Moving Bodies, Moving Selves

For Tuesday’s class this week we spend the majority of the time exploring movement work leading up to a composition exercise. This particular lesson requires more focus, awareness, and commitment from the women than some of our other class structures.

We started the day with our usual structure, several minutes of free writing and then a physical “wake up.” I’ve noticed that playing some calming background music during the free write creates a space where the women can tune in to their own experiences and let go of the chatty, conversational mode of being that usually characterizes the beginning of any new activity.

After writing we did a quick check in—just shaking hands along a continuum from low to high to indicate how everyone was generally feeling. Most of the women were in the mid-to-high range, a good sign for what we had planned for the day.

After circling up to explore some general stretches, create more space in our bodies, and warm up our voices, we pulled the desks into a tight semi-circle and sat down. I asked everyone, to the best of their ability, to refrain from talking and commenting about the exercises that day. I emphasized that we were going to prioritize creating a nonverbal space in order to increase our awareness of how we inhabit our bodies and to develop tools for exploring movement with the goal of crafting our own movement pieces.

Rather than verbally explain the next activity, I divided the group into three sections and then silently modeled what to do. We created a rainstorm by first rubbing our palms together, then snapping fingers, clapping our hands, and finally stomping our feet. We brought the storm to a climax and then let it fade out. The women beautifully held silence when it was done—one woman remarked that it sounded like heaven.

Taking the dynamic experience of that activity (the range from soft to loud sounds generated by slow to quick movements), we got up on our feet, cleared a large moving space, and formed three lines at one end of the room.  I put on some instrumental music with a strong driving beat, and we started with intentional walking directly across the space. We added the variations of forwards and backwards, of moving against a wind (effortful) and of being carried by the wind, and we added a freeze halfway across the space.  This activity evolved into creating frozen shapes in different levels (low, middle, high) and into an exploration of three directions or planes of movement (forward/back, side/side, up/down).

The next activity involved linking shapes, requiring the women to make choices about their body position in relationship to other people. In groups of four or five they took turns making abstract shapes, freezing in those shapes with energy and intention, waiting for others to add on so that their shapes formed a larger image, and then finding a way to disengage from the group in order to start a new formation.  Again, the women did a beautiful job with this. We had three very different, very engaging structures, and we took the time for each group to observe what the others had created, to notice how they incorporated different levels and different points of focus.  The women were energized, committed, and specific in their choices.

The last part of this lesson was a composition exercise derived from visual images. I spread out several richly colored, abstract pictures, mainly culled from nature magazines, and gave the women a minute or so to observe them all before selecting the one that they were the most drawn to. We took time to brainstorm descriptive words from these images and then to pick the word from our list that was the most striking.

As a demo, I listed several words on the board (twist, streak, melt…). I asked the women which of those words they wanted to see me move. “Streak” was the overwhelming favorite. So, I demonstrated whole body streaking as running through space. One leg streaking became a kick—arms streaking became jabs.

We took some time to explore movements, either with one part of our body or traveling through space, inspired by our word. Women were also given the option to work with text, to repeat the word until they generated an impulse to move in response.

We then formed three groups of four or five, and the women created an order for their words.  Each group explored moving these words as a short piece or phrase and made choices about levels, spatial patterns, rhythm, and dynamics. One group chose a choral repetition of the word “serenity” as the sound accompaniment for their creation. Another group chose to have music overlay their composition. A third group incorporated the use of a piece of fabric as a prop.

I was impressed by the women’s commitment, focus, and energy. Movement work can be intimidating. It takes courage to take space with your body and refrain from commenting on what you are doing. It often makes people feel silly and somehow exposed. We’ve worked through some of the self-conscious giggles in our regular “wake up” that we do at the beginning of class.  When I introduce movement work, I always expect that many people will feel self-conscious, and that feeling can manifest in a variety of behaviors.  Some resistance or reluctance to participate is to be expected.

From my perspective as a facilitator, the women met this challenge with courage and grace. They took the risk to embody space with their whole selves and gave each other supportive and creative feedback.  For only one or two people to refrain from fully participating, from the facilitation perspective, counts as great success!

But, from the participants’ perspective, just one person’s resistance can affect someone else’s experience.  And as a facilitator, it is a balancing act to keep both the participants’ experiences as individuals and the experience of the group as a whole in perspective.

Self-consciousness can lead to resistance or reluctance to participate, but self-consciousness is important. Acknowledging self-consciousness is the first step to becoming self-aware. Participation itself doesn’t necessarily lead to self-awareness. Self-awareness comes from realizing, “I have a strong feeling about this circumstance,” and then trying to figure out why. Movement work creates this critical circumstance.  It forces us to ask who am I in space? And who am I in relationship to others? And how do both of these questions change over the course of time?

–Meg Brooker

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