Musings on How Dance and Yoga Fit Together
Historians are just beginning to study yoga and finding it is not as ancient as once thought. In particular, the postural practice as we now know it is quite new. This means there were plenty of opportunities to borrow from other movement practices.
Enter Mark Singleton – in chapter seven of his book “Yoga Body,” Singleton points out the influence gymnastics and dance had over the evolution of modern posture practice in yoga.
I’ve taken away that the lines between yoga, dance and gymnastics are all very fuzzy. However, just because the lines are fuzzy doesn’t mean each movement discipline can’t learn from each other. As I conclude my yoga teacher training, here are a few yoga elements I believe dance could benefit from and vice versa.
Without mirrors, students learn to feel the movement and alignment in their bodies, relying less on sight. From what I’ve seen thus far, yoga studios are much better at using the mirror as a prop instead of a mainstay. The mirror is certainly a useful device for checking proprioception and ensuring visibility of a teacher to everyone in a room. However, I’d love to see dancers step away from the mirror a little more.
Often dance classes end with trying to give the students one last step or a haphazard together “cool down.” For those who thoroughly enjoy and feel the most alive in that hour of dance class, it would be nice to add even two minutes of meditation at the end for a sense of finality.
This for me is the biggest of the three. I was always told to keep breathing in dance, but no one ever taught me how to sync breath with movement. A breathing practice has been quite transformative for my dancing, and would love to see more dancers adopt one.
I would love to see more yoga teachers play with rhythm in the meat of the class. It adds a lot of character to even the simplest sequence, and can help release those straggling thoughts in the mind.
By practicing repetition in the sequences week-to-week, as well as repeating the same movements multiple times in the same class, students can move their attention from following a sequence to playing with the alignment, breath and the mind. Repetition builds a sense of predictability, which can unlock a feeling of safety and control, removing the mind from worries about stability. I would love to see more yoga sequences that use this device.
Dance classes are normally set up so that you register for a term at a time. This means you are usually seeing the same people in class week after week, and that teachers are able to place them in a class appropriate for their level. It isn’t until teaching yoga classes that I’ve realized setting up classes this way builds community. I’m sure it’s the same set-up as yoga teachers who have a class full of regulars. While there will always be a wide range of abilities in the class, each student at least has the same vocabulary. Also, because you get to know each student’s body, modifications come more naturally. You will remember that the student with the testy knee will need an extra blanket in a pose. When you know the students, they will also feel more comfortable asking you questions and you will feel more comfortable helping them with alignment, which can greatly reduce injuries.
For myself personally, I’ve finally come to the understanding that I need to both dance and yoga in my life. Each on its own has much less meaning than the two together.