Irene Dowd majored in philosophy at Vassar College where she completed a thesis on body image in relation to movement for her Bachelor of Arts degree. After graduating from Vassar in 1968 she was accepted into The Juilliard School, Dance Division as a special studies student focusing on choreography. At Juilliard she became a student and then the assistant of Dr. Lulu Sweigard. During her six years of intensive study with Sweigard, learning functional anatomy for dancers and Sweigard’s approach to individual instruction in ideokinetic facilitation, Dowd also undertook the study of human anatomy and neuroanatomy at Columbia Presbyterian Medical School. In the year of Sweigard’s death, 1974, Dowd established a private practice in neuromuscular training, which she continues into the present. Dowd’s early career provided many opportunities for her to explain Dr. Sweigard’s approach as it might apply to the dancer. At the same time, she began to infuse her own views and values, artistry and experience into her educational practice.
Dowd’s curiosity about the process of teaching and learning movement led to the study of a wide range of related subjects. Her personal study of dance and choreography was a constant through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when she studied with Merce Cunningham, Lucas Hoving, Antony Tudor and Viola Farber, among others. During this period and into the 90’s she also became a student of the movement sciences exploring the areas of motor control, brain lateralization, motor development, sensory motor integration, the neurobehavioral basis of locomotion, biomechanics and individualized fitness training. From 1984 to 1986 she was co-principle investigator in a study on the “Effects of Neuromuscular Retraining on the Mobility of the Elderly,” with Judith A. Smith, PhD. R.N.
Dowd’s record of professional activity since the 1970’s includes the teaching of dance, composition, functional and kinesthetic anatomy and neuromuscular re-education at such institutions as Teachers College, Columbia University, Wesleyan University, Simon Fraser University, The Juilliard School, Queens College, Brooklyn College, American Dance Festival, Naropa Institute, American Center for the Alexander Technique, Dance Notation Bureau, Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies and Canada’s National Ballet School. She has served as a consultant to dancers in ballet and modern dance companies throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her articles and drawings have been published in many journals (Eddy, Dance Scope, Contact Quarterly, Dance Research Journal of CORD, Pour La Danse, La Danza, Dance Magazine, Choreography and Dance) as well as in the book Schmerz und Sports (Pain in Sports: Interdisciplinary Paintherapy in Sports Medicine) and in the International Dance Encyclopedia. Her own book Taking Root to Fly, first published in 1981, is now in the fifth printing of its third edition, revised in 1995.
Currently, Dowd is on the Juilliard dance faculty teaching “Anatomy/Kinesiology,” a full year course in functional anatomy for dancers and “Dynamic Trunk Stabilization,” a six-session course for first-year students. She has also designed a course for high school summer study students devoted to “Understanding Technique.” In her other faculty position at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, Dowd presents seminars on various topics and has developed extensive training programs for both the students and faculty of the school. The National Ballet School has produced a series of videos that Dowd choreographed, directed and edited, including: (1) Spirals; (2) Warming up the Hip: Turnout Dance and Orbits; and (3) Trunk Stabilization and Volutes.
Dowd describes her private teaching practice as, “an individualized approach to solving functional problems of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems which involve discomfort or inability to achieve functional movement potential.” Currently she offers a yearlong course in “Kinesthetic Anatomy and the Physiology of Motion,” a course called “Seeing the Dynamic Body: Visual Assessment,” two 54-hour courses covering the “Kinesthetic Anatomy of the Limbs,” and the “Kinesthetic Anatomy of the Spine and Trunk,” as well as a number of short courses on various topics.
For purposes of this website, Irene Dowd sent transcripts of lectures she created to clarify the role of Ideokinesis in movement education. In these lectures she typically restated the classic definition of the term devised by Dr. Sweigard in 1974 and then explained her own views and experience of the educational process. For a workshop entitled “An Introduction to Ideokinesis for Pilates-based Teachers,” taught in October of 2003, Dowd devised this summary statement enlarging the definition of Ideokinesis:
Ideokinesis is an approach in which the cerebral cortex (conscious part of the brain) initiates new patterns of muscle activity in order to re-tune skeletal joint position and motion. The person visualizes a vector which moves from one specific point in the body to or through another point in the body or surrounding space. The timing, force, speed, etc. of that vector’s motion are all specified explicitly or implicitly. If the line moves from one specific point to another point it may either lengthen (to decrease tension and/or increase length of muscles) or shorten (to increase tension and/or decrease length of muscles.)
Ideokinesis is always task/goal oriented. Therefore, it can be utilized in the absence of visible skeletal movement in order to change postural patterns, balance elements or other stabilizing patterns of muscle action. It can be utilized simultaneously with visible skeletal movement in order to fine-tune movement performance.
As will be seen in several other essays in this website, Irene Dowd’s work has played a major role in the continuing education of many teachers of the Dance Generation. Her workshops and seminars have also informed and inspired many of the New Contributors to the field. Although her work has expanded into many other aspects of movement education, Dowd is widely heralded as a master teacher and a gifted interpreter of the ideokinetic approach.
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