CSULB Modern IV/V – Week 4: Irene Dowd’s ‘Orbits’

Thank you to those who have been commenting on this blog. I encourage you to continue your participation and apply your comments to other activities and classes.

This week we will explore the hip sockets by studying Irene Dowd’s ‘Orbits’. We will also look at other exercises and ways of moving the external rotators of the hip in relation to the bony structure of the pelvis. Additionally, we will address the adjacent muscles and how their mechanics affect the overall function of the hips.

Although we are not learning ‘Resonance’, I thought it would still be of interest to post this video:


20 thoughts on “CSULB Modern IV/V – Week 4: Irene Dowd’s ‘Orbits’

  1. I really was interested in the idea of orbitals in class today (monday) and how it transformed my ideas on stabilization. The standing exercise we did where we moved our hips counterclockwise and clockwise, then allowing the leg to ron de jambe, by oribiting a stable leg, was a completely different way of looking at things for me. Also, i enjoyed the “turnout dance” we did, because it was a different approach to class and allowed my hip sockets to feel warm and loose after only a short time. I did notice places I was holding tension, like in my neck and i could use more of my abs by elongating and lifting to give me more support

  2. This week, instead of responding generally to the idea of the week, orbits, I have been considering the ways in which I can approach these concepts more actively. I feel like I’m interested in the work and I do the things asked but then I never can really tell whether I’m achieving the “goal” of the practice or just open minded-ly experimenting. I would appreciate more direction toward the intended goal of the somatic work practiced so I can more accurately asses my own genuine experience.

    • I have the same problem sometimes, Heather. Like, I’m definitely enjoying the orbits exercise. My hips feel more fully prepared to move in all dimensions. However, I don’t know exactly how to approach the movements out and in of the greater and lesser trochanters in the standing bow pose. This is just one example, but there are lots of other moments when I, like you, Heather, feel like I’m moving through the exercises in a way that doesn’t allow me to create connections to other moments in class or in my own choreography, etc.. Perhaps, this is just the learning phase, and later, I will be able to create those connections, once I gain a better understanding of each exercise and how it relates to my unique strengths and weaknesses. Just some thoughts.

    • The Bartenieff work aims for enhancing connectivity to oneself and her/his environment. The Spirals offer insight and alternatives to trunk stabilization (core) while moving and challenging gravity. The Orbits are designed to awaken those little sleepy muscles that could be used to assist in rotation of the hip in relation to the rest of the body. These are the flashcard answers to your question about intended goals.

      However, sometimes the practice itself is the goal.

      I don’t mean to be flip or to diminish the seriousness of your question. IMHO I believe we are generally programmed to acquire something including how we process information. However, through dance and especially in exploring somatics, we often get lost, find forks in the road, accidentally run into ‘A ha’ moments or become even more confused with how to incorporate the materials explored into our existing body of knowledge. Goals and assessments are great ways to teach and learn concepts, but in my class, I believe that interrogating what I know and what I presume to know is the best way to know it better. My hope for this class is to provide students with an overview of somatics and maybe along the way accessing some tools to improve their practice whatever that may be. I would hold off on looking to achieve goals or trying to understand each and every detail of Bartenieff and Dowd’s work and all of the other somatic systems we will explore. Rather, I would like for you to develop a curiosity towards what commonalities they share, i.e. is it connectivity? is it to increase proprioception? is it injury prevention? etc… and later, once we have covered all of these topics then we can make connections to what works best for our individual needs. I believe that each person has a very divergent and deeply personal experience when dancing and I hope to enhance that rather than to take that away, or worse, to make everyone abide by the same standardized formulae of assessment. It is my hope that as advanced dancers, those taking this class will practice for themselves and study themselves as much as they are studying the principles of somatics. The body’s subtlety, texture, volume, awareness, presence are difficult to define with language and yet using this part of the brain is how we are often asked to see ourselves. Maybe there are other ways?

      • This response to both Johnna’s and heather’s comment was extremely helpful for me. Especially the following section:

        “My hope for this class is to provide students with an overview of somatics and maybe along the way accessing some tools to improve their practice whatever that may be. I would hold off on looking to achieve goals or trying to understand each and every detail of Bartenieff and Dowd’s work and all of the other somatic systems we will explore. Rather, I would like for you to develop a curiosity towards what commonalities they share, i.e. is it connectivity? is it to increase proprioception? is it injury prevention? etc… and later, once we have covered all of these topics then we can make connections to what works best for our individual needs.”

        Personally, I was really struggling with the orbits choreography last week and was really in need for more direction as to if the multi-plane concept explored in the choreography transferred in to the movement later in class. I believe my struggle was more related to treating the concept of the week as end goal to achieve instead of an exploratory process.

  3. Over the course of our investigations of orbits this week, I found myself both intrigued and frustrated by my personal experience working through the new exercises. Monday was tough on my rotators, and the amount of time spent on one foot/side of the standing exercise felt almost brutal–and yet on Wednesday I had moments when I felt stronger and more ‘rooted’ into the floor….paying attention to the yield and push into the floor with my standing side, while reaching through the top of my head, created some length that was interesting to work with during the orbital exercises. I struggled with moments of pain on the outside of my hips (TFL, perhaps?) during the shifting of the greater/lesser trochanters while standing on one leg. I’m curious if over time they will stretch out by including that motion in my daily practice?

    I also struggled internally this week with how best to approach this somatic work (orbits) to which I have not previously been introduced: in moments of bodily tension and or mental overstimulation, is it ‘better’ for me personally to work through the pain, take a break, or continue working in a ‘marking-type’ fashion until I can fully re-invest, re-focus, etc. Perhaps these are things I shouldn’t be worried about, per se, but the thought does cross my mind sometimes….

  4. This week has been very revealing. I noticed that I am much less stable on my left leg. My balance and proprioception are different than the right. I’m having trouble finding stability on that standing leg. Also I observed my orbits circling outward away from the body is more difficult that circling inward. I do my best to draw up on the supporting side but I cannot maintain it for the duration of the choreography.

    Right now I notice somedays I have trouble getting warm after the somatics review.

    • I agree with Jeremy along the line of the orbit exercise combination revealing weaknesses in my body. I like to practice the orbit dance during various times throughout my day, like before ballet, or even doing the exercise minimally right before my astronomy class, i think I like the exercise because it makes me feel like I am exploring the strength of my turn out. What I notice from the exercise is how my left leg is significantly stronger when “holding” the turned out position (perhaps because of my patterned way of sleeping which is lying on my tummy turned to the left with the left leg extended out in front of me). I recently made the connection when I was practicing to orbit while lying in bed. lol. Im not exactly sure if the right leg will ever catch up to the left leg, but at least i am mindful of the what and why my legs have while turning out… mood: Bleh… =]

  5. After performing the ‘orbits’ exercises in class today, I really focused on applying the principles to the phrases (both across the floor and center combination). I most specifically noticed that I struggle in rotating from the side to the back or the back to the side, while in rend de jambe. My turn out tends to wander around parallel through these motions, so I’m hoping to work more through the exercises that focus on this range of motion.

    This week was also the first time I noticed the amount of tension I hold in my face. It isn’t the worst habit to have, but unless I am actively conscious about it, I think it will be hard to break. Relieving stress entirely is difficult for me, since I am always searching for the imperfections.

  6. Whooooo! Orbits have been a work out for me mentally and physically in a new way I have just recently been focusing on. The practice of moving my trunk in a transverse plane actually connects to what I am working on in ballet as well. I am working to decrease lower back initiation to move my hips and legs and initiate movement and support from my abdominals, deep outward rotators, and thigh area muscles. This has helped to keep my hips level and lessen lower back tension. A little light bulb in my head went off as we practiced orbits standing – I did not need to “lift” my hips to orbit. Instead, I thought of gliding my lesser trochanters along a flat, horizontal surface, like a table or one of those air hockey tables haha. It will be interesting to see how or if I can apply orbits to more areas of my dancing.

  7. Because I was sick, I did not get to really dig into orbits. However, observing class was helpful for me on a more general scale. I appreciated Gerald’s comment that it is important to acknowledge frustration and what our limits are. We will all arrive at different understandings at different times both physically and mentally. I knew this, but it was very encouraging to hear it and then observe my classmates going through that process. We are not alone! I am not the only one struggling with concepts and/or combinations.

    I also realized my shape-driven focus. I’m Working so hard to achieve the “correct” shape that I may neglect the point of an exercise. I noticed that when I focus more on inner body connectivity, my body will naturally be more willing/able to achieve the desired shape or movement efficiency.

  8. Irene Dowd’s orbit choreography was a very heady struggle for me this past week. On Monday, when going across the floor I came to the discovery how my tension held during the Orbit choreograph had caused my entire trunk to be completely quieted for the rest of the class. I felt almost completely immobilized because of the intense amount of energy and brain power I was attempting to pour into the exercise while disregarding breathe and the liveliness in which the rest of my body can move (or not move) while performing Orbits. My thoughts had caused me to be more confined and less capable of exploring movement.

  9. Along with bethany i felt that i did not necessarily get to fully understand orbits because I unfortunately missed class monday. However the work we did on wednesday was particularly interesting to me, as well as frustrating! I feel that i fully understand the idea of orbits and their function, yet i do not have the strength to be on one leg for so long (along with Maggie). I found that it was difficult to maintain a straight leg when isolating in the hip without hyperextending my bow-knees. I wonder if this is an acceptable moment to allow hyperextension since we are trying to focus priority on the movement of the hip? I was definitely sore thursdays in places i have not been sore in a very long time. This was also a great exercise for proprioception in my weak ankles.

  10. I am apparently not the first person who found orbits frustrating. Now that I have had a weekend away from it and am back in the studio I discovered that the knowledge I learned as I struggled through our orbits classes has been much more helpful then I thought it was. Our class on Monday, like most every other dance class, had me suspend on one leg while mobilizing my upper body from time to time and I was much better able to balance. I found myself firing different ankle-foot muscles in attempt to stabilize. I am surprised to say that it was easier to do so with a recent memory of the intense burning I felt in my ankle-foot after a round of orbit choreography. I was able to think about my foot placement where as before I would not have thought to pay attention to my feet. My feet were the missing puzzle piece because once that was in place I felt a better connection of my body to the floor and I was better able to coordinate various movements that were happening at the same time in my body. So while I did have a frustrating week with orbits I am reaping the reward this week.

  11. Once I got past my psychological block, I was able to enjoy Orbits. (masochist?) I have chronic ankle problems and so finding stability on one leg is a challenge. I often feel defeated before I have even started an exercise that requires single leg balance. When balancing, I feel my ankles wobble and my entire consciousness is focused at my ankles and pulling up the stirrup muscles. I often forget about the physics of it all by ignoring the core, hip, and leg muscles that work in tandem to achieve stability. By obsessing about my ankles, the exercise is couter-productive because I am basically ‘dead weight’ on wobbly ankles.

    While my feet were burning like hell in Orbits, I actually enjoyed the exercise because I was able to maintain balance throughout most of the exercise which gave me hope that with mindful practice, I can move past the psychological and physical blocks that prevent me from acheiving balance on one leg. I have recently noticed in ballet class that I rarely fire the support leg muscles to the extent that they are needed, particularly in a balance on demi-pointe. My balance has improved significantly with this new approach!!

  12. Orbitals definitely got my body working! It was so strange to me to be moving so slightly, yet to have such a response from every muscle in my body. The one thing I noticed every time we performed the standing exercise was the amount of tension I held in my feet. I was constantly rocking my weight on either the inside or outside of my foot. The weight never felt spread evenly. Gerald made a comment about making sure our toes were spread across the floor and every inch of our foot was touching the ground which helped me because I was able to visually grasp what I should be doing. I think this is something I need to think more about in all of my aspects of dancing. I tend to hold so much tension in my legs and feet. I need to awaken myself with a visual every now and then

  13. The Orbits exercise were we moved our hips in a circular motion was painful for my feet and ankles, but I loved it! I already noticed a difference in my strength and stabilization after two classes of this. This exercise brought awareness to muscles that I’m not used to activating. It led me to another way of looking at stability, as opposed to balancing by holding my breath or clenching my abdominal muscles. I usually hop through the adagio in ballet. Although I still made adjustments, I recalled the technique used in modern class and tried to incorporated that into certain ballet exercises. I realized how necessary it was to know how to multitask when we did the combination with a lot of internal and external rotation with our arms and legs. Along with trying to accomplish a wider range of turnout in my legs, we were thinking about turnout in our shoulder joints (something I’m also not used to doing). The external rotation of the arms opened up my chest a little more, helping me keep my shoulders back and relaxed. Also, in regards to the question about, “when to stop?” I have learned that pushing myself to that point where I think I can’t continue, builds stamina and strength. If we stop every time we are tired, it’s hard to say if we are improving or making any progress. Obviously it would be smart to stop if you are in serious pain or going to pull a muscle, but feeling weaknesses in specific muscles motivates me to strengthen them!

  14. After reading the rest of the comments, it feels like the general consensus is that orbits are very very hard and they tend to point out separate weaknesses that each of us might have. For me, the exercise was more of a stop and start (to re-adjust) rather than fluid movement. Thus, my weaknesses were revealed; stability and fluidity!

  15. Orbits were difficult and they managed to reveal several weak points of mine. I found that while I’m pretty stable just standing on one leg once I had to move my supporting leg or my torso I would lose my balance. It helped when Gerald talked about spreading the foot on the floor but like Maria I felt like I was still having to stop and re-adjust a lot. Psychologically the small movements were difficult for me because even though they were difficult my mind still thinks that for me to be working I have to do larger movements. So I was glad that we had those small nuances because this is a habit that I need to work on.

  16. After the midterm, I could see the progression that the orbits have taken in my own body. When we first did Orbits, I found it extremely difficult to find the coordination, balance, and isolation on one foot. With my injury, I feel my stabilizing stirrup muscles in my ankles have been significantly weakened and I could not rely on them to correct other alignment problems in my body. When we did orbits again in the midterm, my stirrup muscles were stronger, but more importantly my alignment through my entire body was better. With the integration of my entire body doing the orbits, I found the movement more efficient and effective. In a sense, it is easier to feel these exercises as a dance than as an assignment.

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