For Peter Chu, teaching dance is about more than just giving corrections and watching as students apply them. “I want dancers and artists and humans to start finding connections on their own and just utilizing me more as a guide,” he says.
This idea comes to life in his chuthis ideas class, which he developed in the late 2000s in conjunction with the formation of his project-based company, chuthis. chuthis ideas is a free-form class focused on breath and sensation, which also draws on the principles of tai chi and qigong.
During a chuthis ideas lesson, Chu encourages dancers to tune in to their internal structures, taking an “inside-out” approach to movement. The class is designed to prepare dancers for phrase work and choreography, and is also centered around the Chinese-medicine–influenced core values of courage, compassion, and connection. “The approach to each movement is the primary focus, rather than the outcome of what it looks like,” Chu explains.
In addition to the deep connection with Chinese medicine and martial arts, Chu’s work is greatly informed by many aspects of his cultural roots, as well as his background in gymnastics and cheerleading. “I love the concept of understanding the body in the most subtle forms and the most extreme forms,” he says.
For his Dance Teacher lesson plan, Chu shares a series of warm-up exercises focused on the spine, in addition to a short piece of choreography. Each element embodies the ethos behind his chuthis ideas class. In this particular phrase, Chu says he was pulling from the concept of the three treasures—shen, or spirit, jing, or essence, and qi, or energy—which come from Chinese medicine, as well as the idea of circularity in movement, which has been a big part of chuthis ideas since the beginning.
“This phrase specifically, even though you may not see it in every single move, was drawing inspiration from finding fluidity, moving in water, using the most abundant source, which is Mother Nature’s oceans, and our internal structures, which are 65 to 70 percent water,” he says.
Step by Step:
Warm-up spinal exercises:
- Begin in a second position, grounding through the heels and balls of the feet. Keep the knees soft, without bending, and “imagine that your spine is floating away from your sit bones,” Chu says.
- Place both hands below your belly button and close your eyes.
- Inhale. On the exhale, focus on softening the knees and lengthening the spine upwards.
- Repeat for two breath cycles.
- Open your eyes and place your hands on your thighs.
- Roll down, leading with the head and bending at the knees.
- Undulate through the spine, leaning forward and arching back, continuing to lead with the head.
- Reverse the motion.
- Remaining in second position, place your hands on the floor, folding into a hamstring stretch. If you’d like to add some gentle weight, place your hand on your head.
- Bend the knees, rolling up slowly.
- Keeping your feet in the same position, begin to improvise, leading each movement with the top of the head. “Imagine that the top of the head has a ball of energy or a fishbowl of water,” Chu explains.
- While continuing to improvise, begin to shift your weight while keeping your feet rooted into the floor. Focus on “warming the spine up, allowing all the energy inside the head to oscillate,” Chu says.
- On your next inhale, pass the energy to the rib cage, beginning to initiate movements form this area. Chu recommends “moving from the interior, rather than the exterior only.”
- Inhale again, passing the energy from the rib cage to the pelvis.
- End the improvisation by moving through the entire spine.
- Return to a neutral position, placing the hands on the belly button. Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, feel the spine lengthening away from the floor.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Step forward with your right foot, leading the motion with your rib cage and scooping your left hand towards the right diagonal. “Imagine that you’re on the ocean floor, trying to run,” Chu explains.
Count 4: Step forward with your left foot, reaching your right arm across your body.
Count 5: Step together, crossing your arms, left over right, in front of you.
Count 6: Bring your right hand to your face.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Unthread your left arm, leading with the elbow.
Counts 4, 5, 6: Hinge forward, bending your left knee and extending your right, as you scrape your right elbow down your left leg, finding the inside of the left knee.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: While shifting your weight from your left leg to your right, switch the hand that is holding your face from right, to left, to right, to left again. As you shift, “allow the medial side of the knee to roll in, only if you feel safe,” Chu adds.
Count 4: From this lunge position, circle your left arm, gripping your forehead from above.
Count 5: Using the arm, pull your head back, coming to a standing position.
Count 6: Release your grip and allow your head to fall into your right hand.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Circle your elbow and chest to the left, transitioning to face the back of the room.
Counts 4, 5, and 6: Brush your right hand to meet your right thigh. Push your thigh back to initiate a step forward on the right foot.
Counts 1 and 2: Walk forward two steps, landing on your right foot.
Count 3: Unfurl your arms like wings, from elbows to wrists to fingers, while sliding to switch the position of the feet, ending with your left leg in front.
Counts 4, 5, and 6: Contract your stomach, arching your back to come to standing.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Inside turn to the right, ending facing the back.
Count 4: Slide your left leg out diagonally as you flick your right arm out diagonally. “You’ll have a little bit of a vibration in that hand as you flick off the energy,” Chu explains.
Counts 5 and 6: Melt back to center, legs in a second position parallel plié, arms and hands extended forward, with elbows bent at a slight angle.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Circle your right arm counterclockwise, opening up the right side of your body. Your right and left hands will meet above your head.
Count 4: Bring your hands into a light fist above your head, shaking them once and bringing your left leg to cross behind your right.
Counts 5 and 6: Sickle the right foot, dragging it into a lunge with the left foot front, shaking fist twice more.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Keeping the same structure of the hands, bend at the knees and glide toward the right while flicking the light fist above the head, accenting the movement on the up.
Counts 4, 5, and 6: Repeat the movement again, gliding to the left.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Repeat the movement once more, gliding to the right.
Count 4: Step out to the left.
Count 5: Step with the right foot, crossing over the left.
Count 6: Step with the left foot, crossing over with the right. Using the right hand, circle your face, “Like you’re smearing makeup,” Chu describes.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Bend the right knee, rotating the torso and bending forward while placing the hands in the crease of the hip.
Count 4: Shift your weight to the left and switch the position to the left side.
Count 5: Switch back to the right.
Count 6: Switch back to the left.
Count 1 and 2: Creating a twist, dive your left fingers diagonally down to the floor.
Count 3: Hit your left hand with your right, moving your legs into a parallel position, hip-width apart. Bring the arms to an open, rounded shape on the right side of your body.
Counts 4 and 5: Hold.
Count 6: Flick both hands out to your right side.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Rotate to face front, bring your left hand over your right. Dive through your arms’ opening until your left ear meets your right palm. Your legs are in a slight lunge, with the right leg back and heel slightly lifted.
Counts 4, 5, and 6: Side bend until your left bicep is on top of your right ear. Gaze is toward the right palm.
Counts 1 through 6: Step back with your right leg, rotating to face back with left arm extended, shoulders hunched.
Counts 1, 2, and 3: Slide to second position, arms release to thighs.
Count 4: Chest opens to the ceiling.
Counts 5 and 6: Contract the chest.
Watch the full video tutorial below.