Carol Reynolds gives her Body Dynamics’ students two homework assignments at their first class: (1) to take full-length photos of themselves from the front, sides, and back, and (2) to do a simple drawing, nothing fancy required, of how they view themselves, how they see their bodies. At the end of the three-month course, she assigns another round of photos and drawings and students then bring their Befores and Afters to the last class.
Rachel is hardcore. This is her fourth time doing the 12-week course and for the final class of this session, she’s brought in the photos and drawings she did over the four cycles.
Rachel’s photographs clearly chart her body’s physical changes over her 18 months of Body Dynamics work. Her shoulders no longer slump forward, her posture is notably different, and her entire person radiates a quiet strength.
But it’s Rachel’s drawings that show the true magnitude of her change.
Rachel sets her drawings, one by one on the floor, from earliest to most recent. As she places the last one down, the rest of us gasp. The evolution of her figures is almost as dramatic as Rudolph Zallinger’s classic “The Road to Homo Sapiens.”
Her first “self-portrait,” from October 2016, is of a sitting figure, viewed from the side, legs and arms crossed, back hunched, long hair dangling over a featureless face. It’s a desperately sad, curled-in and closed-up figure. Three months later, Rachel depicts herself standing straight, face forward (still featureless), palms flat against the thighs of her clothed body. The figure is contained, but present. The difference between her before and after is painfully, beautifully expressed.
Her next self-portrait is from late January 2017, at the start of her next three-month course. She is standing but turned slightly to the side, head tilted down, arms slightly akimbo. Her face and body are still featureless but the figure no longer appears to be hiding under clothes. By the end of March, for her final class, her figure is back in clothes but rendered with more shape and definition. Her hair is loose and wild, she’s facing forward, head straight, arms at her side with palms up and open to the world, inviting.
Rachel began her third round of Body Dynamics in April 2017. As always, her face is featureless but her hair is loose, her arms are held up and out at her sides, palms open, just like Michelangelo’s powerful Vitruvian Man. Rachel couldn’t locate her “after” drawing for this session ending in June 2017, but I’m guessing it was at least as compelling.
Body Dynamics’ students get a rigorous workout. Carol’s classes feature a lot of very specific, very targeted relaxation, stretching, and alignment work. Carol invited me to join in on this last night of class. It had been a couple of years since I’d taken Body Dynamics and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be up to the challenge of a final session. But I also remembered how revelatory the course was, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump in.
Carol is a keen diagnostician. Between her eagle-eye and acute touch, she misses nothing. During the ball work that releases muscular tension, stimulates energy flow, and reconnects the body to feeling and thought, Carol gently reminds someone (i.e. me) to “notice you’re clenching your jaw” and “notice that you’re not exhaling.” Carol is also funny. When “someone” gives her the fish-eye, she adds “I’m sorry to interrupt you while you’re holding your breath. But don’t hold your breath.” As we wrap up the ball work, Carol checks-in to see if any of us have something to report. “The subtlety of the ball work. . . it just really grounded me today,” Valerie, one of the other students, says.
We move on to partnered hands-on work. This was something that scared me when I started Body Dynamics lo’ those many years ago, but it became my favorite part. It’s learning to truly relax and trust a partner as you alternate physically assisting each other through stretching and manipulation. Articulating to my partner what type of touch or hold I need in a given moment, supporting what my partner needs, and understanding, as Carol puts it, that “we’re all codependent” – all of this was huge for me. It was discovery work that’s had a lasting impact on my acting.
And speaking of lasting impact . . . back to Rachel’s sequence of drawings.
Rachel began her fourth cycle of Body Dynamics this February with a fascinating, expressive self-portrait. Here, she faces forward. Her right arm is curled up and back, palm apparently resting behind her neck, and her head inclined against her upper arm and elbow. Her other hand rests on her upper chest. The only other feature is a slight indent at her right armpit. The image feels wistful.
In the final drawing, the one that drew the collective gasp when she set it at the end of her sequence, an entirely new Rachel emerges. She faces us, hands to her side. Her hair is loose, her head tilted slightly in contemplation. We know it’s contemplation because, for the first time, Rachel has eyes, a nose and a mouth. She has breasts and pubic hair and a seam of definition running between her ribs down to her belly button.
She looks like the Rachel standing next to us, except Real Rachel isn’t naked.
Either way, she’s beautiful.
When I ask her later about her experience of Body Dynamics, Rachel says “When I started, my body was a giant shell that kept a lot from coming in and also from going out. I’d learned to disassociate – I guess a lot of us do.” Carol would remind her that she no longer had to “defend” herself. Rachel tells me she keeps returning to the Body Dynamics work because “I want to experience life happening. . . flowing through me.” Working with Carol, “I’m retraining my body for the world.”
The sequence of Rachel’s drawings are up on Cay’s twitter feed @cpatstudio. If you aren’t yet following Cay’s tweets, now is the time to start.
And you don’t have to wait until September before getting a taste of Carol’s Body Dynamics goodness! Carol’s got a four-week Ball Class – a key aspect of BD work – starting in June:
Ball Work with Carol Reynolds:
The class will be open to all (subject to interview), rather than limited to students
who have previously completed the 12-week Body Dynamics course.
The fee will be $200 for four classes, and those four classes will be from
6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 15, Friday, June 22, Friday, June 29, and Friday, July 6.