Body Language

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Conspire’s newest facilitator discusses how she used movement to explore emotions and identity.

Thursday has become my favorite day of the week. I get to sleep in a little, play games for a few of hours, and then get a kick out of watching people’s reactions after I tell them I spent the day in jail.  After I’ve appreciated the incredulous double-take, confused eyebrow-furrowing, and/or hesitant “I’m-not-sure-I-get-the-joke” laugh, I say, “no, seriously!” Then I get to talk about Conspire Theatre.

This week, I facilitated the workshops by myself for the first time. I decided to use a lesson plan exploring body language, body image, and how the two are interrelated. After warming up, we started playing with different ways of moving and deciphering the changes in body language. As they moved around the room in all these different ways, the women called out the way it made them feel: Chest out and head up said, “I run this!” Head down with a sunken chest said, “I’m scared.” Moving quickly meant either, “I’m on a mission,” or “I’m running away.”

Next, we purposefully created a specific body language. Half the women in the group became sculptors and molded their partners into living “statues.” We made statues that said things like, “I’m angry,” “I’m excited,” and “Don’t look at me.” The sculptors then took a step back to observe their work, noticing similarities and differences in all the sculptures. Meanwhile, the “statues” themselves noticed that maintaining a certain posture affected their emotions and body image. Angry-looking statues began to feel angry. Statues communicating “don’t look at me” felt uncomfortable once all the sculptors came around to observe them. Several of the “statues” even felt compelled to speak up and say, “Stop looking at me!”

We agreed that our bodies did indeed speak their own language, and that physical postures could affect our perceptions and emotional states. So, we decided to see if the opposite was also true.  I asked the women to create the statue of a person who believed in the statement, “I am ugly.” One woman responded, “I don’t know how,” and I was touched to hear a number of the other women share her sentiment. Next, I asked them to sculpt, “I am beautiful.” This time, the work was quick and easy, as each sculptor decided how to show off the beauty of her sculpture — some were posed like models, some had big smiles and heads held high, others were standing simply and gazing straight ahead. Once again, a sculpture was moved to speech: “I’m beautiful, dammit!” After this exercise, one woman said she felt uncomfortable as the beautiful statue and the others were quick to jump in and remind her that she is, indeed, beautiful.

At the end of each workshop, we circle up and each woman says a word for how she is feeling, and one thing that she accomplished either during the class or earlier in the day.   Many women were proud of themselves for opening up to the group, cooperating with others, or just for letting loose and having a little fun.  Today, one woman inspired a round of applause by closing with, “I feel overjoyed… I learned that I can sculpt myself into whatever I want to be!”

-Olivia Jiminez

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