Thoughts before and after a lecture on the Axis Syllabus Dance Festival ‘Sensing In’ in Berlin with the general theme of ‘Rhythm and Timing’

November 27th 2015

With 15 years I went through the obligatory dance school trauma. A main reason why I never wanted to get in touch with dance again was the Rhythm. ‘Herr Hassmann, Sie sind nicht im Takt (you are not in the rhythm)!’ was the melody of my dance. My brother was so kind to help me understand that beat and ‘tact’ is not the same. To super loud rock music, where the entire body is shivering in the beat we tried to catch the beat. It took me a painful felt eternity to hear it and to move certain parts of my body according to the deep blasts that made the air curl. But the ‘tact’ … Where is the one and where the three or four? … I understood the concept but had not a glimpse of how to hear it.

Anyways, here I am lecturing about rhythm and timing.

One more story, before I tell you which inspirations and clarities I found on this traumatised ground. When I was 29, just finished with University exams to be allowed to practice teaching high school kids Biology and protestant Religion, I decided to follow my dance passion for a year in order to find out, if I could do something else than trying to survive school.

I went to an audition to the School for New Dance Development (SNDO) in Amsterdam. They were disturbed about my lack of technique, but highly impressed by my sense of rhythm and timing.

I was shocked. I new I was well connected to my body with a rather deep understanding how to organise it to move efficiently. (I swore that the SNDO would – at some point – invite me to teach movement technique). But learning phrases and following the counts stayed a challenge.

In the lecture I asked people to have a 5 minute chat with a neighbour to name moments of their history with rhythm, timing and musicality.Maybe also for you as a reader it might be beneficial to hold in for a momentand wonder about your basic relationship to this theme

I was able to connect with Contact Improvisation because it didn’t use much music, and if it did it was more to support a general atmosphere to help people find a common vibe.

My sense of rhythm and timing is based on sports. I did gymnastics as a child. I can still hear my footsteps when doing a cartwheel into a back flip. There was such a clear logic, when it was right. The speeding up, the little flat suspended jump before the trembling tra-pa-tap of putting my left, then right foot and both hands on the floor. It was a melody that was strongly connected to sensations in my body. This little jump I mentioned: a strong sense of airiness, not floating, more gliding through the space, arm pits wide, the whole front opening from finger tips to toes in a sense of excitement for the coming acceleration. Lungs floating in fullness.

Jumping. I played volleyball for years as a teenager. Reading the arch of the flying ball, estimating my own rhythm of down and up. The spiral from my belly to the palm of the right hand. It is an emotional moment to hit the ball at the perfect moment, when the energy from the twisted body unloads in this one moment and gets completely transferred on to the ball. If the timing of body and ball come together perfectly the experience is like a little brother of ‘one-ness’, feeling deeply connected with a part of the world that is not me. It is the ball, but also the one who played it before and the ones who won’t get it next.

Timing, melody, the myriads of physical sensations that go along with an inner connectedness, the emotional state that lights up for a split second … they are all components that merge in what we call musicality.

I worked with a BMC practitioner (Michael, Boulder, Israel) to perform a CI Duet. We used the ‘fluids’ to build up a dramaturgy of the dance. I noticed that my home was the ‘venus blood’, the blood that is sucked back towards the heart and gets released into the second heart chamber. Sucking and releasing. Suspension and harvest of the momentum. This is the timing I feel the most deeply connected to. It is the timing of redirecting a fall, of smooth jumps, of throwing (and kicking) ball. This understanding of suspension and acceleration I find very precisely through the fascia work, the elasticity in this intelligent network. And I realized it in another movement lately: Breathing. F

For a deeper and more detailed understanding of my concept of suspension and acceleration I guided the audience through a five minute breathing exploration. Here – in this text – I wrote down my discoveries from those breathing exploration

A good starting point for breathing exercises is to just notice the way I breathe without changing my breath. Unfortunately that is more or less impossible. Paying attention changes the thing in us that we are paying attention to. But still it is a helpful research direction. Once we start paying attention to our breath it easily becomes more monotone. We often think the breath is following a certain rhythm and so we unconsciously create a certain rhythm. But the unobserved breath is much more responsive. I am trying to observe my own breath while I am writing now. You could also observe your breath while you are reading this …

Anyways, I am especially interested in the transition between inhalation and exhalation and I want to play a bit within these spaces. When the inhalation comes closer to its momentary maximum the upper torso feels a bit like a balloon that gets blown up. A basic tone in tissues rises to give space for the increased volume of the lungs. We can feel certain structures being suspended. The spaces between the ribs have widened., the kidneys slide down a bit on the Psoas muscle, the shallow pits below the clavicles are lifted slightly. When I pay attention to the time just before and after the maximum of an individual inhalation I usually like to hang out a bit in this moment and suspend it. I feel the shift of temperature in my throat, when there is slowly less air streaming in. There might be a moment where I can have a sense of hovering around on this moment, where it is not clear if there is still air coming in or already moving out, or if even both happens at the same time? But the breath is not is stopping! There is always movement. Maybe very subtile but clearly different to holding the breath. In this moments I know that the next exhalation will happen. That is obviously what’s gonna come. But when exactly and how it happens is open. I can influence the timing with a core desire to not disrupt an inner logic. There is a certain freedom that is based on listening to the logic of the breath combined with a freedom of wondering – for example how much delay is possible within that. It is an artful waiting. Very present, curious and also generous. Knowing what’s gonna come but not exactly when and how. Once the exhalation kicks in there is no holding back, the exhalation happens. The stored and suspended energy of the inhalation gets finally released. If we don’t interfere too much, it happens in relationship to the suspension from before. Potentially it can be a powerful activity. The exhalation supports our most powerful movements like kicking and throwing, movements that accelerate masses to a maximum.

The exhalation can also be a very calm outflow of air. With my consciousness I always have the ability to influence the exhalation. I can stop it, or push the air out out very quickly in every single moment. But that is not artful to me. That is forceful or just unaware.

I am fascinated that I have the option to influence the exhalation in every single moment without cutting its inner logic. I can slow down the acceleration of the out-streaming air or I can speed it up to a certain degree. The breath is designed to be responsive in every moment. My passion is to be able to notice, when I am disrupting an inner connectedness within this movement and when I ride the possibilities within the frame of connectedness.

Under normal, unaware circumstances the inhalation doesn’t have much of a suspended transition into the exhalation. It feels like the breath is switching almost directly from inhaling to exhaling. Mainly through our awareness and curiosity the mentioned suspension happens. I liked to look closely at this transition, because it is easily connected to an emotional state. A state of excitement about what’s gonna happen. We know that something is gonna change, will speed up. This sense of excitement can feed our quality to move and to experience our movement. We can steer or ride this emotional state. As a base I like to keep it simple, to acknowledge happily that there is this emotional notion in my suspended movements. There can be the temptation to override it. To build up more tension and excitement than can be matched by the longingly expected happening. The typical Christmas phenomenon. The hysterical build up of expectation is usually condemned to be disappointed. The suspension is over stretched. The inner logic didn’t get taken serious. But a spice of that can be very enlivening. And of course going for it and taking the risk of disappointment, to finally collapse is also an option, that I like it to stay open.

The suspension at the end of the exhalation has a different flavour than the possible suspension after the inhalation. The diaphragm has relaxed and moved up again, the stretches between the ribs have relieved their energy. The lungs are emptier than before. It is a very restful suspension, a very non excited waiting for the next inhalation reflex to kick in. With giving awareness to this moment of the breathing cycle, we can also influence the length and intensity of the suspension. Maybe the word suspension with the closeness to tension is not really the best word for this transition. This alive pause has a wonderful spaciousness, a strong invitation for letting go, emptying even more, to sink deeper into a sensation or relaxation. A moment where nothing needs to be done or added, a good moment for undoing. It can be a short term heaven with the essential but slightly painful acceptance that this moment has to end. It has to give in to the next inhalation reflex. If we deny that moment we loose the little heaven, no holding on is possible.

It feels funnily stupid to talk so much and passionate about something that is fundamentally basic. But the principles I tried to describe through the breath I find extremely similar in more visible and dance like movements, which I usually focus on – like the examples I started with: my gymnastics cartwheel, the volleyball smash or the rhythm of the venous blood. But for writing and purely talking the breath is a very thankful object of observation and exploration. In my dance and teaching practice I find the same idea of riding an inner logic of movements in following areas:


Teaching ‘falling’ is often used to fill workshops. Falling and flying sounds exciting and fun. But what I often see, when people work on falling is a sense of drama and restlessness. The reason why I like to play with falling is the physical sensation that can go along with it. A sense of weightlessness, something close to flying. I want to expand these sensations by creating more time and awareness for it. Again I work with suspension, the art of waiting. I do it from a very subtle starting point to get the maximum out of the experience. Balancing is the beginning like in the so called small dance, where I simply stand and notice all the tiny balancing reflexes of my body that prevent me from falling. It is an art to let go of these balancing reflexes without pushing for anything. The image of waiting at the red traffic lights and falling naturally into a step when the light turns green, is working pretty well. The spine doesn’t collapse when falling, it stays expanded, the feet are ready to catch the balance again by making steps. What happens in this moment of giving up the balancing feels like a certain way of letting go in my center, of dropping something there. It feels like a water drop falls from inside behind the belly button, following gravity downwards until it hits the surface of a puddly or a little pond. As a respond little droplets are flying upwards. Releasing down – floating up, these counter directions are the base for deeply satisfying falling. With this awareness I can suspend the resulting fall. While loosing my balance, falling out of the vertical axis, I can dive into the art of waiting. I can surf the wave of acceleration. I can slow down or speed up the acceleration to a certain amount. And I can redirect the direction of the fall. The magical beginning of a fall – this falling drop image – goes well together with a certain beginning of an exhalation. When my exhalation wants to begin I can stop it gently by somehow closing the breathing tube effortlessly with my Adam’s apple. When I give up this kind of holding my breath, it creates a little click sound in my larynx. The air floats out, the drop falls, the spine extends and I can artfully direct the timing of the fall.

Another fantastic way to find this subtle logic of waiting – falling and directing the fall I can observe when I stand in water (about belly button high). The density of the water slows down the fall and gives more time to observe what’s happening.

The rhythm of down & up for lifts and jumps

Every jump or lift finds it’s support or initiation by going down first. The going down can come from a fall as described above. But it can also happen without falling into a step, just by bending the knees in standing. But it needs to find a connection to the acceleration through gravity. And we want to direct this downwards movement finally upwards. Bouncing is an easy way to observe the logical connection of this down and up. If I then deepen the down my arms can swing backwards and their movement forwards can accompany and support the upwards movement. This rhythm can be accompanied by moments of suspension before going down, like in the breathing exercise the suspension at the end of the inhalation. The moment of suspension, when arriving with a long spine and gently extended legs is the easiest moment to communicate the timing with a partner for a potential lift. Here we find the ‘down’ together that leads into the lift or jump.

There is a kind of rule in CI to not jump when being lifted. The reason is, that we easily ‘over jump’ – we jump to high and then fall down onto the supporter, which creates a dangerously strong impact. But jumping connects so naturally to the down and up that we urgently need for lifts. It also provides a healthy strong tone for the spine of the jumping person. Flying needs a rather high tone… When we want to use jumps as a way into lifts I love to focus on suspension as a kind of foreplay. As the supporter I face my partner. I slowly lean backwards while reaching towards my partner, inhaling, suspending my own body. It is as if I am stretching a rubber-band between my reaching fingers and my partners core. ‘Come on, come with me!’ It is nice to put a spice of drama into this, a sense of longing so that my partner finally can’t resist anymore. When I start falling into stepping backwards my partner will fall forward, following my invitation, directing the build up suspension into a few running steps and finally jumping up towards me.

Elasticity with in the body

This is my main way to work with suspension: creating and sensing elastic stretches in my body and harvesting the stored energy in momentum, like in spirals, which we use for kicking and throwing. My fascination about the fascia is mainly rooted in understanding the elastic connections within the body. Thomas W. Meyers book ‘Anatomy trains’ is looking more scientificly at how muscles and fascia create long trains through the body to allow well coordinate and efficient movement patterns. Whenever we work with successive movements, it is based on these connections. We are waiting for a movement to travel through the body instead of moving everything at once. It encourages a sense of waiting. When does the next part of the ‘muscle-chain’ want or need to follow? How long can I wait for this next body part to join the movement? We gain more time and inner space when performing a movement with this attitude. For me it is the main inspiration to the essential mystery of ‘How can I feel my body as connected from within?’

Elasticity in the touch

What happens in the skin under the touch, when we dance Contact Improvisation or communicate through touch in other settings? Unless the direction of touch is vertical, the skin slides or swims a bit on the layers underneath. A three-dimensional web of little elastic threads gets stretched. It is the connective tissues under the skin as a part of the fascia web, that connects the whole body. It is these little stretches that allow us to understand the direction of a touch. It can be very subtile. By noticing these stretches we can wait a little longer than we naturally would, creating more suspension under the skin. Following the proposed direction with a delay, that gives time for the leader and the follower to clarify the proposal. The communication can reach a much higher level of understanding and commitment. This attitude of not rushing, artful waiting encourages an inner calmness, that makes us more attentive and precise. It also supports better coordinated accelerations in dynamic dances. If there was only one thing I can could teach in Contact Improvisation settings it would this, the ‘sliding under the skin’ as a way into the the art of waiting and accelerating. (See also my blog –‘suspension in the skin and beyond‘)

The art of waiting in Jamming

The other way I like to look at this sensation and negotiation in the art of waiting I find on a macro level, in longer arches of time, like the different phases in a journey through a jam. Frey Faust asked an inspiring question at the end of my lecture. What I understood and remember is his wondering about the meaning of ‘being present in the moment’. Are we wishing for a purity in the ‘being present’ – just being ‘now and here’, somehow very open but almost independent or disconnected from the past and the future?

I remembered dance dates that I had with Christine Mauch. Before those meetings my general timing for a duet was around 20 minutes, then the dance came to a kind of resolution, as if everything for this encounter had been ‘said’. With Christine I managed to stay beyond those 20 minutes, coming to a sort of pause, surrendering to a calm state of emptiness. No pressure to go anywhere, but still in a very awake state of noticing many tiny expressions of living beings. In a way a very full emptiness, which I like to name ‘a state of artful waiting’ – a bit like this breathing pause after a deeper but calm exhalation. The fascinating thing was that we weren’t waiting for something. There was no doubt, that the next part of the journey would begin at some point. But the start of a new phase wasn’t the aim, like something we were searching for. In my experience waiting is often connected with a sense of ‘impatience’. ‘Are we there yet?’ or waiting for Christmas Eve to finally arrive. Waiting is easily connected to a sense of sweet or dark torture. What I experience as ‘The art of waiting’ is free of that. The waiting in itself is satisfying or interesting enough to not wish myself away from it. Part of it is to notice the ever changing details of each moment in the ‘here and now’, which Frey was referring to. But another part is to ‘appreciate what happened so far and to let it go’. (Nancy Starck-Smith uses this phrase in her ‘Trio feedback score’ for a moment of stillness, when the constellations change.)

The moment of waiting in the dance dates with Christine usually had a taste of digesting. In 20 minutes of improvising a lot of things happen. To continuously accumulate more and more experiences can easily weaken the overall experience. These phases of stillness helped me to let impressions settle. Like in a snow dome, these toys, little glass domes with a figure and clear liquid in there. When you shake it snow swirls around. When putting it down the snow slowly sinks down, each snow flake follows gravity and finds it’s place. A dance swirls up a lot of sensations and emotions. It benefits from letting those impressions sink, letting them find a good place, in the memories, the nervous system or where ever a body mind system puts all these things. This is an activity that needs our conscious-decision-making-mind to step back. In a macro perspective sleeping has a similar function. It is also partly a very active phase – not only when dreaming – but we need to step back with our conscious mind, otherwise we can’t fall asleep.

So, I like to use the idea of ‘appreciation of what happened’ as a connection between the ‘present moment of waiting’ and ‘the past’. Even though the next step is to let go off it, to not plan the next steps as a continuation of the previous ones, the past has left its footprints. In the dance with Christine I experienced very clearly, that our moment of resting in stillness was fed by the 20 minutes of dancing. If we had just put ourselves into the exact same position without the dance beforehand, this phase of waiting would have felt absolutely different and what happened next would have been completely different, too.

When I think of the breathing cycle again, I find the same. The way I exhale sets the base for the transition that leads into the next inhalation.

To finish:

Many words, wow. In the lecture, there was a moment for questions, like the one from Frey. If you have any feel free to send me an email ([email protected]). Finally I gave space for moving and dancing. Allowing the body to take over and witnessing if and how the mental input around timing, rhythm might influence the individual choices and the atmosphere in the whole space , which turned into a jam.

Rhythm and timing. I see that my passion of dancing is on very different levels strongly connected to a certain understanding of timing: suspension – artful waiting and accelerating. Rhythm and rhythmical movements though are still not my strongest point. But I got much easier with it over the years. And one sweet thing I am noticing more and more: Whenever I manage to dive into a rhythm I rather easily connect it to the art of waiting and accelerating. Musicality doesn’t start with mechanically following a rhythm but with the ability to play within it – to have little delays and suspensions, to be a tiny bit earlier or later than the beat. I guess that’s what singers do naturally and what makes their singing sound so different from just singing on the beat like in hiking songs. Musicality adds a level of poetry to movements, which transforms them into dance.

A pre or postnote:

My dear colleague and friend Mirva Mäkinen reminded me, that the phrase ‘The Art of Waiting’ was shaped by Martin Keogh, who named a book like this. I actually have it and read it. Just through the years it felt like I found this beautiful phrase myself. But it was clearly him to put it into the world and also into my vocabulary. Thank you Martin!