I had the same question a decade ago.
I was training and working as an actor in the US and was facing many challenges as an artist, aside from the language barrier as a native Japanese speaker.
As a professional dancer, I knew how to move my body in any way I wanted: slow or fast, soft or sharp. I had trained myself how to control my body in any situation. Why would I still need to take a “movement” class as an actor?
Despite my years of moving on stage as a dancer, I often became static when acting. This was particularly true when I had to work with emotionally challenging material or material that pushed me out of my comfort zone.
When I got angry, my body would tense up or freeze. When I got upset, my breath would become shallow. The fuller my emotional life became, the more I disconnected from my body. And the worst part of it all was that I often wasn’t even aware when the disconnect was happening.
If you are reading this, you may be able to relate to what I experienced.
Those problems I was facing were caused in part by a protective mechanism my body had created over the years – a kind of social armor which was a combination of psychological and physical habits I had developed.
Because of our primitive need for survival, our brain is always trying to protect ourselves from danger. When we experience some of our so-called “negative” emotions, our brain often registers them as stress, a threat to our well-being, and then our nervous system switches on to say “hey, avoid feeling that, it’s dangerous!” Then we may stop breathing, our muscles may get tense, and/or our heart may beat faster, and so on.
Our body is often at war with ourselves.
There is a battlefield between what we feel and the way our bodies prevent us from feeling. Our job as an actor is to create authentic truthful behavior, which is a physical manifestation of rich human experience. So physical training for the actor is mostly UN-learning. UN-learning our habits of self-preservation so that we can experience vulnerability.
Is it possible? Yes. But is it easy?
Well, I would be lying to you if I told you it is easy. It will take focus and patience. However, the good news is that it doesn’t take much regular practice to begin to see a change in how physical training begins to affect your work overall.
Is it worth trying? Absolutely, in fact, it’s necessary. After all, what is the audience watching on stage or on screen? -The actor’s body. I believe that only when the actor fully releases their inhibitions for a deeper connection within their own body, will the audience be able to connect to the richest emotional life within the actor.