22/10/20 BLOG 20: WAYS TO EMBODIMENT THROUGH MOVEMENT
This week’s blog comes from Serenity Rose, a woman with lived experience who is part of the consultancy team at You My Sister (https://youmysister.org.uk/). Serenity has kindly taken some time to think about the importance of movement, offering some examples of how she uses different forms of dance and movement as part of her self-care. Serenity has previously posted this on her own blog (https://resurrectionofarunaway.wordpress.com/2020/10/04/self-care-series-five-ways-to-embodiment-through-movement/ ) which explores her life and thoughts since exiting the sex industry
I am currently reading The Dance Cure by Dr Peter Lovatt; a path birthed of spontaneity after drawing an ‘adventure stick’ from an impulse purchase of a deck of ‘spark adventure matches’ which read “Try something new, something which you feel you wouldn’t be very good at”.
Despite being a former exotic dancer, I have never felt very good at choreographed dance. I once completed a performing arts course consisting of drama, singing and all types of dance. The hip hop routine was an epic fail for me. I deliberately placed myself at the back of the studio in an attempt to invisibalize myself, despite the obvious notion that hip hop is big and bold and unafraid of demanding space. My body was all out of sync with the steps, I went left when everybody else went right. I felt self-conscious of my own presence and my brain could not process the multi-layered and complex engagement of all the different parts of body and mind.
It is those memories which have lived within my body ever since and prevented me from the freedom of self-expression through dance. I always saw myself as a freestyle dancer and one of a sole language; exotic. Over the years this has restricted me from enjoying social and musical events which required different forms of dance expression and not only an overt form of sexuality.
I remember dancing the rumba, pasodoble, quick step, waltz and the cha-cha as a child and winning trophies at competitions. I also remember my dance instructor laughing at me with an affectionate endearment too subtle for my young mind to differentiate from humiliation and failure at the time, whilst I struggled to memorise the steps within my muscles and impulses; my brain has never worked the way of a disciplined, structured or professional dancer.
When I was very small my mother thought it was a good idea to enlist me in ballet. I was rough around the edges, I loved nothing more than to climb trees, play fight and slosh around in the mud on a rainy Autumn day. My instructor tried as hard as she might to engage my rebellious spirit in a routine of discipline and poise. “Good toes” “Naughty toes” “Good toes” “Bad toes” she would endlessly recite whilst exampling the intended positioning of a ballet dancers downward facing toes. This only added fuel to the fire and I of course, did the exact opposite as what I was told.
Dr Lovatt begins ‘The Dance cure’ with his perception of dance being rooted in movement and all movement being a form of dance right from the most mundane and miniscule all the way up to the grandiose and glamorous. He also advocates the healing properties of dance as a way to improve mood, focus, memory and physical wellbeing.
This realisation and intellectualisation of what my body has felt all these many years really helped me to broaden my scope of engagement with movement and in turn my long journey back to dance on my own terms and merit. Here is what I have found so far:
1. Martial arts
I love fighting! This is probably because I grew up in a household full of boys and right from an early age my brother showed me how to box. I loved the ducking and swaying, the quick reflexes and the release with each outward breathe which accompanied a jab, uppercut or hook. This has now evolved into a slightly more sophisticated appreciation of self-defence and the martial arts practices. I indulge in training sessions where I repeat combo’s as well as freestyle a variation of high kicks, hammer fists and strikes. I feel present and within my body when I train which helps my overall mental health. Martial arts have a history of being interwoven with dance and so, the two do merge together in a complimentary way.
I used to run a lot even as a teenager. It was my release and a way in which I could connect to my body in a safe way. More recently, after giving birth and then being on a mission back to health, I decided to take up running for races. I achieved a sense of community and a shared motivation for obscure medal collecting. I also accidently discovered the power of emotional processing whilst running and how the brain heals when you assist any recovery work with a form of movement. Running longer distances exposes negative thought patterns unlike any other form of cardiovascular exercise, it forces your brain as much as your body to maintain endurance. I found the same common narrative of “You can’t do this” or “It’s too hard” “Just give up” shadowing my footsteps in thought for the duration of each run. It wasn’t until I began to mentally challenge this with counter thoughts repeated each time my feet hit the ground, with each inhalation that I almost literally stumbled upon a rewiring hack. I countered the negatives with “I love you” “You can overcome this” “Your body is amazing” I would never have strictly labelled running a form of dance but it is most definitely a movement and if all movement is dance then so be it.
Sometimes your body just needs to extend itself! We spend so many hours hunched up, boxed up or plodding along that we forget to give space to our body. Most people stretch before exercise or occasionally in the morning, but it is rarely advocated that we incorporate stretching into our daily the same way we eat and sleep. Mindful movement is a brilliant way of integration which helps ease mood and energy in a way which is both gentle and adaptable. The key is to play a role of actively listening to your body; the aches and pains, subtle changes in posture, sensation or receptivity are all cues for intuitive stretching which can take place in the home, whilst cooking, bathing or watching television, at work or on public transport. The movements can be eased into your lifestyle in a way which doesn’t encroach or overtake other social or professional expectations.
4. Improvised dance
Dance that is impulsive without pattern or direction is a practice that aids the creative side of thinking, it helps problem solving skills, builds confidence and enables an authenticity which seldom has a chance to emerge in such immediate and pure form as improvised dance. Various women’s circles facilitate a collective improvised space for dancing which can be a really transformative and powerful process so long as you are self-assured on your own boundaries emotionally and spiritually. There is something really quite special which occurs when women give space to other women in a way that is non-judgemental and expansive.
5. Choreographed dance
One of my favourite styles of dance has to be contemporary as I am a lyrical person with a background in poetry and playwriting. I admire the work it takes to form a routine so complex and multifaceted yet so universal in language that anybody can connect with it. It is pure emotion in motion and stunning to watch. If I am to overcome my resistance to choreography, I most definitely would start here. Choreography improves focus and mental agility, it harnesses both the cognitive logical aspect of the brain as well as the creative free flowing part which is why it is so spectacular to observe these two opposites take form in such a polished yet fluid way.
With the knowledge that dance is not only restricted to dancers and that movement is in effect a form of dance “To leap, skip, hop, or glide with measured steps and rhythmical movements of the body, usually to the accompaniment of music, either by one-self, or with partner or in a set” – (Oxford English dictionary, The dance cure, Dr Peter Lavatt) it becomes much easier to embody dance in an accessible way and to use movement as a form of embodiment.