Interview with Thomas Kampe
by Daniela Fontaine
During Thomas Kampe’s second visit to Obrador de Moviments, our colleague Daniela Fontaine had the opportunity to interview him. We share their thoughts with you so we can analyse the applications of the Feldenkrais Method and our creative approach. We hope you enjoy it!
In Thomas’s own words, “My workshop ‘The Art of Making Choices’ is very closely aligned with the spirit of Obrador de Moviments, because you have a somatic, creative, holistic and humanistic approach, and understand movement as a creative resource of the Being”.
Why “The Art of Making Choices”? Where do the name and approach come from?
The name comes from the book “The Art of Making Dances”, written in 1959 by the famous choreographer and dancer Doris Humphrey. It was the first book about choreographic processes, what it means to be a choreographer and the role of choreography in modern Western society. I focused my PhD research on the use of the Feldenkrais Method as a creative resource, and called it “The Art of Making Choices” because the method itself is a creative process that uses choreographic tools, such as movement, embodiment, sensations, direction, relation to gravity, repetitions, variations and composition strategies to change or alter our own perception of ourselves. We use choreographic and micro-choreographic strategies to make new choices about ourselves and become aware of the decision-making process.
Does this art of making choices create a more horizontal and collective choreographic process?
I work a lot with non-professional dancers, people who just want to feel better. Therefore, this is not merely about creating a choreographic product, but involves an aesthetic, sensory and experiential process. We use creative strategies to feel more empowered, so we have more choices to commit ourselves to the outside world. This is what the Feldenkrais Method coupled with creative practices look like.
This method can also be applied to the process of creating a choreography or a performance. I have done a lot of research on the choreographic process and, first, I believe that combining the Feldenkrais Method with a training and rehearsal process has participants return to their own “agency”, that is, to their ability to make decisions from the inside. The method constantly raises this issue, as participants are asked questions like “How can you do it this way?” “Do you need to do all this?” “Could you do less?” “Could you do more?” “Could you do it differently?” In this creative process, the dancer acts as co-creator, because the material is the result of exploration. Additionally, there may be a choreographic facilitator or a team to work on this material, redefine it, shape it or restore tasks; but the dancer has been activated, encouraged and accepted as a co-creator.
Would you say that a dancer who recovers their “agency” is more engaged with society?
Well, that is difficult to answer. I have done some research on the ethics or policy of what we do. In a way, we are talking about the ethics of autonomy, self-creation, and autopoiesis. In modern French philosophy, many people say that autopoiesis is self-creation, and that the ability to do is the relationship that stems from it. Making choices in a sensitive manner and considering others is the cornerstone of a democratic society. In a way, that is what Feldenkrais intended when he spoke of the future societies made up of conscious individuals. Faced with the rise and development of totalitarian and hyper-mediated societies, I wonder whether we are getting closer to that path, whether our world is evolving in that direction. I very much doubt it. I doubt that there is a linear development towards a more evolved human being, as Feldenkrais anticipated. I think education is necessary. Every society needs a challenging education to shape critical, sensitive and communicative people who can be part of a cultural, political and social process. I must confess that I do not see this happening on a large scale.
The Feldenkrais Method is about listening, not knowing, paying attention to the emerging processes. I come to the studio and I do not know what I am doing. I might have some ideas, but I do not have a book next to me where all my exercises are described systematically. Of course, I plan some exercises, but I may enter the room and realise that I can throw them out the window, because they are no longer of any use to me. I need to create an environment in which the group can respond in a generous and constructive manner, for the others and me. I look around and I respond in a smooth and generous manner to what the group needs. This is a psychosocial facilitation. As the facilitator of the group, I try to open a space for negotiation and discovery, but also for crisis and communication.
How does the Feldenkrais Method relate to this facilitation?
I practise the exercises that I teach in my workshops. In the morning, I always wake up and practise the Feldenkrais Method to feel better. In addition, I have been facilitating processes (such as the one I shared at Obrador de Moviments) for 40 years. I have developed the ability to observe, listen, differentiate, keep open, not have the answers immediately. I have taught and worked in many different contexts. Some of them required me to be fast, sharp, and descriptive, have the answers quickly; I have also worked in contexts where having the answers is not good and all I need to do is contain. Therefore, having a variety of roles that I interpret as a pedagogue, I believe that I can use them as a colour palette for designing a process. Then I look at what there is and I highlight it; I also see what is missing and propose something new, I enter more and more elements in a complex system.
What is the role of the voice in the Feldenkrais Method?
There are two ways of facilitating the Feldenkrais Method. One is through the ATM (Awareness Through Movement) system, and this is used with groups. In these cases, the Feldenkrais professional speaks, makes questions and proposes a series of practices, something like micro-choreographies. Facilitation is conducted entirely through verbal instructions.
Feldenkrais mentions that part of the purpose of this is to allow time for individuals to find their own solutions without any visual references. The process begins by listening and then translating those words into one or several sensations and movements.
Between each exercise, there are some breaks, moments to reflect and observe the differences, to pave the way for a process of research and learning from experience. We make a lot of questions, and sometimes we do not even need the answers, but we are trying to encourage the participant’s curiosity and self-questioning. The questions are usually something like “What happens if…?” “What happens when…?” “What are the consequences of this?” This way, we guide the learner toward different possibilities, to pay attention to causality and to observe the qualities of the changes in themselves.
We ask about intraorganic relations through questions like “What is the relationship between the knees, the hips and the ribs?” Next, we make questions to help refine the ability to make and feel, “Can you feel that this is happening while you are doing that?” Then, the participant pairs their sensations with their actions, associates their doing and their feeling. People in general are very disconnected from this; sensations have been colonised and civilised. The Feldenkrais Method brings sensitivity back.
You often describe the Feldenkrais Method as an emancipation process. Would you say that this reconnection between sensation and action has anything to do with this?
Absolutely. Many elements in this method are potential emancipators.
The great tragedy of this method (and all the methods from this emancipatory wave) is the American neo-liberal approach that advertises Feldenkrais as a slogan to “free the shoulders, mobilise hips, straighten the spine, the method that will have you skiing better or running easier”. The truth is that a whole movement began to take shape early in the 20th century with the articulation of an emancipatory humanism. Standing out in this group are the gymnastics of Bess Mensendieck and Elsa Gindler; Feldenkrais practised with them and brought back some of their exercises. Both include the practice of somatics and self-perception as a rebellion against the patriarchal capitalist and oppressive system.
These methods were subsequently commercialised and became health and beauty practices, losing their radical content.
In a way, the same could be said about the radicalism of the Feldenkrais Method: in the 1996s in the USA, it was commercialised and turn into a method on how to achieve your dreams, have more peace of mind and enjoy yourself, with the underlying goal of making money. Nevertheless, there is so much more to it. Some people manage to go back to their dignity and their own choice. It is about reactivating and empowering people. Traditional education disempowers and disables individuals, and often restricts their body movement.
It is also important to point out that this method involves a critical process, which Feldenkrais calls “the mature behaviour”. The mature behaviour refers to the process by which an adult consciously reflects on their patterns of movement and divides them into small units. Then, these units are questioned, criticised and reassembled, creating a better behaviour for the individual. The method is based on observing an everyday practice, such as walking, and breaking it into different parts so we can question them, activate our critical spirit and try alternative ways to do the action.
What I mean by a process of emancipation is that we ask people to observe things and to not leave them as they are, to try to do things differently and be critical. There are no recipes in the Feldenkrais Method. We do not prescribe anything, neither do we name or label, and if we do, we do not impose a way to which the apprentice has to adapt; we approach them in a non-corrective manner. Obviously, as a teacher, I often know what I want to see, partly because I have some answers in my mind and I see the person in front of me; however, I try not to prescribe anything. I try to find ways of exploring that allow people to find the answers for themselves. Feldenkrais calls this “the induction process”: it has a starting point, where the exploration begins. The seeds of this exploration grow and help people find out things, but there is nothing to prove. Feldenkrais uses this Socratic way of questioning and this emerging form of work as a method.
During your last visit to Obrador de Moviments you talked about decolonising touch. What is the role of touch in this process?
Touch is a very important learning tool in this method. Feldenkrais uses different metaphors to avoid dominant approaches to his teachings. We try to work in a holistic manner. For instance, he uses the words “composition” and “improvisation” to describe his lessons, and talks about “dancing together” to refer to the way in which touch is used with another person. In doing so, touch becomes a process of poetry and communication. Above all, the goal is learning to listen and feel through our hands.
The first step is using touch without imposing anything on my learning partner: I am not doing anything to my partner; I am working with them. This is one of the ethical principles of the method. Through my hands, I create new possibilities for movement. The task of a Feldenkrais practitioner is to support the student, accompany them and clarify what is happening. In this sense, supporting means “being there” above all. I am there as a person who respects, who cares and is curious for the other. “What is this movement?” “How did you do that?”
I need to be clear about my intentions when I touch, therefore I must establish contact with clear spatial directions. I have to know the meaning of taking something to the right, to the left, bringing it back inside. I have to learn to be clear and simple in my own organisation, from my centre to my limbs, and I have to learn to feel and imagine what is happening within the other person, the potential echoes of what we are doing, I must activate my intuition.
Do you need to experience something for yourself before you can touch someone else?
I believe so. You need to feel your own experience. When teaching Awareness through Movement (ATM) or Functional Integration (IF), your own experience always comes first. At the moment, I know I am giving good lessons, but perhaps for the first 20 years of my career my lessons were not that good, because my motivation to teach was my desire to share what I had learned. I improved over time. Today I gave a good lesson because these 40 years’ experience have allowed me to reflect, make mistakes and nurture my curiosity. I often speak about the importance of losing and finding. Sometimes I am not good, and I do not know how to do it, but then I find it again and I trust this process. That is why I work with and from my own vulnerability.
Thomas, this is the last but most important question: will you come back to Obrador de Moviments?
Yes! Of course, I love being here. This is one of Europe’s leading school for the development of the creative practice of the Feldenkrais Method. I am observing a trend towards linking Feldenkrais with the creative processes again. There are numerous writings and thoughts on it, and I know that many professionals around the world are involved in these processes. Obrador de Moviments is the perfect place for that: a space to host creative play and this human practice in an exciting and adventurous way.