Printer-friendly format  Article citation        


Book Review

Rebecca Nettl-Fiol

Teaching Dancing with Ideokinetic Principles by Drid Williams. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011. 144 pages, 17 photographs. Cloth $60.00 ISBN 978-0-252-03608-8. Paper $25.00 ISBN 978-0-252-07799-9.

As a dance professor with a strong interest and background in somatic practices, I was most interested to read Drid Williams's new publication Teaching Dancing with Ideokinetic Principles. In this collection of essays, Williams provides us with a lucid description of her work with Lulu Sweigard during the 1950s and ʽ60s, discussing the theories and principles and development of ideokinesis as well as her own applications to teaching dance. I have known of Sweigard's work since the 1970s when I was introduced to imagery and ideokinesis during my graduate studies in dance and am familiar with Sweigard's Human Movement Potential: Its Ideokinetic Facilitation. But Williams's book gave me new insights into the development of the work through the eyes of someone that studied with the founder. The author weaves colorful stories with clear comments about the underlying tenets of Sweigard's approach to movement education.

     The book is comprised of seven chapters, each followed by an appendix or article that relates to and gives historical references for the theme of the chapter. These include Noverre's "Letter XI" (1760); William James's "Walking Bundles of Habit" (1890); and Sweigard's own "Constructive Rest Position" (1946), "Better Dancing through Better Body Balance" (1965), and "The Dancer's Posture" (1961), along with articles by the author. The structure of the book makes it easily accessible and inviting to read. I appreciated the photographs that illuminated some of the concepts in several of the chapters, but I wished there had been more consistent use of photos throughout the book.

     The landscape of dance training has changed considerably since the days when Williams was teaching dance and working with Sweigard. The last thirty years has seen a burgeoning of somatic practices within the dance training arena, including the Alexander Technique, Bartenieff Fundamentals, Feldenkrais Method, Body-Mind Centering, and ideokinesis, among many others. Once considered adjunct to dance training, somatic practices have become much more integrated in the dancer's regimen, especially in university dance programs. Current conversations revolve more around the complexity of finding ways of incorporating somatic practices and viewpoints within dance training, rather than the efficacy of somatics for dancers, now widely accepted in most of the dance world. Williams takes us back to a time when the relationship of mental practice to physical acumen and movement efficiency was not necessarily imbedded in dance training practices. This book is an important addition to the literature, giving a clear explanation of the origins of ideokinesis as developed by Sweigard, whose work paved the way for a new approach to movement education.

     Sweigard initially called her work "neuromuscular reeducation;" the term ideokinesis (from ideo, meaning idea, and kinesis, meaning movement) was not developed until the early 1970s. My understanding of the central theme of ideokinesis is that, in order to change habitual patterns of movement, one uses the mind's eye to imagine specific lines of movement, thereby repatterning the neuromuscular system toward more efficient and coordinated movement. Williams's initial impetus to work with Sweigard was to teach dancers to prevent injuries, and she continued to study with Sweigard regularly for several years. In chapter 1, Williams describes her early work with Sweigard, and the development of her own images involving beams of light that travel through the body in specific pathways. I was interested to read about her distinction between anatomical imagery and aesthetic imagery and to learn that Sweigard was not interested in imageries for purposes of enhancing dancing or performance. Sweigard's work focused on posture and working with dancers to understand anatomy correctly. Williams describes common misconceptions by dancers during that time and gives suggestions for teaching functional anatomy through a clearer use of language.

     Imagery in dance today has become widespread, utilized in many contexts and for numerous purposes. Williams carefully delineates Sweigard's approach, meticulously differentiating it from other types of imagery. She rejects offshoots of Sweigard's work, cautioning the reader against uses of imagery and visualization that can be found in popular magazines or on the Internet. Williams takes a strong stance against current trends in the dance world of using imagery to enhance performance or for improving technique, including the work of Eric Franklin, a respected author and educator in dance. I understand the distinction between Sweigard's work and Franklin's; however, to call his ideas "damaging" is unfair, in my opinion, as I have experienced benefits from his work and have seen others who have made improvements from his teaching.

     In "Doctors, Dancing, and Ideokinesis," Williams gives case studies of her work with three professional dancers, each with different injuries, and their rehabilitation using ideokinesis. The discussion of dance training in that period reminded me that, fortunately, we have come a long way in our training methodologies and practices! There is more integration of anatomical information and emphasis on movement efficiency in current training than that which Williams describes. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to read about the rehabilitative process Williams used with Lucas Hoving, Liane Plane, and José Limón and the discoveries she made from working with them. The outcome was different for each, and the lessons learned were profound. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I related to some of the issues uncovered in these stories that dealt with making changes in posture and use in both everyday movements and movement patterns. Issues of identity surface as one deals with change in movement patterns, and some people are not willing or able to embrace those kinds of changes.

     In "Mirror, Mirror . . .," Williams tackles the tradition of using mirrors in the dance class, describing the negative effects on students. Mirrors can be helpful for self-observation, but they easily propel students to be overly self-critical. The feedback provided can be useful but also misleading, as it gives a two-dimensional picture of a three-dimensional reality. Constant use of the mirror also inhibits students' abilities to tune in to their kinesthetic sense. Williams discusses the differences between kinesthetic imagery and mirror imagery and the value of training without a mirror for developing internal sensation of movement as opposed to the external image. The appendix to this chapter, "Accentuate the Positive . . . ," discusses the use of positive rather than negative prompts to students. The examples she gives clearly illustrate her points. I had to laugh about the ballet teacher's image: "arabesque as if you have a lemon in your stomach," as I have experienced similarly absurd images given to me by teachers in my past. Williams gives clear advice for constructing images that lead students toward what to do, rather than what not to do.

     Since I teach a graduate dance pedagogy course, I was particularly drawn to the chapter "More about Teaching Dancing." Williams examines the issue of differing body types, (endomorphs, ectomorphs, or mesomorphs) and the difficulties teachers face in coping with their divergent needs. She also describes Noverre's (1760) theory of arqué (bow-legged) and jarreté (knock-kneed) dancers and includes his writing about this in the appendix of the chapter. As simplistic as this categorization system may be, the point Williams makes is that a teacher should not try to tell a student how a movement should "feel." I have given similar advice to my graduate students, as well as warning them not to rely solely on their own experience of movement to determine the needs of the students when devising movement combinations for class. Further in this chapter comes a profound piece of advice for all teachers: "do no harm." Easier said than done, according to Williams, as she feels that "many movements required for ballet dancing or modern concert dancing are not beneficial to the body from an ideokinetic point of view." I question this—is it not possible to find a more efficient way of performing such movements so that they become beneficial? Williams sees an adversarial relationship between dance and ideokinesis, at least in regard to ballet and classical modern forms. This dichotomy has changed significantly since the Judson era of modern dance; I would say that current dance training is much more compatible with ideokinetic principles.

     Teaching Dancing with Ideokinetic Principles fills a gap in the literature between Sweigard's Human Movement Potential: Its Ideokinetic Facilitation and the works of Sweigard's proponents and followers who have continued to investigate ideokinesis and the use of imagery in dance. Williams is dedicated to presenting the work of Sweigard as she learned it through apprenticing with her in the late 1950s. Her interest in applying what she learned to the teaching of dance stemmed from her desire to teach dancers to protect themselves against injury and to counter much of the poor training that occurred in that era. Dance training has evolved since that time, and the influx of somatics into dance training has helped dancers and dance educators refine their understanding of dance technique and teaching methodologies. Williams's book gives insightful information about one of the founders of the field and offers practical advice for dance teachers that is still applicable today. This is a valuable resource for dance teachers and students, somatic practitioners, and movement educators.


Content in Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement (ISSN 1940-7610) is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.
© 2012 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Terms and Conditions of Use.