MY PATH THROUGH YOGA (PART 2)

By mike
27 May 2024

I was going a little stir crazy back in my parent’s house in Norristown PA in the late 70’s.  My time and experience with Bharat ended prior to my graduation from Delaware in 1976.  After graduation I was blessed to be able to meet up with a good friend and travel through Europe for ten weeks. Back home, I came across a small ad in Philadelphia magazine for a yoga class in the city at the Joan Kerr Dance studio. Upon calling the studio, I learned that the yoga class was canceled, but that I could consider taking their evening class in “Jazz Dance”. The woman on the phone was very engaging, so I decided to go ahead and make the drive into Philly that night.

I cruised into the city to the 3rd floor leased studio space of the Joan Kerr Dance Company at the corner of 13th and Race and entered this new world of jazz dance. Unlike yoga, there was no standing in one spot (at least not for long); there was rhythm, there was movement, there were beautiful women (well OK, like yoga in that regard also), there was hand drumming and Stevie Wonder songs, (“I’ll Be Loving You Always” transports me back in time now), there was fun.

 

I entered the world of dance, albeit for a brief time as it turned out, but still I had a taste.  I was ignorant of the background of Joan Kerr, and her artistic and socially conscious contributions to the city and the arts, primarily dance.
Daniel Webster of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1970 described the company as “a dance troupe of forthright eloquence… illustrating depth in contemporary dance expression.” (2)  

Below is a link to an excellent page with a great introduction to Joan Kerr and her impact on dance not only in Philadelphia where she was based, but also globally through her many excellent students.  Many of these students became teachers and evangelists in their own right of the Horton Technique favored by Joan; some like Denise Vale went on to success in other techniques as we will discuss.

https://www.philadanceprojects.org/michael-biello-dan-martin-2/

 I am no expert on dance, and have really own been to a show or two with the Joan Kerr Company, I just want to be clear on that. I pursued dance as an activity through the late 70’s, even throwing in a ballet class at a more local Olin Kearse studio in Ambler PA, until I was sidelined with a serious knee injury due to a fall at work while working during the winter snows. Dance career over, rehab beginning.

I do see a similarity between dance and yoga in that both are movement based with a focus on breathwork, and also have a range of techniques that direct the outcomes. Dance has more layers when you include choreography and performance, but both have a variety of styles or in dance vernacular “techniques”.  Dancer/teacher Paulette Poole had this to say about the Horton Technique favored by Joan Kerr from the Terry Fox philadelphiadanceprojects interview:

“The Horton Technique, we gravitated to it.  We loved it, and so it’s the knees, the hinges, the flatbacks, and all the things that you now see people in modern dance doing.  It’s very difficult.  It was, I don’t want to say gymnastic, but it wasn’t easy.  It wasn’t lyrical, you know.  But if you studied and practiced, and repetitive classes made you better in the technique.”

Martha Graham is world famous at the point and her style has become known as the “Graham Technique”.  While it did not resonate with Paulette as much, dancer/teacher Denise Vale embraced it to become not only a dancer with the Martha Graham company, but to remain as a teacher and Rehearsal Director for the Graham Company. The Company still performs worldwide and remains based in New York City.

An introduction to Martha Graham is available through a recent book by Neil Baldwin, Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern.

An interview concerning the book is available below:

https://www.dancemagazine.com/new-insights-into-martha-graham/

 

I am grateful that I experienced this moment in time to meet and learn from wonderful teachers like Denise Vale, and Paulette Poole-Phillips. As I mentioned, Denise left the Joan Kerr Company and became a featured dancer and teacher with the Martha Graham Company based in NYC.

Paulette began teaching the jazz class after Denise left and added her own unique flavor to the movements.  She remained in Philadelphia and was part of the artistic modern dance scene as a dancer and teacher for many years, working with not only the Joan Kerr Dance Company but also Juba, Philadanco, and Alvin Ailey.

I recently discovered an interesting interview of Paulette by Terry Fox of the Philadelphiadanceprojects group online that provides a great amount of detail on Joan Kerr’s Company and the Dance Scene of the early 80’s, as well as on her own career in dance.

https://www.philadanceprojects.org/interview-with-paulette-poole/

 

Annenberg Center Performance Brochure Cover for Joan Kerr Dance Company

 

The New York Times in 2012 published a story that serves as a wonderful introduction to Denise and her understanding of the Graham Technique. Denise passes on her love for Martha and the technique to new accomplished dancers not familiar with either in many cases.

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/nyregion/denise-vale-the-quirky-despot-of-dance.html

Denise is included with the trio of dancers on the program cover to the right of this paragraph.  She is to the far left, although she is not noted on the list of dancers, and perhaps did not dance this particular program.  Paulette Poole is noted, as well as the interviewer mentioned earlier Terry Fox, who appeared as a guest artist.  Finally, Angela Moreino and Debra Abrams I remember as also taking Denise and Paulette’s jazz class with me at times.

In addition to the Graham and Horton Techniques, modern dance students will learn others: Cunningham technique (Merce Cunningham), Limón technique (Jose Limon), release technique, and post-modern approaches to movement and choreography are some examples.

This older posting from The Lewis Center Princeton Arts organization show how at least four different dance techniques are delineated and offered by master teachers, including Denise Vale in the Graham Technique.

https://arts.princeton.edu/courses/dance-techniques-for-the-20th-century-dunham-graham-horton-limon/

 

Annenberg Center Performance Brochure Cover for Joan Kerr Dance Company

My personal view is that the practice of movement through yoga asanas is Hatha Yoga. I recognize that over the 50 years since I was introduced to Hatha Yoga by Bharat, it is now seen as a type of yoga, or a technique as I have used that term.  However I see it as a sort of umbrella over all these different forms and techniques I have discussed, and many more I have not.

Perhaps it is more easily understood from the bottom up, as the root of the Asana Tree, (Hatha Yoga).  From the desire to prepare the body for extended meditation, a core system originating in the Yoga Sutras and oral tradition and described by Patanjali as Hatha Yoga took root.  From that root system many branches developed, analogous to techniques, such as Sivananda, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Rajanaka, and others.

Namaste, and thank you for reading.

 

Cover of Bharat Gajjar book on Yoga featuring Meeta Gajjar on cover.

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