Glenna Batson, ScD, PT, MA
Associate researcher and adviser to the practice for the Institute for Study of Somatic Communication (ISSC)
Your bio. Who you are, how your background brings you to this work.
I consider myself a wordsmith – an articulator — of embodied Somatic experience. I work towards embodied literacy through my own personal movement practice, my teaching and my scholarly research. I also am, in a sense, a meta-physical polyglot, a trans-disciplinary investigator. Over the past four decades, I have sourced from human movement science, embodied cognitive science, rehabilitation medicine, phenomenology, aesthetics and other disciplines that touch upon the affective through-line between sensory awareness, attention, intention and action. I advocate for embodied learning through practice-driven research with the following aims: Emancipating human beings (1) from addiction to the limiting aspects of digital technologies, (2) from conformist, commodified and complicit behaviors that distort human values, and (3) working towards embodied creativity and agency in evolving sustainable bodies/futures.
I have danced in some form all my life. My mother opened The Modern School of Dance Education in Washington, DC (1944), continuing the legacies of Hanya Holm and Ruth St Denis who were her mentors throughout the 1930’s and 40’s. I was, however, not destined for a career in performing arts, finding current approaches to dance training incompatible with my own physicality as well as my personality – one that always was wanting to stretch the boundaries of uni-disciplinarity. Such bridging between disciplines took decades to evolve, more than half century of dialogue that inevitably would change the face of dance training.
My earliest Somatic training was with Irene Dowd (Ideokinesis) with whom I apprenticed for 4 years. Dowd taught me that a love for science was not incompatible with kinesthetic learning, a message that has been had life-long implications and directions. I also trained in the Alexander Technique, teaching in training schools in 13 countries (timelines below). I was pivotal in the development of a Somatics track within the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, finding consilience in an organization initially resistant to somatic tenets. For 35 years, I introduced and taught numerous courses in Somatics for the American Dance Festival and the Hollins/ADF MFA program and for a number of university dance programs. I also spent 23 years teaching as a professor of physical therapy (now emeritus, Winston-Salem State University, a historically black university in North Carolina). For 20 years, I advocated for Somatic/dance-based approaches to integrative medicine, and most recently pioneered research in improvisational dance for people living with Parkinson’s disease (2008 and 2016). During the first decade of the 20th century, I promoted my work in Europe. Between 2008 – 2015, I was a visiting fellow at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (London) and Coventry University UK, and a Fulbright Senior Specialist in dance with residencies at Trinity Laban (2009), University of Tallinn Estonia (2011), and Bath Spa University (2019). In December of 2018, I was awarded an Honorary Fellowship award by Trinity Laban Conservatoire ‘in recognition for [my] work exploring the interface of dance, human movement science, brain science, and a phenomenological perspective of the lived body.’ CV on request.
- Human Origami – Human Origami explores the phenomenon of body folding as an expression of human perception, embodied knowledge and creativity. I started improvising in the latter part of 2013. I was originally inspired by phenomenologist Gilles Deleuze, who said (paraphrasing): The smallest unit of matter is not the point, but the fold (The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, 1993), My personal improvisations around this theme enabled me to enter into new dimensions of somatic depth and a world of transformational and fractal consciousness that is non-linear, non-literal, fluid and liminal. I initiated this work while a fellow at Trinity Laban in London between 2014-2015. Here, I collaborated with dance and multi-media artist, Susan Sentler. Together, we created a series of sensory-rich, iterative environments that enabled dancers to immerse deeply in ways that migrated beyond habit into a new ways of dance making. We also drew inspiration for improvisation by partnering with other media, such as paper, fabric and sound. From these explorations came insight into the embodied historicity of embryology. I began to design improvisations around the kinetic dynamics of embryonic gesture as a portal into historicity as well as performative skills. I continue to work with Susan, as well as with a local soundscape artist Jude Casseday, who has opened my ears to folded sound. Finally, my interest in folding extends to cell phone photography, creating graphic art from ordinary folding phenomena, as well as teaching workshops on maintaining a somatic presence on both sides of the camera lens.
- Experiential Anatomy – Since apprenticing with Irene Dowd in Ideokinesis (1977-1982), I have integrated motor (Todd-Sweigard) imagery into my teaching of experiential anatomy. Along the same timeline trajectory, I became certified in the Alexander Technique (1989). Through intertwining the two principles and methods, I found a way of helping movers gain insight into the unique distinctions and outcomes in movement expression that issues from visual (Ideokinetic) or kinesthetic (Alexander- and other tactile-based) imagery. Ideokinesis offers a more feed-forward mental representation of the body. The Alexander Technique avoids use of preconceived imagery and instead hones kinesthetic imagery issuing from movement feedback. Both techniques help clarify the intimate relationship between thinking and action, essentially two sides of the same coin. My guided explorations are not ‘exercises’ or ‘templates’ as such, but portals of discovery for bodily flow, resonance, and effortless support. In these sessions, I draw upon dance scholars, such as Philippa Rothfield, who have researched the Alexander Technique as a means of uncovering habit and transforming reaction into positive, chosen responses. In addition, I again draw upon fascial theory in going beyond positivist concepts of biomechanics towards dynamic movement as connected, continuous holism.
- The Dancing Brain – Here, I created a practice that explores concepts of dance science as a portal for improvisation and performance. While leading the Contemporary Body Practices module in the Hollings/American Dance Festival MFA program (2006-2013), I investigated the concept of choreographic ‘thinking.’ I drew primarily from the intersection of Somatics, embodied cognitive neuroscience, and neuropsychology in evolving a practice-based approach to the ‘dancing brain.’ Building on Francisco Varela’s neuro-phenomenological model, the course offers experiential, improvisational guidance that helps students translate theory into practice. Topics included: Defining and refining embodiment within the context of dance and science, distinguishing features of dancers’ cognition, models of action representation (mirror neurons and beyond), improvisational brain (emergence, variability and error), and embodied ecosystems Many of the themes investigated during this time have found their way into my book, Body and Mind in Motion: Dance and Neuroscience in Conversation (2014), written with contributions from Dr. Margaret Wilson.
- Parkinson’s and Improvisational Dance – Since 2009, I have researched the effects of improvisational dance on balance in people with Parkinson’s disease. This research was based on my hypothesis that dance is generative – that people with Parkinson’s have the agency to move – to generate movement on their own, without having to mimic a teacher or entrain to music. My 2017 methods paper on this subject (open access) outlines the improvisational approach to training developed by Professor Christina Soriano at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. The paper was shortlisted for a special topics award from Frontiers Journal http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fneur.2016.00015/full
I currently consult and participate in local activities with Culture Mill (www.culturemill.org), where dancer-directors Murielle Elizéon and Tommy Noonan are evolving a portals for social justice through movement in underserved areas of rural North Carolina, two projects of which are dance for Parkinson’s and restorative- and other forms of social justice (antidotes, for example, to the modern slavery perpetuated by the US prison system).
- Dancing while aging – I still dance – an act I am calling dancing while aging (blogpost, https://www.glennabatson.net/dancing-while-aging-post/). I routinely perform in ballroom dance showcases. I am a member of the Big Red Dance Project (Durham, NC), a company of mature dancers run by septuagenarian Geri Houlihan from the Limon-Lubovitch tradition. Seasoned dancers sixty years and older are poised to make substantial contributions to multiple sectors of society. The knowledge on health and wellness they’ve embodied as they’ve aged, the discipline and motivation they bring to sustainability, their clarity and creativity – all these are useful not only in mentoring young people, but also in helping adults face physical and societal challenges, and offering scientists a fresh perspective on researching the aging continuum. In what ways can we expose society to the many benefits these veterans bring from their vast toolbox without minimizing or trivializing these efforts? Last, I have recently initiated a class called Living Traditions, a somatically-based moving meditation on our sacred connection with nature.
What you find in this work. What your inquiry is. What you are expecting. What you are discovering. *
Specific questions currently under investigation:
Gosh. Lots to ponder here.
My first question revolves around what processes of agency do we need to train, not just empowerment, but recovery of our psychophysical resilience from the onslaught of a society that fragments (separates us) and that robs humanity of its power to support, belong and cooperate? How do we train the processes of ‘with and away’ of multiple vantage points that allow us to deeply engage and at the same time, be a witness to bigger picture? I frequently feel that what I am doing is a form of crypto-critique – reframing people’s ideologies about their bodily selves and allowing them to recognize (and act from) the interwoven mutuality of self, society and the environment.
The second practice-driven question is not so much a question as an effort to understand the textural dimension within the reciprocity of perception and action – the nature, magnitude, depth, and multiplicity of an attuned Mobius strip of sensing, perceiving and acting. This comes out of my work with Human Origami – The portal of transformation from ordinary- to extra-ordinary life emerges from embodied perceiving within particular constraints – slowed down time frame across a longer duration of attention. The questions that surface are many: How can movers stay ‘in’ the practice – iteratively, recursively – so that an enduring echo of resonance is generated in the moving field? Gerald Edelman has elaborated brain theories of selection and re-entry. How are these in movement practice?
My third area of inquiry revolves around the pluri-potentiality of the stem cell. How do cells induce systems? What self-regulatory processes underscore this intelligence and competence? How can we use movement practices to harness this intelligence for understanding the basis of presence, proximity/distance, bonding, attachment and separation? And, how can focused movement inquiry empower regenerative processes? In part, this question is located within Human Origami – the micro/nano level of folding which gives rise to optimal functioning.