Dance Studio Owner

Book review: ‘Functional Awareness: Anatomy in Action for Dancers’

Nancy and Allegra Romita. Photo by Jim Burger Photography.

Book: Functional Awareness: Anatomy in Action for Dancers

Authors: Nancy Romita and Allegra Romita, Oxford University Press, 2016

'Functional Awareness: Anatomy in Action for Dancers'Nancy and Allegra Romita approach authorship with decades of experience as educators and practitioners. Their field of expertise is Functional Awareness®, a methodology that encourages you, the dancer, to become consciously aware of your movement and the choices you are making as a mover. This is true both in and outside the studio. You can then use that consciousness to re-train how your body moves so that you do so with less muscular tension and greater energetic efficiency. The name is literal; your greater awareness supports greater function.

In every chapter (chapters are categorized approximately by body region), the Romitas give an example of how using Functional Awareness® has helped one of their clients, and one or two functional awareness exercises to try. These are written out very deliberately, so you should be able to translate written instruction to your physical movement. But probably the most important note reiterated in every chapter and every exercise is that this should all be practiced without judgement. It is, after all, practice, an exploration into how you move as an individual. They remind you to observe and make choices, and to not judge yourself on any of it.

There are two problems with this book, however. The first is that its target audience is indiscernible. Anatomical terms are used but never illustrated or defined, which necessitates a reader who already has familiarity with it, or one who is armed with a dictionary, anatomy atlas or search engine at the ready. On the other hand, the content is otherwise far too introductory for an experienced reader to have any interest. This is true for both the anatomy content, as well as information regarding Functional Awareness®.

Nancy and Allegra Romita teaching. Photo by Jim Burger Photography.

Nancy and Allegra Romita teaching. Photo by Jim Burger Photography.

The second, unbelievable as it sounds, is that there is almost no anatomy contained within these pages. Very few body parts are discussed, and many of the few diagrams showing muscle groups are left unlabeled. I can only imagine a novice reader finishing the book and still not being able to visualize or name the most common-knowledge muscle groups and the movements they support, let alone applying that knowledge to a dance environment.

However, I certainly recommend going to hear the Romitas if you ever get a chance to see them present at a conference or convention. They know what they are doing, and they present in a welcoming environment in a way that is easy to understand.

If you want to learn more, I’d also recommend delving into these original texts below.

Some recommended authors and pioneers of movement analysis and somatics you can look up at home:

Rudolf Laban – who developed Laban Movement Analysis

Irmgard Bartenieff – who developed Bartenieff Fundamentals

Frederick Alexander – who developed Alexander Technique

Moshé Feldenkrais – who developed Feldenkrais Technique

Mabel Elsworth Todd – who developed Idiokinesis

Irene Dowd – modern day somatics guru who studied with Todd

Eric Franklin – who developed the Franklin Method

Nancy Romita and Allegra Romita’s Functional Awareness: Anatomy in Action for Dancers is available from Oxford University Press. To purchase the book, click here

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Nancy and Allegra Romita. Photo by Jim Burger Photography.

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