Matan Levkowich is a dancer, choreographer, and martial artist. Another of the incredible Israeli movers, he is able to pluck out threads from all the worlds he has immersed himself in and deliver them in practical form. He first blipped on my radar during a conversation with Marlo Fisken. She was hosting a stop on his first US tour, and singled him out as exceptional. A quick YouTube search revealed an intriguing online library that focused on movement breakdowns instead of impressivism. Here was a man I could learn from, in an unintimidating way.
His thoughts on personal development resonated with the same wholeness I aspire to instill through physical education:
The first thing he had us try were arm circle coordinations. There was no warm up, no silent ‘follow me’ that turned attendees into concerted disciples. Just try this. Can you get it?
Elbow and arm circle coordinations. The beginning of @matan.levkowich ‘s excellent Amimal Instinct seminar. Write up with peeks at what was practiced coming soon. Clip 1 – elbow rotations with hand’s going both toward and away from midline. The only way I could get this was from following an exaggerated hip. Clip 2 – Opposing circles with twist. My arms always wanted to synchronize at the top. I put my attempts unedited on YouTube should anyone want to commiserate with their frustration. The learning and brain challenge is well worth it.
It was a fantastic entrance into the weekend’s structure: sense-think-see. We were given bones and asked to create connective tissue. Explorations were a social and emotional exchange. What was our relationship with our body, and how did this effect our relationship with others? Beautifully, there was no system; we practiced the art of practice, in multiple disciplines and contexts.
HEAD & NECK
Movements of the head and neck are an illuminating feature of expression. Matan talked about the evolution of seeing, where the eyes were placed and that the head was designed to lead the torso. The ability to control and release the neck is a distinguishing factor of grace. It was also the section in which I had the least fluidity.
Head swimming was a brilliant means of coordinating the head with body. Using the arms to offer a full frame of reference, the head remained buoyant and led rotation. Arms removed, the goal was to continue the act without losing the aqueous element:
Note the comparative stiffness that occurred during backstrokes. The front to back switch was a lesson in orientation, as proved by the false step necessary near the end.
Our investigation into this concept of weightlessness continued by resting our head in another’s hands. We were to keep rooted in our feet and prevent ourselves from leaning — the head was meant to reside on its own axis. Once comfortable, we allowed our head to rotate, while our partner adjusted to maintain support. After several minutes of this exercise and returning upright, I knew what it was to feel my head ‘float’ above my posture:
As with most things, rotation leads to greater freedom. Head lead thoracic circles focused on matching the actions of the skull to the mid-back. Watch how adding neck and spinal rotation (clip 2) unleashes the neck to be more mobile in the subsequent repetitions:
SPINE & PELVIS
Spinal waves were kept interesting by contrasting flexion and extension methods, and letting the weight of your torso rest on your thighs:
Another variable given great consideration was gravity. Could we recycle the kinetic energy otherwise lost to the floor and rebound it back through our hips, pelvis, ribs, and head?
The hands behind back maneuver was my attempt to minimize my overactive shoulders and scapula and learn to focus on moving through the spine. It came with the bonus of tactile rib positioning feedback. I had to slow down the intended movement to better grasp the intended ripple. The recoil is a deceleration of the accelerating body drop.
To watch Matan do it is to realize there is always more practice to be had:
The sequence of learning the kick wave (minute 1:50 on his video) was to swing kick with support (rear the leg back and let go instead of forcing follow through), without support, and then stepping:
Diana Theilen used such similar imagery — “Pretend you are kicking a ball…”
GAMES OF AWARENESS, AGGRESSION, & FINESSE
Matan’s colored background shined when it came to partner play. The combative drills, mirroring, and contact improv let different personalities and skillsets take command during different sections, encouraging a physical dialogue tuned to listening over speaking. Both the competitive and cooperative got their fill, and found an assistive common ground to guide rather than conquer. We used our strengths to encourage and explain, and everyone gained in the process.
Box Height Match
As your partner moved around the room, you were charged with staying the same height as them. The mirroring activity took on a new dimension as we got further away from each other and were asked to track our partner in a crowd. Athletes used quick and jerky athletic movements and dancers were elegant, smooth, and refined. Adjusting between the different partners made us robust and delicate mimics:
Infusing movement puzzles, reactive work, and spatial awareness into #physed . This ‘warm up’ preceded some football, but could be used for almost any sport or activity. Clip 1 – constraints based get up and get downs Clip 2 – mirroring height in get up and get down Clip 3 – tight space partner tracking and attacking/ defending open space Entire lesson on YouTube (link in bio) if you’d like to see all the layers and parts. #allthethings #theyjustmight #try #teach #learn #compete #sports #movement #harmony #bigpicture #skills #culture #cgange #getupgetdown #mirroring #reactive #space #attack #defend #makeitconceptual #thinkmovement
Clips 2 and 3 are examples I used in the classroom the following week.
Cross the Midline/ Break the Guard
Matan’s recent jui-jitsu affair became apparent when teaching/ demo-ing this drill, particularly in the use of the ground person’s feet to trip-up or take down your opponent. Other than create a barrier/ kick, the feet can be used to hook the knees and or separate the legs of the attacker. The defender has four limbs and all hands and feet as their disposal, while the attacker can only really use two (the feet are used to hold them up). Object is to pass the midline of the ground defense, clearing their belly button (and legs) while standing or ‘pinning’ them by lying chest-to-chest:
The grappling continued with some one-inch pushes and softness base work. The following sequence worked best in PE, paring down the game to first learn proper footwork positioning. Hand on body gave the person trying to keep their base some hints as to what was coming and allowed them to prepare, pre-push. (We also specifically had a few rounds where pressure was slowly placed against the head, using the entire body to resist and not let the skull move). After finding the most stable base, pairs battled it out, trying to keep their feet and force their opponent to take a step. Games when from two feet to one foot, eventually getting into a low sit version.
“More tension equals less sensation.”
We did some leaning and flying (being supported by another, fully off the ground) contact improv, but my favorite was the following grounded version. Very new to the nuances — and trust– required by this craft, I felt more comfortable close to the floor. Non-table partner initiates table lean forward and rolls backward to signify a desired return to start position. What you choose to do on top the table is entirely up to you (and what you believe your partner can support).
Matan’s feedback comment on the post: “Maybe you can play with momentum as a next step. The pelvis should draw an arc from the floor up to the ceiling and back to the ground if you exit from the support of you partner. Good luck!” He is kind and generous on top of creative and bright.
The title of the workshop, “Animal Instinct”, is a bit misgiving. It conjures up images of marketed ‘flows’ and endless crawling/locomotion patterns. The actual experience, however, was light years beyond pretending to be something you’re not. It engaged the participants in movement situations designed to provoke expressive adaptability — Fighting Monkey for the soul.