The first time I saw the term “gaga” referring to a method of dance, I thought it was a joke. In my mind the word gaga conjured up images of pop diva superstars or stereotypical cartoon babies. I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be linked to dance. After the New York Times ran a piece about gaga, describing it as an innovative movement language developed by the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, my curiosity was piqued. But even after reading several articles about gaga, I was no closer to understanding what it was about. The descriptions were vague at best. Fate soon intervened: during an interview with dancer Bobbi Jean Smith from the Batsheva Dance Company, she mentioned they would be offering gaga classes while the company performed in San Francisco.
I signed up immediately. It was time to go gaga.
Class began. 35 dancers stood around the dance studio in a disorganized clump. Everyone (except me and one other girl) was wearing socks (I didn’t get the sock memo). Luckily socks proved to be unnecessary. We were advised to keep moving throughout the entire class, even while just sensing. We progressed through each movement and then “floated” in between, standing still to feel the echo of the movements resounding through the body.
- Weight changes. Our first task was to merely shift the weight of the body from foot to foot, feeling the motion echoing through the body and up the spine.
- Curves. We moved the body in curves, isolating different body parts, even the head and fingers and toes, then moved the whole body in curves… different parts of the body “told a different story.”
- Quaking. Quickly shimmying the pelvis from side, letting the movement carry through the rest of the body. The movement got faster and faster, we were encouraged to let it all go. While floating after this, I felt the electrical pulses of energy coursing through my whole body.
- Balance. Keeping the weight on one leg, we played with moving the other, thinking about initiating the movement from the bones. The leg moved because the thigh bone was rotating in the pelvis… “like a gearshift knob.”
- Feet. We articulated the feet, rolling through the them, even working the sides, imagining they were moving through something sticky.
- The Floor. We came down to the floor, resting the weight on left hand and left hip, then worked with the concept of giving into the floor, then pushing away, using the upper body first then the whole body.
- Quaking on the Floor. This one’s pretty much self-explanatory… and not that easy to do! We were told to change positions every few moments and continue quaking. Afterwards, we floated on the floor.
- Petit Allegro. We began jumping in place, going higher and higher, then moving the feet quickly and precisely in a free-form pattern, going fast and faster.
- Drumming. Using the hands, we drummed (vigorously) all along the body, while crouching and stretching into different shapes.
- Free Play. The last few moments of class were a chance to re-explore the things we learned in whatever ways we wished.
As we progressed through the exercises, a collection of philosophical threads or concepts kept appearing.
Floating spine. The spine floats throughout every movement of the body. There is a sense of ease and lightness in the upper body.
Stretching the bones. Moving the bones apart from one another, stretching the body long, like a giant yawn for the skeleton.
30-50%. Gaga doesn’t demand 110% effort, like so many other forms of dance. There is the idea that one can do any of the moves in class all day long without tiring… and still think about plans for dinner at the same time.
Breaking body parts into pieces. The fingers and toes are made of many different pats, but so is the pelvis, for example. We want to move all of the pieces.
Separating the skin. Thinking of the skin as a suit that we wear over the bones, letting it move and slide.
As above so below. Awareness continues beyond the skin and into what is above and behind the body.
The purpose of gaga classes is twofold: to reorient oneself in the body and to break habitual patterns of movement. It was certainly unlike any other class I have tried before. Batsheva dancers take gaga class almost daily and it’s easy to see why the company is known for its fresh, sensual approach – there are daily opportunities for the dancers to reinvent themselves in gaga class.
Gaga isn’t just for dancers, either… the concepts are easy to understand and put into practice. Gaga is quickly becoming a worldwide sensation. During a gaga benefit (for Japan) in Israel last spring, 900 dancers showed up.
They got gaga. How about you?