Feb 10, 2022 in DIS-TANZ-SOLO

I had the pleasure of speaking with Paolo Fossa and presenting my project Sports science as a tool for movement optimization, injury prevention and performance enhancement in the work practice of contemporary dancers to his BET podcast listeners.

BET is a platform initiated by Paolo and his collaborator Judith Elisa Kaufmann, entirely dedicated to education. Education in dance and through dance. Through a series of podcasts with dance students, professional dancers, teachers, choreographers, theater directors, heads of educational institutions, therapists, researchers, and politicians, BET aims to paint a picture of the educational system in Germany, as well as in other countries, as it relates to dance, while also creating a network for possible collaboration and exchange.

Listen to the podcast or check out the transcript of our conversation below.

BET Podcast transcript

Michael is a dancer, choreographer and teacher for contemporary dance and an independent movement researcher. He has collaborated with many choreographers and companies on an international level. In 2017 he founded the choreographic collective Something Machine. Would you like to add any information?

I can maybe just briefly say 1 or 2 sentences about each of these areas of my work: As a dancer, I have been collaborating very closely with the Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat since 2009. I guess I believe in a certain time commitment to achieve depth and maybe even a kind of mastery in what you do, but of course I also work on other projects whenever my time allows.

As a choreographer and especially with the collective Something Machine I am increasingly interested in how independent and flexible choreographic systems can be developed in which the performers can freely move. And with that, how the role of being a choreographer might possibly shift a bit.

Well and for some time now, a major interest in my work actually both as a performer and as a teacher has been the intersection of sports science and contemporary dance.

What is the connection between education and dance for you? 

Well, as implied in the very name of your platform, education and training always involves some sort of development and growth. This is actually something that touches all areas of our lives. If we don't move from where we are, we stand still. And there we immediately have an analogy to dance, because dance is exactly the opposite of being static. Dance clearly lives in the moment and is therefore constantly changing.

That's why, for example, the development of exciting online formats is so incredibly challenging, because dance immediately loses its life when we try to record or preserve it.

But again, specifically on the question of how education and dance are related for me: If we don't want to keep repeating ourselves as artists, then we have to move forward, we have to evolve. We can do that either by increasing our knowledge and revising the tools we have at our disposal, or by throwing ourselves into new situations with our knowledge and with our tools and then see what possibilities arise.

In my opinion, these are two completely equally important things. We first look at what we do ourselves, and then we look at how we can relate our actions to other performers. How we behave with our bodies in new choreographic situations. And this is an evolution that always repeats itself in a circular way.

And then the more I know, the more I can do, the more options I have available, and the freer I can move.

I met you as a young dancer just out of the academy and, although discontinuously, I have been able to follow an upward career driven by curiosity and the desire to know and always seek new artistic paths. One of your latest projects, published in the form of a diary, dealt with the link between sport, medicine and dance. But I don't want to anticipate any further, and I leave you the floor to tell us about it.

So the project that I carried out as part of DIS-TANZ-SOLO is called: Sports science as a tool for movement optimization, injury prevention & performance enhancement in the work practice of contemporary dancers.

The idea came very specifically from my own experience as a performer, after I tore my right calf during a performance in Italy a few years back. I was quite disillusioned at the time regarding medical care and support in terms of my recovery. I found that neither the speed with which I was helped nor the approach of the therapists was in any way related to my profession as a dancer or to the fact that I ultimately act as a high performance athlete.

Fortunately, I met the sports scientist Patrick Rump, who has been working with Bill Forsythe, Hofesh, the Royal Ballet and many others for a long time, and I started to train with him quite intensively. Together we managed that I hardly had to cancel any jobs and that after only a few weeks I was fit enough to be part of an important world premiere at the festival in Avignon.

That was a bit of a revelation for me, because I realized how important his knowledge can be for my work as a dancer. That, for example, simple strength training can speed up recovery extremely, that it can prevent injuries, but that it also can enhance my performance in a way that opens up new artistic possibilities. For instance, I can be less preoccupied with the processes within my own body while performing and therefore have more capacity to concentrate on what is happening around me. And this in turn allows me to make better choreographic decisions as a performer.

So my DIS-TANZEN project was meant to cover three different aspects: On the one hand, it was meant to further optimize my own performance, on the other hand, to see to what extent I could integrate sport-scientific approaches into my work as a trainer, and thirdly, to create a platform via my webpage where other dancers could inform themselves directly or which would provide them with the necessary resources that would allow them to further educate themselves.

To start off, I did a very comprehensive and far-reaching survey among professional dancers to assess the status quo within the community and to see how dancers train, how they deal with injuries, what their knowledge and interest in sports science topics looks like, etc. I then started to document my own training via my website and tried to explain the underlying approaches and concepts as comprehensibly as possible, I completely questioned and revised the structure of my class, especially so that I could still give practical help to dancers who are not necessarily interested in reading sports anatomy or training science books, and during my own continuing studies I tried to share as much information as possible online in a form that was comprehensible to dancers.

So there are my DIS-TANZ-DIARIES, where I explain fundamental principles, there is a long video conversation with sports scientist Patrick Rump, which covers a lot of topics and recurring questions among dancers, but there is also a huge collection of reference books and scientific studies that can provide enough reading material for the next half year or year or two years…

What do you think dance education should look like in the future?

In my opinion, there is still a rather strange paradox in dance. That is that during education and training we spend an insane amount of time on artistic research and discovering our individuality, but then in the end, working with a large number of choreographers, we are still told what to do and how to do something.

I would like to see something finally turn around here. In other words, I would like the training to be more about giving young dancers tools that they can later use in order to move more independently.

In my work as a teacher, as a choreographer, as a stager, I see far too many dancers who are quite lost if you don't tell them exactly how to do something. Many are admittedly really skilled when it comes to improvising completely freely, or when they need to copy a style as precisely as possible. But I often miss the ability or knowledge of how to really work with given movement material, for example how to use your material within a choreography to relate your own body to your surroundings.

With reference to my work around the topic of sports science: In dance there has been a huge boom in recent years in terms of individual creativity, improvisation and somatic techniques. And rightly so! But I think we can and we should be confident enough to acknowledge that, on the one hand, yes we are artists, but that on the other hand, the physical demands we face as professional dancers are basically on par with other high performance athletes. And sports science offers a huge amount of knowledge that remains largely untapped in our field.

So to sum it up again, my vision for dance and dance education would be to have more independent, self-confident and resilient dancers on one side, but also choreographers who dare to give their dancers more responsibility on the other.

Header photo by Alex from the Rock on Shutterstock