Dance Legend Anna Halprin Shares What Work She's Most Proud Of

Anna Halprin (photo by Sarah Beckstrom, courtesy of Halprin)

Postmodern dance pioneer Anna Halprin will be teaching a Tamalpa Institute–sponsored special workshop at her mountain home studio in Kentfield, California, April 14. Halprin is best known for defying traditional notions of dance, along with dancers such as Trisha Brown and Simone Forti. Halprin magnified the artform's potential to address social issues and facilitate healing through an ongoing Planetary Dance, which promotes peace among people and with the earth. For 35 years the dance has been performed in more than 50 countries, including Germany to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, and in Israel to bring people together amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Q: Tell us about your approach to movement—Integrative Dance.

A: It's anatomically based, so that people learn a universal approach to movement. I don't want anyone to imitate the way I move; I want them to understand how their body operates. Then I want them to learn how to work the body with as little stress as possible. I feel that many forms of movement these days have a lot of stress and stretching that forces the body into positions that aren't appropriate for a person's particular physiology.

I go through basic movements, and then once the dancers have developed a mental awareness of their bodies, I like to encourage them to explore movement that they invent on their own. I encourage them to notice the feelings and emotions that arise when they do a fast movement, a slow movement or a jerky movement. Then we feed off of those images as stimulants for further exploration. Then I have them interact with each other. How can they lead? How can they follow? How can they resist? My method is very basic in all its forms, but I try to encourage my students to have confidence in their own creativity.

Q: What are you most proud of from your years of work?

A: The Planetary Dance, which is now being done in 46 different countries around the world, is my greatest achievement in life. I am proud to have created a dance that is used around the world for peace.

I was able to take it to my homeland, Israel, and we did it on a promenade that faces Jerusalem on one side, and on the other side it faces Arab countries, so Jews and Arabs can come together. There was so much excitement when it was performed. The Jewish women and the Arab women hugged and cried. It was such a peaceful experience. Dance can bring people together—it just cuts through everything.

Q: What advice do you have for teachers working with the rising generation?

A: Do a lot of listening. Listen—don't preach so much to them. We have no way of knowing, particularly in this political climate, how they are being affected. We can only imagine that it must be extremely frustrating and discouraging. My advice is to respond as a humanist. It's not a matter of taking sides, it's a matter of being available to share whatever wisdom you have that you have gained in your experience. Do the best you can.

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