I was on a year hiatus from dance, because I didn't feel content or fulfilled in body, heart, or soul while dancing, when a friend took me to my first Duncan class. I was captivated by the structure and approach and recall crying at the barre. Pachelbel's Canon in D accompanied our plies. First, we listened to this inspirational music, then fully engaged from the solar plexus. No wonder tears filled my eyes—my heart felt open, and I felt free!
In Isadora Duncan's words, "…The body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul; whose body dances in accordance with a music heard inwardly, in an expression of something out of another, profounder world. This is the truly creative dancer, natural but not imitative, speaking in movement out of oneself and out of something greater than all selves."
Duncan, the mother of modern dance, discovered the dancer's center: the solar plexus—this being closest to our heart and soul, from where we begin to breathe, feel, and move. Her movement vocabulary and innovative technique, choreography, and compositions/studies encompass Greek mythology, a vast study of art, philosophy and poetry, classical music, the importance of musicality, and the observation of nature.
I had never heard of the solar plexus, "the heart center." For a dancer, the center is lower and used for muscular power. For a Duncan dancer, this is where we begin to move, conscious of our emotional, spiritual, and physical motoring. This discovery by way of exploration and deep breathing resulted in the most glorious, beautiful, empowering, enriching sensations I had ever experienced in a technique class.
I grew up in Ohio and have a diverse movement background of various dance styles and techniques. My classical ballet experience began with the Dayton Ballet. I went on to study with the Pennsylvania Ballet School and teach and perform with the Pennsylvania Dance Theater. Upon moving to New York City and discovering Isadora Duncan technique—really, rediscovering dance—I immersed myself in studying a variety of health, fitness, and holistic practices. These include Ohashiatsu, Active Isolated Stretching (the Mattes Method), Gyrokinesis, and therapeutic exercises in an effort to heal and keep my body strong. In so doing, it finally made sense to me: I had found, in this dance form, the connection I sought—the connection and joy of mind, body, spirit, and soul.
I truly believe Isadora's technique revitalizes the dance within the dancer, as it did for me. Hence, it is my mission to see this technique preserved not only for its historic value but for the sake of dancers who wish to experience classical modern dance at its core. I think a missing component in the 21st century dance scene is classical modern dance. Isadora's technique demonstrates clear, pure, and natural gestures emanating from the solar plexus, then radiating outward and always sparked from human emotion. This is powerful energy. Equally vital is staying true to oneself and maintaining a singular, individual quality. Sounds easy to do but for most, it's a challenging movement journey.
As I was writing this article, I discovered the following quote which seems appropriate:
In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught. —Baba Dioum (Senegalese Conservationist)
Experiencing class or attending a performance, you will witness beauty, physical power, joy, sadness—all with a human connection. Improvisation plays a vital role in this human connection and generates infinite compositions driven by your imagination. With class study, your body develops strength, spinal undulation, and kinesthetic awareness from the conjugation of therapeutic modalities melded into the format structure. This last aspect of my teaching method is what I feel is so unique in the evolution that I have gone through. My holistic approach takes the purity of movement that is the Duncan technique and combines the therapeutic aspects of my continued education and exploration of the dancer's body. I want to conserve that body and give it the ability to discover all the possibilities that are open to us in the study of this dance-art.
Dancing, the highest intelligence in the freest body. —Isadora Duncan
Duncan Dance Chicago was created to sustain Isadora's legacy for all generations. My mission is to build a school and company for all to experience Isadora's genius and to incorporate that experience into a world that will truly benefit from all it has to offer. I invite dancers, lovers of dance, movers and shakers to experience Isadora now. Read her book, My Life. Artists such as Rodin, Abraham Wolkowitz, Jules Grandjouan, and Jose Clara have captured her grace, strength, and passion for all to relish. Join us in class or in the audience. Historically, a resurgence of art, music, and dance has offered inspiration, and enlightenment as well as empowerment for our exhausted self. By renewing and broadening your perception of dance, learning becomes new again.
The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body. The dancer will belong not to a nation but to all humanity... —Isadora Duncan, 1878–1927
Jennifer Sprowl is a fourth generation Duncan Dancer who was a founding member of Lori Belilove & Company in New York City, training directly with Duncan Dance luminaries Lori Belilove, Hortense Kooluris, and Julia Levien. She has worked with the Rebecca Kelly Dance Company, Bill Evans, Eleanor King, and many other modern dance masters. Jennifer is certified as an Active Isolated Stretch practitioner based on the “Wharton” technique and in Shiatsu with the Ohashi Method. As the sole professional Duncan Dancer in the Chicago area, she has mounted several innovative stagings of the Duncan repertory for Momenta Dance in Oakpark, IL, and teaches the Duncan technique in the Chicago area. Her uplifting, holistic approach to dance makes her classes and coaching in the Duncan technique a pure, authentic and powerful experience.
Written in Fall 2011.