By Pamela Newell
Dressed in close-fitting dance clothes, instructor Linda Rabin lies on a blue yoga mat in the middle of a circle of observing participants. A stirring sets her belly in motion. It is not the expected rise and fall of breath. Rather, the movement provoked resembles the effect of a pebble dropped into water, a ripple resounds and travels. Gathering momentum and increasing in amplitude, the seemingly involuntary, undulating movement waves, crests, rebounds, and “tributates” into the limbs. We are invited to deepen our observation through touch. As I gently place my hand on her torso, I marvel at how it is not like any other movement I have felt on a body. Not muscular, it is powered by a force that seems beyond will and intention.
Canadian dance innovator Linda Rabin is one of a handful of Canadian teachers of Continuum, the movement practice developed by American Emilie Conrad. Continuum’s central teaching is that all fluids in the body function as one integrated “intelligence” and that they are in concert with all fluids in the environment and atmosphere. Conrad is cautious when including Continuum among the techniques, such as Alexander and Feldenkrais, which make up what we have come to know as the field of somatics. She is critical of our culture’s tendency to ghettoize and, in so doing, oversimplify subtle concepts that aren’t easily categorized. For Rabin, Continuum is a holistic, educative practice that has physical, creative, spiritual and therapeutic applications. Through her, the Canadian dance community is enjoying the opportunity to bathe in new ideas and expand its creative resources.
A typical Continuum group class starts with a brief explanation of concepts to be explored. This verbal presentation is immediately followed by an instructor demonstration. Not meant to induce replication, the observation brings the student into empathic communion with the instructor’s body, thereby transmitting information on a subconscious, non-cognitive, non-verbal level. In Continuum, experiencing is emphasized over theorizing. By attending deeply to sensation, imagination and feeling through guided explorations of breath, sound and movement, one uncovers all manner of knowledge through experience.
A former choreographer and teacher, who now devotes the better part of her life to this empowering practice, Rabin’s path to her new vocation was anything but linear. After several years of questioning in the late 1980s, Rabin heeded a very clear internal voice that said, “You can’t continue to be in the dance field if you want to evolve further as a human being.” In 1991, she retired as co-director of LADMMI (Les Ateliers de la danse moderne de Montréal, Inc.), the pre-professional training school she had co-founded in 1981. “I had no idea what I wanted to do next but I knew I had to be in this empty bowl place – to feel and live that – before the bowl could begin to fill up with inspiration and ideas and a sense of where to go next.”
For the next couple of years, she spent time doing everyday things she had never before given herself the time to do – walking, riding her bike up Montréal’s Mount Royal, swimming, singing in a choir and learning to cook. Her life began to regain focus when she met osteopath and energy healer Marie Anne Manny, from whom she acquired a wide array of tools for personal resourcing. Stimulated by Manny’s work, Rabin delighted in the exploration of concepts found in diverse practices ranging from Taoist meditation to experiential anatomy.
Rabin was no stranger to somatic practice having studied Alexander Technique since the late 1960s and Ideokinesis, which she studied with its originator, Lulu Sweigard, at Juilliard. Nor were spirituality, healing and ritual foreign to her, having probed these themes in the twenty-year span of her choreographic work. However, she was still convinced there would be a definitive departure from dance in her life. When Rabin pressed Manny for insights into where these explorations might be leading, Manny responded, “Linda, you’re not going to leave dance. You can’t. It’s too much in your blood. But what will change is your attitude towards it, your relationship with dance will shift.” At the time, this infuriated Rabin and she recalls thinking: “I will show her otherwise.” In retrospect, however, she realizes that she had to ostensibly let go of dance and undergo a kind of personal transformation in order to be able “to greet the dance world again in some other manner.”
At the end of a four-year immersion in Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s Body-Mind Centering® work, which led to a practitioner certification, Rabin discovered Emilie Conrad and her Continuum Movement practice. For Rabin, finding validation in Continuum of the sometimes ineffable yet profound and life-affirming discoveries she had been making in her personal movement practice was a significant breakthrough: “I knew I was in the realm of deep intelligence, our bio-intelligence, the intelligence of the universe.”
It is Continuum that brought Rabin “home” in her body and Continuum that has brought her back to the dance community. While she maintains a regular teaching practice in Continuum for the general public in Montréal, across Canada and in Europe, she has begun to share Continuum with dance students at LADMMI and L’École de danse de Québec. As well, choreographers, including Ginette Laurin of O Vertigo and Tom Stroud of Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers (WCD), have increasingly invited her to teach Continuum to their dancers during the creative process for a new work. Solo artists such as Margie Gillis, Lin Snelling and myself have also called upon her expanded repertoire of skills to stimulate our personal artistic processes.
Rabin’s most recent experience with WCD in early 2004 was particularly rewarding: “It was about freeing up the limits and boundaries that we unsuspectingly carry within ourselves and impose on our creative engagement.” Stroud had sensed that Continuum’s sound and movement explorations would provide complementary resources for his movement and text-based improvisational process: “For me, Continuum is about sources – sources of movement, emotion and energy. It’s about bringing the essential into form.” What surprised him, however, was how effective Continuum was in rejuvenating the body: “The dancers experienced a lot of relief from chronic injuries and tension.”
Using a recent installation at Montréal’s Musée d’art contemporaine entitled Ondulation (by Thomas McIntosh, Mikko Hynninen and Emmanuel Madan) to illustrate Continuum’s relationship between sound and movement, Rabin explains how the vibration of sound acts on a fluid environment and creates movement. “We see the impact of the sound on water in a kind of mandala shape. Then, the sine waves, which make incredible helices, continue to transform as they move farther away from the source of the sound. The sound is constantly transforming the water and, since we are mostly made of water, we are this constant shaping and reshaping of spiralling movement.”
Continuum’s relevance for all aspects of the dancer and choreographer’s process from training to creation to performance is clear for Rabin. Some of our traditional dance practices have a tendency to emphasize external ideals and do not prepare the dance artist for the constant confrontation with the unknown that is integral to the artistic process. She explains: “In Continuum, we practice bringing our attention not so much to the movement that we do but more so to the movement that we are … [Insofar as] you are present to [the experience of] movement or sound long enough, you are present to your self, your inner mechanism of how you function. You begin to resonate with the greater whole and it takes you organically into new territory.”
Moving to the next phase of the dive [an uninterrupted series of explorations], I lay my body across a padded folding chair, balancing my torso to find a comfortable place of equilibrium where my arms and head hang off one side and legs off the other. Almost immediately, I reconnect to what was awakened in the wave exercise and to a deep attention to my sensation. As my body adjusts to this complex gravitational challenge, I rejoice in a sense of weightlessness, ease and well-being. I feel Linda’s supportive presence close. Her light touch helps me maintain a 3-dimensional awareness of each body configuration I pass through. I remember her directive, my fluid self is not bound by any form, the possibilities are limitless.
CREDITS: Pamela Newell, ex-member of Compagnie Marie Chouinard, is involved in a variety of dancing, choreographing and teaching projects. Ultreya! , her most recent choreographic work, was presented in Montréal in October 2004. She teaches at Concordia University and the Université du Québec à Montréal where she is also completing her Master’s degree. This article first appeared in The Dance Current magazine, Volume 8, Issue 1: May 2005. It is posted here by permission of the publisher and the author. For more information about The Dance Current , please visit: www.thedancecurrent.com.