By Paul Pui Wo Lee, GCFP
The Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education has opened my eyes to the fact that judging the right-wrongness of movement could hinder one’s ability to regain their balance in response to life’s diverse situations. Becoming more at home in a wider range of movements crowns us as the masters of our personal human potential. That’s flexibility.
From a young age, I subconsciously learned that there were sometimes consequences to my movements. Transitioning out of toddlerhood, too much wrist flexing in my gesturing as I spoke, especially with the palm downwards, would begin to elicit questioning looks on people’s faces. That, in combination with my tendency to arch my back, made some people feel quite uncomfortable with my atypical behaviour for a boy. I gradually learned that “sissy,” “effeminate,” “fag” were possible words that I could be described as some day. I eventually got better at not being surprised by these words. Some days you get bitten by a mosquito, and some days you don’t. Some days it stung more than others.
I am so grateful for the space that dance has given my “girly” ways of moving to be valued as “artistic” and “beautiful”. I would look at excellent movers of William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Batsheva Dance Company, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and see them move their wrists, their pelvises, their spines, their everything in ways that were curvy, flowy, soft, undulatory. In the context of daily life such movements could be perceived “sexual,” “provocative,” “gay,” etc. Yet these dancers were grounded, agile, peaceful, ready, sensitive, ready to attack, peaceful, and expressive.
The more I did Feldenkrais® lessons, the more accessible the genius of these legendary dancers seemed. After exploring the unhabitual movements in Awareness through Movement (ATM) ® classes and Functional Intergration (FI)® sessions, new qualities emerged in my own coordination with such ease! My bodily and conceptual understanding of the logic of the movements I had seen but couldn’t put my finger on was worlds more distinct and clear-cut than after any of the hard work and practice that I had done up to that point. Tasting these nuggets of a good dancer’s finesse permitted me to embrace the sensuous, organic approach to shifting myself to be an artist of internal negotiation and reorganisation and help me navigate back to balance. Sensuality was the key I had longed for to resuscitate my belief in dance, art, and living.
There was something undeniably sexy about being able to move more skilfully. I just felt freer. I was understanding the motor components of a certain dangerous-yet-mesmerising allure. (Through a particular ATM lesson, I came to understand Naomi Campbell’s captivating ability to sway her seventh cervical vertebrae at the base of the neck below her stable head as she strode with her signature assured, unflinching gaze). I felt that I could be “womanly” or “manly”, sexy or tame. I ultimately had the choice and authority to simply be more of me. I was moving with more articulation and had many more ways of finding my feet. It’s no wonder why Feldenkrais had written a book titled “Body and Mature Behavior – A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation, and Learning.”
Thinking of my family story, from a young age, it was just normal to always see my mom with some sort of pain or ache. She seemed constantly uncomfortable in her body. When I was about twelve, I had a conversation with my mom about her pelvis that hinted at my eventual Feldenkraisian destiny. At that time, I was getting serious about ballet and became disoriented, frustrated and uncertain about my pelvis. A ballet teacher teased me about my big butt, and then I was tucking my pelvis under, then I was told to keep my natural lumbar arch, then how my pelvis shouldn’t move as I gestured with my leg. I had no idea how to even stand anymore.
I remember that day when I made the hesitant suggestion to my mom. It was a raw, newly awakened thought that I was going to witness with my own ears for the first time too:
maybe it’s OK…
maybe even natural…
to let your pelvis move…
in order to walk.”
We were both in a bit of a daze, as we processed that possibility. Was it really permissible to move one’s pelvis while walking? It was like trying to make sense of a foreign language. I guess that in suggesting that she move her pelvis, I was trying to seek the permission to move my own.
A few seconds later, a memory began to surface for my mom. She realised that at some point in her teens or early twenties, she had actually taught herself to hold her pelvis as she walked. She trained herself to restrain her pelvis as she moved until it became a habit. I think it was a man who made a sleazy comment to her on the tram when she was a teenager, and perhaps comments from her classmates that mistook her innocent friendliness as overt flirtation. She believed their words, which made her feel so self-conscious about her appearance and behaviours that she felt it safer to keep some part of herself hidden and unmoving under the radar of other people’s scrutiny.
After my mom and I spoke about this, she began trying out my idea and began swaying her pelvis from side to side as she walked about in the privacy of our flat. She might have been chuckling, because it was so awkward for her, yet she said that it actually felt quite good. She wasn’t ready to strut down the streets of Hong Kong like a Victoria Secret model, but now she had the possibility of doing so when no one was watching, and her back, her shoulders, her legs could get some newfound relief. That moment made me feel so happy. I felt like I was able to be a gift to her.
I don’t have the image of my mom as the woman in some sort of discomfort or pain anymore. After the first summer of my Feldenkrais training, I insisted that she join me the next summer, and she’s been to Levico Terme in Northern Italy seven times already for my training as well as her own. I was there when the pelvic clock was taught in her training. As usual, the microphone was handed around for people to share their experiences and to ask any questions. Someone had begun speaking, and my mom got up from her mat to get her notebook and then sat back down. Then she realised that she forgot her pen or something, and then got up to get it and come back. Then it was her water bottle or whatever, and she did this four times at least. The trainer saw this and passed the microphone to her. He asked if she felt anything different or unusual.
My mom is one of those who generally likes to start with, “Not really,” but she continued on: “Well, come to think of it. For someone who doesn’t like to move usually, I got up and down quite a bit without thinking about it.”
My eyes teared up. In my twenty-odd years, I had never seen my mom get around with such agility. She had barely even run after giving birth to me. She was happy when she didn’t need to move and had always thought twice before getting up to do anything. My mom, my hero, my best friend finally got to feel this ease and freedom that she deserved.
In an FI she got in the training which focused on her back extension, she started laughing because she felt like she was a beautiful marble sculpture that would be in the same museum as Michelangelo’s David. In an ATM class of mine that she attended, where we did something about allowing the shoulder blades to slide closer to the spine, she came to standing and began buzzing around the room with her arms behind her because she felt like Tinkerbell. In discovering these other ways of moving – sexual, sensual, or merely just possible – she opened up to the fun and life energy that she truly is.
When you ask her what she has gained from Feldenkrais, she will likely say that it was not something physical. She told me that she had always only waited for the 2A bus to get to work. If she missed it, she would immediately get a taxi. After the first summer she spent at my Feldenkrais training, she finally saw how there were at least five other buses that would take her to work as well. Yes, they did cost a bit more than the 2A, but they were still less than half the price of the taxi! She began to see more possibilities around her. She also became more comfortable with saying no and daring to say what was on her mind.
My mom’s fancy for fashion has also been re-enlivened. She has these two necklaces: one of a hippo, and another of a zebra. She likes to match and mismatch these two obnoxious accessories with her colourful clothes, because in her words, “It’s a bit naughty.” She finds it fun. She’s found comfort in adopting a mindset where she can find her own balance, taste, and truth outside the usual norms of right and wrong. For me, that shines through as health.
So what has become apparent for me is that the road towards sexual health is a journey of accepting the many facets of our human potential. It’s about learning to appreciate and be in awe of our individual possibilities that make us feel good, if not delicious. Maybe before letting the pelvis rotate, sway, and tilt, it’s about realizing the beauty that you are in the ocean of options that we have at our disposal to dance in balance with life’s expected and unexpected. It’s about giving room to admire your capacities and skill to live vibrantly.
A quote from Samantha Jones from Sex and the City comes to mind:
“If I worried what every bitch in New York was saying about me, I’d never leave the house.”
Today could be the day for you to wander out of the house of the shoulds or shouldn’ts according to what people see, think, or say. Listen to what makes you come alive. Be your own artist with your pelvis and everything that is connected to it, and be an inspiration to others with your actions and presence. Could this lead you to more generosity to love as a mother or a father, a partner, a friend, a neighbour, a … ?
Epilogue: Nowadays, I enjoy becoming aware of what I do not know about my pelvis. Sometimes I uncover lingering shame or misconceptions about it, and I delight myself in finding another goldmine in the unknown. I’m becoming a better dancer and developing more clarity that will help me as a proponent of human potential every day.
Paul was born in Hong Kong. He’s a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, JKA practitioner and therapist, and currently the rehearsal director for the dance company, Of Curious Nature, in Bremen, Germany. He graduated from Canada’s National Ballet School, trained at the Rotterdam Dance Academy, and then danced with IT Dansa in Barcelona and the Gothenburg Opera Ballet. Freelancing with Andersson Dance, he toured internationally and performed at The Barbican and The Kennedy Centre. He has taught Feldenkrais at dance companies and schools in Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, and now teaches online through Movement and Creativity Library, The Exhale for musicians, as well as his own private groups.