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Authentic movement: find yourself in the steps.

ALICIA DIAZ, a New York City dancer, thought she was signing up for an improvisation class when she first stumbled across Authentic Movement five years ago. She saw a flier advertising "moving with the eyes closed" and showed up excited for a free-flowing dance class. What she found, however, was something entirely different.

The instructor, Ricki Grater, had everyone sit in a circle to discuss the Authentic Movement process. First they were to walk into the center of the room, close their eyes, and take their time to listen to how their bodies wanted to move. That could mean doing absolutely nothing until an impulse is felt, or running around the room flapping their arms like a mad person (in which case the eyes can be open for safety). Grater explained how she was to watch over the room as a "witness," and facilitate a discussion at the end about what she had observed and what they experienced. Looking around, Diaz noticed she was the only dancer in the room. "I was a little bit in shock," she says.

Diaz remembers that it took her ten minutes even to stand up, and the next ten to walk in a diagonal across the room, crying. "I couldn't understand what was going on," she said. "I am a dancer who could do 3,000 filings with my body, and I couldn't move. I was tapping into flirt space where I wasn't a dancer at all. It was therapeutic."

DIAZ, 33, who has danced with Complexions, Donald Byrd/The Group, and Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, swears by Authentic Movement as a way to discover a personal relationship with a range of choreography.

"As a dancer it's important to be technically strong," said Diaz. "But the heart of dancing is in how meaningful it is to you and the audience. You need to understand what move merit means to you personally before you engage in a dialogue with the outside."

Long-time teachers of Authentic Movement, a practice that started in the 1950s, say it is sometimes easier for non-dancers to find that authentic place inside themselves, since they don't have layers of deeply ingrained dance training to peel away.

"A lot of dancers have patterns in their bodies from learning somebody else's movement," says Yvonne Meier, a choreographer and AM teacher in New York. "It's not as easy for them to open up." But the practice of AM can help, she says.

"There's a whole world going on inside of you, if you just take the time to let it come out," says Andrea Olsen, a professor of dance at Middlebury College and author of Body and Earth, An Experiential Guide (U. of New England Press; 2002). Olsen began studying AM in 1979 with long-time teacher Janet Adler. At the time she was in a Massachusetts company called Dance Gallery, which worked with the technique as a way to deepen their relationship with choreography. "AM is especially useful for dancers in repertory companies who take on movement from many different people and all of their idiosyncratic vocabulary," she says. "In AM you have the time to take one of those movements and let it be developed by your own personal story. It is a way to inhabit other people's movements with more authenticity or depth. It personalizes them."

Each mover also eventually serves as a witness to other people's movement. They are responsible not only for creating a safe space, but for initiating an honest dialogue after each session.

A witness is very different from an audience member, which can be unnerving for professional performers, she said. For Diaz, serving as a witness has allowed her to be more receptive to the creative process of choreographers she works with. "I'm very conscious of being supportive without judgment as they express their voice," she says.

Diaz is very conscious when she practices Authentic Movement not to slip automatically into familiar steps as an easy way out. In other words, when her body is undecided about what to do next, she can easily begin to do elaborate choreography around the room, rather than tap into something deeper in that moment.

"Pot a long time, I wanted to find a place inside of me that wasn't a dancer," she says. "Now I allow for some flexibility. If it is authentic for me to do three handstands, then I'm going to do three handstands. Because dance is also an authentic part of me.

To find an authentic movement teacher near you, visit the Authentic Movement Institute al To learn more about it, visit

Shayna Samuels is a freelance writer living in New York.
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Title Annotation:Mind your Body
Author:Samuels, Shayna
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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