Moshé Feldenkrais

Moshé Feldenkrais always taught next to a model skeleton. Photo courtesy of Feldenkrais Institute, Tel Aviv, Israel

Although never a dancer, Moshé Feldenkrais (1904–1984) influenced many dancers and teachers around the world. The slow, luxurious movements of his Method help dancers understand their habits and better access their full expressive powers. Artists like Anna Halprin, Merrill Ashley and, more recently, Tom Rawe (formerly of Twyla Tharp) and Jimena Paz (formerly of Stephen Petronio Company) have been drawn to his work for its impact on creativity and injury prevention.


Perhaps no one somatic teacher has created as accessible a format for experiencing the mind-body connection. The Feldenkrais Method is now practiced worldwide by as many as 8,000 physical therapists, dancers of all disciplines, actors and the general public, and its inclusion in academic curricula is on the rise. John Graham, one of the first dancers to study with Feldenkrais, once wrote, “Dance was always there for me. Moshé made it more round, essential of itself."

Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais was born on May 6, 1904, in Slavuta, in what is now Ukraine. At age 14, he left home on a six-month journey to Palestine as part of a youth movement. There he worked as a day laborer until returning to high school in 1923. To support himself he tutored math students, and after graduation he became a cartographer for the British survey office. In his 20s, Feldenkrais grew more interested in sports and martial arts. It wasn't until he suffered a critical knee injury during a soccer match in 1929 that he began his lifelong inquiry into the body-mind connection. These early experiments, wondering how he could improve the rest of his body to better support his knee, became the seeds for his now famous Method.

In 1930, Feldenkrais moved to Paris to study mechanical and electrical engineering, and he later earned a Doctor of Science in physics from the Collège de Sorbonne. While there, he worked closely with Nobel Prize–winner Irène Joliot-Curie in the early stages of nuclear research. Movement was never far from his thoughts, though. After meeting judo founder Jigoro Kano, Feldenkrais immersed himself in the technique, becoming one of the first Europeans to earn a black belt. During the 1940s, he relocated to London, where he continued to study judo, taught self-defense classes and worked as an inventor. He published his first book, Body and Mature Behavior, in 1949, following it with Higher Judo.

By this time, Feldenkrais had also begun teaching experimental classes and giving lectures on his innovative ideas. He eventually codified his method into two parts: Awareness Through Movement (ATM), a group movement experience, which consists of gentle movements designed to improve efficiency and function, and Functional Integration (FI), where practitioners work hands-on in a one-on-one setting. Both emphasize comfort, learning and ease, and they are done while the student is lying down, to reduce the work of the habitual postural muscles.

By 1954, Feldenkrais was making a living solely by teaching the Method in Tel Aviv. He held ATM classes in a studio on Alexander Yanai Street and taught FI lessons in an apartment occupied by his mother and brother. In 1967, he published his now widely read book, Awareness Through Movement. A year later, he held his first teacher-training program in Tel Aviv. These 12 students are now the senior teachers of his Method. By 1978, a groundswell of interest resulted in the first American training in San Francisco, but after falling ill during his second 235-student training at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1981, he stopped teaching. Feldenkrais died on July 1, 1984.

Dancers discovered the benefits of Feldenkrais' work when he toured the country teaching workshops during the early 1970s. The work's internally based sensing posed a radical way to think about movement. It countered the “learning by imitation" ingrained in most dance education. He was the first to use a roller, initially crafted in wood and later in foam, which can now be found in dance studios everywhere. His most famous lesson, The Pelvic Clock, has been incorporated into Pilates, yoga and dance classes to emphasize the fluidity of the lower back and pelvis.

Frank Wildman, a former Halprin dancer and now the director and founder of The Feldenkrais Movement Institute, remembers Feldenkrais' unique teaching approach. “His style was inventive and provocative, and it required that you sense what movement you were doing rather than simply moving," he says. “All teaching was performed next to a skeleton. I think any dancer who studied with him could sense the internal logic of the movement they were performing and would feel as if light had been cast inside their body. Feldenkrais really understood effortless movement in a way I never did."

Today, Feldenkrais' influence on the dance field is still present but evolving with each new generation of teachers. Dancer, choreographer and Feldenkrais teacher Daniel Burkholder says: “There is finally a critical mass of practitioners where we can start a real conversation in a deeper and deeper manner. Not just doing an ATM at the beginning of a class, or using some of the movement sequences from ATM lessons as part of the warm-up, but how to integrate the concepts into the philosophy and structure of the class." Although Feldenkrais never expected his method to become a household name among dancers and dance institutions, it speaks volumes to the groundbreaking nature of his genius understanding of the mind-body connection.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox