echoes _ Uri Shafir: Gaga workshop by Orsolya Bálint
Inhabiting the body
Have you ever felt like spaghetti wobbling in boiling water? Like a seaweed rocked by the wind? A huge balloon filled with water? A jet plane roaring its engines? “It is not enough to do it, you have to feel it” – as Uri Shafir told us many times during his two-day gaga workshop, an accompanying event of L1danceFest 2014.
I didn’t know much about gaga before I went to the workshop. I googled the word, and found that it was a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, founder of the world-famous Batsheva Dance Company in Israel. I read it was based on the natural movement of the body and improvisation, but I didn’t have the slightest clue that it is going to be like a revelation, the greatest happiness I have ever felt through movement. Gaga gave me the feeling of being present, being in my body – being alive. It flushed my senses with the pure joy that lasted for days after the workshop.
I have to mention, we didn’t do the gaga training for professional dancers (which is the daily training for the dancers of Batsheva, and the company offers intensive summer and winter courses for dancers all around the world as well), but the gaga people’s class, which is open for everybody. It is such a delicate, gentle way of movement, which doesn’t require exceptional physical skills; we only use the resources we already have in our body, therefore even 80-year-olds can do it – in fact many of them are participating in the classes.
In everyday life, most of our movements are automatisms, we tend to use (exploit) our body as an instrument (even dancers use it as an artistic instrument), instead of inhabiting and cherishing it. Being mostly busy in our minds, we can easily lose the feel of being in our body. If we really neglect it, it starts to send us warnings in the form of pain or illness. But once we start to care for it, and give attention to it – almost like praising a child or caressing a pet –, the body rewards us with an instant gratitude and happiness. No wonder that gaga has a therapeutic effect – as Uri told us, Ohad started to develop it after he was badly injured as a dancer, and this was his own way of rehabilitating (re-inhabiting) his body.
The method is all about listening, following the way of the movement and its effects in our body, on a very deep, almost cellular level. The mirrors of the rehearsal room were also covered, to help us focus on the inside, not on how a movement looks. The instructions given by Uri – a charismatic and very inspiring teacher – may have seem silly or strange at first, but the visuality of the images he told us helped not only to imitate them, but – by using the power of imagination – to let ourselves deep into the feel and (hopefully) experience transubstantiation itself. Even though we were following instructions from the outside, we started to work with our own, natural perception of the body, being calm and aware at the same time.
At first it was surprising when Uri said we should only use “30 percent of our energy”, just “find the right engines” to perform a movement, and let go of the rest. As well as focusing and concentrating the energy, “letting go” is equally important, to release the (emotional) tension from our body.
Once we see and feel the different engines at work, we discover their connectedness, and by communicating with them (the qualities of giving directions and listening can also be developed), we become more conscious and more sensible about the actual status and the processes of the body. We may sense the weight of the body parts, the thickness of soft flesh on our bones, the spots where we hold unnecessary tension, discover how the energy flows within us and where our strengths lay, and by becoming more efficient in our movement, there is less and less need for effort, which could diminish the pleasure of moving.
Gaga is not only a technique, it is an approach that can become a part of everyday life – as Uri said, “we can do it while chopping salad in the kitchen”. It may help us to regain the feeling of owning, co-operating with and loving our body, experience the wholeness of body and mind, and ultimately lead to a healthier, happier, more balanced and also longer life. My only heartache is that there is no gaga class or community in Budapest yet, but I keep Uri’s words in my mind: “You just have to jump on a plane to Tel Aviv...”
Orsolya Bálint - KÖM