In Conversation with Chieko Omiya
MBS Trainer Chieko Omiya teaches ballet and offers MBS lessons to dancers in Sendai, Japan. She was first introduced to Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® classes in 1985 and graduated from the Japan Feldenkrais® Training in 2000, learning from Mia Segal as well as Eilat Almagor. From 2011 to 2014, she served as an Assistant Trainer throughout the MBS Foundation Training in Bad Toelz. As that training ends and the next one begins, Chieko reflects on how she found her way to the Feldenkrais Method® and how Mind Body Studes and the method applies to her work with dancers.
The Search for A Missing Piece
Chieko began teaching ballet in 1978, having trained in the 1970s under a graduate of the Beijing Dance Academy. As Chieko describes it, it impressed her from the start how “wonderfully logical” ballet was. Although her teacher would instruct the class with only a limited grasp of the Japanese language, Chieko recalls, it was possible to understand just what she wanted of her pupils. At the time, there were no other instructors offering ballet instruction with such a grasp of the theory and such a pure adherence to the ‘ballet education system’. “I was so fascinated to teach my own ballet pupils by that logic,” she explains.
Within just a few years of teaching, though, Chieko was looking for ways that she should teach her dance students more effectively. “After three years, I was wondering if there was anybody who had a suitable body for ballet. I thought that maybe I was missing something.” In 1984, Chieko found a “funny” book that had recently been translated into Japanese. That book was Moshe Feldenkrais’ Awareness through Movement.
"I read it and I realized something very interesting. I knew all the Japanese words in the book, but I did not understand what was what. This was a funny experience. I did not need a dictionary, but I did not know what the book was showing me.” Putting the book aside, Chieko continued looking for the missing piece in her ballet instruction.
“I put my antennae out, here and there,” she recalls. The following summer, Chieko enrolled in a two-week dance anatomy course. On the first day, the students were instructed to throw away their pens and notebooks. This “anatomy” course would be taught through direct experience. During an especially humid and warm summer, all of the students lay on the floor of a room without air conditioning. They were simply to inhale and exhale, doing various breathing exercises, throughout the whole first week. “The number of my classmates decreased every day by 50 percent,” Chieko remembers. But then, on the first morning of week two, she noticed a change:
“I looked at my legs with a look of utter amazement. My legs took straight strides and I was walking with long steps. I was curious about this, because I had always felt I had bow legs. I thought, ‘What is this?’ It was very strange. After only breathing, my body changes.”
On the last day of the course, the teacher recommended a book for the students to continue their learning. A familiar book jacket had Chieko wondering, “Where have I seen this before?” Again, the book was Awareness through Movement. “After the workshop, I started to read it again, and this time I did the movements and everything, even if I didn’t understand what it meant. And every time, I felt that something changed in my body.”
Over the course of the year, Chieko made her way through all of the movements in Awareness through Movement. The following summer, she attended the dance anatomy course again. None of the other returning students had tried any of the movements from the book. “They said that they couldn’t understand what the book was about,” Chieko explains. “Neither did I, but I did the movements anyways, and I found changes.”
Training in the Method: Feldenkrais Practitioner® and MBS Trainer
When the first Feldenkrais Method® training program was held in Japan, in 1996, Chieko enrolled. In the third year of that training, she first learned from Mia Segal. “She was so different from the other teachers,” Chieko remembers. “So, I watched her all the time. When she did an FI, I watched her position, her eyes, her face, her back. It was so interesting.” In fact, Chieko watched all of the trainers’ poses or positions. “A good trainer had a very quiet pose,” she notes. “And between the client and the teacher, there is some kind of air. It is subtle, but I felt it.”
Nearly ten years later, when Chieko had already long added Feldenkrais Method® lessons to her ballet instruction, again she felt the need to return to study under Mia. “I went to a training with Mia in New York, and then, next stop, I went to Zurich again to see Mia.” When Leora invited Chieko to participate as an Assistant Trainer in the MBS Foundation Training, Chieko started making arrangements for the thrice-yearly trips to Europe.
Having studied previously with Mia Segal, though primarily within a Feldenkrais Guild® training program, Chieko observes differences that the MBS training has specifically brought to her own practice. Since serving as an Assistant Trainer, she observes, “I take more time for scanning. Before MBS, the scan was only the beginning of my class. But now, I always do comparisons of before and after, of right and left, through the lesson. This is a special part, I think, of MBS.” The change in focus has transferred directly to her ballet classes. “Always, always, always, I’m asking students, ‘What has changed?’”
Chieko also values the ability to craft an MBS lesson with spontaneity, and to tailor a lesson according to the specific group, even changing direction midway through a lesson, if necessary. When Chieko organized and assisted at the 2013 MBS Training in Kobe, she was particularly taken with Mia’s flexibility in shaping each lesson’s sequence. She and the other assistant trainers “watched Mia to see how she decided what to do next, and next, and next!”
Awareness for Dancers
While a purity of logic first attracted Chieko to ballet, she now stresses most of all her students’ ability to “dance with heart.” She describes her ballet classes in terms of how peaceful they are, how gently she can give her groups new instructions, and how naturally the students learn to adjust and hone their own movements independently.
“All of my dance students take my MBS classes once or twice per week. So, when I teach a ballet class, they are all sensing first of all. I say, ‘Please stand and feel how the weight is. Feel the soles of your feet. Where is your weight? Where is your center of balance?’”
Through these questions, the learning process becomes much more fluid, self-driven and rapid. “Their attention always comes into themselves,” Chieko explains. “This makes teaching feel much easier. I don’t need to be forceful or to make them concentrate. Doing a ballet lesson is not difficult for them.”
Chieko teaches a range of students, from young children to seniors, but she uses the approach with all her groups. For the little kids, too, Chieko points out, “in essence, it’s the same. My wording is just a little different.”
“If I see my students do something that’s not such a good way to do ballet, I might say, ‘Pay attention to your feet. How much weight is on the front of the feet?’” The students quickly find a more balanced, easy way to stand. “So, my classes feel very, very peaceful.”
Lessons in Language – and the Spaces between the Words
Chieko first learned ballet from a teacher who spoke limited Japanese. She read and received great benefit from Moshe’s book, Awareness Through Movement, all the while feeling that she didn’t really understand what it was about. It would seem only fitting, then, that Chieko’s continuing study with MBS was marked both by the limitations – and ultimately the transcendence – of language.
“On the first day in Bad Toelz,” Chieko remembers, “we had a meeting for almost two hours, and I didn’t understand anything! I don’t know any German, and I hadn’t listened to American English before.” After her initial fright, Chieko was partnered up with two other Assistant Trainers to practice giving group classes. “One of them could speak English fluently, the other somewhat – and I was terrible!” Chieko recalls. “It was very strange. I just read off the paper. I watched my students as I went, and I could manage the timing. Then somehow, at the end of it, they were feeling better!”
Years later, when again teaching a group class in English, Chieko received a similar surprise. “I wanted to say something in particular, but I had no words for it. ‘What do I do?!’ I thought. And I was tired, my mind was tired, and so I forgot another whole part of the lesson.” But students came to Chieko at the end of the class and praised the lesson highly, as one of the best they had received. “You gave us time to play!” they explained. In the end, Chieko’s responsiveness to her students and the pauses between her words were as vital as her vocabulary.
“When you give a group class,” she says, “that part is important to remember: the time for exploring.”
To contact Chieko Omiya: