INTRO TO PERMACULTURE - Northern School of Contemporary Dance


9 December 2021
By Eleni Green

For those of you who haven’t heard this term before, Permaculture is a shortening of the phrase, ‘permanent agriculture’ or ‘permanent culture’ and is essentially a system of values and principles which can guide sustainable practise in farming but also in life. These principles were developed through observation of natural processes and the practises of indigenous cultures with the aim of reintegrating human beings into the cycles of the natural world.

Often, in the white paint and artificial lighting of the studio, I wonder how on earth I am meant to be considering ecology and environment while I work. Over the summer I attended a 2-week Permaculture Design Course, and since then I have come to see the overlaps between caring for the world around us and caring for our bodies. I feel that both skills comprise of listening to natural, mysterious and evolving bodies and improvising in response. The principles of permaculture have helped me to feel grounded and assured in the extensive utility of what we are learning from dance. So, if you are looking for a new way to be and to act in class, then you could try using these values in the studio. Here are some things that I have found so far.

(N.B. The language is not intended to be at all authoritative; it is just the way that I speak to myself 🙂 )

Observe and interact
Wherever you are, things are already happening, use them.

Be aware of your context; the space, the people in the room, the atmosphere, the sound, your body and your mental and emotional state all affect how the class flows. Try to let these elements guide your progress rather than identifying limitations to what you wish you could be working on. Listening with your ears, eyes and body are core skills in dance. So, before doing, just listen.

Catch and store energy

Remember that human bodies are not infinite and neither are our mental, physical or emotional energies. Make sure that these are all being replenished and embodied through rest. You can’t work on an empty stomach. You can’t feel confident without validation. You can’t be creative without sources of inspiration. These all need active maintenance.

Obtain a yield

Make sure that what you are doing holds some value to you – whether that is enjoyment, satisfaction, interest, novelty, stability, communication or anything else you believe in. If you can’t find the purpose of an exercise, ask questions or add and focus on another layer that you do value.

Apply self-regulation & accept feedback

Don’t be greedy with progress; learn to enjoy the small steps forwards.

Failure is part of all growth so be honest with yourself when it happens, celebrate the courage it took to take that risk and use every part of it as feedback.

Use & value renewable resources & services

Always aim for sustainable. If you feel that movements are achievable in the moment but detrimental in the long term, they are not going to help you build a healthy and functional method of dancing. Think about how they may aid or obstruct your movement in 7 years’ time.

Produce no waste

Be efficient with your movement. Using more energy than is necessary to prove that you are working hard is only beneficial to your ego, not your dancing, your body or your relationships. Work intelligently and value the energy you have been given by the world around you, through food, light and people.

Design from patterns to details

Begin learning new content with the bigger picture in mind. For example, consider energy and weight pathways, and qualities. Then move deeper into specifics such as rhythms, directions and peripheral placement. Once the movement has been embodied, moving between the wider and smaller focuses keeps the adventure in learning.

Integrate rather than segregate

Everything in the body is connected. We dance best when our whole body feels considered. Everyone in the room is connected. We are neurobiologically hardwired to work best with others. Try never to neglect parts of yourself in class.

Use small and slow solutions

Implementing realistic and regular habits is much more likely to create long term change in comparison to making impressive choices that quickly lose momentum. Take commitment, patience and creativity into your problem solving and know that you really do have all the time you need.

Use and value diversity

Creativity is most fruitful when you know that you have options. Different people give you different options. Try to see differences as tools we can use to make the world, or just the class, better, rather than distinguishing your progress from that of those around you.

Use edges & value the marginal

Try not to see your skin as the end of your dancing. The heat, energy and intention of your movements travel much further than your physical body so try and interrogate any preconceptions you may have of where your movement ends and where you see the boundaries between you and the space.

Creatively use and respond to change

Enough said.

This interpretation is in progress and it would appreciate any feedback you may have 🙂