By VICKY SANTOS
Published November 9, 2023
A strong mind/body connection is essential for elite performers in the arts. Moving beyond the music, each step a dancer takes requires physical precision and mindful movement. Every leap, every plié, every pivot and every arabesque utilize a dancer’s energy, experience and physical fortitude. The control dancers exert over their bodies while performing stems from a specific connection between their muscles, minds and nervous systems.
“A psychoneuromuscular connection is this idea of imagining and bringing awareness to your movements,” says Michael Deeb Weaver, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
In his classes, Deeb Weaver incorporates visual materials and text to supplement the movements being taught, further fusing the mind/body connection.
“Much of the pedagogy is seen in the act of teaching and performing the movement itself. In jazz dance specifically, the focus is on grounded, isolated and syncopated movement in our warmup and in dance phrases,” he explains. “The objective is to think overall about what is happening to your body.”
The psychoneuromuscular theory suggests that when we imagine a movement, our brain sends out signals to the muscles that are similar to the signals that would be sent if we were actually performing the movement.
“There’s research out there that supports this idea of visualization. If you lie down and visualize one side of your body stretching and elongating your muscle fibers, then you stand up and are warmer on that side of your body,” Deeb Weaver says. “So that becomes a physical reaction that started with a mental image, mixed with a synaptic or neural cycle of neuroplasticity.”
Senior dance major Sophia Fino says she learned about the theory as a first-year student at UB.
“I believe I use the psychoneuromuscular theory all the time without even realizing or actively thinking about it,” Fino says. “I can say it is something that subconsciously has stuck with me over the past four years, especially when learning styles of dance that are newer for me.”
Performing the steps accurately in her head helps her to better learn the choreography.
“It is an extremely useful tool that saves the body but still keeps the dancing mind active. You can activate the same memory muscles without even actually moving,” she says.
Students who major in dance at UB receive a balance of rigorous coursework as well as performance/production work throughout their tenure at the university.
“The dance technique classes I take are jazz, modern, tap and ballet. All of them together have provided me with a well-rounded education,” Fino notes.
She believes the instruction portion of class is essential. “It absolutely enhances what I have already learned. As a dance major, the instruction is interlaced with movement demonstration, discussion and personal experimentation. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to make connections and have a deep understanding of movement if the instruction portions of class didn’t exist.”
Deeb Weaver is an accomplished dancer, actor, instructor and choreographer. His experience as a performer ranges from concert dance to musical theater to commercial work — and (almost) everything in between. He holds a BFA in dance from UB, and is teaching jazz, tap and musical theater dance styles.
“My colleague Chanon Judson (visiting associate professor) and I joined the UB dance faculty full time two years ago, and we have been working to uphold the tradition of excellence within the jazz dance curriculum,” Deeb Weaver says. “This includes the historical, pedagogical and technical education pioneered by Tom Ralabate (professor emeritus) almost 50 years ago, at a time when jazz dance was not considered to be artistically or academically valid as ballet or modern dance.”
In keeping with tradition — all the while looking to expand even further — Deeb Weaver has been working with department chair Eero Laine and the Center for the Arts production team to spotlight the strength and excitement of the jazz curriculum.
Zodiaque Dance Company, UB's pre-professional student dance company, turns 50 years old in 2024 and a special gala is being planned for Oct. 26, 2024, that will feature live performances, videos, and outdoor entertainment. Organizers are looking for support to keep Zodiaque around for another 50 years.
“We aim to advance our artistry and expand our tool sets for a gala season, providing a foundation for cutting-edge artmaking and performance scholarship for years to come,” Deeb Weaver says.
In the meantime, there is still a celebration to be had in the spring for the 49th season. Deeb Weaver is co-directing the program, to be held Feb. 29 through March 2, with Kerry Ring, clinical associate professor. Choreographers will include current dance faculty members, as well as celebrated guest artists from the Buffalo community and across the country.