How is the Feldenkrais Method(R) like an Art Museum?

The subject line for this post may not be the most burning question you’ve ever entertained. You know that my mind can make strange associations sometimes, and this past weekend I attended an event that got my synapses firing! Here’s the short video about my mini-epiphany from the Menil Collection. (It’s a little under 5 minutes long.)
The Best of Feldenkrais with MaryBeth Smith, GCFP photo array
In fact, this is probably a good time to announce our new YouTube channel. TA-DAH! We have a new YouTube Channel! If you’re so inclined, give the video a “thumbs up” to show you liked it. Click “Subscribe” and click the little bell to get notifications about future videos. All of those tiny actions are important for the algorithm pixies, who ultimately make it easier for others to find videos about the Feldenkrais Method – including our videos. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why don’t more people know about the Feldenkrais Method?” you can help to increase those numbers with just a few clicks! Our channel is just a few days old, so our subscriber stats and views are still in the single digits. If you’ve ever wanted to get in on the “ground floor” of something, here you go, welcome aboard, and thanks.

As a student of the Feldenkrais Method, you know that tiny actions and small but noticeable differences add up to something big! Words can sometimes be elusive when your friends want you to explain this strange thing you do. Perhaps our videos will get your synapses firing as well. We hope our new content will be helpful and inspiring to you in your personal practice of the Method, as well as in feeling confident to share your experiences with others.

Our videos will fall into three main categories:

  • short demonstrations of mini-movements to help ease discomfort and/or improve function
  • conversations with other Feldenkrais teachers about how they help clients with specific movement issues
  • testimonials from happy students

And, we reserve the right to take flights of inspiration and whimsy when the spirit moves. I hope you’ll stick around for the fun!

Steve Martin, I Love You

Image via PBS.org

It’s Saturday night, and we’re watching Austin City Limits.  It’s a bluegrass show tonight, featuring Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

True confession:  I have loved Steve Martin since the first time I saw him, in the early 1970’s, on Saturday Night Live.  That qualifies as “back in the day.”

Through the years, I have marveled at his talent, versatility, and creative output. He’s a magician,a comedian, an actor, a playwright, and author. He creates and finds expressive potential everywhere. He’s a major creative force in American culture today. So there.

Tonight, I’m enjoying watching his mastery of the banjo. He is Mister Cool.  He is playing the HELL out of that thing, with such an economy of movement!  There’s nothing wasted. It is simple, clean, and kind of minimalist. He makes it look effortless. He and the guys clearly have a ball making music.

That’s the true mark of mastery:  the ability to do something difficult, and make it look easy. Paradoxically, you don’t get “there” without a lot of work. Malcolm Gladwell quotes the 10,000 hour rule. If you’re doing the math at home, that works out to four hours a day, every single day, for about seven years.

The part they don’t tell you is that those 10,000 hours are not hours of rote drudgery. Repetition alone is no guarantee of quality. The work is more like the fully-absorbed attention of a child at play. Even when there seems to be no improvement for  long  stretches of time, the person on the path to mastery persists in the playful process of getting better at it. You trust the process, keep showing up, and eventually you and your work are transformed.

I like to think that Steve Martin’s process has been “making the impossible, possible; the possible, easy; and the easy, elegant.” Those are the words of Moshe Feldenkrais, describing the Method that bears his name. Movement by movement, action by action, choice by choice, by baby steps, you get there.

 

 

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Life in High Gear

Rear gears on a bicycle
Image via Wikipedia

In a theatrical production, the week before the show opens is one of intensive, all-out work. The steady pace of work — the regular rehearsals, design, production, and promotion, culminate in what is commonly called “Hell Week,” more politely known as Tech Week. lt is a week of late nights, long hours, and all hands on deck! A tech rehearsal can run four to six hours, or longer, as costume malfunctions are thwarted, lights are adjusted, the light and sound people rehearse and execute their cues — and the process is grueling. People in the theater come to thrive on the adrenaline rush before and during performances. Will everything get done on time? Will everything be perfect?

Business people also talk about performance. They mean getting results, producing the contracted deliverables on time and under budget. What I have just described as “Hell Week” may provoke a response from some of my entrepreneurial friends: “Well, then, every week is hell week for me!” Indeed, the pace of deadlines, developing new business, and responding to client’s needs often puts these brilliant people “on a tightrope,” so to speak. The thrill of keeping the balance between walking that line and falling off is exhilarating to them — until the stresses build up, and the people burn out.

What are the indicators that you may be on the edge of burn-out? First of all, you may notice more aches and pains. Tight muscles, shallow breathing, a feeling of being “out of shape” sometimes is actually your system on overdrive, letting you know that it is time to put on the brakes. The next problem is that ongoing stress suppresses the immune system. Frequent colds, a bout of the flu, or feelings of being run-down and exhausted are all signs that rest, good nutrition, and a “recharge” are in order. Business peple have a strong ethic that “the show must go on.”

Continuing to run your personal empire from your sickbed does not qualify as rest.  Your brain and nervous system need to completely disengage from “work” for a period of time.  Take a walk, spend time in nature, go to a movie — or check in to your yoga or Feldenkrais class.  Each of these, done regularly, will provide your system with the regeneration it needs.

My young friends in business could take a lesson from the theater. The production schedule has a regular rhythm. The acceleration to what can be the frenzied pace of tech week takes place during an extended process. After the peak of exertion, it is time to deliver the performances. This requires a different kind of energy — the kind that creates the feeling of “flow,” of ease and well-being, despite the demands of the piece. The actual show is always much shorter than a tech rehearsal: it is the streamlined, “express” version, where each number is performed only once in a night instead of three our four times. You get to enjoy your own results, and take pride in what has been created, both individually and corporately. You go home and rest between performances. And then, the show closes. The set is dismantled, the costumes are cleaned and returned to storage, you have a big party — and then, the theater is “Dark.” Like a farmer’s field, it lies fallow for a time, until the process starts again.

As we mature, we learn not to be afraid of “the dark.” The key to excellence in performance is to recognize the rhythm, and don’t skimp on opportunities to regenerate. Your health, creativity, and bottom line will all thank you in the long run.

Find a Feldenkrais teacher near you at www.feldenkrais.com .  In Houston, that’s me!

Buy tickets to the FrenetiCore production of The War of The Worlds, opening February 18.

 

 

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Roots

Tech week.

Those two words inspire knowing nods and a feeling of solidarity that can only come from the shared experience of “theater folk” who know what tech week can be.  Tech week is the week before a show opens.  It is a week of bedlam as all the components of a performance are integrated — or not.  Bugs are revealed, problems arise, surprises occur.  Lighting, sound, set and scenery are all installed, tested.  Lines are forgotten, words are flubbed, entrances are missed. If a problem arises, everything grinds to a halt and the problem is fixed, however long it takes. Without the disasters, the phoenix of performance cannot arise, triumphant, from the ashes of learning where the traps are.

Our show opens Friday evening.  Costumes, wigs, hats, shoes, makeup, microphones, and simple logistics of getting on and off stage must all be rehearsed and streamlined.  At some point, you have to try to run the show start to finish and just let things fall apart.  Each time you put it back together, it is better.

People expect tech week to be a lot of hard work — perhaps even grueling.  It is the last week of late nights to get everything built, written, arranged, printed, cleaned.  Nobody expects perfection the first time through.  The cast and crew would freak out if tech rehearsals went completely smoothly.  They expect to discover problems and solve them, and improve each time.  Some actors even hope for some problems at the dress rehearsal, and worry if things go “too well” too early. Make all the mistakes you can in rehearsal, so that the performance is as close to flawless as humans can achieve.

The low expectations and dread that often accompany tech week makes the miracle of live performance that much more — well, miraculous.  It is an amazing feat to surmount problems in a group, and create something that is better than you could have imagined.  You show up, do your job, do it the best you can, and trust the people you’re playing with.  And you have as much fun as you can. Somehow, everything comes together.  I have no idea how, but it works every time.

 

Time Machine

Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), ...
Image via Wikipedia

What a fascinating idea:

“If you had a time machine that only let you spend one hour in a different time, what date would you go to?”

I would love to have been in Paris on May 29, 1913, for the premiere of a new ballet.  Choreographed by Nijinsky , with music by Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring was perceived as being so “out there” that the crowd rioted in the streets afterwards!

The work itself takes about 30 minutes to play and listen to.  I would love to have been in the theater that evening to hear and see something utterly, conpletely new — so innovative, so brave, so organic, that people had no frame of reference for it.  I wonder what it would be like to have such fresh ears.

The new century was just over a decade old.  New ideas had dawned:  Max Planck put forth his quantum theory.  Sigmund Freud had launched his practice of psychoanalysis.  Significant unrest erupted virtually everywhere around the globe: the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Mexican Revolution, and the ferment that would become WWI –were all setting the stage for revolution.

So there was this group of musicians and dancers.  Not politicians, not generals, not scientists — ARTISTS — who, through an act of bringing Igor Stravinsky‘s self-expression to life, caused a violent demonstration.  A new day had dawned, and there was no stopping it.

Innovation is like that.  It perturbs the system, and destroys habitual patterns of doing the most mundane tasks.   Smaller revolutions take place under our own noses every day:  trying a new brand of cat food, cleaning out a closet, or changing your schedule can be similarly perturbing.  Each day, we’re invited to view the world in a new way, and to do something different — and, perhaps, a little better. SO, if I just had an hour, listening to the premiere of The Rite of Spring is the best snapshot of an era that I can think of.  It still sounds fresh and shocking today.  Each time I hear it, my mind opens, my soul yearns, and my body awakens to the primal rhythms.  Most people are not prepared to experience such intensity.

The thing that is so amazing about being in the presence of a great work of art — whether paintings, sculptures, works of literature, film, or music — is that the first time you experience it, it is new for you.  That newness never goes away.  It doesn’t matter if the work is almost a century old, or older:  it somehow has the feeling that it was just created this afternoon,  The joy of discovery, the delight of the senses, the sometimes head-scratchingly perplexing ideas — all make life so rich and interesting.

That is why art is so important, in all its forms.  The more, the better,   Art, art, art.  Create, express, let history decide about the quality.   Have your opinion, like it or not, but pay attention.  Even art that makes you want to riot will change you and expand your perspective.  Even art you don’t like has the power to make you a better person.


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