a study of the process of observation and feedback. In the end, we each decided to make our own decisions about how we scribed, in conjunction with the teacher of the class we were observing, and to let the resulting documents serve as the first step of a collective experiment, allowing for future refinement and clarification. With this initial class, the experiment was begun.
Having studied with Martin at various times over the past 3 years, I entered into this project with the following associations with his teaching: tricks/games/props, juicy images, secret formulae, appeal to the spy/the trickster/the sensualist, thrives on conflict. The class begins in Wilder Dance Studio, a large, sun-lit room with a cold, hardwood floor…
As you continue with your own warm-up, I’d like you to use the image of bread dough rising and overflowing the bowl…
Most people are unmoving lumps.
Pay attention to how the body creases and folds. Notice the potential energy and power waiting at the depths of the creases…
The activity level within the class increases. The willing response of the class fills the teacher with permission to take them farther. There are sporadic moments of voicing by the students.
Allow sounds to become part of your warm-up.
The entire room erupts in vocalizing. During another 5 to 10 minutes of warming up, Martin adds occasional inputs.
End up lying on your side… I was just reading this morning that the reason that the heart is capable of its muscular exertion for the duration of our whole lives is that built into it is a rest after each exertion.
So I thought we’d start with a nap… Imagine that all the hard work is done. You decided to come. You made the time. You earned the money. You bought the airline ticket. You’re here now. The work is over. Feel gravity tugging on you. Feel the floor rising up to meet you, greeting you… Imagine that this is all the effort you will have to spend during the entire class. There is nowhere you have to get to. Release even the anticipation of moving.
Martin said later that often, students come in with two things that can get in the way of their taking in material: 1) inertia, and 2) resistance. Inertia is manifested in that there is almost always some part of the body that doesn’t want to move. By starting with a nap, that part is honored and feels like it, too, is welcome in class. This allows the whole person to be present.
Before class, a couple of students had told Martin that they would try to participate, but that jet-lag and other factors might force them to leave early. This was his response. They ended up participating in the entire class. (Resistance was dealt with later.)
5 minutes go by. Everyone is lying on their side.
Now, slowly pour onto your back and then up onto your other side. Recall the pathway you used to get there: what starts the motion, what carries it through, and what completes the motion. Now return to the other side, pouring through your back or your belly, moving as if you’re not really even awake.
They repeat this a few times.
As you continue to work with the floor, give it a name. Make it a real presence for you. Just name it for today.
The next time you roll up, let your legs be as straight as possible, where you can still fully relax.
Now, when you’re on your side, find the edge of balance, that place where you’re just about to fall over onto your belly or back. Spread that point wide, and then without planning it, let your body fall as one piece. Then, using the momentum of that fall, roll up onto the other side. This is the lowest “fall” we can do. Let it be exhilarating. Let it be surprising.
Martin’s language often has an appeal to the emotions. He has a love of “loaded” words which go beyond being anatomical/neutral. He describes his own teaching as image-based.
Notice the difference between pouring, which we did first, and falling. Pouring has qualities of fluid density and involves a kind of control of the motion at each point. Falling is more about the momentum of the motion and about letting go.
The pouring/falling exploration is repeated from a sitting position, from kneeling, from squatting, and from standing. When this exploration is first introduced, there is no hint that greater heights will be eventually explored. Martin likes to reveal his grand design as he goes, not giving away too much too early. His classes follow the model of good mystery stories.
When he demonstrates these pouring/falling pathways, he makes abundant use of his arms as landing gear but doesn’t mention them. Later, he says that he felt that he chose not to mention them because he made sure to be clear in his usage of them during his demonstrations.
He explains many exercises by demonstrating them, rather than describing them. He said later that he demonstrates when he wants something very specific done; then, the students tend to imitate what they have seen in the demonstration, including energy level, attitude, etc. When he wants the students to find their own interpretations and variations, he tends to describe in words what he wants done or do the minimum demonstrating needed to communicate the structure of the exercise.
When we fall from a standing position, we can lead with different parts: the knees, the hips, the scalp … From this greater height, the number of pathways to the ground increases, and therefore, the number of our choices. We can fold; we can roll; we can spread; or we can do what I call the long fall, the “banana fall”.
Whichever one you choose, give yourself the experience of truly falling. As you go over, whisper the floor’s name out loud, the one you gave it earlier. Whisper it affectionately.
A piece falls into place – the reason for the earlier naming of the floor. He adds this little trick of whispering the name in order to suspend the moment of the fall, to draw it out. They work with this material for some time.
Now, take a walk through the room. See who’s here. Note what you think of each person. Who are you attracted to? Who do you want to get to know better? Who do you see and think “uh-oh”?
Now, when you meet someone else’s eyes, both of you fall to the floor.
Now, when you meet eyes, put a hand on them and fall with them.
Now, two hands.
Now, two hands and lean away.
Students are now counter-balancing as they go down to the floor.
Now, two hands and lean towards.
The next time, you are up, stay up, and keep walking. Wiggle the fingers of your left hand. Your left hand is now a “crease gun”. If you touch someone with your left hand, they will “crease” around your fingers to fall to the ground.
He demonstrates. When touched by the other person, he draws in at the point where the fingers touch him, almost curling his body around the hand of his partner, as he spirals to the ground. The class begins walking again and working with the creasing. People are having fun with this one.
If you “crease” someone, leave your hand on til they reach the floor.
Notice that some people, when touched, will have the tendency to push out from the touched area, rather than draw in and crease around it. Now, keep going, but you can use your fingers to crease someone by shooting them from across the room.
People are very engaged. By vocalizing, Martin suggests adding sound effects, which everyone does.
Now, the “crease guns” are so powerful that if you are hit, it takes you into the air before you fall.
This whole sequence of movements starting from walking around the space is part of Martin’s “mega-workshop” in a tiny amount of time. He said later that it serves to touch on a lot of basic skills very quickly and establish a baseline of material for the class. People can dance more comfortably together knowing that there is this common ground.
After a few minutes of the last variation (the “super crease gun”), Martin brings the energy back down and calls everyone to form a circle. This is the welcoming circle. Martin likes to have jumped right into the action before sitting down to talk. He welcomes everyone, does names, and mentions the issue of safety.
One of the themes that I’d like to explore over the next 3 days is dancing in a bigger sphere, where the space around us becomes a tangible support for our dance… This question comes from a dance I had 2 years ago where I first started feeling the support of the space itself. Recently, I began wondering how I could teach it.
Another thing I’m interested in is how we can go into disorientation and to the edge of control and have techniques to handle it.
Next, Martin spoke of the effectiveness of one-word safety words like “No!”, “Stop!”, and “Back!” in situations where inappropriate weight is coming in your direction. The group then took 10 seconds to practice shouting them out all together. This shouting session, Martin told me later, had two functions. One was to allow them to practice using the words. The other was to give them a place for their resistance to being in class or participating to play itself out. Earlier, the inertia and resistance were mentioned. Often people have a certain resistance to being in class, which can be directed against the teacher or learning the material. This was a way to tap into that energy, to welcome it, in the same way that the nap welcomed their inertia.
Time for ducking practice. Get with a partner. This will be like fighting in slow-motion. One of you swings very slowly at the other. The second person will duck, in the direction of the swing…
If you see something coming and you just go straight down, then if it hits you, it will still have all the force of its swing. But if you duck in the direction of the swing, the force is reduced.
The class explores this in partners.
The greatest challenge for the person swinging is not to show compassion at the last minute by deviating from their course, thereby avoiding hitting the other person. For your partner to learn, you have to show no mercy…
The students laugh. Martin demonstrates.
Once you get this, you can increase the complexity by swinging at a lower height, rather than speeding up…
Now, keep going, but the person ducking can allow just a little bit of contact with the person swinging, so that you follow them just a little as they go by. This is “blending”.
Witnessing from the side, I see incredible, short-lived little moments of contact dances in the middle of the swings, all with a very light level of touch. Later, I suggested working more with these almost incidental point-of-contact dances. He agreed and scribbled something in his notebook.
After the class works with ducking and blending for a few minutes, he extends the motion. Demonstrating with a partner, he shows how after the partner has swung his arm across, Martin can duck it and bring his own outside arm back, up, and over to line up with the swinging arm and roll the contact point along their backs.
The class then practices this for about 10 minutes. Martin interrupts and adds another piece, saying that after the contact point has been established, the swinging person must find a pathway for the two of them into the ground.
I realized later that while this last bit had very little to do with the ducking and blending skill work that they had just been practicing, it provided a sample pathway for integrating the skill vocabulary into a dance. Talking later with Martin, we found that often when he teaches, movement components are placed within the context of a dance, by providing pathways into or out of the movement being worked on.
Acknowledge your partner and then find a new one. We’re going to work on “vacuuming”.
In this exercise, one person is on all fours. The other lies perpendicular on the first person’s back, with their back down. They alternate between going onto all fours and being lifted, while remaining “vacuumed” back to back. For the person on all fours moving upwards, the secret is in initiating with the eyes, and Martin goes to each group, helping the person on all fours to allow the eyes to lead the motion.
After working on this for 10-15 minutes, Martin has them return to the ducking and blending. The vacuuming exercise is a preparation for lifting using the lower back.
To the ducking and blending, Martin then adds a lift. After ducking, he uses his own outside arm, bringing it back, up, and over to hook his armpit over the shoulder of his partner, allowing him to take a ride on his partner’s lower back.
(Witnessing this motion, I despair at the inadequacy of text to describe complex physical movement.)
The class takes over a half hour to “lab” this new combination of movements. Martin goes from group to group, giving specific feedback. Several individuals need help with how to support with their lower backs. All groups are very focused on the task. Most are successful by the end of the lab time.
I’d like you now to begin a dance with another by playing with dropping your head off the vertical axis, to initiate movement in and around the vicinity of another… Let your eyes be free to look around… You can play with proximity to your partner… Let the dance go where it will… but sometimes, you might find your head off the vertical.
They enter into duets that include a lot of mid-level dancing and an ease passing through the different height levels.
Begin to look for a mutual ending.
Take a couple of minutes to check in with your partner. Tell them your name, along with something unusual about yourself.
Martin ended by bringing everyone back to a circle. Each person introduced their partner by name and by unusual characteristic. Feedback time. People mentioned enjoying the developmental approach that Martin took, the moments of play, the distinction between melting (pouring) and falling. One had a desire to work more as a whole group, versus always one-on-one.
Per one student’s request, we ended by lying on our backs, heads in towards the center, while Martin recounted the path of material taken through the class.
Martin later said that much of the material he had introduced had come out of his explorations and teachings from the past few weeks.
His desire was to teach in an incremental way, so that each person could walk away feeling that they could do more than when they had first arrived. He said he believes in teaching to the most advanced person in the class, but recognized that the steps leading up to that level of skill need to be provided as well.
This class had a grand design which he pretty much stuck to. Normally, he said, he prepares 3 classes ahead of time, so that depending on how the class goes, he’ll be prepared to take it in a variety of directions, as needed. In this case, his original plan sufficed.
Scribe note: I found that I was very meticulous about recording everything which I felt was significant – exercises, student responses, prophetic statements. My notes felt very complete; I felt very drained.
Some themes that bridged the three days: opening the back for sensing and support, the curve of the spine and its relationship to flying, empty legs, finding support from the surrounding space. Running alongside these consistent threads were each day’s topics for research: Day 1) ducking and blending, and pouring versus falling; Day 2) rolling the topside down and the bottomside up; and Day 3) moving through the backwards arch and working off balance. Each exercise was placed into its context for dancing, either physically through movement pathways, or verbally by articulating its use within a dance.
Martin tells me that he feels medium-good about the 3 days. He feels like he let the material become slightly too important, and that he didn’t really let go into greater improvisation with his teaching. Instead, he stayed more with the material that he knew he wanted to communicate.
To me, Martin’s style of teaching is one which is image-oriented, sensational, focused on dancing, provocative, and drawing from the emotions to support the physical work. There are surprise directions found in the moment, and those which are quietly pre-planted. This experience of tracking the classes helped me to articulate qualities which I have felt before in his classes, and for Martin, the process also served as a sometimes flattering and sometimes startling mirror of what happened in the classroom.