From the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement Vol. 26, Issue 2.
Reflections from Drid Williams's Australian Chapter

Drid Williams relished new opportunities and experiences, one of which saw her arriving in Sydney, Australia, in the late 1980s to develop a new graduate dance program – at least, that is what the Australian originators intended! Drid’s vision of the field was, of course, much larger, and the course was appropriately named “Anthropology of the Dance and Human Movement,” a new concept in Australia at the time. We were housed within the Department of Music because the initiative for the professorship and program was the brainchild of musicologists who understood performance as a nexus of socially constructed movement, sound, and language. Studies of Australian Aboriginal performances were a strong research area in the department, and teaching in the Aboriginal performance studies program crossed many disciplines – especially music, anthropology, performance studies, and linguistics – so we fitted in well! I was one of five Master’s students who joined Drid’s new course at the University of Sydney in 1988.

Expanding our ‘conceptual universe’ to reposition human movement as a social construct – and confirming the direction of Drid’s teaching – a key ingredient in the Australian program was the diversity of students Drid attracted to the group. Our group included Gillian, a former physiotherapist with a background in Dalcroze Eurhythmics and a prominent social activist with a passion for writing. Ronne, a modern dancer and choreographer from America, was one of the first African Americans on Australian stage and television and widely recognized for his significant contributions as a choreographer and teacher to the formation of modern dance in Australia. Lena was a theater director and writer with a passion for European theater. Jennifer, a minister of religion of the United Church in Australia and church musician conducting research in worship practice, also joined our group – a natural fit given Drid’s own doctoral work. And finally, I was a contemporary-dance and ballet-trained Benesh movement notator. Everything we learned steered us toward an all-encompassing sociocultural view of human movement studies, rather than a specific focus on dances and dancing.

Figure 1. Drid with her MA student group and friends in her apartment at the University of Sydney, 1990.
Front: Gillian Fisher (MA), Lena Pangalo (MA), Jennifer Farrell (PhD student); Middle: Drid Williams; Back: Mary Bakalian (kindred spirit from NJ), Ronne Arnold (MA), Zoran Kovich (Feldenkrais Method trainee), JoAnne Page (MA). Photo by Raymond Keogh, courtesy of JoAnne Page.

Movement Notation

Understanding the nature of conceptual frameworks was the cornerstone of Drid’s approach to theory, and she considered movement notation a significant analytic resource in providing a comprehensive, agentive view of how and why a movement is performed. All movement notation systems provide (to varying degrees) conceptual lenses through which to view movement outside one’s own bodily perspective. They not only provide a 360-degree perspective but reveal relative effort, intentionality (including emotions), and relationships between sound and performers within a specific social context. Movement notation in the late 1980s was applied primarily to recording Western theatrical dance works in order to secure copyright or as a means to learn and/or reconstruct masterworks from the past. A few exemplars had begun applying it to record movement systems outside ballet and modern dance, and this was the framework through which we explored the possibilities for recording movement within its fullest social context.

I commenced Dr. Williams’s program as a trained Benesh movement notator, and, by the end, I was equally proficient in Labanotation. This personal development was typical of the transformations many of us felt during the program. Drid’s course was truly transformational, offering endless intellectual possibilities. I even ventured to notate Australian deaf-signing vocabulary in my later studies. The practical application of movement notation per se was not the object of my studies: the process of writing illuminated many unperceived elements of the actions and provided important clues to native sign usage.

Figure 2. Drid teaching a Labanotation workshop (with Brenda Farnell) at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, New Orleans, November 1990. Photo by JoAnne Page.

Connections between Drid Williams, Ideokinesis, and the Feldenkrais Method®

At the same time as I was starting the Masters’ program in the anthropology of the dance and human movement, Zoran Kovich, my husband, commenced a Feldenkrais Professional Training Program (FPTP), in order to become a Feldenkrais Method teacher. As with our Master’s program, the FPTP presented a new paradigm in Australia for learning through movement: it was only the third such training offered in Australia. Immediately, similarities in methods of thinking and learning in our respective trainings became apparent; indeed, in numerous ways, they were mirror images of each other. I reviewed and wrote about movement in sociocultural contexts, while Zoran explored movement on his own body. The similarities and differences reinforced our discussions at that time and have continued to inform Zoran’s work over the past thirty years.

Moshe Feldenkrais, who developed the Feldenkrais Method, greatly admired the American somatic education pioneer Mabel Elsworth Todd, whose ideas pushed against the prevailing mind/body dualisms and behaviorism as inadequate frameworks to understand movement. Her ideas were, in turn, developed by Lulu Sweigard and became known as Ideokinesis. The core of idiokinetic practice involves exploring how a person can use imagery and imagination to change his or her neuromuscular movement patterning and habits. Feldenkrais also recognized the genius of Todd’s work, and Todd’s concepts are recognizably incorporated in Feldenkrais’s work, especially his concept of ‘maturation’: a core component of the Feldenkrais Method wherein people strive to reflect on their own actions and achieve full agency in how they engage with the world.

For Zoran and me, Sweigard’s Ideokinesis provided a strong intellectual connection between Drid’s work and that of Feldenkrais. Ideokinesis had already been a valued part of our earlier professional dance training, and we were thrilled to discover that Drid had learned directly from Sweigard in New York and was authorized to teach her work. We arranged for Drid to give the FPTP students a lecture on Ideokinesis and, more importantly, to share her own perspective and thinking about movement. This occasion had a marked impact on the many students who attended. Drid’s approach to thinking about human movement – with its clear focus on agency in all movements, the need to explore the historical contexts of previous thinkers, and the importance of setting one’s own path – has since guided my husband’s professional work. I should note that the majority of the FPTP ‘audience’ were trained physiotherapists, so Drid’s message was delivered with her usual uncompromising punch to challenge their established views!

Zoran characterizes the link between our respective studies and explorations as twofold, both expressed through Ideokinesis. Ideokinesis focuses on developing the human potential for movement, as opposed to movement investigated from a therapeutic perspective. Zoran remembers Drid drawing a pendulum to illustrate the difference: one side represented people needing physical therapy and the other the potential capability of human beings. Drid was passionate about exploring this latter side, rather than the more common ‘fix-it’ model prevalent in movement education.

A second commonality from which we benefited was the specificity of Sweigard’s teaching – we probably all remember Drid’s almost allergic reaction to “namby-pamby” and “wishy-washy” thinking! The roles of teacher and student in each of our respective learning processes were also similar: the teacher’s role is to present definitive information for the student to consider. Zoran remembers learning about the hands-on component within Ideokinesis literally, through Drid’s very definite touch. It is a quality he passes on to students today in his own work. Complementing this direct teacher’s role is the student’s role: not merely to be receptive but to take an image and find out how to incorporate it through his or her own investigation and reflection. Drid was dismayed at sometimes being considered a “guru” in this context. She was clear that her role in this somatic method of educating bodily awareness was as a catalyst, definitely not a guru.

I am sure many of Drid’s students will immediately see parallels between this context and her academic teaching. Relationships between people, concepts, and information were common themes, complete with introductions to set-theory and logic. Venn diagrams were a regular feature in Drid’s classes, and they remain a regular tool we use for all sorts of discussions.

Following her lectureship in Australia, Drid was awarded a Harold White Fellowship at the Australian National Library to compile a volume annotating all the writings about dance in the library collection. It was a mammoth task but one relished by Drid, given her degree in library science. The result was an impressive document, annotating and analyzing the full breadth of writings in the collection, placing them in historical and social context. It is yet another wonderful part of Drid Williams’s legacy for Australian dance scholars.

Figure 3. Drid set for Cape York. Showing New York friends her “Aussie” research outfit, ready for a field trip to Cape York, Northern Australia, 1990. The location is Lynn Martin’s New York apartment. Photo by JoAnne Page..

Figure 4. Drid with New York colleagues. Lynn Martin’s apartment, 1990. Left to right: Cecilia McMillen, Lynn Martin, Drid Williams, Charles Varela, Brenda Farnell, Seamus McMillen.

Personal Reflections

As a mature-age student, I found that learning how to engage with Drid was its own learning curve. When we met, I was finishing a BA in a conventional dance program in Melbourne and already teaching Benesh notation. I was interested in using notation to learn more about Australian Aboriginal dances; as luck would have it, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) directed me to the “new American professor” who was starting a “new dance program.” Professor Stephen Wild at AIATSIS, together with Professor Peter Platt at the University of Sydney, had been central in the new program initiative, and Drid had just started some preliminary classes at AIATSIS in Canberra.

Drid was adamant that attending these classes was a precursor to enrolling in the Master’s degree program. Such was her persuasion that, in order to attend the classes, I made the 1,300-km round-trip from Melbourne to Canberra each weekend for a whole semester. Certainly, I had no idea what to expect, and these introductory sessions were the catalyst for my decision to embark on her new Master of Arts program. Classes were always stimulating, opening doors to enthuse us and giving me, as a mature-age student, the much-needed confidence to venture down an academic pathway. The long bus trip each way proved to be a blessing also, providing plenty of time for the copious reading and writing, which was great training for the future MA!

Drid was a champion of teaching how to recognize and see critically through one’s own ‘rose-colored’ glasses – the reflexive center of anthropology, but she taught this as a very personal journey. She shared her own personal transformational journeys, from Africa to Oxford, and her later life challenges, all shared openly with the same reflexivity. This was another implicit similarity with the Feldenkrais Method, since an Awareness Through Movement® lesson is, at its core, the practice of reflexivity.

Personally, Drid could be very uncompromising – a difficult trait, certainly, but one that, in retrospect, has become one part of her legacy I most appreciate. There was never any trace of petulance – it was not about ‘getting her own way’ or any sort of power play; nor did it mean she didn’t change her position. But her view was always based on a highly reasoned, nonemotional argument. I believe this made her decision-making exceptional and, in our 1980s context, unusual.

To provide a very personal example: at one point during her stay in Australia, Drid faced a major health challenge. Australia has a fabulous health-care system, but Drid found her biggest battle was against conservative health practitioners. While she ‘won’ her argument over treatment, it was not a complete victory, and her surgeon’s noncompliance with her complete wishes irked her for many years – not the result per se, but the loss of agency over her own body. And how has this impacted us? Drid was a shining example of standing up for what you believe in, arguing your case, and not shirking your responsibilities, be they personal or social.

One key area in which Drid was uncompromising was the complete integration of her ‘work’ and ‘home’ life. No doubt this was also a product of her moving toward the end of a long and productive career, as well as her limited time in Australia. I, and no doubt others, will long remember regular student tutorials in her flat, often accompanied by her famous wild rice dishes and red wine, with Rafiki (her cat) vying for her attention. There we encountered challenging discussions, her generosity in sharing ideas, and her total dedication to developing the intellectual skills of her students. Breakfast conversations through to supper reflections were intellectual discussions, guiding us through life issues, working out our place in numerous academic debates, encouraging us, and challenging the orthodoxies of many long-held beliefs.

Figure 5. Drid ready to cook up a storm in her kitchen in Stanmore, Sydney, 1988. Photo by JoAnne Page.

A conversation with Drid was always somehow exhausting, but we clearly recognized that these discussions were changing our ‘minds’ and lives in fundamental ways. And this is her outstanding legacy: she forever changed how we argue, how we think, and what we consider to be important. Our discussions about our respective work, generated by our interactions with Drid, are still very rich and formative conversations.

Drid was a true ‘renaissance’ spirit, and discussions included colleagues from wide-ranging disciplines. Topics had no boundaries, and introductions to the philosophy of science and set theory were as much the cornerstones of her teaching as theories about the dance and human movement. All have proved central to our later learnings. Like Drid, my husband and I were both trained in the performance sector, so a commonly expressed ‘work/home balance’ was already a nebulous concept. Working in your area of passion means your work and hobbies merge. Little has changed, but now we know exactly why this is important to us. Drid changed our way of thinking. In many ways, it is that simple. In all my work in academic contexts, in teaching, research, managing staff, and overseeing academic governance, I can see how she has shaped my thoughts, my priorities, my abilities.

Drid’s Australian stay was relatively short, but she touched so many lives, both personally and intellectually. Many years later, I continue to come across scholars using her work who never had the chance of meeting her in person. The Music Department at the University of Sydney provided a perfect home for us. After her program ended and she left Australia for Kenya, I was able to continue her work through teaching music and performance students. I contributed to research on Italian Maggio performances with Professor Linda Barwick and on Australian Aboriginal traditional performances with Professor Allan Marett. My later doctoral studies in linguistics on Australian Sign Language were also guided by the ways of thinking she had taught us. Drid’s Aussie colleagues were a short part of her very full life, but we have benefited immeasurably from her passion for a greater understanding of the many ways in which movement is a central part of who we are.