Going slowly

During some of my dance practice yesterday I was doing movements at the barre, working on footwork interspersed with pliers (knee bends or squats). During this practice I was challenged to go slower. Now, just a moment before I had thought I was going slow enough. I thought I had been matching my teacher’s tempo. Yet he was, perplexingly, asking me to go more slowly.

As someone who’s spent most of his time in movement practice working on explosive movements, whether through martial arts or parkour, this whole deliberate slowness feels unusual. Relative to what I’ve been used to I’m sure I felt I was going slow enough, but upon reflection that slowness was not equal throughout—there’s often a suddenness to the beginnings and transitions in the movement, with the middle of the movement feeling like a fight to keep it slow enough.

That wasn’t what he was looking for. Instead what I discovered was that I needed to have a relaxed control and an evenness of speed throughout the movement. Maintaining that constant speed as I moved bent my knees then also as I came back to standing straight was still quite effortful, yet it felt different. There wasn’t the typical sense of strain and feeling the muscles fatiguing as the motion continued—though it was still tiring, I discovered after class that my legs felt more rubbery than expected. Instead there was a heightened awareness of the wholeness of the movement, a feeling of what each muscle was doing to hold the correct posture while moving from standing to the bottom of the plier, and then back up.

After I finished the sequence to his satisfaction my teacher said that (and I’m paraphrasing) by going slowly one can sense every detail in the movement and learn what the correct path through the movement feels like. After that class I’m excited to explore slowness in other techniques, in order to gain a greater sense of the nuances of the techniques themselves, but more importantly of how my body moves.

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