From the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement Vol. 26, Issue 2.
“That’s What I Taught Her”: Remembering Drid Williams

Figure 1. Drid Williams with Lynn Martin in Martin’s New York apartment, 1993. Photo by JoAnne Page.

On a daily basis, wherever and whenever I walk in the world, concepts that I learned from Drid Williams about the movement of bodily structures remain with me, either in the foreground or background of my thinking – and never more so than in the past year of rehabilitation from right hip-replacement surgery and interstitial tears in my right Achilles tendon.

Ideokinesis and Breathing Coordination

In the early 1970s, I was a student at a small dance studio near my home in New York City. When the teacher had to leave the studio, I was asked to take over the class, although I had no previous teaching experience. The departing teacher offered me her program, some routine practices, and her recorded music, which I gratefully accepted. It gradually dawned on me that I had a great deal to learn about actually teaching in a way that would help students improve. Two students in that class were Mary Bakalian and Estelle Reed, both of whom had previously studied dance and an approach to neuromuscular education called ‘Ideokinesis’ with Drid Williams, experiences of which they described to me. They also recommended that I read the book, Human Movement Potential: Its Ideokinetic Facilitation by Dr. Lulu Sweigard (which I did with great interest, but with many unanswered questions).

In the spring of 1976, Drid Williams returned to the United States from Oxford University in England, having achieved her doctoral degree in social anthropology. During a stopover in New York, Mary and Estelle introduced me to Drid, and she offered to give me an introductory lesson in Ideokinesis. I remember exactly the first words that Drid said to me in that lesson:

Movement begins in the mind. You cannot move from a place in your body if you don’t know where it is. You will move from where you think it is, even if you never consciously thought about it.

Explication followed. I learned that the success of Ideokinesis practice depends on developing the ability, either visually or with light touch points on one’s body, to locate precisely the body’s bony joints and to postulate possible efficient neuromuscular coordinations attendant to those articulations.

To give just one example, Drid stressed Dr. Sweigard’s concept of working to bring the weights of the axial skeleton as close as possible to the trunk’s central vertical axis, or line of gravity (sometimes called the “plumb line”) that would connect the precise centers of the three main weights––head, thorax, and pelvis––via the three connecting curves of the spinal column. Experimental movement practices would follow while one established and maintained a mental image of the central vertical axis in one’s mind’s eye.

Intrigued, I traveled to receive additional introductory lessons with Drid, while she re-established herself and found teaching positions in various locations in the United States. I also began private studies in New York City with Irene Dowd, who had been trained to teach Ideokinesis by Dr. Sweigard at the Juilliard School, which studies I continue to pursue. It is a tribute to the exacting clarity of ideokinetic thought transmitted by Dr. Sweigard to both Dowd and Williams that I have never had a moment of conflict about studying with both of these brilliant teachers.

At that same time, I also began studies of Breathing Coordination with Carl Stough, which I continued until his death in 2000. During the last ten years of his work, I acted as Stough’s assistant on outreach projects, including production of two educational videos about his work and a computerized animation of the diaphragm in motion. The primary muscle of the multileveled respiratory coordination, the diaphragm and its actions, have often been thought of as a bridge between somatic and autonomic pathways of the human nervous system. As such, I believe its most positive functions are accessible to anatomically sound ideokinetic imagery, as well as to the extraordinarily subtle and supple hands-on encouragement used by Stough. Although he never formally trained any of his devoted students/teachers, including myself, to carry on with his work, several of us have continued to use our informed experience with him to teach others. Over the course of the twenty-five years I spent observing and receiving Stough’s teaching, I began to think that combining ideokinetic principles with those of Breathing Coordination would promote positive results. I have postulated the following guidelines, which I have added to my ongoing teaching of both Ideokinesis and Breathing Coordination:

(1) The owner of the pertinent structures should have accurate information about their location, relationships to each other, and potential positive functions. Many of these structures, especially those of the breathing mechanism, are invisible and untouchable from the outside but thereby available to the positive influences of anatomically based mental imagery.

(2) A strong commitment to helping the student become increasingly independent of the teacher during the course of study and practice, a concept that came to me strongly from both Williams and Dowd.

(3) The importance of gaining an understanding of how those respiratory structures relate to other structures in an always interactive, complete bodily context. For example, I often observed that a student would leave Stough’s office after a lesson with magnificently freely movable thoracic structures, but without also having a concept of a central vertical axis and responsively elongated spinal curves (especially in the thoracic curve, the longest of the three movable curves) that could be maintained in relation to his or her breathing coordination.

(4) Establishment of a training program for teacher/practitioners to make that body of work, including a combination of Breathing Coordination and Ideokinesis, transmissible to a greater number of students.

Since 2006, I have worked with my teaching partner Robin DeHaas to develop introductory workshops, private sessions, and practitioner training programs. We are trying to replicate the ways in which Carl Stough encouraged breathing coordination in each student, with gradually increasing success. Above all, we work toward achieving results similar to his, which is our most important goal.

Developments in New York City—Afro-Caribbean Dance and Music

In 1979, when Drid moved to New York City to establish the Master’s degree program in the anthropology of human movement within the Dance Department of New York University (1979-86), I was able to continue my Ideokinesis studies with her. I also had the privilege of providing typing and some editorial assistance with several outstanding Master’s theses in that subject, as well as the beginnings of the new journal JASHM. Then, too, I was often an invited guest to related seminars and programs. In that way, I learned a great deal about various cultures and dance forms that I had not previously envisioned, particularly those related to Afro-Caribbean dance and music, which was a major component of Drid’s own earlier dance studies and teaching.

Drid suggested that, if I could gather together ten students who would commit to ten classes, find a location, and convince her long-time colleague, the master drummer Montego Joe, to play for the class, she would teach that class! The goal was to see how she would include ideokinetic principles within a dance class. I somehow managed to pull off that coup, and ten of us eager students arrived for the first class. There we were, all lined up at the ballet barre, prepared to begin pliés à la seconde. We were about to start when Drid shouted, “STOP”! She could see beforehand that the impulse for the first action was not going to be successful for most of us. With that, she brought us all away from the barre, gave us an ideokinetic lesson in good alignment and location practice for the appropriate joint actions. We began again, with an increased level of success. This was one of my most important lessons in developing a trained eye for recognizing fine-tuned movement patterns.

Toward the end of that first class, I saw and heard some of the dance movements and drumming from Drid’s Afro-Caribbean repertoire. That was a huge revelation to me. I soon discovered that Haitian dance was particularly popular in New York City at that time. I began to take classes with Jean-Leon Destiné, Serge St. Juste, and later with Pat Hall and her lead drummer, Pamela Patrick, each of whom became my friends and mentors in relationship to Haitian dance and music.

In 1986, I met Joseph Robinson, a young Master’s candidate within the Dance Education Program at NYU. Joe planned to write his Master’s thesis about popular dances from his home Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos (and other neighboring islands). He wanted to include anatomical analyses of those dances and asked me to help with the analyses in exchange for teaching me the dances, which sounded like an enjoyable project to me. Because I was already familiar with the Dance Education Program’s format for Master’s theses, I also typed Joe’s thesis and offered editorial and grammatical guidance. The thesis was accepted, and Joe returned to Turks and Caicos to begin developing a traditional Caribbean dance troupe.

One year later, Joe invited me to attend the opening performances of his troupe. Two days before my flight to Turks and Caicos, Joe called me, on an emergency basis, to beg for seventy yards of white cotton fabric and fourteen pint cans of red and green silk screen dye/paint for the costumes. With the help of my NYC Caribbean Friends Network, I was able to organize, pack, and carry all of it with me. I was amply rewarded with a welcoming dance from the young dancers and drummers on the airport runway when my plane landed in Grand Turk.

With his completed thesis, Joe received a well-deserved Master’s from NYU. I, however, did not. Nor, I realized, did I have any formal educational qualifications. I had been fortunate to acquire some experience of university teaching because Drid had recommended that I co-teach an ideokinetically based kinesiology course with André Bernard at New York University, within both the Dance Education and Tisch School of the Arts Dance programs. I subsequently co-taught that course from time to time, was sometimes a guest lecturer, and substituted for several semesters when André could not be there. I inherited those classes when he died in 2003 and continued to teach them until I retired in 2017.

However, having realized that I too had the potential to do an academic degree and with non-too-subtle pushes from Drid and other good friends, I embarked on the completion of my BFA degree at Fordham University in New York City in 1988, successfully completing it in 1995. During my last semester in that program, I took an introductory anthropology course. On the first night of that class, I read the syllabus and saw that there was no final paper assigned. Afterward, I asked the teacher why there wasn’t a final paper. She said that I would not know enough in only one semester to write a final paper. I replied that I had already started writing my paper. After discussion, the professor excused me from several other writing assignments and gave me the go-ahead for a final paper. As the semester progressed, I realized that music and dance were not prominent within my professor’s area of expertise. I worried that she might not easily understand what I planned to write. I then asked to be allowed to offer an in-class presentation while I read my paper to the class. My Haitian dance colleagues Pat Hall and Pamela Patrick came that night to illustrate my examples. Together we rocked the halls of Fordham at Lincoln Center, and I subsequently graduated with honors!


Toward the end of Drid’s life, her sister, Doris Korthof, asked me whether Ideokinesis might help Drid with the physical difficulties she was experiencing. On October 13, 2018, I wrote, via email:

Dear Doris,

Yesterday, on Drid’s 90th birthday, I taught a lesson to a young classical singer (soprano), who has been coming to me for work in Breathing Coordination. Yesterday I decided to depart from Breathing Coordination and give her a lesson from Ideokinesis. Although she is not a dancer, she has previously shown positive responses to concepts of movement potential and imagery.

I presented Drid’s well-known imagery of a beam of light representing the Vertical Central Axis of the trunk, as I remember Drid’s teaching of that imagery to me back in 1976. I am sending you a picture, drawn by Irene Dowd, of the Central Vertical Axis, in relation to the trunk of the body, via snail mail, which should arrive in a few days. Perhaps you could give Drid that picture with a copy of the following verbal description of the lesson I taught yesterday.

Locating the Central Vertical Axis: in standing position:

The Central Vertical Axis light beam represents an imaginary line of force, or of relationship, that connects the center of the weight of the “big ball” of the head to the center of the “egg-shaped” ribcage to the center of the “big bowl” of the pelvis. The first point of connection for the beam is located inside the head at the level of the ears, midway between the two ears; the second point is located at the level of the upper sternum and upper thoracic curve of the spine, midway between two chosen points; the third point is located between the 3rd lumbar vertebra and the navel. The image of the light beam is first imagined as connecting those three mid-points internally; then the beam extends upward, toward the sky, out of the top of the head, and downward into the ground, exiting between the ischial tuberosities (sit-bones) of the pelvis. One may imagine all of the central weights of the body to be suspended around that central light beam, which now extends both upward and downward beyond the boundaries of the trunk.

Additional practice:

After we first established the central light beam in standing position, we then applied it to a seated position. Lastly, we did a simple standing movement improvisation, in which we took turns following the other person’s slow and fluid movements of the imaginary beam in space (e.g., spinal flexion, spinal extension, lateral spinal flexion to both right and left, and spinal rotation to both right and left).

Figure 2a. Side view of a dancer who is "tucking" her pelvis. Muscles in the buttocks and lower thoracic spine must be held in a strong contraction to maintain an exaggeratedly flattened back. Muscles on the front of the thighs and back of the calves must be held in strong contraction to keep from falling over when the pelvis is thrust slightly forward of the legs.
Figure 2b. Side view of a dancer who has "retracted" her pelvis so that the front tilts downward. This tilts the back of the pelvis and lumbar spine to exaggerate the spinal curves. To remain upright, excessive muscle contraction is required in the low back and in the back of the neck.
Figure 2c. A schematic side view of the spine and pelvis with the head and rib-cage locations indicated. The curves of the spine and the tilt of the pelvis all counterbalance each other. If one curve is exaggerated, then the others can likewise increase to maintain upright posture.
Figures and captions from Taking Root To Fly by Irene Dowd. 3rd edition, 1995, page 24. Published by Irene Dowd in conjunction with Contact Editions, a project of Contact Collaborations. Inc. Reprinted with permission of the author.

I will be interested to hear whether my above description still makes sense to Drid. Any corrections will be humbly accepted.

Doris responded with Drid’s comment: “That’s what I taught her.”

References Cited:

Dowd, Irene

1995 [1990].Taking Root to Fly: Articles on Functional Anatomy. 3rd ed. Published by author.

Sweigard, Lulu E.

1979. Human Movement Potential: Its Ideokinetic Facilitation. New York: Harper & Row.