Ashley Johnson:  daily reflections

Ashley Johnson: daily reflections

Way Out West (WOW) is an annual intensive in Vancouver offering in-depth somatic study through daily classes based on the exploration of multiple physical systems, including technique,  improvisation, experiential anatomy, performance, and yoga. WOW 2013  is in session this week, led by MascallDance Artistic Director Jennifer Mascall.   We welcome four  guest TALK contributors – Jennifer Hamman, Ashley Johnson, Elysse Cheadle and Rianne Svelnis, all currently in the WOW studio
Ashley Johnson joins us with a collection of  impressions over the course of the intensive:


Im constantly reminded that

the ability to internally sense

is a skill

which improves with practice.

Ashley Johnson



I am lost in confusion about the technical aspects of dance due to the current state of my body.  

As a result, Im attaching to the things I knowthe somatic elements and philosophical ideas surrounding the concepts of sensing vs. feeling, and the mystery often referred to as the proprioceptive sense.  

Class  365

The way brain and body negotiate space and time constantly fascinate me, and become especially evident in a class utilizing change of level and direction, which throws off my all too well developed head righting response.

Contemplating the transition point between imagining my heart muscle and really sensingmy heart muscle.  Jennifer talks about this process being equivalent to warming up the body in technique class. Class 384

Im constantly reminded that the ability to internally sense is a skill that improves with practice. I appreciate how the classes challenge my ability to sense the internal landscape while simultaneously sensing the external environment, building a three dimensional perception of the body in space. Class 176 #2

How do I know if what I think is happening is actually happening?

As Amelia said, If you think you know, you dont know, but if you know you know, you do know.

To this day one of the most profound moments in my life was the day I actually sensed my liver.  Through this week I aspire to add another organ to that list.  

As I say, my wedding day will have nothing on the day I found out I actually do have a liver inside of me.

Erin 2

Today, my body is fatigued today and my knee aches. 

So above and beyond any other practice today I am cultivating patience and that old saying, this too will pass.


photo by Yvonne Chew

The Itcush Method is my central practice, and I often find I grapple with a dilemna:  whenever I am not feeling excellent I want to abandon everything that Im exploring at the moment and just do Itcush exercises all day long.  When I look at the history of the development of the Itcush work, this makes a whole lot of sense.  A large part of Amelias process was looking at how the get the body out of pain and discomfort and functioning as an efficient whole.

 I know that  when my body is aligned and released my whole self functions at a higher level.   The most efficient tried and true method I have for attaining this is Amelias work.   

So as a result I am challenging myself with the question, How can I find the place that inhabits, strength, release and openness through other bodies of work and in moments when I feel the least connected?

Erin 3

I am still struggling with ‘when am I imagining?’ and ‘when is it actually happening?’ in the Experiential Anatomy work.  


Amelia Itcush‘s work holds that everything we do and sense is actually having a physical (primarily visible) effect – change – on the structure;  we work sparingly with imagery.  In the Experiential Anatomy practice, I assume partly because it is so internal, we are working a great deal with imagining, sensing and feeling.

Class 66

 Likely in all practices, there’s a moment when we must imagine without the ‘real’ sensation.  This point becomes very important when we move away from working with a practitioner and relying on someone else to transmit the physical experience into the body.  


More and more, in studying somatic practices, I return to  Amelia’s directive: “do not feel, sense”.  Feeling is inaccurate.  I can only feel what I have felt before.  If the experience is indeed pattern breaking I will not feel anything, but I will sense a new way of moving.  

erin 4

Some of the discoveries today:


      We think from the digestive system;  How can this affect / mirror my thought processes?


     Contrasting temperatures, viscosities and directions of the fluids within the body –  give a concrete tool to differentiate between different systems and tissues under my skin. 


How do YOU define embodiment?  A question I asked Jennifer in class today and try to ask all around the world of somatics and dance.  I also posed the question on Facebook tonight – lots of response. 

Class 64

Emilie Conrad says that it has no meaning, a word we throw around without really know what it means.  All that we do is embodied, it is to live in a body.   I’m not sure of Amelia Itcush’s take on this.   I brought it up once and she seemed disinterested –  someone else’s explanation of things she was already doing.  Jennifer talks about the ability to maintain internal sensing while be able to externally sense and engage using the voice from a present place.

Erin 5

Today was a good day.   An over-the-hump day, which always seems to be a haze of confusion mixed with exhaustion.

Can I develop honest art work?  How do I separate what emerges from truth from impulses than come from patterning and habit?  What does it mean to be ‘taken’ over?   Could I learn to purely follow the wave of my own movements?

Existing in a state of utter confusion during class today was when I knew that what Jennifer was teaching had real meaning in my daily life.  Class 67

At times, my fear of presenting my own work can be so overwhelming that the task at hand is not possible.  Jennifer says that as artists, we train the imagination to reflect the world that we exist in –  and as a result, sometimes the world doesn’t like what we have to say.  

I have never felt so much meaning in a single gesture.  Jennifer’s work asks us to remain present to the moment we are alive in, to dissect the story from the trance and patterns that take over my movements.  


Join the conversation at WOW and stay tuned for more TALK  from Ashley Johnson and colleagues.