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Title
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Lecture    
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A lecture given by Robert Cohan in 2012 to students and staff at Beijing Dance Academy.
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This presentation was the same lecture given by Cohan at a seminar held for Martial Arts masters in the South of France some time ago.
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Audio: duration – 19:51
 
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Question and answer session following the Beijing lecture –

Question 1 (Beijing student):
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Question 2 (American student):
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Question (from Martial Arts student):
I can relate, or understand about being empty, as in an empty cup, what about keeping it (after that)?

Bob: Your emptiness becomes filled with more and more emptiness. Or your cup gets bigger. As you progress your experience continues. You don't have to worry about keeping it – it is there in you, but you inside must stay empty. If your experience is real, no one will take it from you, you will not lose it. You may leave it to the side for a while, but it is yours. I don't think you have to worry about that. Every single class that you take you have to come newborn, with your experiences.

(Question about emptiness as a goal to give one focus to learn)
Bob: But why do you need a goal? That's an attitude. That may be the reason you come here. But once you step into the studio leave it because again, what you know will be here, in you. And what you learn you are going to get now, today, this minute. It's a good question because your goal limits what you can learn. It depends on your concept of your goal. The wonderful thing is to not have a goal, to be open and be filled up. This should be the goal everyday.

Question: (Martial Arts master)
You wrote in your text about the student who was questioning you so much.

Bob: I didn't say only that he questioned a lot – I said he judged. Questioning is asking for answers. Judgement is making decisions within your own head about what's good what's bad, what' right, what's wrong. They're two separate things, which I think you have to be careful about. I was very careful about what I said. Of course to learn well one needs impeccable taste in questioning. Questioning of course is necessary – but you have to question from a certain place in yourself, and that is the most intelligent place, the most aware, the most learning place you can question from. Not just to question. A lot of people question in order to excite energy. You question to excite yourself. You feel good because you question. Oh I have a lot of questions. 'That's not so simple – I have a lot of questions.' This makes me feel good. That's not the kind of questioning I'm talking about.

I find with myself, that any time the questions that I have are not real questions – they are places where I have become stuck. And if I really look at them – it's not a question – it's how to get through this place that I'm stuck.

Return to what I was saying about attitude. If you have too many questions it becomes an attitude and you cannot see the answers – it's just that simple. A good question in impeccable taste is a good question, but that is up to you, in your own head.

Question continues… But this is hard to do…

Bob: If it were easy to do we'd all be soloists. It is hard to do, I agree with you. It's much easier for me to sit here and say it. Except I have been through what you are talking about and it is not easy…

The reason you're here… each person is different… but you're all here to solve some internal personal question or desire or image that you have found within yourself and that's what brings you here to this very special place far away from the normal life that is going on outside. You all have something that brings you here and this is the source of your interest. If you remember that all the time, what your driving force is, the questions start to fall away and it gets simpler and simpler if you can just do that.

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Question 3, first part (Beijing tutor):
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Question (from Martial Arts master):
What was your biggest challenge in your dancing career to date?

Bob: Martha Graham, who I worked with for 20 years, was an extraordinary person. She was a very special type of artist. And when I first joined her company I was one of 25 dancers and on stage she never looked at me, she always looked past me. If I was there, she looked somewhere else. She looked through me. And one day on stage she looked straight at me. And I almost fell down, because she was so powerful that when she looked at you it was like being brought into some other world. And the challenge was to enter that world with her.

Teaching dance, any phrase of movement a dancer does exists in time, from here to there, in time – 5 seconds, 30 seconds a minute and hour. If you could see the whole movement in one coherent pattern, like a seashell – it is a coherent pattern of the life of the animal. The same thing is true for two people; when you work together you should make a coherent pattern, which is that form, that shape, and there should be no false moves in the pattern. When you work that way, if you try to keep the pattern coherent, you can then learn how to do the pattern better.

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Question 3, second part (Beijing tutor):
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Question (from Martial Arts master):
(How do you) bring the second type of movement you describe, which is your signature of yourself that you get from your upbringing, from who you are, from who you encounter in your life, and combine that with the training that you get at this third level which gives you a sense of… You see an artist and you can really see something different in them, even though they all trained the same way…

Bob: Well that will happen inevitably. What will happen is your signature will change. You will actually have a different signature after a while, because the work you're doing is so powerful it will take over or should take over.

Question: But from a teacher's point of view, isn't it sometimes better to leave that person with his or her signature?

Bob: The teacher's not there to change somebody's life. The teacher is there to help you change your life. The teacher's not there to impose anything on you. The teacher's there to help you do what you want to do. That's the deal. And if you can do that, you're teaching well. So you have to be very careful when you see a student that really does not want to learn…You cannot give the same information to everybody - some things, yes.

Question (Martial Arts master):
In your teaching, how would you position yourself in order to facilitate this change, in relation to stopping the artificial movement and drawing people back to their natural movement. The execution from a movement that is, external – performable – to a movement that is more interiorized.

Bob: Well – I never start from the outside in; I always start from the inside out. I always taught, as I was taught, from sensation. What is the real sensation of an arm lifting? What lifts an arm? What does it come from? Not motivation but from the sensation of the muscles, of the bone, of the structure that works inside the body. And all my training worked from the inside out. For instance the nicest thing to do first thing in the morning, when you wake up…don't move, just feel yourself in bed… if you're in a bed… and just start to stretch… again, like a cat… move your body everyway, feel your weight in the bed – wake up your body by becoming in contact with it. See if you can find all the muscles, all the bones, all the joints, stretching through your body, just feel your body. This is the sort of motivation that makes movement. Now if you can bring that kind of internal sensation into the studio, you have come a big step toward finding the centre. I'm not saying that's all there is, not by any means, but if you can come with that awareness of your body into Dance instead of all those things in your head – 'oh, I didn't see that, what happened, did he go up, down, which way did he turn…' You don't know which way to go, and you're always bent over thinking instead of being straight. Instead of all that- come in with your body intact, come with yourself in centre, come ready with actual physical sensation.

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Question 4 (Beijing student):
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Question 5 (Beijing student):
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Question 6 (Beijing student):
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Question 7 (Beijing student):
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Question 8 (Beijing student):
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Question 9 (Beijing student):
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Question (Martial Arts master):
Could you elaborate more on the notion of centre. I have the feeling frequently when we talk about centre, it's a very centrifugal view, in other words we are on the outside and we imagine the centre at some point in the middle. Isn't there a theme of losing balance, of a fulcrum…

Bob: Centre in dance is a difficult word, it can be specific and it can be abstract and it can be poetic (an image). In one sense you say about centre, that there is an atom, like the sun, that is the centre. Everything else is like the galaxy, moving around this one atom. Now that centre is usually where your Chi is supposed to be, in the middle of the lower part of your body – but you have a centre and that's physical. Now there's a centre that you feel organised around as well, which is sensational, not just physical, and this is a part of what I mean when I talk about centre – finding the centre of a movement and being in that centre when you move.

Question (Martial Arts Tutor):
What do you mean by the actual centre of the movement – the feeling?

Bob: Sometimes when you move, it moves. You didn't do it, it moves and you think, Oh wow – that was it. Most of the time a cat moves from the centre of movement. We don't. A cat seldom makes a mistake moving.

Question: So what we're talking about here – movement and centre and everything. If you look at most sports – if you look at the best people in a certain sport they move graciously, and it looks easy… And if you look at a beginner, at dance or a sport with difficult technique, and when you start practicing you try to memorize, well I do this… now I do this, and you look clumsy. So the road from here to here is what we are talking about, finding the centre… Suddenly (?) but you need to live it

Bob: I absolutely agree. This is to give another point of view about learning movement. How to shake off some of the problems that you have when you come in – nothing will take the place of training. But, the question is still who is training and how are you training? And who is accumulating the information and how? How are they translating it? This is the important part.


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