Orchesis visiting speaker Lehrer stresses importance of physics in dance

Eager dancers didn’t let the unexpected power outage dampen their spirits on the afternoon of Aug. 31. They formed an attentive cluster in the Schrader Gymnasium dance studio, determined to learn all that they could from the master class hosted by the student-run dance organization Orchesis.

The master class was lead by guest speaker Jon Lehrer. As way of introduction, Lehrer told fascinated students that he had danced in many companies throughout his career, including the famous Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. 

After his time as a dancer, Lehrer decided to go into choreography and teach master classes for dance companies across the country. He has been honored with the “Rising Star” Spark Award in Buffalo for contributing to the local arts community, which is proof of his ceaseless dedication to dance.

Lehrer’s professional dance training started at 19 when he began examining each aspect of dance. He made a choice to look at dance through the physics of the art, which is an unconventional perspective for most performers to have. Throughout the class, Lehrer labeled “momentum,” “three-dimensionality” and “circularity” as the three key concepts of dancing.

“Physics has influenced me much more than ballet, much more than modern dance and much more than jazz because I realized that you can’t move without physics,” Lehrer said. “So that has to be your first inspiration for anything you do, whether you lift your hand or you do a round off back handspring.”

English and French double major sophomore Sydney Schmidt commented that she hadn’t thought of dance as a part of physics before and was intrigued by Lehrer’s assertion that dancers should focus on their own autonomy.

“There is a lot more physics in dance than we as dancers realize, or at least than I realized, most of the time,” Schmidt said. “I thought it was really cool that he said freedom and control should work parallel to one another and that you shouldn’t compromise one for the other.”

Having freedom and control work in tandem may appear contradictory, but Lehrer proved that it is possible with simple movement demonstrations. 

Freedom by itself can be represented with flailing and clumsy limbs, but obviously this is not refined dance. Disciplining or controlling your movements is what allows motion to appear graceful and professional, though the movement of your body is still free-flowing and natural.  

Lehrer also demonstrated Newton’s first law, that a body in motion will stay in motion, and Newton’s third law, that for every action there is a reaction. He proposed that each movement a dancer makes requires the cooperation of the entire body, and Newton’s laws enforced this idea. 

“Even in isolation, when you isolate a body part, you’re not really doing that because other parts are helping it, holding it, moving with it,” Lehrer said.

This master class was more than just a informative physics lesson in dance; it was a way for dancers to have fun while learning new ideas and ways to look at something they are passionate about. 

“I liked just letting go,” Schmidt said. “I liked the one-hour class because you just learn something new from start to finish so you can focus on the present moment.”

Even though the dance techniques of the master class were more advanced, Lehrer stressed that all dancers, from beginners to professionals, can learn from their bodies.

“Don’t micromanage your body ever,” Lehrer said. “Your body is connected. As dancers, we often think just about our legs or arms moving by themselves, but it isn’t. It’s your whole body in that shape. We have to learn how to macro-manage our body as one unit, and then we can display it any way we want.”

Each dancer left the class with a mind full of new concepts to embrace and a new subject to study: physics. Dancing is about more than just the beauty of technique; it’s a lesson in science and autonomy.