TEACHER PROFILE: JENIA KASATKINA
Making her acquaintance with Countertechnique in Moscow at the early age of 16, for Amsterdam-based dancer, choreographer and teacher Jenia Kasatkina, Countertechnique is second nature. Anyone who has taken class from Jenia will agree that when you step into the studio, you will immediately be welcomed by an open mind and open heart. A real groover, her love and confidence in sharing the freedom of movement is infectious. By Madeline Harms.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you started dancing?
I am from Moscow, Russia, and I started dancing classical ballet at the age of six after being advised by my doctor that it would help my severe scoliosis. My physical condition eventually had me kicked out of the ballet school however, and I was very upset about this! I wanted to continue dancing, but didn’t know how. One day my parents and I stumbled upon a school for contemporary dance; we had never even heard of this style of dance! It turned out to be a perfect fit and I stayed there until I finished my education.
Can you tell us how you were introduced to Countertechnique?
When I was 16 years old, I went to a summer dance festival in Moscow, and it was there that I first met Anouk van Dijk and took my first Countertechnique class with Nina Wollny. As I learned later, that was also Nina’s very first time teaching - ever! Nina and I clicked immediately and she recommended that I apply for universities abroad. That is how I ended up studying at Codarts University in The Netherlands. At the same time, Anouk was also setting her work STAU in Moscow, working with her two dancers Nina Wollny and Michael Jahoda as well as with 34 local dancers. I happened to be one of them!
How was your time at university and your transition into professional life?
At university, it was an important time for me to learn how to dance without harm and become more mindful. However, at the same time I was not as physically / technically challenged, and therefore as soon as I could I was searching for apprenticeships outside of school. This made the transition into professional life very smooth, because I was lucky to have had numerous apprenticeships during my studies. This gave me a lot of professional experience before graduating from school and also established contacts that I have kept throughout my professional career.
How do you look back at your career, what have been the highs and lows?
I think it is very hard to point out my highs, because everything I have done I am equally proud of. As for my lows, the period when I was transitioning from being in a company to freelancing was a difficult change; to step out from the company environment and to have to make new connections. So if I could advise one thing, it would be to try to keep connections to the outside world whilst being in a company, by participating in other classes and workshops. It is very easy to get stuck in the bubble, because often you are very tired and all you want to do is rest and recover and stay at home, but it is important to try new things and meet new people. Try to invest in something that really interests you outside of this company. I did not do this so much and I believe it made the transition to a freelance existence more difficult.
You have had a relationship with Countertechnique for a long time, since before your professional career. When did you decide to become a teacher?
The truth is I never thought about teaching Countertechnique. I loved doing class and dancing it, but the thought never came to my mind that I could actually teach it. However, I always knew somehow that I wanted to be a teacher, besides being a performer, I just didn’t know yet how to go about it. One day, I was taking class in Amsterdam and I overheard someone else talking about doing a teacher training for Countertechnique. This immediately caught my attention and I knew this is what I had to do!
How do you feel becoming a Countertechnique Teacher has influenced your professional career?
I really believe it changed my qualities as a dancer as well as a teacher, and changed my approach to dance and movement. In terms of my career, it has opened up a lot of doors and directions that I never thought I would go. I never thought that I would invest so much of my time in teaching, as much I was invested in being a professional dancer and performer. Now sometimes it almost overtakes performance, because I really feel confident about teaching and teaching on a professional level and I love it!
What do you like to focus on in your class?
In my class, I try to make it clear that we are training not only because we want to improve and prepare ourselves for the day, but also to truly enjoy it. I want to create a comfortable and easy-going atmosphere so that people can open up and enjoy themselves and from there I can guide them into the process because they are already open and into it. But first I have to sell it and my way to sell it is just to create a very fun atmosphere!
On a physical level, I want dancers who are taking a Countertechnique class for the first time to just focus on the basic things - to not get too brainy. To be able to transform it into their movement, to get one or two tools that we can work with and directly engage it into dancing. Whereas with a more advanced group, we can talk more during the class and brainstorm together to find answers. I also like to include a lot of floor work in my class as I’ve always loved doing floor work!
What role does music play in your classes?
Music is such an important tool in class and is a passion of mine. I spend a lot of time searching and selecting music, and I try to choose good music that dancers feel comfortable with and can groove to. I do a lot of research on the internet and once I find an inspiring piece of music, I figure out what exercise could fit to it - not the other way around. I like to focus on the groove of the music, but I know that other teachers like to pay attention to the lyrics for example, that they also give direction and inspiration to the movement. Music not only brings a lot of fun, it is also an element that can help to trigger certain thought processes in dancers.
Lastly, you have taught Countertechnique world-wide, how do you find Countertechnique translates to all these different places?
It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your education level is, people connect to Countertechnique in one way or another. Depending on their background and training, they might connect to it differently, but I have never had anybody who has not connected with it at all. For professional dancers, the majority find Countertechnique a very interesting approach and appreciate the ability to move in a conscious and healthy way. They find that the class offers a good workout and training, but they don’t feel exhausted. They feel good about themselves and their body feels healthy and ready for the day. Even if a dancer is taking a Countertechnique class for the first time, and they don’t understand the theoretical part of the technique, there is always the element of just moving through space and enjoying the dance!
Find out here where Jenia is teaching next.
Next month, the Teacher Profile Interview Series will feature dancer and Master Teacher Countertechnique Lillian Barbeito.
The Countertechnique Teacher Profile Interview Series is a monthly publication, initiated in October 2017. Madeline Harms is an Australian dancer and writer, currently based in Mainz, Germany. Learn more about Madeline on her blog Travelling Dancers.