Gain without pain

On a Tuesday evening in March, a group of students lay on their backs or stomachs on mats in a Harvard Dance Center studio, as teaching artist Grisha Coleman guided them through simple poses in the Feldenkrais Method — turning the head and resting it on the hand or raising one knee slightly — with the goal of increasing body awareness and mindfulness during movement.

The students were learning the power of slowing down — literally.

“It’s gentle. The approach is the opposite of ‘no pain, no gain,’” said Coleman in an interview. “The goal is not a six-pack ab; the goal is opening lines of communication between your nervous system and your muscular skeletal system.”

Coleman’s class “Awareness Through Movement: The Feldenkrais Method,” was part of a new series of community classes put on by the Office for the Arts Dance Program this spring, focused on physical and emotional healing. “Embodiment Practices” also included “Healing Through Expressive Flamenco,” taught by instructor Laura Sánchez.

Elizabeth Epsen, lead administrator for the Dance Program, said 50 students signed up for flamenco and 56 for Feldenkrais — a sign that the subject matter has resonated with people.

“The goal is not a six-pack ab; the goal is opening lines of communication between your nervous system and your muscular skeletal system.”

Grisha Coleman

“We know there’s a national mental health crisis among college-age students,” said Epsen. She noted that the idea for the series came from the OFA’s recent strategic planning process, which revealed a need for more programming that supports student health and well-being. “Students are navigating tremendous pressures on their own — some very personal scenarios, loneliness, things happening at home — while also living in a time of multiple crises in the world. Dance and embodiment practices can provide tools for coping and more integrated ways to literally move through the world.”

Sánchez said Expressive Flamenco combines the emotional dance form with storytelling, improvisation, and free writing to help students get in touch with their bodies and create a healing space for connection, self-expression and self-care.

“Facilitating Expressive Flamenco was a fascinating experience,” Sánchez said. “Several students were interested in experiencing a new art form, others were more interested in the healing/embodiment practice, and others were also interested in finding a space to heal in community.”

Mia Lupica ’26, a student in the course, has been taking classes and workshops through the OFA Dance Program since she was introduced to it during first-year pre-orientation.

“Laura was an amazing instructor who taught us to connect to stories through dance, to connect to rhythms through our bodies, connect to the musicians through movements called a llamada, [or] call, and how to actively support and engage with one another as we danced together by shouting olé,” Lupica said. “The class was super inclusive and accessible to all levels or injuries, and it was a great experience to learn how to express through my body.”

Coleman’s Feldenkrais class uses slow movements — like Tai Chi or gentle yoga — to help with posture and balance, mindfulness, pain relief, and healthy aging. Movements may be as simple as extending or retracting an arm or a leg, or finding a twist in the spine. The method is intended to inform daily movement — walking, safely lifting objects — but it can also be helpful for dancers.

Coleman said she began practicing the technique after sustaining injuries as a professional dancer.

“Depending on what genre or style you’re in, you’re trained to do things that may or may not be super coherent with what your body actually does,” Coleman explained. “For dancers, I think the benefit is you can untrain some of that useless effort and you can learn to dance more freely.”

Epsen said she hopes the series is helpful for all attendees, regardless of their dance style and experience level.

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