The Somatic Center: Encouraging Mind/Body Health through Dance, Pilates, Art and Community

“It has been my dream for many years to open my own studio and have a space to consider home for my work,” says Sarah Villanueva, owner/director of The Somatic Center (TSC) on Larchmere Boulevard. “After living, working, learning, gathering experience and inspiration in New York City, Vermont and Florida, my partner Misha Villanueva and I decided to settle down in the Cleveland area, where I grew up.”

Quickly after moving back to the area, Sarah began connecting with the Cleveland dance and pilates community. She worked for several studios teaching dance, while also working a full-time job at a large corporate franchise. In her off time, Sarah went to classes, shows and gatherings to meet the local dance community.

“One of the most consistent topics was that there’s not a main hub for dancers to take class, present work or rehearse like in other cities. New York City has many places like Gina Gibney Dance (Cleveland native), Movement Research and Peridance, to name a few. These are places where you can take open classes and apply for residencies and choreographic opportunities,” says Sarah. “There are definitely several studios here that are providing amazing classes for adults, but I wanted to create more of a community space and more opportunities for emerging choreographers.”

Her husband Misha Villanueva wanted a location that valued local business and art.

“When we found the space on Larchmere, it felt right. I’ve been fortunate to have connected with some very talented artists and teachers in Cleveland and we’re building a community at The Somatic Center,” Sarah explains. “TSC has two main goals and functions. One is to provide consistent professional-level classes to dancers, and also a space to create and share work. This is to grow, unite and strengthen the dance community. The second is to offer the Cleveland community affordable, beneficial, high-quality fun pilates and movement classes and instruction that promotes mind-body connection.”

Sarah’s dream became a reality in September 2018. They found a 1,200 square foot space on Larchmere, and The Somatic Center (13002 Larchmere Boulevard) was founded. The studio offers a large open dance space, a sitting area and a small private space for massage and private sessions. There’s a kitchenette for fresh juice, a small designated retail shelf for local products and a window sill for art installations.

“While I would not call it a trend, I do believe more people will begin to use Somatic Practices in their every day lives because the benefits are less pain, relief of stress, joy in movement and self-awareness. This can be anything from dance, to meditation, to strength training,” Sarah continues. “All of our teachers are passionate and experienced in helping people connect their minds and bodies and feel empowered. It isn’t just about fitness or fancy moves. The word Somatic can have different connotations but for my work, and others in this field, it’s referring to the mind-body connection and how we relate to ourselves from within.”

Medical communities and science-based research have recently acknowledged the benefits of Somatic-based approaches to movement. Historically dancers, actors, singers and sometimes musicians have utilized these practices to better understand themselves and their movement patterns, so they’re able optimize their craft. Athletics and physical therapy are incorporating this work in an effort to decrease injuries, get faster results when correcting dysfunctions and achieve overall better body awareness.

Sarah suggest there are three things you can do to check in with your mind-body connection, on a regular basis. First, check in with your breath and tension in the body. Second, understand where your body is in space (proprioception). This can be as simple as taking a moment to feel your feet connect to the ground or paying attention to how your arms sway while you walk. The third thing you can do is to internalize the concept that our minds can connect to the body and actually change “habits” or patterns that are not beneficial to us. For example, the mind has the power to notice if our shoulders are consistently tense, and it also has the power to remind those muscles to relax throughout the day. This can be applied to the simplest or most complex movements.

“I want The Somatic Center to be known as a place where people feel safe, supported and inspired. I want students to leave and feel that they were challenged and connected on all levels of mind, body, and spirit,” she says. “I would be extremely satisfied if students leave class and and think or feel that teacher is an expert in their field and was passionate about transferring that information to me in a way I could understand and benefit from.”

“I also want TSC to be known for facilitating evolution in the Cleveland dance community. This is a challenge because of funding, as always in the arts, but I do believe coming together and creating some consistency and professional quality can help emerging artists create more impactful work. Technique is important for dancers, which we provide in those classes, but also having a space for feedback and discussion. A deeper intellectual exploration is also extremely satisfying and necessary in the current environment. This will also allow for dancers and choreographers careers to be longer lasting and successful,” exudes Sarah.

The Somatic Center also hosts art exhibitions, offers special pelvic floor, stress release and pilates fundamentals workshops. There are also dance, music and theater performances. TSC also offers self-care team building workshops to companies. Also open to the public and free of charge are choreographic showings. These showings are meant to offer choreographers feedback on their works-in-progress.

“The culture at TSC is freedom of expression through art, movement and mindful practice. Awareness and intention through movement and creative expression fosters sanity and integrity within ourselves and the way we interact with each other. This teaches us to care for not only ourselves, but each other and our world. The Somatic Center is a sacred space where new ideas, experiences, and practices evolve. People of all ages, backgrounds, genders are welcomed and can benefit from the classes, workshops or events,” Sarah concludes.

Regularly scheduled classes include dance, pilates, reformer sessions or private instruction. Class packages are also available for purchase. For anyone who purchases a package of classes, they will receive a complimentary cold-press fresh juice. Starting this Saturday on 1/12 @ 12:15pm, TSC will be hosting Kung Fu classes taught by the Shaolin Institute for kids ages 4-6. At 6pm on Sat 1/19, there’ll be a show called Layers, presented by Terre Dance Collective.

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Written by Kendall Embrescia-Hridel]

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