Category Archives: research
Field Trip; But First: Phases of My Butt
A couple years back I noticed that my tuchas has developed an oddly triangular profile.
Recently, I noticed that it has once again returned to a triangular shape.
Today I realized that it’s a function of conditioning: as I progress from (relatively) out of shape to stage-fit, my butt progresses from “round” through “triangular” and finally to “square.”
Huh. You learn something new every day.
In other news, we left at the crack o’ dawn yesterday for Atlanta, checked into our hotel at 3 PM, established a CirqueLouis outpost, then proceeded to regroup with the crew before dinner and Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia.
And speaking of Luzia—you guys, it knocked my socks off.
Luzia is a beautiful show—funny and tender and full of love for a place and for the people k and cacti) who make that place shine, not to mention packed with the high-calibre circus performances that give Cirque du Soleil its stellar reputation.
B on the straps was, for me, the pinnacle—he’s beautiful and performs with ardor and pathos. I don’t really have language to describe his act. It was breathtaking.
We also got to roam around on the stage—which is fecking amazing, you guys; the technology!—and backstage, where the CduS cast trains and gets physical therapy and does everything else and where the giant amazing puppets live.
After we chatted with the cast about circus stuff (and other stuff) over drinks, which was awesome. I tried to do a lot of listening. You learn a lot that way.
There’s much to be said for a life in which a business trip means watching a phenomenal performance and talking shop with phenomenal performers, then conducting a 5-hour long mobile meeting—part post-mortem on their show, part post-mortem on ours, and part spitball session for the next show—on the drive home the next day.
Little by little I feel like I’m starting to understand circus as an art form of its own, discrete from ballet and modern dance and so forth. I really owe that Jordan, our AD, who has been in love with circus all his life, who has built his life around circus, and who is teaching me (the company’s resident ballet boy) to really love circus in its own right.
Depression-wise, I’m making it back now, I think. The edges are still raw, and I need to respect that and not push myself off a ledge by diving back into too much at once. This is going to mean very consciously taking rest days, especially as I reset and shift back to a different rest-day schedule.
We’re halfway through November, somehow: I have roughly six weeks til it’s time to start hitting auditions.
When I headed to Florida back in September, January seemed unimaginably far away. Now it’s right around the corner.
BG, Killer B, and BW are rebuilding me as a dancer. Jordan is refining me as a performer. I’m not yet back to the place in which I feel like, Yes, I should go audition for ballet things, but I’m at least in a place where auditioning for cirque things and ballet-adjacent things feels like it makes sense.
I want to say, “Let’s see where I am in six weeks,” but I kind of think that’s giving myself too much room to weasel out.
Anyway. That’s it for now. I’m exhausted and ready to turn my brain off for the night.
Life: A Little Reminder from the Universe
Sometimes the Universe steps in and reminds us where we’re supposed to be going.
On Thursday last week, I finished my first aerial hammock class and said to Denis on the way back to our camper, “That makes me feel really happy.”
He said, “You always feel happy when you’re moving.”
This meshes nicely with last week’s (umptillionth) heretofore-unannounced revision to my long-term plan, in which I first discovered that one does not necessarily have to effectively complete a second master’s if one first completes a stand-alone master’s program and then goes for a doctorate, then decided that maybe doing a DMT Master’s (or a counseling or clinical psych Master’s with concurrent DMT cert) first would be a good idea after all, rather than diving directly into a doctoral program and attempting to do the alternate-route certification concurrently.
PlayThink was yet another reminder of the things that make DMT such an ideal fit for me: I love moving; I love helping other people connect with themselves through movement; I don’t want to sit behind a desk; I don’t want to have to wear normal clothes (seriously, if you’re choosing a career path, that’s something worth thinking about: Do I want to spend my entire day in khakis and a tie, or in lycra? As much as I like getting dolled up in a sharp suit, I’m happiest in dancewear).
There’s another point, though, that I didn’t quite get until this morning. I’m going to take the long way ’round to explain it, because words.
Last night, I was pondering and feeling strange about an experience I had at PlayThink; about how a guy (Brandon, if I didn’t hear him wrong) who I barely knew embraced me and just held me for a long moment with a singular intensity and, strangely enough, it didn’t freak me out (that was the part I felt strange about — the not-freaking-out part). I’m still, generally speaking, quite protective of my own body, but for whatever reason, in that particular moment, I was able to just let go and experience and enjoy that physical connection, that closeness (for which, if you ever happen to stumble across this blog, thank you, Brandon!).
I wanted to talk to Denis about it, but was struggling with how to explain all the feels (in fact, I still can’t really articulate how I felt or still feel about that particular experience). I said, “I want to talk about something, but I’m having a hard time explaining it.”
Denis smiled and said, “I always kind of think it’s funny when you say that, because it’s always hard for you to explain things.”
I laughed, then, because he was right: I really struggle to explain anything (even my blog posts get a lot of revision, most of the time), especially abstract concepts.
Feelings are the hardest. I have trouble figuring out how to describe them using the abstract vocabulary of emotion — but I can dance about them … and, oddly enough, often moving my body helps me figure out which words to use.
Moreover, moving with people makes me feel connected to and comfortable with them in ways that nothing else does. The sense of instantaneous trust I felt towards Brandon resulted at least in part from our participating together in an activity that involved movement, cooperation, and spontaneity. It reminds me of nothing so much as the first group improvisation warmup that we did in Linnie Diehl’s Intro to Dance-Movement Therapy intensive last November at the ADTA conference!
I suspect that connection, that sense of trust that stems from moving together, may be one of the greatest tools that DMT can offer. For those of us who struggle with language and for those of us who struggle with trust, there’s a profound potential there.
That trust is a sacred one. In a way, that same sacred trust suffeses the work of dancers, of aerial artists, of acrobats. There’s a connection that runs deeper than words that we can find when we move together.
It all sounds very mystical, but even mystical experiences occur in the realm of neuroscience (and, in fact, the domain of the liminal, mystical mind is one in which neuroscience as a field is very interested!).
I don’t know, yet, precisely where my journey is taking me, but that is ground I very much hope to explore: first, in the experiential sense, connecting with other dancers, with other artists, and someday with other DMTs and with DMT clients; second, in the scientific sense, trying to understand how our experience of that physical, movement-based connection which bypasses words takes place on a neurobiological level.
DMT as a modality is a good one for me to practice because it takes advantage of my own native language: I’m a physical being first and a cerebral one second, and that’s okay. I realize that this is a huge part of why I am much more confident and social in the ballet studio; why I felt so confident and social at the 2014 ADTA conference; why, at the end of PlayThink this year, I didn’t hesitate when more than one near-stranger bypassed my proferred handshake and went in for a hug.
As for the present tense: maybe I’ll stop trying to describe my experience with Brandon and, instead, I’ll try to dance about it.
In Defense of Anecdotes
Ages ago, I found myself debating the value of anecdotes with a friend.
He argued that anecdotes should never be used because they can just as easily represent outliers as norms; I argued that they were extremely valuable as vehicles — people remember stories better than they remember reams of data.
I now realize that we were arguing at cross-purposes. He was arguing that anecdotal evidence should not be used to confirm or deny research hypotheses (a position on which we actually agree); I was arguing that anecdotes have a place in explaining the findings of research to people who don’t necessarily know a great deal about statistics and levels of measurement and all that jazz. I have no idea how he feels about that. I’ll have to ask the next time I see him.
It is true that individual anecdotes can’t tell us much about how the world actually works: if we only hear one story, we can’t glean from that single story whether that story is typical or atypical. Therefore, we can’t base statistical analyses on small samples of individual anecdotes, and we can’t make sound statements about causality or even, really, about correlations based on small samples of individual anecdotes.
When we try to ascribe causality based on anecdotes, we run into problems: for example, a book detailing how the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) led to one child’s “recovery” from autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) does not actually mean that ABA can produce the same results for all, or even most, kids (or adults) with ASD. In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t (this isn’t to say that ABA isn’t a valuable tool; just that it’s not usually a miracle cure) — but reading one or two books recounting the story of one or two kids who “recovered” can lead to the impression that ASD is “curable” in most or all cases and “should” be cured using ABA(1).
If, as a parent or helping professional, you read only that book, or those two books, and you decide that they represent a typical view of the world, you’ll have based your entire understanding — your entire statistical analysis, informal though it may be — on an anomaly, but you won’t necessarily know it.
A research paper, meanwhile, that looks at a sample of a couple of thousand folks with ASD and examines outcomes of their experiences with ABA will undoubtedly produce a different picture of the efficacy of ABA and the “curability” of ASD. From such a paper, we’ll be able to get a better sense of the relationship between ASD and ABA: does ABA lead to improved outcomes(2) for people with ASD? Such a study will, ideally, also answer a few other important questions:
- How often do improved outcomes occur?
- How much improvement are we talking about?
- How are we even defining “improved outcomes?”
If a study is sufficiently well-designed and well-controlled, we might even be able to draw some inferences about causality(3).
Unfortunately, the results of the research in question will most likely be published only in academic journals and textbooks, only a few of which will actually be accessible to the general public, only a few of whom will actually have the knowledge to interpret the results(4).
Thus, the likelihood that the average parent of a young child with ASD will be able to lay hands directly on sound research is much smaller than the likelihood that the same parent will be able to read a popular, anecdotal book.
This is where the power of the anecdote comes in handy: as researchers and as helping professionals, we have access to data that can help us to convey information to a broader audience — and we can select anecdotes that do reflect statistical realities. We also, incidentally, are often people who are interested in stories: research, to some extent, is about figuring out the “who (even if the who in question is, for example, a chemical messenger or an invisible physical force), what, when, where, why, and how” of things. In short, results can be translated into anecdotes.
Those anecdotes, in turn, can help people feel connected to the subject at hand, which is immensely important. A bunch of dry statistics about ABA and ASD won’t really influence how most people feel about whether ABA is an important and useful intervention or not; a true story, on the other hand, will — but with that power comes responsibility. When they’re used to reflect the realities revealed by careful research, anecdotes should be told in a way that reflects those realities; a way that reflects a typical (that is, an average) experience(5).
We’ve probably all seen television ads for weight-loss products with “RESULTS NOT TYPICAL” emblazoned across the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, biographical and autobiographical books recounting anecdotes about recovery from neurological and psychological conditions aren’t required to carry those labels.
We probably can’t (and, for various reasons, probably shouldn’t) force them to — but we can find ways to tell harness the power of anecdotes to present results that are typical, so potential health-care consumers have a better shot at making informed choices.
- I don’t agree with either of these assertions, by the way; nor do I agree that the ability to function just like a neurotypical person in the neurotypical world is necessarily a desirable or reasonable goal. For some of us, it might be. For others, it’s not.
- “Improved outcomes” as operationally defined by the study — I guess operational definitions are a subject for another post.
- though this is notoriously hard to do in the field of psychology as a whole due to difficulties both with ethics (we’re not generally allowed to dissect people after applying a drug intervention to see what happened to their brains, nor can we keep them isolated in stimulus-free environments, etc.) and the complexity of human subjects (even if we could keep humans isolated in stimulus-free environments, that alone could become a confound, etc).
- In short, this is a skill that’s usually taught at the university level, and then primarily to students in disciplines with strong research components. In the US, that amounts to a fairly small subset of the general populace.
- I think it’s okay to mention the outliers as well — those atypical results that look so great, or so awful — but we must do so with the knowledge that, on the whole, most of us expect our individual case to be an exception, and moreover, to be a good exception: one with results better rather than worse, than is typical. In short, we need to present outliers with several grains of salt, and we need to balance the better-than-typical outcomes by also presenting the worse-than-typical ones.
It’s Research Time!
I think I’ve mentioned this semester’s research project here once or twice. Well, it’s been approved by our Institutional Review Board, and it’s data collection time! If you’d like to participate, read on.
I’m conducting research into attitudes about body size and health at Indiana University Southeast and I’d like to invite those of you who are at least 18 years of age to participate.
My study has been approved by IUS’ Institutional Review Board and assigned protocol number 14.55. Below the cut, you’ll find a full description and a link to the survey, which should take around 10 minutes to complete and which is housed on the Qualtrics website.
Please feel free to forward this link to anyone who might find it interesting. Together, I hope we can learn a little more about how people feel about the relationship between body size and health.
Academic Squid Chronicles: For Science!
My Senior Seminar professor has approved my new project idea (yay!), so it looks like I’ll be doing A Whole New Thing this semester.
Part of that thing will involve research involving an online survey — and, provided that our Institutional Review Board says it’s okay — you can participate!
As such, I won’t be talking about my research here very much until later in the semester, after I’ve collected my data, but I will definitely keep the whole universe apprised. If you think you might like to be a research participant, keep an eye out, and I’ll post a link here at some point.
I’m really excited about this semester’s project. Like my previous project, it’s something I should be able to build upon later in my career, should I be so inclined. And without putting to fine a point on it, I think it’s definitely something that’s relevant to my goals as a future dance-movement therapist.
In other news, I’m actually ahead of the curve on my precalc homework (woohoo!) and, having taken the precalc pre-test, I feel fairly comfortable with the material we’ll be covering. I’ve encountered quite a bit of it before in other contexts — particularly in chemistry or in the catch-all Finite Math class I took a few semesters back. I haven’t worked with conic sections (though I’ve encountered them just recently in one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early works), but I think I should be okay.
Next week I’ve got an advising appointment to make sure that I’m squared away on all my graduation requirements, and right now I’m on my little labor day mini-vacation (some of which will be devoted to doing homework, of course).
Ballet class tonight; brought my ballet stuff with me so I don’t have to try to dash home between school and ballet. That didn’t work out too well on Monday, so today I’m just going to wander around in the world, dine out, and generally not go home until after ballet class. I have my laptop and all my homework stuff, so I might even do something productive.
Then again, I might just play video games and goof off, because I have enough of my schoolwork behind me to allow for a bit of that.