The Teacher – Jennifer Bury
Translated from original interview in German with: Katja Schneider, Tanz Magazine, November 2016
You are a movement therapist with a private practice in San Francisco, have trained extensively in Gestalt therapy, are a dance medicine specialist and Pilates trainer, have a degree in dance from the Tisch School of the Arts in New York University, and have worked internationally as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. In addition, you have a black belt in Aikido. What do you teach?
To be receptive and responsive to the world around you. I move through the world as the world moves through me.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
I work with people at all levels: physical, emotional, and intellectual; I can use a physiotherapy approach, to address physical issues or a Gestalt therapy approach to address the emotional aspects, depending on what is needed. These days, I also work with people via Skype. The aim of my work is to restore a sense of connection; a sense of integration within ourselves which in turn strengthens our ability to connect with others and adapt to our environment.
A year doesn’t go by in which you do not complete a course, further education or advanced training. Whether in Bartenieff Fundamentals, Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique, or shiatsu and yoga, breathing and massage techniques, to mention just a few fields that you have studied. Is this due to your fundamental curiosity?
As a young person, I thought someone had already figured out the “right” way, and I just needed to find that perfect technique. To this day I haven’t found one method which applies to everyone. Instead of adapting someone to a technique, I prefer to spontaneously combine aspects of different techniques in response to what arises with each individual. It is exciting to help people discover their strengths, and what works for them. This way, I get to learn from professionals as well as from my clients and bring together all the different elements. Which means I am experimenting and making discoveries daily. For profound learning it’s important to find someone who excites your curiosity rather than what someone is teaching.
Who was this person for you?
There were a few. The first was my mother. She studied with Joe Pilates in New York in the 1950-60s and would do her Pilates mat work naked on the floor every morning and I would join her. She closed the curtain, took off her bathrobe, and did her “hundred” naked which was very playful, funny, and intimate, but we were also seriously trying to perform these unfamiliar movements and were involved in that process together. This became the basis of my work.
I remember the modern dance classes which you taught at the Hastings Studio in Munich in the early 1980s. How did you come to be involved with such a broad range of different therapies?
Shortly after completing my dance education at NYU, I flew to Europe with a one-way ticket, and traveled from country to country with just my backpack. I had created a press kit of my choreography in the U.S. and attended different performances and if I liked the work I’d approach the director of the company or the choreographer and ask if they would like to collaborate with me. I was 22 years old when I went to a performance in Munich which included a dance by Micha Puruker which touched me deeply, and to this day he is still a very close friend. In 1985 I went back to New York and created my dance company there, but I soon discovered that living and working there was difficult and exhausting. Dancing had always been the way in which I could express myself fully and freely, where I felt whole. When I was performing I couldn’t see the audience, I was pouring my heart out to them through my movement and I couldn’t feel any response. But when I was teaching I could feel the connection; We were dancing together and learning together. When I realized how alone and unfulfilled I felt, I stopped performing. Now I dance and choreograph every day with my clients!
You continue to work within the context of dance. What should participants in your workshops expect?
Dancers are movement experts, but non-dancers – and I love these combinations – teach the dancers what they have forgotten, what they’ve trained out of themselves. The non-dancers benefit from the experience of the dancers, and the dancers benefit from the freedom of the non-dancers. This is mutual learning and cross pollination. If you work with homogeneous groups, you all tend to stay within your familiar movement vocabulary.
Where will you teach your next course?
At the Tanztendenz Munich (from Nov. 18 to Nov. 20, registration until Nov. 7) and also at Rituel Studio Paris (Nov. 23 & 24). “Beyond Words: The Connection Between Us” incorporates theoretical, practical and playful interactive learning about how we communicate through movement. Together we will explore the kinesthetic resonance which exists between us. The aim is to experience the depth of our connection to the environment and to others, and all the possibilities that this inherent connection offers.