“I must tell you that my body is curious about everything and I: I am body.”
I came across this quote in 2006 and have held onto it like a compass for when I am lost in existential questions. It reminds me to not forget my body when confronted by topics I don’t understand. It captures the engine I feel in me when I dance in the studio and it captures the essence of what I want to ignite in others when I teach.
This type of physical curiosity drove our work when we gathered in Rotterdam at Dance for Health in March 2018. For this meetings of experts, we had two aims: to further experiment with a variety of approaches to dancing with movement disorders and to cultivate a reflection process that could capture the knowledge and impact as we uncovered it. We were a mixed group with a range of backgrounds. Some were dealing with movement disorders. Some not. Some had decades of dance experiences. Some none. But all of us possessed an expertise developed either through training and profession or via the first-hand experience of dealing with a movement disorder. Dance was our platform for questioning and experimentation and the studio was our space for research. We were all the subjects of our own research.
Very often when dance encounters the scientific community, the conversation quickly turns towards measurements. There is an interest on all sides to prove that what we are doing is having an impact. But what we are discovering is that the scientific models of measurement often don’t fully recognize what is happening during the dance sessions, particularly regarding what is deemed “successful” and why. As communities formed around people dancing with movement disorders has flourished worldwide, so has a community interested in changing the research behavior regarding the “measurement” of their work. From Glasgow to Tel Aviv to London to Rotterdam, in the last several months a flexible working group has begun to take shape. Through both a physical and theoretical practice, we are developing new strategies to analyze, articulate and further feed our work.
A portion of that work has oriented around a collection of themes identified in ongoing work sessions, such as embodiment, transformation, agency, and freedom. For the context in Rotterdam, we chose the headline of self-efficacy (confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behavior and social environment, as explained by psychologist Albert Bandura) as a frame to investigate the impact of dance for people dealing with movement disorders. A key theme that arose often was the importance of offering choice making within the dance experience as a way to foster confidence and empowerment. This showed up most often through a variety of improvisation and movement scores and various approaches to real-time composition.
For my contribution within this research weekend, I decided to return to an approach of creating scores that was developed during our project Störung/Hafra’ah. In the year long project, choreographer Clint Lutes began a process of creating movement scores for the Parkinson’s dance group and then he and choreographer Gary Joplin extended the idea to have the participants themselves create the tasks for the scores. During the weekend workshop in Rotterdam, I was inspired by a description that Marc Vlemmix gave about how he sometimes cues himself into movement. He described how he has better success in moving down to the ground, for example, if he thinks about his shoulder moving to his hip rather than telling himself to move to the ground. Since cueing is such a big topic in dance for Parkinson’s classes, I thought to bring back the score work to experiment with people writing their own movement cues as a way to activate a dialog with one’s own body.
To lead up to the task, I warmed the participants up by having them talk and move at the same time, so describing whatever they were doing physically as they were doing it. Then I asked for 3-5 movement cues they would like to give to themselves or the group. Next was to put them in 3 small groups to bring their cues together and to edit/compose a movement score that the whole larger group would do together. The responses to each individual cue always astounds me in variety and creativity. Often I see the participants moving in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible or imagined to offer in my dance classes. Aside from how much fun it was, the biggest pleasure for me was to somehow reveal to the participants how much dance knowledge they already possess and for them to own it and play with it.
The task also activated the participants to become more aware of how they are directing their bodies and selective in identifying what might or might not work in their own personal situation – a key step for me in activating self-efficacy. And going back to the topic of measurements and how “successful” interventions are measured, I would identify success from this task in the following ways:
- practicing how to be in dialog with one’s own body, including how to listen to what it needs and how to guide it.
- having to self identify and create cues that give pleasure and that can bring someone into movement
- experimentation with how the cue is written and delivered to increase impact.
- practicing the role of director, either of one’s own body or the group.
Below are the three scores from the weekend. Feel free to try them on or to write your own…
- Yawn your body
- Shake your arm and feel every bone shake
- Let go
- Softly cry with your body
- Let go
- Happy ribs and happy shoulders
- Lead with the part of your body that hurts the most.
- Own that leadership
- Let go
- Stand on one place while moving your arm
- Now go to the other side of the room while continuing the arms
- Opposite of the outburst
- Spread, wide, open
- Experience the space with your hands
- Close and cover your mouth
- Open with a smile
- Small, fast and jump
- Long, sliding, stretch
- Left and right
- Make some wind
- Connect with your body
- Yin and Yang
- Sit cross legged on your Sitz bones, move the flesh away, bend forward with your head
- Lift your chest to the ceiling
- Dance on the floor
- Walk a tightrope with all four limbs
- Be a tree with big branches
- Build a house with your body, brick by brick and in slow motion
- Get onto the tram and hold on
- Dance a Hard Rock dance and sing
- Take a position of power
- Go into your feelings and yield
- Spiral up to go down, lingering in the middle
- Find a partner and do an intimate dance
- Let the music guide your movement (speaker plays music)
- Do free improvisation to get off the tram
- Map the rooms of your apartment on the floor, relating to the furniture in each room
- Let go of your breath