I’m taking a Changing My Brain class!
Some people, however, call this class TAP.
I started my tap class last April just before my 65th birthday and I LOVE IT! I wanted to learn it when I was a little girl but my mother wouldn’t allow it (something about Vaudeville and the sketch-y underside of showbiz, I think…)
Anyway, I can’t wait to tell you about this class! An admitted baby boomer herself, Deborah Perez is a beautiful dancer and an excellent teacher. We do our shuffle-ball-changes at By Your Side Dance Studio in Culver City and she is by far one of the best dance teachers I have ever had. She is able to adjust her teaching so that it’s unique to all of her students; making each one feel as if they’re getting a private lesson. We have former dancers, young and strong new-comers, and me: a 65-year-old, semi –coordinated, would-be dancer and gymnast.
I’ve always loved dancing. I love ballroom because I can turn off my brain and pretend I’m a tall, long-legged dance diva. Not so with tap. This style of dance requires you to tune in, turn on, and tap up!
Tapping appears to be the perfect path to fitness of body and brain. It’s not unlike what I have experienced in my 25 years as a Feldenkrais® teacher; we like to think of ourselves as “neuroplasticians” because our work can change the way people think, feel, and act. According to Norman Doidge in his latest book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, neuroplasticity is the “property of the brain that enables it to change its own structure and functioning in response to activity and mental experience. “ We used to think the brain and central nervous system was set once we reached the age of 25, but Doidge now believes that in order to “enable neuroplasticity to happen, the approach must require the active involvement of the whole patient in his or her own care: mind, brain, and body.”
I think I am definitely in the process of transforming my mind and brain, and (with a little luck) my body.
I am tapping into the unknown; sometimes this dance can be confusing and just plain hard. For instance, I was already aware of my toe clenching habit but you sure can’t do that in tap without developing pain almost instantly! So it forces me to be constantly aware of where I am on my feet. This requires the participation of my brain and muscles which in turn means constant challenges to my balance. I have to stay upright, relax my feet, move in a circle and keep my hand aloft while slapping, spanking, shuffling, and ball stepping.
Talk about challenging!
One of the ways we encourage neuroplasticity in the Feldenkrais Method® is by using novelty. Awareness Through Movement lessons are full of “novel” movements. We “wake up” the brain (and therefore new neural pathways) by bringing our awareness to parts that move together. That’s what happens in tap! In every lesson, we learn something novel. I have learned the “Buffalo,” the “Irish,” the “Grapevine,” and loads more. And then there is memory. I can feel my brain growing as I learn the moves and then put them into a sequence. A strategy thay my teacher recommends is letting the music tell us what’s next.
Of course, all of this requires strength and endurance. My legs are not as strong as they used to be and I don’t have the muscle fibers I once had. As I Feldenkrais teacher I know that if I move just from my feet, I won’t last long in this vigorous dance. I must engage my whole self. If I don’t, I won’t get through the hour class without being debilitated. If I do, I’ll feel invigorated!
So: awareness, novelty, strength, endurance, and memory. Tap wakes up your brain and your body by using all of these and I have to tell you that along with my work as a Feldenkrais teacher, I feel like I have found just the right combination of body and brain exploration. I can feel those neurotransmitters transmitting!!
I have now found another love besides the gentle, lovely movement I do when I lie on the floor for an Awareness Through Movement® lesson. My ability to tune into my movement and find another, more suitable way to do it is ingrained in my Feldenkrais® study. Both are keeping me young (and relieving my guilt about hating crossword puzzles and Sudoku!)
“Movement is Life, without movement, life would be unthinkable.”
Tapping along until next time,