During an improv jam at Gaga Intensive Europe. All photos by the author.

I recently spent eight days in Antwerp, Belgium where I participated in the weeklong Gaga Intensive Europe. I went Gaga for Gaga, you could say. But don’t get it twisted, Gaga/dancers is a movement technique created by Ohad Naharin, Artistic Director of the acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company based in Tel Aviv. And guess what? You don’t have to travel to Belgium because classes are offered right here in NYC!

The weeklong intensive took place at the Kunsthumaniora DANS, and was taught by former Batsheva dancers Aya Israeli, Doron Raz Avraham, Yaniv Avraham and Ya’ara Moses. We had three classes each day: Gaga Technique, Repertory and Methodics/Improvisation. Approximately 60 dancers from all over the world participated, including people from Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Taiwan, and the UK.

Gaga technique has a profound influence on Batsheva’s choreography and style. It’s the technique in which the company dancers train at the Suzanne Dellal Centre and it showcases animalistic, physically challenging and alluring individuality. Batsheva choreography masters the unison dream, but Ohad’s brilliant editing eyes also have a way of projecting vibrant individuality. This is true for Israeli choreographers Hofesh Shechter, Dana Katz and Andrea Miller (Gallim Dance), who all studied Gaga under Ohad. Before participating in this intensive, I never fully understood how these choreographers were able to direct or edit a dancer’s intimate space so specifically. Now I realize this individuality stems from Gaga training.

Last day dance party!

Gaga is idiosyncratic and poignant, allowing dancers to explore new vocabulary and research alternative methods to deepen physical and mental states. It’s both calming and busy, you’re constantly thinking about ways to make space between the bones and loosen the joints. Unlike most dance classes, Gaga class is without mirrors. Oftentimes teachers will cover the mirrors, even in studios here in New York, so you can focus and listen to your body. In Gaga, dancers are introduced to vocabulary like the “lena” – the area in between your naval and groin (AKA your pelvis). Other visually stimulating prompts included “moons” under the feet; “floating” – imagine yourself like a piece of bread expanding in water, weightless – “traveling movement,” and “move like you’re giving a shiatsu to the floor.”

Bushwick much?! Taking a break from dance and discovering Antwerp street art.

Gaga is half effort, half pleasure. But mostly pleasure. Throughout our daily classes our teachers would say, “Give way to pleasure. It’s nice.” Because it was. Dancers: When you concede yourself to be free of strict and formal technique, such as turnout and pointed feet, it actually allows you to dive deeper into your body and reach those places you wouldn’t get to by standing in form. By the end of technique class, not only was I warm and ready for Rep, but I felt more flexible and enlightened to how my body was awakened.

We learned notable Batsheva dances “Hora,” “Hummus,” “Black Milk,” and the infamous chair dance, “Echad Mi Yodea.” These were all gruelingly physical, ritualistic, and super fun! The teachers pushed our muscle limitations. “You came here to upgrade!” Yaniv exclaimed. Repertory class allowed us students to explore the intricacies of the choreography by using the Gaga technique we were simultaneously learning. The gratification was almost instant, and it was a pleasure to see myself and my peers grow in this one short week.

Of course I had to pick up some delicious Belgium chocolates while in town.

Gaga is still developing and the teacher pool is slowly growing. To become a Gaga teacher you have to spend nine months in Israel getting your certification. During the intensive, I had a moment of “If only I knew then what I know now” and wondered why Gaga is not infiltrating the higher education dance curriculums. A few colleges and universities in the States have hired guest Gaga teachers, like Juilliard and the University of Florida, but it’s a technique that is still finding its way. More importantly, dancers are finding it. Due to the differences in the contemporary scene abroad, younger generations of dancers in Europe are more exposed to Gaga and all it has to offer.

And Gaga is for non-dancers too! Gaga/people classes are open to the public regardless of background in dance or movement. No previous dance experience is needed. To find out where you can take a Gaga class in NYC, click here. Interested in an international workshop? Gaga/dancers will be hosting workshops in Italy and Israel this summer.

“We become more aware of our form. We connect to the sense of the endlessness of possibilities. We explore multi-dimensional movement; we enjoy the burning sensation in our muscles, we are ready to snap, we are aware of our explosive power and sometimes we use it. We change our movement habits by finding new ones. We go beyond our familiar limits. We can be calm and alert at once.” – Ohad Naharin

Gaga Intensive Europe 2013 participants.