Irene Dowd’s ‘Spirals’

Spiral staircase

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.

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. Dowd is the author of Taking Root To Fly, a book about functional anatomy and dance.



17 thoughts on “Irene Dowd’s ‘Spirals’

  1. Reading this article has given me a clearer understanding of the link between intellectual and physical knowledge. If you can connect the location with a feeling in your body from actual performance, it can improve your memory to an even greater degree than if you just applied a mental cognizance. I also decided to follow along with the video to attempt an outward rotation. It was rather difficult trying to follow along outside of a dance studio in my own living room. I noticed that my thigh muscles kept cramping up when I moved my leg up to a 90-degree angle. Should this be happening? Am I using the right muscles to elevate my leg up, around and back. I don’t have a problem with height at all. I was able to throw my leg up above my laptop and back around without knocking it off the table (talk about high stakes). I used the counter top for support, however I’m worried that I might be leaning in too much, which might upset my balance during an actual dance. I can feel the muscle tension vibrating throughout my upper-thigh and back whenever I move either of my legs. I think I will need to exercise my center a little more during class to avoid any muscle cramps.

  2. Yesterday when we were experimenting on our sides with our knee and arm inverted, I noticed that I let my back go and my ribs would open up in response. It was harder than I thought to listen to my body, because sometimes what I was feeling wasn’t what I was actually doing. That exercise showed how connected the body really is and reiterated ow important it is to find stability in the center of flexibility and strength.

  3. As time progresses, ive noticed that it has become easier to do the routines that we have practiced everyday in class. Instead of focusing on the routine and thinking “okay, what’s next?” I am able to let go and get out of my mind and let my body take over. My muscle memory is adjusting to all the new movements that it has been experiencing. I also really enjoyed moving on past the floor work and learning new things while standing up and going across the floor. I find it challenging yet exciting to push my body to try things that it’s never done before.

  4. Spirals explore the three dimensionality of the human body
    Trunk stabilizing
    Hyper mobility
    Long but not broken
    Protruding ribs, the flag of a panicked body
    Trust she will hold you
    No black and white, right or wrong, just different approaches, some being more appropriate than others
    Though moving to spirals still attempting to maintain a head tail consciousness
    Find myself searching for the head tail connection while walking about campus, sitting in a desk, standing in line…
    Readjusting alignment to protect lower back
    Aware of greater lower back pain
    Due to a presence of more arabesques in ballet or a new awareness of a chronic pain?
    Irene Dowd
    Injury prevention
    But also greater articulation and clarity
    More knowledge provides more choices
    Spiraling pelvis left and torso right is more difficult than pelvis right and torso left
    A patting the head while rubbing the stomach phenomenon
    Opposition in rotation
    Belly-button to spine

  5. Theres no other way to explain this week than “it felt good.” The spirals are extremely difficult to maintain because of the pertinent constant core action that goes along with completing the movement. With my core engaged, however, I was able to focus on the important aspects of the spirals. The way it stretched my torso was pure bliss. The way we reach to unfurl our spirals is definitely my favorite part. I rarely stretch my body in that way and it was so refreshing. The movement has helped me understand why my back is in pain during movement at times. I also am now able to pinpoint the weaknesses and unengaged muscles that correlate with the pain. I have been receiving relief from the spirals. This week has been my favorite so far. I am so excited to move on in our journey of accessing our bodies by moving them in new yet organic ways.

  6. Despite how difficult it sometimes was to get in proper alignment for our “spirals” routine, I have enjoyed the past two classes the most! My back especially felt better after these classes, which I am grateful for since it’s been acting up a bit. I’m noticing that I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders and neck, which I think seeps into my back, hence the pain. Spinal twists and the like have been incredibly beneficial for me, and I’ve been leaving the studio feeling particularly great. I’m also glad I finally began asking questions this week. This is more of a mental then a physical thing, but I always felt so self-conscious and preferred to keep myself small and unnoticeable so nobody knew I was making mistakes. But as I’ve become more comfortable in my body and in the class, I finally starting asking when I was confused, and it’s made a huge difference in my practice. Class was so much fun this week, and I can’t wait to continue on as see what else is in store for us.

  7. During the “Spirals” class, I noticed that I have not been connecting my head with my body. I feel a strain on my neck sometimes and then once I remember to release my head, it feels so much better. Just this past week, I have also grown more aware that I don’t engage my head sometimes when I stretch, so overall connectivity is something I will keep in mind for the next “Spirals” classes.

  8. Personally this has been one of the most difficult tasks I’ve had. I am so use to dancing “military form,” or so i call it. I have noticed that its become one of my biggest barriers, because you simply have to “let go.” And the spirals routine has helped me break away from that shell by allowing my body to simply become loose. This is a personal objective that i have set for myself.

  9. Every day that I left class this past week, I left feeling absolutely refreshed. I am so use to leaving a dance class sweating and the next day feeling the tenseness of muscles and sometimes even the inability to stretch. It was a great feeling to leave class after working on spirals and our dance routine with a sense of feeling like I stretched for an hour and forty-five minutes. The next day I felt longer and had no strange cramps in my lower back or hamstrings. Can I just say I love where our dance is going! I love that we have been working up from the ground and now we are starting to come up and I just love it. Irene Dowd has it going on. I really enjoyed the article about her and she is so right, we are such visual and hands on creatures that it makes perfect sense that she teachers her class about the body by actions of the body. We do learn by doing and it is wonderful that she approaches her classes that way. I am going to reiterate Irene Dowd’s quote here because I found it to be so moving, “If you learn it [anatomy] intellectually, you forget it. You have to do it physically, and then you can start to understand what you’ve learned.” I can’t wait to sphinx, twist and starfish some more this week. I am still struggling with some moves in class and even after Gerald helped me understand how to let my body move a certain way, I came home later to repeat my least favorite move and found I was stuck all over again. It is so tough to retrain the brain and body but I am determined to tackle it and get it. I am sure I will have many more, “I don’t got it,” moments coming up in class this quarter. I hope to leave class in December going, “I got it. Yea, I got it!” I am looking forward to another week of Spirals and additions to our dance.

  10. Working on Spirals I have always had trouble with this. My biggest problem is keeping a straight or bended back I could never seem to manage to keep an even back. Even when we are in a flat back position my back is either too low or too high. Also, if my back is not the problem it is my head my head I always seems to be looking the other way making my movement very odd. I think spirals have to do with connecting all your inner body parts starting with the tip of your head to the last bone in your toes. Every muscle every bone needs to be positioned correctly to form the spiral. Although I did manage to come close to a spiral when both my partners managed to help me get there! There is a lot of pelvis movement and leg muscle involved its a tough position to stay in place, but worth the time and effort.

  11. I dig spirals! I really felt that, through spirals, my body was being challenged to stay fully engaged using some of the weirdest-feeling movements as a vehicle. Of course, the exercise where we got into groups really made that clear.. ‘that’ being ‘full body engagement’. There was not one part of my body that was ‘aloof’. (I don’t want to say ‘relaxed’ because I do feel that there is still a certain level of relaxation still present in doing any dance).

    Im sensing improvement on being able to learn sequences! I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for this, including a smaller amount of self-judgement, which is great! I’m really trying to find a way to help sequences get in my head faster. More practice, and more practice with counts! On another note, (this doesn’t have much to do with dance) in class the other day when Gerald asked if I was getting the sequence I responded with, “well, does it look good?” – and that sort of rang in my head all day. I kept asking myself.. “why did I say that? – That’s not what dance is all about..” SO, I’m working on it. I’ve noticed that I have this competitive/perfectionist mindset in relation to other things as well and I’m really working on dropping it. It’s not how I look, it’s how I feel. Or, maybe its how you feel first, then focus on looks later.. either way – I’ve gotta be easy on myself. I’m a newb!

    Assuming that I’m aiming for full body control while dancing.. After practicing spirals, I’ve noticed how floppy my body gets when we do sequences (especially new ones). It’s sort of funny, the awareness of full body engagement (in a relaxed way) really helped me to realize how much control I give up in movement.

    Other than that, I dig the sequence for our midterm. I feel like I actually get it and I almost go into a different place when we do it. Oh, and the exercise we do at the end of class where we run for 16, swoop for 16 and pose for 16.. I. Love. It. I was just having a lot of fun with it before and flailing a lot, so now I will try and have a bit more control (after Gerald told us to engage our abs to be able to utilize our arms). The poses are hard.. right now they feel unnatural.

    Excited for tomorrow.

    – Krista

  12. At first, after attempting the Spiral movements, I was thinking too much about how my body should move instead of letting my body react to it’s natural movements. I also see how the first week of getting in touch with how our pelvic bone correlates and prepares us for the movements created by Irene Dowd and after reading how she prepares her students at the school of Julliard, these movements do require practice because its like refining the motor skills as she mentioned, “we learn by moving.”

  13. The concept of Spirals is intriguing to me because so much of it should be natural to the body. I feel as though this technique was explored due to the “natural” effects it has on the body instead of the “unnatural” technique ballet constantly enforces. I enjoy working on spirals because the movement seems to flow through my body, nothing is forced, and after learning our combinations I am able to close my eyes and move through the movement strongly and naturally. The idea of the big toe “having an eye” has also been drilled into my mind since last year. And to me this concept can be applied to many different parts of the body, not just the big toe during a develope or ran de jambe. During our spiral combination (on the floor) we make a full and complete circle with our arms, tracing our hands on the floor. What am i engaging? What do I see?

  14. I found that this particular unit was very hard on my back. Any turning that has me turn very far in either direction is very painful for me as a result of a recurring injury. At the same time, being able to push through the pain and memorize the patterns regardless felt really good, like I was overcoming something. I also found that not focusing on how individual body parts move, and instead focusing on what my body naturally wanted to do made it easier to memorize, since I felt it in my body more.

  15. I found these spiraling exercises were very good for relaxing my shoulders, and upper back, which is where I hold a lot of tension.I also think that Spirals is an excellent way to help break people out of their conceptions of their body. through the rotations with varying degrees you really get to know your various muscle groups and like the article talked about. The best why to really understand the possibilities and boundaries of your physiology is through doing. I found it frustrating that I wasn’t able to pick it up right away, and even more so about being corrected. I think that I am a bit self conscious about my dancing because unlike a lot of performing arts, and I am very aware of that so I get very defensive about it, which only leads to more stress, more tightening of muscles, which undoes the work that spirals is trying to rectify. vicious feedback loop!

  16. I loved spirals! It felt good and it felt right! Spirals were definitely the most natural idea to me. I felt that the movement on the floor was awakening every part of my body and as the routine continued I felt that we were simply continuing the pattern of what was the most natural and logical way to move to the next position. My body is very loose, I love spinning and movement on the floor, and I have realized that I don’t have much control over my body. I am a generally klutzy person, but when it comes to spinning, rolling, and spirals I always feel incredibly graceful, loose, and in my body. So I suppose this is why I really loved this weeks routines and exercises. But not only did it feel good physically, but it felt good mentally as well! I felt awake and ready for my next class after doing these routines and I felt more accomplished. (Especially the warm-down with the jogging, jumping, posing! It was awesome.)
    Now to comment on the article; I always find it incredibly helpful to hear what body part you are moving, the way it was being done in the video. My cousin is a dance/kines major at UCSB and we have actually had many conversations about this. People don’t realize how important it is to know about the human body as a dancer. I find incredibly fascinating that every move you make, no matter how small, is a manipulation of a bone or muscle in your body that is allowing you to perform that movement. It is incredibly important to know what you are moving and why, so that you don’t hurt yourself and because that is what dancing is. Anyways, I really enjoy this concept 🙂

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