When mammals enter a novel environment, they look around. They explore the space with their eyes. This is called Exploratory Orienting. It is all about curiosity, a relaxed, engaged process. Mammals do it many times in a day.
There is also another kind of orienting. Defensive Orienting, which happens in response to a perceived threat, is about fight or flight. Where is the exit? Where is the safest place? How do I get there? It is adrenaline and contraction. All your friends who want to sit in the Godfather/Shane seat, back to the wall, so they can see the whole room? Defensive Orienting.
This is one of the cool things I learned in the three-year Somatic Experiencing® (SE) training. Through this, I realized that I generally engaged in Defensive Orienting when I entered a new space–like a party. I did not look around with curiosity. I found a secluded spot, and I stayed there, eyeing the room for threats. Defensive Orienting.
It has been very interesting to shift my awareness to Exploratory Orienting. I now begin all my groups with some orienting, letting the eyes look around the room, settling on whatever they enjoy. We explore our other senses as well–hearing (our fastest sense), smell, taste–and touch. Our bodies in the chair, the feeling of clothes on our bodies, the air on our skin–and we go inside as well–what is going on in there?
SE is about what is happening inside our bodies–as is Oriental dance.
In SE, we track sensations associated with challenging memories and triggering events, and we also build and grow sensory resources— feelings associated with success, joy, and pleasure.
In Oriental dance, the feeling is the most important thing–the emotional timbres that come and go in the music and also the physical pleasure of the dance movement it self. We get to relax, to enjoy the isometric pull of our muscles as our bodies respond to the music, revel in the juiciness of them.
So what does Orienting have to do with all this?
Well, I noticed that I was doing Defensive Orienting even when I danced.
Part of me was protecting myself from my guests. So I didn’t really look at them, and there was a defensive quality in my presence. This made it hard to be genuine, relaxed, and present.
This resonates with keeping the eyes more fixed, staring at screens–these behaviors reinforce one another. I’ve written before about how eye work improved my vision. It’s improved more than that.
So I changed my approach.
I began intentionally taking the time to orient. As I gazed around, I sat with the discomfort that arose and let it pass through me. I made the time to settle. And dance became easier. Friendlier. When the body feels settled so many more options come online.
And this is what our dance is really about–Personality. Presence. Communication. Joy. We really can have it all.
We can have it with our choreographed performance and also with our improvisation. Feeling settled and relaxed makes it so much easier to enjoy the music, to be present in the moment.
We can have this in our daily lives as well. My regular life has vastly improved. Yes, I have also done a lot of SE work–because even small bits have made big differences, I keep going. Even the first session caused marked differences.
I have been building Orienting in to all my classes. It’s a big feature of the improv Fun Classes, and Tuning In is pure SE.
I invite you to try it out–what might a more settled nervous system do for you–and your dance?
How to Improvise to Classic Songs
This is not your “classic” song class. We will not work on technique or pop-bead combinations. We will focus on the structural elements of classic songs, the phrases and measures, the sections and the organization, so we can understand and predict changes–and feel confident when dance to any song that comes our way. We’ll let ourselves feel and respond to the emotional timbres. We’ll allow our bodies to respond freely to the music, as we let our feeling express itself.
Each class is recorded (instructor view). The sound is beautiful! Each recording is available for one week, so you can review or catch up. Each week gets a playlist of songs to use for practice. We may explore some standbys along with less-known treasures.
Improv to Classic Songs is a FUN Class Deep Dive. It runs five Weeks, Sept 8 – Oct 6. Tuesdays at 4PM ET. Register for Classic Songs here.
If your daily life needs more attention, you might enjoy
Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times
This little half hour packs a lot of power. Sometimes we do more soothing things, sometimes more active, sometimes both. But every exercise is all about re-regulating the nervous system to the body can settle, and life has room for more savor, ease, and joy. We use gentle movement, breath, and body-based strategies to bring calm in the here and now. These strategies can be used any time to help the body feel more relaxed and grounded. Each class is recorded (instructor view). Each recording is available for one week.
Tuning In runs five Weeks, September 18-Oct 23 (no class Oct 9). Fridays, 4-4:30 PM EDT. Register for Tuning In here.
I look forward to dancing with you!