What is dance?
Interview by Anke Vetter, European Contact Improvisation Teachers' Conference in Austria, August 2006

A.V.: "Christina, what is dance to you?"

Ch.K.: "To me, dance is a pathway to transformation and change. Dance is the expression of musicality and sensibility derived by the dancer's unique body- his qualities, his subtlety, his refined ability to move in usual and unusual ways. Dance brings out the person's content into form through movement. It portrays the sensations, feelings and impulses that reflect one's instinct, passion and imagination while he/she moves in space; it is the manifestation of the mover's presence and the poetry of his particular body language, his aesthetics, his culture, his theatricality, his personal story-telling narrated through this abstract world of dance, mainly through non-verbal communication. Dance becomes the means for the dancer to convey his personal history to the outside environment, to become familiar with his/her conscious and unconscious drives, and to go beyond all that- to experience the essence of his human nature, sometimes, momentarily....The artist, the performer can generously share his experience and propose dance as a vehicle so that his audience can remember possibilities to live life....Space, freedom and love, fullness in emptiness.... Thus dance is a way to fulfill myself and feel alive, inspired, in contact with joy in freedom and sensation, in communication with others- a pathway related to art, on which I encounter my life, my energy of life through working with movement, through embodying my potential and vision both from a physical aspect and also from an emotional, mental and spiritual aspect. For me it’s a holistic way of integrating all aspects of myself, having as a basis the work with movement awareness. My body is a mirror, a way of being connected with a sense of freedom and joy that embodies responsibility and attention to what life opens up for me to learn and experience in contact with the external environment and with others. It’s a way of witnessing myself and understanding where I’m at in the present moment -- discovering ways that seem to work better against stagnation and repetitive cycles, to be more at peace with my thinking mind, my fears, my agitated heart, my ego. And this is again using the tools from the physical aspect, like training the body in detail and subtlety, training the mindfulness of the body being in contact with my senses, how I can understand different qualities of movement, how I can embody the different aspects of myself and find in that an understanding of how to grow and recognize possibilities for change. Because dance and improvisation in particular actually give me that kind of space for investigation, where I can be more flexible, more connected with the flow, the inner flow and outside flow. Then I can see where my blocks are, where my limitations are and how I should deal with them, dance with them, transform them. There is a lot of transformation for me through this form of art; dance is connected very much to being in the Here and Now, awareness and transformation in expression, being in contact with joy, beauty, love and expansion, silence in movement and in stillness."

A.V.: "What is the difference between dance and other physical disciplines like sports?"

Ch.K.: "It has a lot to do with the process of getting into your body, how you engage with your physicality. Sometimes, in sports I find that there is a very competitive aspect or a goal-setting approach. For me, dance is not about goal setting, it's about opening up intention and having clear intention and attention to move from and to be with myself and communicate with the others, which gives me a structure and a possibility to create. To my way of thinking, dance-improvisation has a lot to do with a creative process, making and being aware of what the creative process is about through movement. That can have all kinds of potential, it’s not about winning, it’s not about only getting somewhere, but it's how I process that growth in order to make myself experience the movement in a more subtle way, to make my physical potential turn into an additional ability towards sensibility and mindfulness. The body is trained to find suppleness engaging all the different systems: skeletal, muscular, fluids, organs etc It’s not only about control and achievement of results: I want to have such and such a score and I want to reach such and such point. In experimental dance in particular it is the appreciation of process, the joy of experiencing and group sharing "

A.V.: "Is that also the difference between your dancing and ballet? That they want to achieve a goal, or that they reproduce a language?"

Ch.K.: "Ballet has a different approach from the form I use. What’s the difference between what I described and ballet? That’s an interesting question. I would say the difference is in the way things are pre-described from a system with tradition where the dancer always stays in the upward direction towards the sky(ballet). There’s a clear tradition in ballet, there are many schools of course, there are different approaches to the ballet tradition that one can learn. But I think we(in New Dance) have built a different philosophy and tradition in this particular form we work with; there is another way where the dancer is expressed more fully as a human being in a three dimensional way. The dancer can value and train his movement and body without following the stereotype of the small skinny young dancer who idealizes beauty and lightness away from the reality that we live in. In our form we discover the “fairytale” of individual and social life with all its particularities, as honest and clear, as it can be without embellishments. We explore lightness and weight, being in and out of balance, being small and big, all the range of possibilities."

A.V.: "Which forms of dance do you work with?"

Ch.K.: "New Dance, Contact Improvisation and the Release techniques such as the Alexander technique, Joan Skinner, Body-Mind Centering. In this philosophy of movement research, the methods are more internal, oriented towards a conscious body and person. In Contact Improvisation for instance, you can investigate the physics, the function, the way the body functions and also how you can embody your whole being in your dance. It’s not about learning steps. Of course you can learn movement patterns also - we learn specific skills with a wide range of vocabulary - but using a very different approach that is also very personal related to the teacher’s background and experience, there is no syllabus like in Ballet."

A.V.: "What is it that you want to embody?"

Ch.K.: "I want to embody my potential and understand and apply what my potential and nature is; when I recognize what is, there is also open space to change. It means being more connected with where I’m at, with what my body needs, what my psyche needs. How I can become more authentic, not to let my thoughts get in the way of things and to be able to discover what life wants to show me and teach me. To embody my qualities, to build the kind of trust in myself and also in others. Where I can have the space to integrate my qualities and to share them with others and learn from others, and exchange with them. Dance is a beautiful art form in which we can really share with other people. It’s not easy. It’s not like a painting that hangs on the wall which has a sense of permanence about it. With dance the permanence is in the spontaneity of the moment and for me this is something that is wonderful and often also difficult to accept. I think I mean that I need to always be in contact with something so that I can also learn how to let go and move on and live the life within with wisdom."

A.V.: "How do you work on this exchange?"

Ch.K.: "You mean when we dance? It works by being in contact with myself, recognizing myself. And opening up my space to the space of the other and making contact with the other. For me, the contact is contact through space, contact through physicality, through the senses, through awareness. Where is my state of being, where is the others’ space and state of being? I wish I do not decide on what the dialogue is going to be when we dance together because I know you, because I have perhaps danced with you before or because I know you have experience; I look for a kind of curiosity in order to be in the position to receive and also being willing to offer. This is exchange for me. It's through the senses, through feeling our contact in the moment, sharing weight - we share weight a lot, light weight, heavy weight - through the feeling of the energy of your quality of your whole body, but also what is the impulse beneath that guide us. That is a language in itself which is expressed to the outside world, like your rhythm, your tension or lack of it. All this is a language, a dialogue. We exchange a lot in a non-verbal way but it can be a very deep and frank dialogue."

A.V.: "So it’s not only body language but more like whole being language without using words?"

Ch.K.:"Yes, you could say that. I mean it’s not that I exclude sounds and words as part of a creative way of using the body, but I would say that it's largely non-verbal skills, it's learning the language of movement."

A.V.: "This has a lot to do with opening up, you said. How do you train for that?"

Ch.K.: "To open myself?"

A.V.: "How do you prepare for being ready for that conversation?"

Ch.K.: "My training has been as a dancer, training my body to be open, strong and flexible and willing to explore. If I’m not in my body, I cannot connect with my energy and I cannot exchange. For me, a large part of it has to do with the way I train myself physically but not just that. One important aspect of my work is Alexander training, the 'F.M. Alexander technique', which is about understanding my patterns through my body and understanding the automatic mechanisms within my ways of thinking that are mirrored in movement patterns. How I can find space where new directions will appear so that I may investigate possibilities for a change. In this way I can connect with others too. Touch is a very important way of connecting and of how to be in this state of being with myself and also be in contact with the other. I understand a lot about myself through being in contact, and this has been another way of training myself through contact improvisation, all this years. This has been interesting for me, not only from the skill point of view but also because I understand where I’m at in the moment. Continuously knowing where I'm at in my life now can be difficult but it can also be very pleasing. I meet the others, I meet my humanity, I meet the humanity in me and I meet through that humanity the other persons 'humanness'. Connecting with myself is also being responsible for my recognizing what my needs are; if I need to be alone and if I don't want to be in contact to see how I can still stay open to that space we exist together. When I started dancing in New York I found the resistance I have to dance – all the difficulties that I would meet in the dance - doing contemporary dance, doing improvisation, it doesn't matter, it would get me into myself, the emotional aspect of myself that is affected by the movement of my thoughts, my mind? Thoughts also create blocks. Since then I’ve also been involved in psychotherapeutic work, I'm a psychotherapist, and a body psychotherapist in particular - I practice the 'Gestalt, Wilhelm Reich' approach - I understand how everything is integrated from early on in our lives and creates structures such as defense mechanisms that are registered, that form one’s body structure but also his behavior structure, his psychological character."

A.V.: "You mean from the past?"

Ch.K.:"Yes, the past - childhood, what I experienced as a child. In making contact with where I'm at physically, I also touch the workings of my mind. I touch also the way I think and how this affects the way I design my life, consciously or unconsciously. So part of my personal journey has also been to understand and heal the child within and the work with movement has been very important in this process."

A.V.: "How does movement or Contact Improvisation convey this aspect?"

Ch.K.:"Let's see - when I dance flowingly I can also recognize the ways where I can block that flow, the way my body reacts to fear and thought or if I feel insecure dancing with someone. If I feel unaccepted by myself or by the other, how can I let go of that thought or how do I deal with these thoughts and feelings. It’s like I said before - a way of recognizing what is going on with me and the situation. Then I have the responsibility either to transform or to change or to leave or to move to another dance if that particular one is not really working. It gives me a lot of possibility to recognize the flow and also how the flow is interrupted. How I break the flow and how much I'm willing to risk each time. I understand where the boundaries are much of the time. I come into contact with my instinctual self, the no-mind way where the center is integrated with the periphery and the whole being can engage in an unpredictable and truthful dialogue following physics and energy."

A.V.: "Does this have a similarity to your normal life boundaries? You say you get a lot of information through movement and dance. What kind of reflection is this?"

Ch.K.:"First of all, I find I'm much more centered and able to recognize what I'm doing. For instance, if I'm struggling to understand more about a situation I am able to remember that I always have choices. We often don't see that we have choices, especially when we are involved emotionally. Then I guess this work always reminds me that in fact there's always a choice. I find this extremely hard, because I know I find it difficult, if I'm involved emotionally, to say good-bye to someone just like that, like the way I can do it in a dance. And then: how we juggle all the situations of our daily life? It’s a learning process. I often find that I don't really know. The more I know, the less I know. I try to figure it out but for instance during these days here in the conference I practice to keep things simple, because I have this tendency to get involved in complicated situations. And I try to work on them, transform them, I completely dive into them and I can lose my center and drown in my emotions. If I see it doesn't get me anywhere and I still insist on staying, then it starts becoming very destructive. For me it's developing the skills of seeing, seeing what the potential of a situation is and to find the strength within to let go when the moment comes… like the practice of intimacy and dance between 2 lovers in life. Not only to see but also to have the courage to pass through one’s fears and to say: this is not working for me, I need to find other choices, other ways to be more free but with responsibility honoring the relationship.. For me this connects very much to my life."

A.V.: "You are also a teacher. If I came to you as a student, what would I learn?"

Ch.K.:"You would learn that in order to connect to yourself you need to be very grounded and aware of your body. You would learn more about yourself through your movement and through all this rich vocabulary that we have. You can learn about your potential. We think we know our potential but we actually know very little of it. We see how each moment defines our progress in the future. This is something one can really learn through this process: going further by taking risks or staying in a state of resistance. You learn about creativity, your ability to create and to create with others and to communicate that with others. You learn about your breathing. You learn about skills in Contact improvisation. You learn about body mechanics. You learn about stillness and how to listen. You learn about respect towards your body, respecting yourself and respecting the others. You learn about flow and also how you can go against flow. You learn a lot about trust, how to fly and how to fall, how to balance and go off center, out of balance. You learn about your qualities, your range in performance skills. You can use your fantasy and instinctual self creating a new reality for you. In improvisation you learn about time and space, how to compose with spontaneity and bring the content into form and expression. "

A.V.: "How can I learn about my qualities?"

Ch.K.:"If I give different movement possibilities like from being still to shaking to conveying the idea of 'feathers in the air', images about weight, how to be sloppy and how to be clear and how to use your eyes in the space and discover how your eyes can be integrated with your movement, you can play with what seems to be wrong for you or ugly or whatever. Then find how you can create from there. What is your image or your movement or yourself and how you can use that image in a creative way? So you can learn more in this way about your qualities. I guess that part of my work is also influenced by my work as a shiatsu practitioner, I also integrate the '5-elements theory' sometimes in the work and principles that connect to the earth, water, air, fire and metal qualities. I give all these possibilities through bodywork, through contact work in the movements and in the scores for movement improvisation so that one can understand that he can have fire in water and water in earth and he/she can have air in water. One can mix qualities, shift easily and have a clear understanding of changing states of being. With movement you can travel through various states of being and they can engage in one but also incorporate different qualities at the same time."

A.V.: "In the beginning you said I could learn how to be grounded. What does it mean to be grounded or centered?"

Ch.K.: "It's not easy to explain, because all this is experiential work. In theory, I can say much but in fact it doesn't mean much if one doesn’t try to practice alignment and movement in standing “still”. Being grounded for me is having an understanding of what the ground under my feet and under my body is, if I feel very supported by my structure and by my energy, if this alignment supports me to have a sense of rising up while I also have strong roots underneath. If you never practice this, these are really words that mean nothing, I would say. But ok, being grounded is integrating my inner energy with my verticality and with my horizontal space and to have a sense of having roots under soft feet. From being in this meditative stance, where we can feel the roots from our feet reaching down into the earth, we can feel that strength that rises up all the way up to the head and through the whole three dimensional space, through the whole body. If I collapse within in a way in which I can feel the pull of gravity, I express life from that starting place of resignation. or If I'm unclear and unaware of the movement of my breath and my weight falls on my toes so that I can easily fall to my front, I'm not grounded. If I'm just too stiff, I can break and lose my balance easily then I'm not grounded. If the weight of my body goes to my heals and I make an effort not to fall backwards, I am not grounded. It's about softening so that there is connection and integration between my parts in relation to my central axis. Then I find my strength gently from the earth to be able to rise and to feel the whole space with impermeability so that I can be present and be in touch with small movement in this way - with my body, with my breath, sensing inner movement and my energy. In short, being grounded means, I look for openness and fluidity in the joints connecting the center around my navel to the periphery so that my feet contact the earth without resistance and I can keep myself up to standing effortlessly so that I can be ready to step out in life with support."

A.V.: "That leads into the next question. You said I would learn about breathing, but everybody breaths. What is the difference?"

Ch.K.:"I can say that every time we're stressed our breathing is very shallow. Everyone has breathing patterns. The therapeutic part of the work is on the breath, the breathing process. If the breath is not engaging my whole body, there is a lot of tension. It's almost like every cell that is not breathing is dead somehow, it's not engaging, it is not present. If my chest is stiff and is not breathing, I'm not feeling my pain or my sadness, my agony, which the case when I'm stressed- when I hold in and I don't breathe, I don't allow myself to feel and to be present with what I feel. When I don't feel what I feel I have in fact no choices in how to be. I can say, that everyone has their way of breathing that connects to their character and psychological defenses and when I start becoming more aware of my body and how to use it better, when I become more comfortable and at ease then my breath starts opening up and I start feeling more sensations and emotions in myself, and then the breathing expands, the body and soul can relax and stay clear. This is what we work on, how we can become more expanded in ourselves and how to feel that sense of life force, because that is what breath is about: being connected with our life force. When we die we don't breathe. From the first breath when we are borne to the last breath when we die we have so many ways of limiting our breath in our daily life. We are bombarded with so many impulses that it needs a great deal of awareness in order to be able to breathe and to be able to nourish ourselves with what we need. Because when I breathe and when I feel I can also understand what I need and I can be more at one with life, with my life, to take it into my hands and be responsible for it. If I don't breathe I just close myself down and parts of me die while I'm alive."

A.V.: "Is this the distinction between being able to be active or reactive in our lives?"

Ch.K.: "It's about being present, not about being active all the time."

A.V.: "If I'm present, I can actively connect to almost everything that comes up as an opportunity, if I'm not present this is much more difficult."

Ch.K.: "If I'm present, I react according to what appears in a relaxed mind and body. I can understand what is going on better-my energy is there to support me and I'm alert to respond in new ways too. I can be passive if need be according to the circumstances. It's not about doing, it's about being open to recognize what's going on and to have the energy to move and respond at any moment like cats do for instance, because if my life energy is dying in me I don't have the strength and the courage to make the necessary steps to be in tune with and act consciously with what is happening." This is how opportunities can pass through our lives and we miss the chance to experience and fulfill ourselves more. In fact, we look for balance between relaxation and rest, in movement and in stillness. ."

A.V.: "Is dance a tool?"

Ch.K.:"Yes, it is a tool. For me at least and for many people, I think. It can be a tool for fun, it can be a tool for expression and for being in contact with people, sometimes building communities where you can have a sense of belonging…. Dance has a very broad meaning, sense, and for me it's a tool for life, that's what I would say. I don't think that this is a common view necessarily, but it's a pathway for me. I never see dance separate to daily life. I see it always in relation to life experiences through the various systems that can educate me to enjoy life as I described above. It's connected with the art of living . It can support a life process for a human being to meet beauty, wisdom, instinct and nature in communication with his inner world and others."

A.V.: "Is there anything else you want to say?"

Ch.K.:" I'd like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to express ourselves and share more about our life experience as movers, improvisors,teachers, performers. Often we do the work in our own personal journey with students and audience when we perform. I think it's also very important that we can see the variety of approaches like the diversity that we have in 'What is dance?'. It's such an abstract form for people who are not involved in it. Sometimes I hear people who are not involved with dance say that they didn’t understand a dance performance, what it meant… It's nice to have this chance to transmit somehow to people that dance is not only steps or only musical entertainment or something that people cannot relate to in their daily lives. I have been working a lot with non-professional people through the years and I see how their lives changed through it. It is beautiful to tell stories through what the human body is able to express and radiate in space. So it's nice to share this with you, thank you very much for the clarity of your questions and your presence during this interview."