A charter member and principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada (’51 – ’63), Lilian Jarvis (nee Lilja Järvinen) is one of Canada’s ballet pioneers. After her 12 years with the Toronto-based company, touring through Canada, the US and a one-week engagement at the Bellas Artes Palace in Mexico City, her focus turned to modern dance at the Martha Graham School in New York City where the impact of the Graham training led her to explore ways of overcoming certain physical limitations she had encountered throughout her dance career.
Persisting with her endeavours through the following 13 years, she was rewarded in 1976 with an invitation to dance the role of Juliet as guest artist in the National Ballet’s 25th anniversary production of Romeo and Juliet. The success of this performance at age 45 convinced her that the exercises she had been evolving during her 13-year “retirement” offered a valid means of not only improving on one’s physical abilities, but of retaining them into the later years of life.
After some preliminary teaching in 1977, she established a studio in midtown Toronto in 1980 and gave her method of bodywork training the name of BioSomatics, which she coined from the Greek “bio” and “soma” meaning “life” and “body,” subsequently changing it to Somatic Stretch®.
Besides her studio teaching, Lilian’s focus has been on writing about her technique and how she views it as an essential part of wellbeing. From June ’85 to Feb. ’86 she wrote a 37-week exercise series for the Toronto Star and a 5-month series for the medical periodical Family Practice (Sept. ’93 – Jan. ’94). Her book, Stress Releaser Stretchcloth, on stretching and strengthening exercises with a cloth band she devised, was published in December 1994 by Moulin Publishing and later republished by Stoddart. It is available now through Amazon.
In 1990, she began training instructors locally in her technique, further expanding the training in 2013 through an online training program to include trainees in England, Australia and the US.
Lilian is also working on two books, one describing her technique and her experience in developing it, and the other being a dance autobiography.
With a father who was one of Toronto’s first masseurs in the 1930s and her late brother an osteopath, Lilian comes from a family with interests in various aspects of the healing therapies. Her daughter, an instructor and Co-Director of Somatic Stretch® and a shiatsu/acupuncture therapist, has developed her own unique approach to hands-on bodywork, which she has named Neural Resonance®. Lilian’s son is a medical doctor with a leaning toward alternative therapies. With her lifelong involvement in training and her continuing pursuit of physical excellence through her Somatic Stretch® technique, Lilian is highly attuned to the workings of the body and exceptionally well qualified as a somatic educator.