Dance improvisation is the process of spontaneously creating movement. Development of improvised movement material is facilitated through a variety of creative explorations including body mapping through levels, shape and dynamics schema.
Created by a Hungarian dancer named Juliu Horvatz, gyrokinesis is a series of fluid movements geared toward working the joints and muscles. Horvath had defected from Romania in the 1970s and danced with the Houston and New York ballets before a torn Achilles tendon ended his career. He secluded himself on an island in St. Thomas and dedicated his energy towards rehabilitation, eventually combining tai chi, yoga, and dance into a “yoga for dancers,” or gyrokinesis. The practice is grounded in the concept of balancing length and strength on all sides of a joint, and incorporates circular movements to stretch and strengthen muscles and joints.
Gyrokinesis has been used by dancers for years to cross-train, but UT brought it to the masses with the availability of gyrokinesis classes as an elective for all students. As one of the first universities to have a class dedicated to gyrokinesis, the initiative was directed by Charles Anderson, head of the dance department.
“Gyrokinesis is still considered cutting-edge in injury rehabilitation, and [Anderson] is interested in taking the department into the future,” Overbey says.
The push to open up more dance classes to the general student population at UT was based on a wish by faculty that more students could benefit from the emotional and physical aspects of getting to know their bodies better.
“As dancers we get to spend hours and hours of our day dedicated to our own bodies, and we feel more people should get time with their bodies,” Overbey says.
Most people taking the classes are not dance majors, and are just glad to have an hour of their day to move. Sitting still for long periods of time, as we all tend to do, is a major cause of lower back pain. Many students also experienced the healing effects of gyrokinesis, as they felt their back and joint pain evaporate.
“There was a student who had been cramming on a project all night bent over a table had a lot of lower back pain. She came up to me after class and said, ‘It’s all better! The pain is all gone,’” Overbey says.
For some students in the class, practicing gyrokinesis is helpful for dealing with stress. Besides feeling good physically—the movements are geared to work with your body, not against it—there is a meditative component. Slowing down and literally focusing on breathing can assist students who are feeling ground down by a barrage of tests.
“There are the benefits of the meditative factor—several people have talked about how it has been huge in terms of stress relief,” Overbey says.
The ultimate goal for Overby and Anderson of the dance department is to be able to share the benefits of dance and gyrokinesis with students of all majors.
“We want to help give other people this beautiful experience of their body,” Overbey says.
Photo of Overbey and James Pierce III by Rosalie O’Connor.