It’s Creative Arts Therapy Week, You Guys!
…And I am being a Delinquent Danseur. So I’ll open with some super-brief Class Notes:
Another new student this time (with amazing feet!). She shared my barre, and I proceeded to do the degage combination wrong because muscle memory (it was almost identical to one we use frequently in more advanced classes, but with slight differences — closing the balancoire front where it would normally close back, etc). I hope I didn’t confuse her too much! My grand battement was also wigglier than usual in the middle at moments, but not horribly so.
My balances were much better today. I am basically practicing nothing but balances at home. I am ridiculous. Need something in the fridge? Open the door. Coupe. Balance. Need something in the cabinet? Open the door. Passe. Balance.
Because Louisville is one very Catholic town and it was the day before St. Padraig’s, we learned a couple of Irish dance steps (in the famous words of Willem DeFoe: “Kinda makes ya feel like Riverdancin’!”).
It wasn’t “ballet proper,” but it was fun; ridiculously so. Sometimes it’s good to mix it up a little and relax.
One step was basically a very kicky, bouncy, fast-traveling Pas de Basque; the other was sort of like saute-passe, only the working knee points straight ahead instead of straight out to the side. Fun stuff, and a nice change of pace. Of course, being Dancers Who Try Very Hard, we all tried to do them with our arms in correct Irish Dance form, and hilarity ensued (because, you guys, that involves fighting every Ballet Instinct you have ever cultivated).
By the end of class, we were all grinning like a pack of six-year-olds in a Pixie Stix factory.
Interesting note: it’s amazing how light you suddenly feel when you relax a little — which is, as always, something I need to work on (“Don’t make it happen, let it happen!”).
…And that was it. My leg was fine (I kept the little traveling jumps low), and I had a great time. Denis predicts that this will be my last week as a rehab student; while I’ll need to continue re-strengthening my calf, I’ll probably finally get permission to do big jumps for real next week. YAAAY! I miss my grand allegro! (Okay, so I may or may not have practiced tours-in-the-air a couple of times in the kitchen…)
Okay! Now onto the whole Creative Arts Therapy Thing!
So it’s Creative Arts Therapy Week! That means we get to celebrate everything about Creative Arts Therapy!
You’ll notice that there are now seven accredited DMT Masters’ programs. Sara Lawrence has been in the process of gaining accreditation, so it’s good to see that they’ve made the cut. For a number of reasons, I’ve got my sights set on Drexel in Philadelphia, but it’s always nice to have more options.
Not so long ago, I really underestimated the value of the creative arts therapies — I like to tell people about how my knee-jerk response to Denis’ suggestion that I become a DMT was, “Dance therapy? …That’s for hippies.” It turns out that the more we learn about how the brain changes in response to experience, the more value we begin to see in things like art therapy and dance therapy.
However, the neuropsychological potential of DMT is only part of the picture (you guys, it’s hard for me, Mr. Neuroscience-Is-Everything-And-Everything-Is-Neuroscience, to write those words!).
To be brief: I know that for me, even outside of the formal context of Dance-Movement Therapy, dance is a critical part of the therapeutic process in ways that reach beyond measurable changes in levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and so forth.
Ballet has boosted my confidence immensely. Spending several hours every week moving while barely clothed in a room full of mirrors and near-strangers has really forced me to think about my relationship with my own body (this hasn’t always been easy or comfortable, but it has been valuable). Learning to regard my body as capable (in some ways, exceptionally so) and trustworthy has also done wonders for me.
The class schedule adds order to my sometimes-chaotic life and gets me out of bed on my worst days. Numbering myself as a member of the broader communion of dancers bolsters my identity in ways that I can’t begin to express or explain. Knowing that I have class in the morning (or evening) is, likewise, protective against some of my less-helpful impulses: we have established that drinking can really hose things up for me, mood-wise, and ballet class bears such powerful emotional salience as to override the desire to go out and get hammered (or, well, have three beers, if you’re me).
We don’t yet really know how to measure things like that empirically with the tools of neuroscience, but their value is immense — even, perhaps, immeasurable. The process of healing and growth involves both discrete, measurable, empirical factors and factors that remain far more subjective and mysterious.
As a culture, we might not put much stock in those subjective and mysterious factors — but that doesn’t mean they’re not real. It’s likely that we’ll figure out how to measure them with the tools of neurobiology some day, but I don’t think that really matters. Growth and healing are evidence in their own right: when a paralytically-shy kid begins to emerge from his shell, or a hostile young lady learns to trust other people a little more, we may not always really grasp what’s going on a biological level — but we know for sure that something’s going on.
I can say that the little experience I’ve had with DMT in action — the practical portions of Linnie Diehl’s introductory intensive at 2014’s ADTA conference — has been transformative. There’s something magical about the process of moving together as a group, and there’s another level of magic involved in doing so under the guidance of a wise and experienced therapist. Literally never in my life have I seen such a bond of trust and fellowship blossom so quickly among a group of strangers.
I’m sure that, too, is something we’ll eventually figure out how to measure empirically with the tools of neurobiology. However, even if we never do, the value inherent in that process must not be underestimated.
I am not someone who naturally feels comfortable joining a group — I harbor a lot of distrust leftover from a childhood in which I was a perpetual outsider. Within the framework of DMT, however, dance is an amazing tool to combat that bred-in-the-bone distrust of groups: when you move together under the guidance of a qualified Dance-Movement Therapist, it’s not like distrust evaporates — it just tends to slip away when you’re not looking.
Once you give yourself to the process, as a participant, you can’t hold onto distrust. Connections get made before you realize it’s happening, and you become part of a whole greater than yourself.
That’s the feeling I love in ballet class — there’s a part of me that just absolutely grooves on that thing where we’re like ten or twenty or thirty little cells in this animal that is Class; another part that loves the sense that what I’m doing right now is the same thing that every ballet dancer, everywhere, does and has done since the dawn of the art (not that I usually think about that in class: there’s no time for philosophizing!).
Dance-Movement Therapy can impart that same sense of unity, and its tools provide the means to invite participants to step out of their own comfort zones. I’ll be the first to say that I was wildly uncomfortable with the mirroring exercise we did at the start of Linnie Diehl’s intensive — I was afraid, some how, that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to connect; that I wouldn’t be able to follow other peoples’ movement patterns. Even though I’d done a similar exercises in acting and modern-dance contexts, it just seemed daunting, somehow.
I think I was also afraid I’d somehow do it “wrong,” and immediately be told that I had no business trying to become a DMT! (I was also afraid I’d find myself excessively hung up in the formal language of ballet, but that’s a different problem.)
Knowing that everyone else was trying and struggling, working to connect, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not, right along with me made that much easier. I was able to know that because Linnie Diehl was there to guide the process, and because afterwards we talked about how it went.
By the end of the warm-up, our little group of would-be DMTs was moving together, trusting each-other. I’m sure there are all kinds of perfectly good scientific explanations (hello, oxytocin!), but ultimately, it doesn’t matter why Dance-Movement Therapy makes that happen.
It simply matters that DMT does make it happen.