Why I Became a Rolfer® - Cori Terry

Cori Terry

Certified Advanced Rolfer® and Rolf Movement® Practitioner

I'm a New Yorker, born in the projects of Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island by two civil rights activists who, like most New Yorkers, thought New York City was the greatest city on earth. A lot of the reason they loved New York was because of its vast cultural offerings – they took my sister and me to the theater, to museums, and to dance concerts on a regular basis. My mother brought me to my first modern dance class when I was three years old, and I kept dancing all through my teenage years, but just as a hobby. I didn't seriously commit to the rigors of dance training until I went to college, and by the 1970's I was dancing professionally with The Erick Hawkins Dance Company, touring the country and Europe for eight years.

I have always been aware of a whole spectrum of limitations in my body, even as a young adult. I had pain in my SI joints in many positions during and after dance classes, (although I had no idea, I even had a sacrum at the time!) and my neck hurt badly on occasion too. I knew very little about the body in those early years, but I knew that I felt restricted in my movement both physically and artistically. I had a vague sense that I needed to “let go” but I just didn't know how to do that. I was uncomfortable in my body yet very ambitious, and as I looked around at the other nineteen-year-olds in my classes I envied what I believed was their perfect posture and their poise, tortuously comparing myself to them as many dancers do wishing I had that person's long straight legs, another's muscular arms, and yet another's perfect proportions.

I was just becoming aware of my anteriorly-tipped pelvis, which caused my quads to be locked short, and my hamstrings to be locked long – I was stuck, like a butterfly pinned to a board, and I wanted to fly - to move through space with ease. Needless to say, I was frustrated - I so badly wanted to master the art of dance, of technique. So when I met Erick, a pioneer of somatic dance (once married to Martha Graham and one of her principal dancers) it changed my life, and he set me on a path of self-discovery.

Erick's classes were anti-Graham technique, which uses bound energy and intense emotion as an impetus for movement. His teachings were based on moving from your center and finding ease in free-flowing movement. He elevated the concept of body-centered wisdom and passionately introduced us neophytes to all sorts of new ideas: Ideokinesis, taught by Andre Bernard and based on the work of Mabel Elsworth Todd and Irene Dowd, Zen in the Art of Archery, The Bates Method of Better Eyesight, the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and significantly, the work of Dr. Ida Rolf. I remember distinctly how he described Dr. Rolf's work - he had great respect for Dr. Rolf's ground-breaking vision of the body and how she saw the body in a non-mechanical way where there were no levers and pulleys but instead, a web of pliable fascia that organized our bodies.

He talked of her concept of a horizontal pelvis (it absolutely thrilled me to discover there might be a possible inroad to solving the puzzle of what was holding me back!) of economy of movement, equipoise, and of course, powerful information about the all-mighty psoas muscle. Accessing the psoas was a crucial tenet of the Hawkins' technique, teaching that the psoas both lifted the weight off our legs and centered us squarely over them – the source from which all movement came. Here was scientific affirmation of all Erick was talking about, and a promise of relief from the tightly held muscles that held me in their grip! I was intrigued, exhilarated, and a bit mystified by how it all worked.

After company class one day, having just heard all about Rolfing® from Erick, I eagerly stopped in the bookstore right next door to the old Hawkins' studio on 5th Avenue and 14th Street (it was called East West Books I remember) hoping to find Dr. Rolf's book on Structural Integration and there it was, prominently displayed (I still have that copy, dated 11/27/78!). I opened it slowly, with great anticipation, and immediately saw there was a whole chapter called "Your Psoas!" I was ecstatic; I knew this was the exact work I needed. I had dreamed of having a horizontal pelvis for years, (still trying!) a lofty goal for a 26-year-old, and imagined Rolfing would give my dancing body the freedom it craved. I wasn't particularly flexible, and my body hurt all the time – particularly my SI joints and lumbars and I saw Rolfing as a way through that.

My birthday is in December, so that year I asked my mother to split the cost of the 10 series as a combined birthday/Christmas present for me – they were $45 per session at that time in New York. She said yes, so I found some Rolfers on the upper west side who shared an office, and randomly chose one. It was a truly transformational experience for me, despite the fact that my Rolfer was very odd and barely said a word. But the work worked, and my experience with him was quite profound. The restrictions and tightness I had gotten so used to feeling started peeling away, layer by layer, and my world, my psyche, and my body started opening to new sensations - to sensing. My joints felt freer and my spine lengthened. I never did get my pelvis aligned, but I got something much, much more significant, something I didn't even know I was missing – a deep sense of occupying my body, and not judging it from the outside or comparing it to anyone else's body, but to feel it, live in it, and own my body in a transformative way. As my tissues released, I was letting go from within.

By the early 90's I was living in Michigan, having founded my own modern dance company in 1981 – Wellspring/Cori Terry & Dancers - and although we were already well-established, and enjoying some success I was not exactly financially stable living on the meager artistic director salary I earned. Plus, I was going through a divorce and feeling vulnerable. I was dancing hard, pushing myself physically, and I was still hurting, inside and out. Right around that time, I heard about a wonderful Rolfer named Les Kertay (now a psychologist) who lived in Atlanta at the time if I remember correctly. Les came to town a few times a year to Rolf a bunch of folks for the three or four days he visited, so I went to him for some input. He helped a lot, again not directly affecting my sacral pain, but certainly deepening my understanding of the intertwining patterns in which my body lived.

I remember him putting his open hands on my pelvis, one in front and one in back, and asking me what I felt in there – and that he didn't think my alignment was as bad as I thought. Then he focused on my ribcage, feeling that it was the part of my body that direly needed to open up. Honestly, it was his kindness and focused attention that helped me the most, that moved me to a new place, to a changed, more compassionate approach to my body. No wonder he became a psychologist!

When summer came and my daughter went off to spend it with her father, who had moved to the west coast, I was bereft, alone, and very poor. I remember lying in my empty bed on a warm Michigan afternoon, feeling desperate and scared. Tears were streaming from my eyes making little wet spots on the sheets as I wrestled with the idea of how I was going to take care of myself. I had spent the better part of my adult life teaching and creating dance and always used touch a lot in my teaching, asking students to tune into their bodies from the inside and meet my hands, as I had learned to do from all my somatic training. To feel the weight equally on your sit bones and lengthen through the top of your head. Feel the spine's rotation by articulating through each and every vertebra. Deepen and create space in your hip sockets. Use the floor as support as you allow the weight to be distributed through your feet.

This was what I was good at, what my calling was, helping people discover the inner experience of their bodies – I really had no other skills I cared about! Then gradually, as the tears dried with a freeing emotional release, I knew that I needed to find an adjacent career that wasn't teaching dance or performing. A career where I could still use all the body knowledge I had accumulated up until then and be connected to the mysteries and revelations of the body. Something I could sink my teeth into, and something that would give me financial security. And then came an idea, as clear as day, intimidating and exhilarating all at once – perhaps I could be a Rolfer. So with Les's encouragement, I went off to Boulder in the summer of 1994 to start the training.

It has been 27 years now since I started my practice, and I am so grateful to be in this amazing profession that allows me to keep exploring my own body and all its taught me through the years. And to give others what was given to me; a portal through which to uncover the body's potential to fulfill itself and to know itself. To free the tissues that block the flow of energy throughout the system, to observe closely and give vital biomechanical information about sitting, standing, and walking which can transform the way a person moves through their life. And above all, to honor each person's body for the wisdom within it, as I have learned to honor my own.