Ben Watts and Tiina Dohrmann met in an independent dance production in 1991. They are the founders of Greenspan Center, a water-based wellness center in one of the few remaining loft buildings in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, where they practice many body therapies, including Zero Balancing, WaterDance, and Watsu, a Shiatsu-based treatment that takes place in their ground-floor pool. Ben and Tiina live where they work, with their daughter, Coco.
On How a Rewire Me Moment Became a Vocation
Ben: On a mini-tour of northern California hot springs, we stopped at Harbin Hot Springs and discovered aquatic work. The house special, Watsu, looked weird enough to be interesting. I liked it a lot, but it didn’t take me below the surface. The practitioner suggested I try WaterDance, which is similar to Watsu but with the added dimension of total immersion. I came up for a few breaths, then sank back down, over and over again. The breaths got longer and longer, but never felt held—suspended perhaps, but always easy. I realized how years of habit had clouded my perception of where and how I hold my own particular tension.
Tiina: There was nothing theoretical about it for me either—it was a completely physical understanding of an entire history of body-held experience. It felt completely natural to surrender to the water and the breath to the point where I stopped thinking about whether I was above or below the surface or whether I was inhaling or exhaling. A never-before-experienced form of trust established itself.
We stayed at the springs as long as we could. We never did get to San Francisco.
On Taking the Plunge
Ben: Living with a giant tank of water has been quite an adventure story. We chased the pool for years. It led us to buy our building because we couldn’t install such a big thing in a rented space. Our first installation was a secondhand backyard pool. It was clear from the start that if we waited until we had building department permits and a proper business plan, we’d never start. We decided to put it up and see how it went. The costs involved with installing a pool indoors are staggering, so we improvised with ducting pipe and some very heavy-duty fans. We’ve had a few giant leaks, major floods actually, but other than that, no real problems so far.
On Natural Beauty
Tiina: When I hold people in my arms during a session I always become aware of their incredible beauty. Literally everyone transforms while they surrender to the water and a childlike beauty reveals itself.
On an Elemental Experience
Ben: Our daughter Coco was born at home with a fantastic midwife, Miriam Schwarzchild. We got a birthing tub, but in the end it happened on the floor when Tiina got out of the tub to walk around. The tub’s still here; it’s been rented out to hundreds of women around the city. Many years later, we discovered that in our Chinese horoscopes none of us had any of the water element present. Maybe we’ve been trying to make up for that in our work.
Tiina: What makes me happy are things in life that don’t require the spoken word: meditation, dance, touch, my work, the forest, singing. I also like creating things alone or together with other people. I always loved the rehearsal process when I was a dancer.
Ben: The master of theater improvisation, Keith Johnstone, talks about consciously helping one another to productively dive into the abyss of the unknown. In our water work we constantly follow the impulses of the bodies we hold. There’s no way to know what they’ll do before the session starts, so each one has to be taken in the moment. It’s very unpredictable. I find inspiration in the idea that one doesn’t need to know what to expect—that it’s even better that way.
Tiina: I grew up in Wuppertal, Germany where I saw pieces by choreographer Pina Bausch. I witnessed many people storming out of those performances, banging doors and being really upset. Over the years her work became more and more accepted. Now it’s admired and cherished. Watching the perseverance with which she pursued her expression was very important to my own creative process. I learned to stick with my convictions if they’re coming from the right place, which is the heart.