A Newbie's Guide to Release Technique

Lizzy Le Quesne teaching Skinner Releasing Technique in Athens, Greece (courtesy Le Quesne)

"Imagine your bones spilling across the floor like water."

"Your body is buoyant, afloat atop an airy cushion."

"Think of the skull and torso as two vast spaces filled with soft light."

Imagery and metaphors like these are staples in a collection of styles generally called release technique. They help dancers find new ways to initiate movement, leading to endless possibilities in choreography, improvisation, and improving technique. There's no one way to release, nor is there one person to credit for this approach to movement. Rather, a whole range of 20th-century modern dance techniques and somatic practices have brought release into relief.

The Roots of Release

The word "release" has been used in dance for quite some time. In fact, the mother of modern dance, Martha Graham, recognized the power of release by making the contraction—a two-part process of contracting and releasing the core—the foundation of her style.

Graham wasn't the only modern master to focus on release. Some say the floating, fluid technique created by Erick Hawkins (the first male in Graham's company) is the precursor to release techniques. José Limón's technique, based on Doris Humphrey's notion of fall and recovery, dynamically releases weight into each movement. And Trisha Brown's dancing has often been described as release-based—though she rejected the term, saying instead that her dancing was "the line of least resistance."

In the 1960s, movement artists began exploring release to open up new approaches to dance. Joan Skinner called her approach "Skinner Releasing Technique"; Marsha Paludan's was "Anatomical Release Technique"; and Lulu Sweigard and Barbara Clark developed "Ideokinesis." Teacher and choreographer Mary Fulkerson defined
release technique as "a body/mind integrative technique through which engagement with imagery enhances and inspires imaginative responses and bodily movement."

Skinner Releasing Technique

Skinner Releasing Technique (SRT)—developed in the early '60s by Joan Skinner, a dancer for Graham and Merce Cunningham—is one of the most practiced release techniques worldwide today. Lizzy Le Quesne, an SRT facilitator in the UK and internationally, says Skinner's practice offers dancers awareness of deep, unconscious holding patterns. Dancers of all styles can benefit from studying SRT because it elaborates on fundamental principles of dance, including suspension, alignment, economy and efficiency, sustainable breath and energy, spontaneity, suppleness, balance, grounding, and dynamic stillness.

"Imagery is crucial for transformation," says Stephanie Skura, a dance practitioner and choreographer who's led SRT trainings and teacher certifications. "Our senses feel the image, and for a time, we are free."

While observers of an SRT class might see bodies in stillness on the floor, that doesn't mean dancers are relaxed or napping. Rather, they're going deep into layers of consciousness beneath the waking state to release new ways of moving. In an SRT class, students lie on the floor to quiet the mind and enter deep states in which senses are open and learning is enhanced.

Lionel Popkin, choreographer and chair of the World Arts and Cultures/Dance Department at UCLA, says responses to the instructor's guidance vary by dancer. "Individual creativity is emphasized over mimicry of a shape. In some ways, people who aren't familiar think SRT looks like improvisation class."

Through detailed, hands-on partner exercises and vigorous, technically demanding movement explorations, "people find themselves doing things entirely new for them, or they didn't think they were capable of, moving with an ease they didn't think possible," Skura says. Through training in SRT, "you let go of habitual ways of thinking in order to let something new happen."

It's beneficial for dancers to study a number of release techniques and experience how the information interacts. "These techniques expand possibilities, letting you investigate how your body exists in space," Popkin says.

A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Demystifying Release Technique."

Dancer to Dancer
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers by clicking on their names here:

Read Darriel's profile here

Read Diego's profile here

Read Emma's profile here

And then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

Cover Model Search
Madison Jordan and Jarrod Tyler Paulson brought their real-life romance to the audition stage. (Adam Rose/FOX)

It's usually right around the third or fourth week of "So You Think You Can Dance" audition rounds that we start itching for the live shows. Sure, the auditions are fun, inspiring, and entertaining, but at a certain point, we reach audition saturation. (And the live shows are just so good and feature so much more Cat Deeley.)

All that said, Nigel and co. kept things spicy this week, so our attention remained firmly glued to the screen. (It's been 16 seasons—who are we to doubt Nigel Lythgoe, sir?) Here's how it all went down.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
Photo by Erin Baiano

When it comes to injury-prone body parts, knees reign supreme for dancers. But a little strengthening can go a long way in preventing painful outcomes. We turned to Dirk Hartog, a physical therapist with Westside Dance Physical Therapy in NYC, for three exercises that'll support and stabilize your knees.

Keep Reading Show less



Get Dance Spirit in your inbox