CSULB Modern IV/V – Week 3: Irene Dowd’s ‘Spirals’

For the next two weeks we will explore the work of Irene Dowd. This week we will look at Spirals. Here are some links to Irene’s background and information about her work. If you have not yet read her book Taking Root To Fly, I highly encourage you to do so. Also this will be a good week to bring a mat if you feel you will need some sort of padding since most of this sequence will be practiced on the floor.

Spirals was choreographed in 1991 by Dowd for Canada’s National Ballet School. She continues to allow the specifics of the work to evolve as dancers become more proficient and technical demands on them continually increase. Towards the end of these two weeks, we will discuss how this material could be modified, expanded and applied to specific techniques and styles.


Spiral staircase


18 thoughts on “CSULB Modern IV/V – Week 3: Irene Dowd’s ‘Spirals’

  1. This week in class I especially appreciated the warming up and waking up of the hamstring muscles on Friday. I know that I must use my hamstrings on a regular basis in order to move, but on Friday I could actually feel the stability of my legs supporting me throughout all the movement. Doing the exercise before and after was enormously different in my body-my pelvis had shifted and I made many unconscious adjustments during the first round, and second round I felt grounded, stabilized, and fully mobile. By the end of class, my legs were completely exhausted, simply because all the muscles were doing their part to catch, release, and propel my body. I plan on continuing this practice and perhaps finding more strength and stability in standing exercises, and to move away from the hops and adjustments I make.

  2. What I found particularly interesting to investigate in terms of spirals is the idea of the ‘opposing pull’–i.e. when we stand facing front and spiral to the right, that there is in fact essentially a spiral from the left hip down to the floor on the left side to oppose the upper body’s work. It’s one of those things where I know it exists, my body is generally aware of that principle as well, but that when I really paid attention to that thought the spiral really increased in 3-dimensionality. My next thought is how I might be able to translate the three dimensional feeling of the spiral to more 2-D movement, or just generally how I could use the approach to spirals to increase the volume in my movement overall.

    • I agree Maggie! I am also interested in finding a different language with spiral. It is so interesting to me that my mind has been wrapped around this idea of spiraling the upper body while keeping the lower body still. I went to the gym today for a run. I found myself hypnotized by the back of a man’s shirt. What had me in a trance was his shirt. A number of folds that breathed left and right as he manipulated the elliptical machine. What I found most interesting is this was how he was making these snake like movements from his shirt. It must have been from his over exaggerated movement where he continuously tweaked his body left and right. This action was making a flowing spiral every time he shifted which kept me dazed for a number of minutes (weird huh?) . An image came to me in class and then came back again as I watched this man. The image of Ribbon. You know when you are wrapping a gift and sometimes tie pretty ribbon to finish off the gift? Well I imagine the pelvis like the end of the ribbon where you hold the scissors up against the long straight line. As you stream the scissor blade up towards the tip top of the ribbon you make a perfectly coiled spiral. I could only imagine if this is what the body feels like. Imagine- From the still pelvis the blade scrapes up the vertebral column scraping each process, then out resulting in our upper torso spiraling without affecting any other body parts unnecessarily used for the spiral. This may sound heady, but I thought my comparison was profound for myself. I thought Id share an image. 🙂

  3. I find spirals to be a nice continuation of the work we did in exploring Bartinieff fundamentals. The elements of functional pattern are present in a nice, yoga-flow sort of way that allow you to check in with your body and notice how you feel differently day to day. The you I’m referring to is me obviously; my body has felt different each day we’ve practiced and built upon the spiral series. My back feels tighter, my ankle feels messed up, but my head and tail feel like they have an active relationship.

  4. My biggest ah-ha moment this week was when we working in the trios to explore the reach and push from the top of the head and out the bottom of the foot. I found out quite quickly that the reach in my head was difficult to maintain, especially in lowering movement. As Heather mentioned above, the spirals felt very different each day that we worked on them. The first day felt very clunky and disconnected from one body part to another. However, by Friday, I was able to find some sense of a fluid motion from one section to another despite the remaining difficulty of the combination. I am still finding it difficult to find the reach out of the distal ends while maintaining a connection to the floor-this came up for me in the combination on Friday when we moved from a standing to a sitting/rolling position and various body parts such as my head and limbs felt like they were flailing above the ground and not solidly connected and working as rolling points.

  5. Since focusing on the use of head-tail connection and spirals, I have been able to find smoother, less forced ways of moving in and out of floor work. Yesterday (Friday), I was very aware of how it felt when I tensed muscles that were not necessary to use for certain movements. It is still a work in progress for me to consistently dial in and isolate certain muscles and bones I want to use throughout my dancing.

    I was fascinated with the trio exercise we did on the floor, with one person pressing against the top of my head and the other person pressing against my feet. This was the first time I have ever fully felt an ideal balance of pushing through the top and bottom of my body. It was not easy to find and maintain, but it was exciting to feel when I did! It felt easy, light, and seemed like I was using various muscles in my body with an equal amount of engagement.

    All of this practice makes me curious about how it might change some ways of moving that have been challenges for me, such as upside down and turning movements. I plan to experiment and see if I can apply the information given to us in this class and change current muscle habits that are hindering, rather than helping me.

    • Ditto everything Irene said. I am much more aware of tensing unnecessary muscles, especially when trying to complete the floor/inversion sequence in less and less time. The more that I welcomed the floor and maintained my head tail connection, the easier it was. I even found little pockets of “extra” time that I look forward to filling with more full bodied and less hurried movement – with an ease and confidence, plus musicality.

      I’m still trying not to get so easily frustrated when I find a sensation during warm-up (successful spiral, ease in the hip, head tail connection, etc) but then have difficulty transferring it to larger movements in the center. It just takes time. Pressing on.

      • Yes Bethany! Finding what you describe as “little pockets of extra time” to use to fill, as well as musicality and artistry, are just what my next goals are! Adding these elements on top of aiming to move with more efficiency is what I plan to focus on this semester. Hopefully moments of pure harmony will be reachable 🙂 I believe the practices we do in class allow opportunity for this. Again, I agree with you, Bethany – it just takes a matter of time and effort.

  6. The use of spirals has tested my coordination. What parts are moving, holding or releasing? The key for me is the TA activation and the sense of drawing in and up. From this stable place I’m allowed to lengthen with an oppositional pull out the top if my head and the feet. Although parts are moving I am still able to find stability and length even though everyday is a new negotiation of this process.

  7. I think it has been nice to explore spirals on the floor. LIke Joey mentioned, I too had mainly thought of exploring spirals through the upper body, forgetting that the energy can travel through to the lower body as well. Being able to use the floor to really feel this opposition and pull of the lower body. However, exploring the spiraling action through the whole body meant that I had to find a new point of stabilization, so the idea of narrow, concave, and lift of the lower abdominals was extremely helpful. Being aware of, and activating my stomach in this way not only helped me stabilize, but also created a nice connection of the spiral through the upper and lower body, which was a new sensation for me.

  8. I found that the spiral warm up on the floor provided me with valuable information that was necessary to progress through the class, especially during the tendu combination. After the tilted attitude, moving into the full body spiral, reaching our toes in one direction and head in the opposite direction, I found that instead of cramping to simply twist my body (what I would normally do), that lengthening provided me with a greater range. I guess I knew this, but actually experimenting more and applying the concepts proved this idea clearer than before! Also, really seeing where my head is looking, rather than just the motion of my eyeballs kind of/maybe/sort of seeing where I’m looking assisted my body in moving that extra inch. Although it is more manageable to find this reach on the floor, the technique of lengthening while leading with my distal ends helped my head and foot go beyond their points. The connection between our floor exercises and standing up exercises are starting to make more and more sense! I would also like to say that, YES, Joey… that was a beautiful picture that you drew (or wrapped) with the present image! 🙂 Love it!

  9. This is kind of a continuation of my comment on the first post (which is appropriate, I guess), but I found that, working on spirals last week, really allowed me to take note of some specific “body connection” issues that I have. Specifically, in the attitude back position and the small arabesque reach, I noticed a considerable asymmetry between right and left. This was something I noticed right away. Later in the week, I began to notice how that asymmetry manifested in other areas of class. What I find is that, while the right side of my body is more coordinated and stronger in general, I also have a considerable amount of tension on the right side that makes it difficult for me to ground using the right side. This fact became clear to me in our explorations of the “X” at the beginning of class on Wednesday and Friday, where I kept becoming aware of lingering tension even when I was attempting to relax in my x. This information could be taken, as Stephanie noted, into the tendus and movement across the floor, which require a constant flux of contraction and relaxation of multiple muscles in order to move freely. My difficulty in cuing the right side of my body to release tension is probably causing a good bit of trouble in those parts of class as well. I guess it’s something to keep on paying attention to.

  10. The study of spirals this week has really made me focus on how i move in and out of the floor. When moving in and out of the floor at a high speeds, as we did in the combination on Friday when we whent from 16 to ten counts. Normally I feel extremely clunky and lanky, not knowing how to ease my long limbs into the floor and make it look graceful. However, thinking about the spirals of the upper and lower body, gives me a better understanding of how to be swift and controlled in quick combinations that travel to the floor.

  11. I really enjoyed the work with the spirals. I felt like it gave me a better feeling of connection through the body especially when we got into trios and practiced lengthening through the head and the standing leg while moving the other leg. I also really liked playing with direct and indirect movement. I feel like I become so accustomed to dancing one way that feels good to me and then I forget to try and explore other ways that the move can be executed.

  12. Spirals are my favorite 🙂 I find comfort and excitement working with spirals and the exercises we did in class were enjoyable and I felt very free to move in my natural way. I realized, though, that I need to work on finding more moments of control in the spiral… sometimes I get too excited and the movement begins to look thrown away.

  13. Love spiraling! Feels so right – likely because spirals are found deep within us (double helix) and part of us in a larger way (the Milky Way Galaxy’s spiral shape).

    The attention we gave to the spiral sequence helped me create a spiral that is equally distrubuted. When doing the sphinx stretch while extending one elbow, Gerald brought my awareness to my hamstrings which were totally inactive. Engaging the whole body makes the movement feel natural and integrated instead of a deeply twisted shape that feels strained (spirals would sometimes feel that way).

  14. The classes on spirals were my favorite classes to date. I became fascinated with the amount of ways my body was capable of spiraling. I woke up many muscles I had never noticed before. The spiral combination was a struggle for me when it came to not getting too “heady”. It forced me to use my breath and to realize the places in my body that my breath could be felt. Although it was a struggle these things became easier with every class.

  15. In the past I disliked Spirals because I believed I had a narrow range of motion, and it always felt hard to breathe.

    However… after exploring with the reach/pull, that Tamara and other were discussing, I discovered that instead of pulling up and around, I was previously compressing my core and twisting.

    Now that several classes have past since the introduction of Spirals, I have noticed that my range of motion has increased, since I am now able to extend and utilize my whole upper body, instead of just trying to contract my obliques. It is also much easier to breath and a WHOLE LOT more enjoyable!

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