We chat to dancer, teacher and content creator Lewis Cooke, about his movement methodology RelaxtoErupt, his life as a dancer and teacher and how he has developed a series called ‘Movement is Medicine’ during this time of isolation and quarantine!
"I can be very stubborn and dance helped me to put my stubbornness towards a platform to continually develop and grow".
How has dance influenced and helped you in your life journey?
Where to begin… I suppose at the beginning of my journey I was very narrowed minded about dance, and what it can do for you. I got into it in quite a random way, by thinking I was just supporting a friend at a local pantomime audition, but ended up taking part myself and getting the part! So that was the space in which dance was first introduced to me and since then, it has helped me massively. I can be very stubborn and dance helped me to put my stubbornness towards a platform to continually develop and grow. I’m very much a monkey-see, monkey-do person, that’s my mind set, so when I see things i’m like ‘oh ok i’ll try that, or oh ok i’ll try this.’ So when it comes to my attention span at school in academics, sitting down and writing -
I struggled and dance was a way for me to release all that energy in a practical form, and to really explore the body in that way. It has also helped me to grow in the obvious areas such as flexibility, technique and health, but also just as a person, in my own confidence, in terms of knowing what I can offer.
How have you developed your own movement methodology and what are the key features of it?
It began because I realised throughout training (London Contemporary Dance School) that I had a really big interest in floor work and finding fluidity in movement, connecting all the dots and trying to make it as smooth as possible in transition. A lot of the time I was told in training, depending on what technique I was doing, that it’s either this way or it’s that way and sometimes those things just completely counteract one another, and that’s fine, because that’s why they are separate techniques but I then thought, well how about I just take a bit of this, and a bit of that, and sort of merge it all into my own thing. So that’s what | did. I’ve pretty much done it all - my attitude is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, i’ve done Ballet, Contemporary, Jazz, Modern, Tap, Ballroom and Latin, Irish Dancing, Kathak which is an Indian classical dance form and have learnt elements of Breaking & Capoeria. Then, during my last few years at LCDS & first year after graduation I just devoted countless hours to create my own practice, RelaxtoErupt. I guess what makes RelaxtoErupt signature to me, is that it looks a lot at softness, tension, fluidity & discomfort.
I think a lot of time techniques focus on one or the other, I was told to ‘release and don’t squeeze too much tension here’ but actually in order to jump high, I need to put tension in my legs to push through. Lots of the time when I was doing Ballet or Contemporary I was told that I looked too stiff because of the other training I was doing, but actually then when it come to travelling or jumping, I was the most explosive in the class. This showed me that I wasn’t doing the wrong thing, but actually I just had to channel it in different areas, which is why I created the practice RelaxtoErupt. Why I look at discomfort is because a lot of the time we’re told not to go to certain positions, because you might damage your…..ankle or you knee lets say - but I strongly believe that if you never go to these vulnerable positions then one day when you do it’s more likely something bad is going to happen, because you have no strength of mobility there. Lots of time in class we’ll look at the uncomfortable parts of the body and how we move through and try to put that into practice. First of all we take away all the momentum so we can focus on training and building up comfort in that area but then later when we have built up the strength and comfort we can add momentum and fluidity back into play.
"Don't kick it till you've tried it".
"When you're feeling down, unmotivated or sluggish, it tends to be related to you not being active / moving much".
What does Movement is Medicine mean to you?
Movement is Medicine, is just a saying I really like. It just sounds nice! I think it resonates with a lot of people, I think a lot people know that Movement is Medicine. When you’re feeling down, unmotivated or sluggish, it tends to be related to you not being active/ moving much. I say move and it sounds really broad but I do just mean move, I don’t necessarily mean dance, or train or walk I just mean moving your body, it can be all of these things. So Movement is Medicine is an online series I created, for the pure reason of sharing element of my daily practice. These things have been heavily inspired by Tomislav English. I am a member of his collective Ferus Animi / Terra Nova which is a group of cross disciplinary craftspersons researching in the fields of human physiology and performance, through both an artistic and scientific lense. Tomislav was studying at LCDS before he had a Sub-Talar fusion in both sides of his ankle (an injury that could take 4+ months to heal let alone be back to normal) He then went out to Brazil to travel and see the world and got involved in Capoeira and Brazilian Ju Jitsu practices. He started training in these practises on the sand everyday, which was one of the best places he could build back his strength and stability due to the terrain being so uneven, forcing him to work twice as hard. From that he was able to move and dance again which is very inspiring. I took part in one of his workshops in London and I found it so incredible, it was flabbergasting, listening to his philosophy towards movement, physical appearance and bad habits, since then I have been part of his collective and assisted workshops all over the world.
You aim your Dance Workshops at both Professional Dancers and Non Dancers, why is that and how is it going for you?
Because I think everyone can benefit both physically and mentally from moving and training, so I don’t want to restrict people absorbing any information and reaping the rewards just because they are a “dancer”. I’m trying to make it accessible for anyone who is interested in moving and trying to share that it’s a lifestyle to stay active. For example training the body around working an office job or a 9 to 5. I’m trying to cultivate a way of moving, and creating curiosity around this hoping that it can become part of people’s everyday lifestyle with little changes to things such as how they sit at their desk, how they commute and how they can stay active throughout the day. I’ve seen massive growth in people i’ve taught so I know that there is value within that and hope this continues.
"I think everyone can benefit both physically and mentally from moving and training".
"I think lots of time now-a-days, we just see a finished article and of course that's great because then you know what you want to attain, but that's not how it works, you don't just wake up one day and have it".
How has social media helped you in reaching a wider audience with your practice?
Social Media is always a big one. It can definitely go one of two ways. It can either be something that gives you this amazing platform to promote, share, create and build confidence but it can also have a complete flip side and can make you feel negative, and disheartened and like what your doing is never enough because you are constantly comparing it to others.. So I always try to use Social Media as a platform to share my journey and the process because I think lots of the time now-a-days, we just see a finished article and of course that’s great because then you know what you want to attain, but that’s not how it works, you don’t just wake up one day and have it, so I try to show the grit and hard work behind the scenes in these classes, workshops and my spare time.
Social Media has been amazing in allowing me to share the classes and helped to grow it on an international level. But i’m very aware about the positives and negatives that come with socials some weeks I post every day and then other weeks I don’t want to have my head always in the phone. This morning actually I trained for quite a few hours and consciously said I don’t want to film any content, I want this time for myself. I also view my instagram as a business page, @RelaxtoErrupt therefore I only follow artists that I work with, so when i’m on there I don’t get distracted and see it as work, where as I have a separate page for friends and family etc.
"It's so beautiful to not thinking about what came before and what comes next and to just live in the moment".
What do you enjoy most about performing and what do you enjoy most about teaching?
Good question. I love performing and I think the reason I dance is for performing, what I love the most about being on stage is that I just forget about everything else. I commit to a character or even just myself if it’s a moment of improvisation where I just express how I feel there and then, and it’s so beautiful to not thinking about what came before and what comes next and to just live in the moment. You can find that in other places but I think to have that stage setting and people watching you is pure, it’s something really honest and raw.
In terms of teaching, I’ve never really known what I love so much about teaching, I mean I know that I love giving back and I love working with different people because I’m a social person, but I think what I’ve learned and pinpointed during this quarantine and being so isolated is that I miss sharing and being in a space where we can motivate one another and learn from one another. Even though i’m the teacher I don't think I have more value, let’s say, than anyone else in the room. I learn so much every time I teach so I always make sure I thank the people at the end of each session because the practice wouldn’t have evolved to where it is now without other bodies. I know how my body moves and what is natural to me where as when I teach it to other people it’s beautiful to see the backgrounds they come from and the interpretations they have with my movement. That’s what I love about teaching, the social and forever learning aspect.
What’s next for RelaxtoErupt?
Yeah.. what is next?
I think it’s just to keep doing what I’m doing and see what comes my way. I’ve been doing this amazing choreographic project with this lady in American called Adrienne Clancy, who has had her own dance company, ClancyWorks for over 30 years. She’s a 51 year old woman who has had two knee surgeries and is so inspiring, I have been choreographing a solo on her using my movement methodology, RelaxtoErupt as the main structure. It’s been a fascinating process because I’ve had to be very mindful of her current body condition as it is in a very vulnerable state in certain positions and situations I put her in so I need her to know that this is an important obstacle to overcome in order to perform the solo in a RelaxtoErupt style. However I haven’t just learnt from her body but I’ve also learnt from her background and experience in the dance world. For example she knows that when she did this certain move a few years ago in a performance that’s what snapped her knee, so I have to build my practice in slowly, and train the brain to know that it’s ok to work in that way and go to that place. That has been a fantastic project for me to understand the fundamentals of what my own practice is. I don’t want to go there and teach something different, because she has asked for RelaxtoErupt. I love the challenge of stripping a few layers back to reveal the fundamentals and then move forward when we’re ready to add on complexities - so this is a big project, it’s a solo work that i’m excited to finish.
I also want to keep building on RelaxtoErupt, I don’t want it to become a choreographic process but keep developing my workshops so that it can last for 6 to 8 hour days of training. I’d also like to take RelaxtoErupt into more schools, I usually tend to teach a movement focused intensives, classes or workshops but a few dance institutions would be great for me to share my philosophies with those that can perhaps implement them at a younger age and who knows but maybe even inspire them to create there own styles!
Interview by Talitha Wing