Eric Franklin: Transforming Technique through Science-Based Imagery

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Eric Franklin helps dancers to improve their technique by applying scientific principles, anatomical understanding, and the power of the imagination. The Swiss-born movement educator teaches workshops around the world, both at Pilates studios and at major dance institutions like the Juilliard School, the Royal Danish Ballet, and Guangzhou's Guangdong Dance Company. He is the author of Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery and Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance, both in their sixth printings. His 17-year-old institute is based in Switzerland. Rachel Straus recently spoke to Franklin about what makes his work so useful for dancers.

What is the Franklin Method? My method aims to improve a dancer's technique rapidly and efficiently. When dancers have difficulty performing a movement, they are often told by their teachers to do something differently. Sometimes this helps. Often it does not. The brain needs to receive information on technique in a very specific language in order to control the body in the way that you want. This language is imagery. Imagery is not just pictures in your mind--it is how a movement feels, the rhythm and the mood of it.

How do you begin helping a dancer? The Franklin Method has three steps: Define the technical challenge, create imagery based on scientific knowledge of anatomy, help the dancer to experience this imagery. This allows the brain to provide the body with the best possible movement organization. With the proper image, a dancer can improve his flexibility and balance in minutes. Sounds like magic? Yes and no. Dancers need to be trained to use imagery that is science-based and not just coincidental or random.

Tell me more about science-based imagery. In the sports world, they've developed something called the IFM Principle (which stands for image, feeling, meaning). The theory is that for imagery to be effective, you need an accurate picture of what you're doing and a positive feeling-response. For example, imagine your feet are spreading on the floor like buttermilk. You could tell someone that and they would say, "Are you crazy!" But if you say to a dancer, "If you want to have a deeper and more relaxed plie, imagine your feet spreading like warm buttermilk as you move downward," that's different. In this statement, I gave meaning: developing a better plie. I gave feeling: spreading your feet as you move downward. I gave positive imagery: warm buttermilk.

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For a movement to have benefit, the thought, the picture, and the emotion must be positive and it must make anatomical sense. There is an immense amount of scientific research on the connection between emotional state and performance. In dance all the research is going past us. Dancers think if their body hurts, they are making progress. I'm sorry, but that's a bunch of baloney.

Why did you gravitate from dance performance to somatic work? …