Chalom Finds Improvisation a Way of Life

“The best thing to do is find a certain movement that feels good or that’s fun to do and just keep playing in it,” she said. “You just keep letting go of judgment along the way.”

gettyimages

The moment Eve Chalom steps onto a sheet of ice, her body is instantly at peace.

“I will let my body do what it needs to find that flow,” she said. “I will just go with my instincts about whatever movement I want to do and will continue to give me a sense of grounding, relaxation and ease.”

A former world ice dance competitor and three-time U.S. national medalist, Chalom spent her childhood years perfecting routine after routine, memorizing body positions and tracing ice patterns. While her time on the ice used to be dictated by detailed workouts and program run throughs, nowadays Chalom has rediscovered her love for skating in an entirely new format. More than 10 years after her competitive days, she has found liberation through a journey into improvisation.

Improvisation has not only transformed the way she perceives and practices her craft in skating, but it enabled her to find a new perspective on life. Currently conducting a Chicago internship for a master’s degree in dance therapy at the Pratt Institute, Chalom now understands the somatic and neurological processes that go along with improvisation that she believes are essential for a figure skater’s development.

“I think people who end up getting hip surgeries in their 20s didn’t learn how to feel free and empowered in their own body,” she said. “It’s learning how to use their weight to do things. It’s all body awareness and feeling different timings and rhythms.”

Chalom’s first taste in improvisation occurred at an audition in 2006 when Chalom lived in New York City pursuing a dance career. Feeling as though her body became paralyzed and tense upon the director’s request to improvise, she diagnosed that large amounts of tension had built up inside her body since the age of four after being hit by a car. The accident caused her to lose most of her hearing in both ears.

“I realized that there was a part of my body that was frozen in a way from the impact,” she said. “I had compensated and covered up for it while managing to do everything in my life in the midst (of the accident). That was something that made me more afraid of life.”

As she began to understand the connection between her emotional state and improvisation, Chalom’s frustration caused her to take action. While searching online she discovered an improvisation workshop in Upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. Located inside the Zen Mountain Monastery, the retreat was led by a woman named Joy Hintz, former lead soloist and rehearsal director with Nikolais Dance Theater. Hintz taught the concept of dancing without thinking and becoming movement in the moment. Chalom found this approach much more difficult than choreography where one is entirely given specific movement to do.

Upon returning from the workshop, Chalom took a series of improvisation classes from renowned teachers such as Jennifer Monson, artistic director of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art Nature and Dance. Through her education, she learned that improvisation itself can be formulated within a structure such as limiting the amount of space or working within a set rhythm. Slowly, Chalom found herself able to give liberties in movement without critiquing.

“The best thing to do is find a certain movement that feels good or that’s fun to do and just keep playing in it,” she said. “You just keep letting go of judgment along the way.”

One of her favorite improvisation techniques is authentic movement in which the dancer’s eyes are closed. A witness watches the movement with the goal of being present in a non-judgmental way. The dancer is encouraged to develop their own internal witness—a learned process of body awareness and cognition. Taking into account all these various methods, Chalom began to perform improv and create dance pieces for others based upon improvisation techniques.

At the end of September in Madison, Wis., Chalom attended a dance improvisation festival sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dance Program and hosted by nationally recognized guest artists and scholars. While at the workshop, she attended many contact improvisation jams where two or more dancers share energy points of balance, weight and momentum.

“You learn a lot about relationships in the jams. It’s very useful. There is a flow that everyone is attentive to in general,” she says. “I see my tendencies and it tells me what my status quo is at that moment or how I’m feeling about relationships in general or my feelings on where I am right now.

“This is one of those examples where this internal witness comes in. An example is weight sharing—when doing contact improvisation, there is a lot of different ways to make contact with someone else or share any weight. When you share more weight, you open up more options about what you can do. It also means there is more risk, because you do things that have momentum.”

As Chalom sorted through the process of improvisation on the ground, she realized the transfer application to skating. She started creating exercises for skaters to develop spatial awareness, free body movement and bodily understanding on the ice. Through her studies in movement therapy, she began to use a type of trauma resolution therapy called somatic experiencing to help those experiencing issues with their sympathetic nervous system.

“If your sympathetic nervous system is over-activated and you are on alert all the time, your responses are limited. You are not free to respond in any way that you would like to in the moment,” she said. “That makes improvisation more difficult. What makes improvisation fun and free is when you have lots of different choices. But when you feel restricted, there’s a tension in your body that is stopping you from being able to have freedom to respond in any way you’d like to in the moment.”

She believes that skaters are especially prone to this over-activation when they are trained and programmed to put their bodies in one position for so many years of repeated movement. She finds that skaters who don’t understand their body or know how to adjust a position with their environment are much more likely to have debilitating joint injuries later in life.

“The longer you train and the higher level you get to the more you need to release from your body to feel free,” she said. “There’s something very valuable about training as athletes…but you need to teach someone how to feel their own body. We are not assembly line machines.

“They may say, ‘let me work on this spin or this jump’ but let’s first work on getting your body adjusted so that you can feel empowered and able to do what you need to do and learn the different skills that you need to be able to do those things. It’s teaching body awareness and the ability to move in different ways.”

She stresses teaching skaters the directional analysis of sagittal, vertical and horizontal to help them visualize positioning for jumps, spins, footwork and choreography.

“Suppose you take off (for a jump) and hit a piece of ice on your way up or down. If your body is so rigid in one pattern, your body is not going to be able to make that little adjustment that it needs,” she added.

In terms of Chalom’s own skating, the newfound freedom she has experienced informs her process of performing, choreographing and teaching. She credits performing 10 years with the Ice Theatre of New York as an outlet allowing her to find that freedom. Now in Chicago she is involved in Ice-Semble Chicago and the American Ice Theatre.

“I feel a new sense of weight in my body,” she said describing her application to improvisation on the ice. She stressed it was not something that came overnight.

“You have to have a lot of patience in the process.”

After Chalom receives her master’s degree this spring she plans to continues teaching improvisation techniques to skaters and coaches alike.

“I have decided that both improvisation and choreography are good for the body,” she said. “The whole process is a healing one.”

Advertisements

One response

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s