Adalisa Menghini, The Art of Movement

Adalisa Menghini,

The Art of Movement


I studied dance in Amsterdam at the S.N.D.O. (School of New Dance Development). Parallel to dance training, I was introduced there to ideokinesis and Body Mind Centering. I continued my study of BMC learning embryology with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. I received my post-graduate degree in neurophysiological psychology at the Institute of Neurophysiological Psychology of Chester, UK. At the moment I am studying the Feldenkrais method.


My interest in dance is motivated by the sense of freedom I experience when I move. My interest as a teacher of movement and choreography is to initiate a creative process that leads to an understanding of the correlation between body, mind, science and art.


Every thought, every emotion we experience, corresponds to a muscle change, so that our body is actually the concrete expression of who we are. Movements and postural habits learned from infancy remain in the brain as neuromuscular patterns. These patterns allow us to recognize someone’s posture and movement personality.


To deepen and improve movement options, I focus on body awareness, the ability to perceive and to feel how I move, and on efficiency, the coherence in my action that allows me to move the way I want with the least effort possible.

To access different aspects of awareness through movement, I work with distinctive approaches that relate to one another: ideokinesis, body mind centering, neuro-physiological psychology and Feldenkrais.



The word comes from the Greek “ideo“, meaning idea or thought and kinesis, meaning movement. Mabel Todd published a book in 1937 called “The Thinking Body” that became a classic in the field of human physiology.

It was a very new approach to movement education, differing from the general approach to teaching sports or performing arts because it focussed not only on improving but also maintaining efficiency in movement and on avoiding premature debilitation.

This method works by combining voluntary movement, which is a cortical process, with concentration on imagined action in the body, which is a sub-cortical process. The link between the two is the feeling of the experience of moving. By imagining and feeling the movement, we are stimulating new neuromuscular responses which allow the right action to happen.

Mabel Todd, Lulu E. Sweigard and Barbara Clark were major pioneers of ideokinesis. My teacher was John Rolland, a student of Barbara Clark.



Body Mind Centering(BMC)

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen was the initiator of the approach of Body Mind Centering and the teacher who taught me embryology.

This approach is based on the embodiment and application of anatomical, physiological and developmental principles that focus on options for studying the complexity of the body while moving.

BMC utilizes movement, voice and touch to journey into the mind of the body as a process of self-discovery and creativity based on connecting to the body-mind relationship. Through movement, we experience emotions; through movement, we can effect changes in the mind.


Neuro Physiological Psychology

Peter Blythe and Sally Goddard have written many books about the connection between reflexes and learning. I studied with them at the Institute of Neuro-Physiological Psychology of Chester (UK).

Neuro-physiological psychology is a non-invasive approach that explains the importance and function of early reflexes and their effects on learning and behavir if retained.

When children are born, they have a set of reflexes called primitive reflexes that are design to guarantee the survival of the body and to prepare the transition to the integration of the voluntary response.

Each primitive reflex is important for the functioning of the individual but they should all be inhibited within the first 12 months of life. Where this does not occur, these reflexes remain active and interfere with the learning of new skills. Inhibition here means the suppression of one function to foster the development of another. The primitive reflexes may reappear later in life, or in cases of pathology, accident or trauma.

When primitive reflexes do not become inhibited, they can prevent the development of postural reflexes, which are the ones that enable us to interact easily and effectively with our environment.

For example, a person who has retained their Moro reflex will be hypersensitive and hyper-reactive to almost all stimuli, particularly visual and auditory, because the Moro is an involuntary reaction to threat with a sudden movement of extension of arms and legs and a momentary freeze. Someone who has retained their STNR (Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex) will have difficulties trying to sit still on a chair because this reflex interferes with upper and lower body integration.


The integration of postural reflexes is directly responsible for our balance and coordination as we move through space. The organ responsible for these functions is the vestibular system, which, in evolutionary terms, is the oldest of our senses.



Moshe Feldenkrais was a physicist, an engineer and a judo instructor.

After suffering a serious knee injury, he began to explore ways of restoring his ability to walk. In the course of this research, he developed a well-known method for somatic education. This approach to movement involves training the nervous system to find new pathways around the damaged areas. It is a form of gentle movement combined with conscious analysis of neuromuscular activity aimed at improving flexibility, coordination and the ability to perform actions. I am currently training in this method under Jeremy Krauss in Berlin.


Pedagogical implications

Teaching adults is very different from teaching children because adults need to know why they have to learn something.

I use different strategies in different combinations with different group of students to improve the well-being of the students and their learning outcome. Students need to feel safe, to trust the working process in order to explore and discover their individual movement options.


I am interested in exploring fundamental principles of movement that can be applied to the learning of technical skills and improvisation.

The most relevant of these fundamental principles for me are:



Balance is our understanding of the relationship between the centre of gravity and the base supporting us. Balance has to do with foundation, which is the support base we rest on. How does this base of support shift when we move? How do we slide, jump, fall, land efficiently?  Discovering and training stability and support relieves fatigue because we can dispense with unnecessary muscle work. Working with a partner helps us to learn about trusting through giving and receiving each others weight.

Our vestibular system is the organ responsible for balance and coordination. To explore this concept, I have the students imagine the body being a soft container filled with fluid with sand lining the bottom. As we move, the sand shifts and creates a new support for us. This is basically what happens in part of our vestibular system where two small organs – the saccule and utricle – use fluid and tiny crystals to stimulate hair cells that can distinguish between different degrees of tilting of the head and subsequently send this information to the brain.



This principle is about succession, about how one movement influences the next and the next and so on. Sequence is a continuous chain of motion through the skeleton, like a domino effect. It is also about where I initiate motion. How specific can I become in isolating the movement of my  joints. How do the different joints move? Can I initiate and follow more than one movement at the same time?

Studying the human skeleton, understanding how it provides structure, protection and movement is essential to learning about sequence.

With sequence, we explore and learn about fluidity of movement.



Path is movement in space. It is about directions: up, down, from side-to-side, front, and back. Path is the geometry of movement in relation to space and to others, we play games in order to enter and exit space, to meet or to avoid one another. We explore and create movement with lines, curves, spirals.

Neurophysiological research has shown that the three semicircular canals in our vestibular system inform our brain about directions: up, down, side-to-side and tilting from one side to another. They lie at different angles and are situated at right angles to one other. As well as direction, they also inform the brain about acceleration and deceleration of movement.



Is the quality and musicality of movement. Different flows define the expression, the rhythm and the dynamism of our movements. Understanding flow is the equivalent of learning to compose a piece of music, the instrument is the body and its movement offers various possibilities. I teach the students to separate and combine different qualities while moving. The fluid system of body mind centering is the source of my inspiration. The arteries, for example, carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the tissues and organs or from the heart to the lungs, where it becomes oxygenated. The heart has a rhythmical pulse and arterial blood flows entirely outwards. The veins, on the other hand, carry blood toward the heart, from the periphery to the centre, from the outermost to the innermost areas.

Focussing on isolating and combining these two qualities can offer great variation in exploring movement.




Effort is the power of muscle action. With effort we investigate sustained or sudden flow, controlling flow or flowing easily.

Contact improvisation is a technique in which two people explore by staying in contact, improvising movement. Through contact improvisation, I have the students test out a sense of effort or of effortlessness when dancing together and practicing skills of rolling, falling, lifting, and counterbalancing.

We question the time-effort correlation, by exploring, for instance, the different amounts of time it can take to perform an activity or a phrase of movement.



Respiration is the action of breathing which supplies the body with energy. I work on the flexibilities of the thoracic cavity and diaphragm in order to improve movement and inner body volume. Because respiration includes the dimensions and rhythm of breathing, I work on the four part cycle of breathing: breathing in – pausing – breathing out – pausing – and play with different lengths of breath during movement.



Creative Implications

Simone Forti, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Nita Little, Lisa Nelson were pioneers in using improvisation as an art form.

Study with them, among others, made me appreciate improvisation as much more than a tool to generate material. They all introduced a practice of movement research that uses improvisation as a study of movement where the body is perceived from within.

Somatic comes from the Greek “soma” which mean the body as integration of mind, body and spirit. The somatic approach allows access to the imagination without the fear of making mistakes or of being inadequate. In this approach imagination becomes a state of being where creativity is a process connected with perceiving, seeing, doing. It is the conduit between the unconscious and the conscious mind, the key that allows an alignment between ideas, a process in which spontaneity is used to seek solutions.


Tuning into our current state of being is the first path I guide the students down before opening to others with the intention of co-creating.

When I teach improvisation, I explore different types of interaction, for example, moving in and out of physical contact.

In the class, we define and play with space, we learn about collective responsibilities, about exercising changes, taking action, embodying a vision. We deal with spontaneity, with expression, we include our personal life experience and we learn to handle accidental situations.


Working with improvisation with a compositional mind is a way of expanding creative possibilities. It means participating in improvisation with a capacity to understand the dramaturgy, the structure, the narrative, the shape, the timing and rhythm of the piece while it is evolving.

There are a few ways of guiding a dance improvisation in this direction, such as creating a “score” which is a structure known beforehand that will guide the improvisers, or such as ”directing”, when a person from the outside makes suggestions or decisions while improvising as well.


All of these are tools to help us get in touch with our ability to express ourselves. But the most important aspect of creativity is the emotional connection with the experience of an event.

We need to realize what we are feeling when we move, when we jump, when we fall, when we relate to someone. We need to learn to tune into those feelings while being aware of the composition we are co-creating. This will bring coherence to our actions because we are constantly in synchronicity with the moment of decision.




Recommended reading:



B.B.Cohen: Sensing, Feeling, Action. The Experiential Anatomy of Body Mind Centering. Northampton: Contact Editions 2008.

Moshe Feldenkrais: The Potent Self. A Study of Spontaneity and Compulsion. Berkeley: Frog Ltd. 1985.

Moshe Feldenkrais: The Elusive Obvious. Capitola: Meta Publications 1981.

Sally Goddard: Reflexes, Learning and Behavior. A window Into the Child´s Mind. Eugene: Fern Ridge Press 2002.

Andrea Olsen: Body Stories. A Guide to Experiential Anatomy. Lebanon: University Press of New England 2004.

Lulu E. Sweigard: Human Movement Potential. Its Ideokinetic Facilitation. New York: Harper & Row 1974.

Kent de Spain: Landscape of Now. A Topography of Movement Improvisation. Oxford University Press 2014

Mabel Todd: The Thinking Body. New York: Princeton Book Company, Publishers, a republication of the original edition first published in 1937, by Paul B. Hoeber, Inc