Dance and the Franklin Method: An Interview with Shannon Murphy
Interview By Josie Bray
Shannon Murphy is a dancer, choreographer, and Franklin Method level 3 educator living in Philadelphia. Shannon trained in dance at Point Park University and always intended to be dance teacher along with her freelance dance and choreographic career. Shannon has been teaching dance since 2001 and started training with Eric Franklin in 2007.
Shannon began teaching at the college level in 2012. She currently teaches at the University of the Arts, and has also taught dance at Drexel, Brinmore College, and Temple University.
“I’ll never forget walking back into rehearsal after my first week of training with Eric,” Shannon said, “My choreographer said ‘Everything about you has changed and your dancing is so different! What are you doing?’ We had spent the first week training in the pelvis and it had completely changed my hip flexion in dancing.”
Since Shannon saw immediate results with the Franklin Method in her dancing, she jumped in and started applying the work to her teaching. At the time, Shannon was teaching a lot of children. “I can remember the first time a 10 year old told me that her back was crunching in arabesque and she knew that it shouldn’t be,” said Shannon, “What a profound moment for such a young kid! So I brought in my model pelvis and had the kids envision their pelvis halves as wheels. We dissected what the wheels did during arabesque, and all of a sudden her arabesque just floated up.”
Photo Credit Danielle Currica
“Teaching the Franklin Method to my young dance students helped me learn to teach in such a simplified way. 10 year olds don’t know anything about anatomy, so I really had to use the creativity and metaphorical imagery in the method.” she said. “I brought in props like slinkies and pipe cleaners to help them create images of their bodies.”
One of the most exciting changes for Shannon as a dance teacher working with the Franklin Method was the student-centered pedagogy. As a dancer, she had spent a lot of her time in class or with medical professionals waiting for a teacher or a doctor to tell her what was going on with her body. “I can remember Eric saying that my job as a teacher is not to diagnose or tell anyone anything about their body, and it became important for me to offer that to my students,” she said. “I can give students insights, anatomical and metaphorical tools, but I have no magic wand. I now have agency in my own body and want to give my students agency in theirs. I learned that as a dance educator, I didn’t have to fix everybody that walked into the studio.”
Shannon has also found the Franklin Method to be incredibly useful in terms of unpacking the idea of core work for dancers. “Many times I’ll take class, and there’s not much taught in terms of dynamic stability for dancers,” she explained. “Many of my students who come from a ballet background try not to move the torso. I’ve seen so many dancers think that they are doing a really great job by compressing and ripping their abdominal muscles. They think they are creating strength, but really, gripping abdominal muscles actually prevents movement. If they simply spiral the torso in an Epaulement, already some of the abdominal muscles are lengthening and some are shortening. Even with really young kids at ballet school, bringing in simple spirals and having them imagine that their bodies are fluid makes a huge difference.”
When asked about how the Franklin Method has affected her teaching style, Shannon noted that she’s created a spiraling warm up to allow tensile, three dimensional movement in her students before moving into tendu, plie, and leg swings. She also brings in a model pelvis to create imagery around weight shifts and encourages metaphorical and anatomical imagery to help students find a more elastic connection between the pelvis and the floor.
“I keep trying to bring in experiences that help the students understand their extensing body,” said Shannon, “Like images, and working with long bands. What if we imagined that the legs spiraled on their own axis? What if we imagined that even linear movement was three dimensional?”
Photo credit LBrowning photography
“Sometimes dancers think that bringing in a somatic-based practice means that we won’t dance as much. They think ‘Oh, we are just going to lie down and roll on the floor.’ But, my studio practice class is vigorous and very physical,” she explained. “The Franklin Method has helped me to assist dancers find an embodiment, or a quick anatomical model, and then move into experiencing our bodies fully through movement. It’s a gateway for us to have a very physical, full bodied experience. And, unlike some other somatic practices, it doesn’t teach dancers that they can only be healthy when they aren’t dancing. It teaches them how to be healthy while they are dancing.”
When asked how dance teachers good benefit from studying the Franklin Method, she noted the number of incredibly talented dance professionals who think that their bodies are broken. “Even in the later part of our careers, we are not done with our bodies,” she said, “It’s not too late. Our bodies are so plastic. You can come into the room feeling better every day because of your practice. This is available to us, not just to our students.”
Photo Credit LBrowning Photography
In her own life as a dancer, Shannon was often injured. “I was told multiple times that this would be the injury that was going to keep me from ever dancing again,” she said. Instead, she has used the Franklin Method to rehab her own body, continuing to teach a very physical practice. “I’m much stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. I never had to get the feet surgeries that I was told I needed; I instead learned the anatomy of the foot and what plantar fascia did. My understanding of the body has only increased, and I’ve stopped stretching statically and seen no decrease in my flexibility. I’m way more capable now than I was when I thought I was in my prime.”
The biggest benefit Shannon has seen in her college level dancers is an increase in clarity of movement while releasing extra effort. “Students come in with a lot of tension and effort,” she said, “But we work on the difference between tension and intention. By the end of the semester, they are big beautiful bodies working with ease and flow. They can work in their full range with fluidity and elasticity in their bodies. They learn that their dynamics as a performer are a felt experience, and that their bodies don’t need to hurt in order to perform beautifully.”
There are two opportunities for you to learn more about the design of your body and become a licensed Franklin Method instructor to teach others:
Become a Franklin Method Pelvic Power Trainer (certified to teach Franklin Method workshops & weekly classes): https://franklinmethod.com/pelvis Use discount code: earlybird2018 to still get the early bird price for New York training!
We also have a special training just for dancers and dance teachers: Dynamic Anatomy for Peak Performance in Dance