by Lauren Warnecke, MS
Momentum (n.) force or speed of movement; impetus, as of a physical object or course of events
I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve asked a dancer to “use momentum” to carry her through a phrase. Heck, release-based modern dance is practically founded on the idea of capitalizing on momentum. But what does that really mean? When I was a junior in high school, crying nightly over Mrs. Youel’s AP Physics class, I learned that momentum is equal to the product of the mass and velocity of an object. In other words:
p = mv
where p = momentum (kg*m/s), m = mass (kg) and v = velocity (m/s)
So that’s cool. But how does that apply to dance? Does momentum just exist, or is it something that I can choose to “use” or not use of my own volition.
Here’s an idea: a body in motion (body meaning anything from a particle to an apple to an arm) keeps moving unless something acts on it to inhibit that movement. For example, if Isaac Newton drops an apple towards the ground, it keeps moving until it’s stopped by the ground. If he dropped it into a bottomless pit, the apple would continue to fall indefinitely. This concept is wrapped up in a nice little fundamental law of nature called The Law of Conservation of Linear Momentum. The law states that “the total momentum of a closed system of objects (which has no interactions with external agents) is constant.” Don’t believe me? I double-checked on Wikipedia.
In our case, that “external agent” is usually a muscular contraction, the ground, or the limitations of our bodies’ natural range of motion. Since ROM and anatomy aren’t exactly things we can control, perhaps “using” momentum is simply a release of the muscles to let momentum happen naturally. Who’s crying now, Mrs. Youel?
In dance and in life, momentum is the key. It is the gift that keeps on giving. If you just relax and let it happen, amazing things can occur. I’m joyriding on momentum right now, and trying to remind myself that momentum keeps going unless I do something to stop it.
Contributor Lauren Warnecke, M.S., is a Chicago-based dance artist, educator, and writer. She trained at the Barat Conservatory of Dance before earning a BA in Dance at Columbia College Chicago. In 2009, Lauren completed her MS in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a concentration in Motor Control and Learning. Lauren is a Visiting Instructor for the department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at UIC, and teaches master classes and seminars in ballet, modern dance, creative movement, and dance pedegogy. She is certified in ballet by the Cecchetti Council of America and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine.
In addition to teaching at UIC, Lauren owns and operates Art Intercepts, under which she creates, informs, and writes about dance. The primary mission of Art Intercepts is to bridge the gap between the scientific and artistic communities to present programming that is informed, inventive, and evidence-based. Lauren is a freelance writer/blogger and maintains monthly columns at Danceadvantage.net and 4dancers.org. and is featured on a panel of nationally reputed dance writers at the 2012 Dance/USA conference. She also works periodically as a grant writer and production/stage manager for artists in the Chicago dance and performance community, and volunteers for initiatives encouraging Chicagoans to engage in local, sustainable, and active lifestyles. Lauren likes to hike, bake scones, and dig in the dirt.