There have been more than a few times in workshops when I have jumped between being a participant and some level of facilitator. I have been involved with preschoolers through senior citizens in groups that featured some aspect of the Halprin Method/Motional Processing/Life Art Process. I get invited to lead/teach in a variety of settings that always requires sensitivity to how people react/respond to direction given. Here is an example (out of possible hundreds) that demonstrate how I have applied some aspects of the life art process in group of kids.
In 1997 I decided to change pace from only working with adults to working with children at the local YMCA in their after-school and preschool programs. I applied, and they were quite happy to hire me being a man, and having group experience (abet with adults). I would show up twice a week, and the teachers would bring a group of kids down to the gym, and I would do my thing while one or two teachers watched and the others took a break. I brought a hand drum, some percussion instruments, a bamboo flute, and some tapes for musical support. I also brought a bag of scarves that I used as props for the kids to move with
The kids really loved this class, they were told at the beginning by their teachers that it was a special treat/class and I was often used as a tool for discipline. In other words, if you did not listen or obey, then no class with “Mr. Richard!” So, for eight dollars an hour, I put my decade and a half of experience working with adults to the test by doing more or less the same thing with kids.
The two-year-old group averaged nine kids in a class, and occurred once a week for about thirty minutes. I decided to use the name game to meet the three basic intentions I had developed for the two-year-olds. The intentions were, to get the kids to sit still in a circle, listen and follow directions, and increase the possibilities of play/movement.
In the name game, a person says his or her name, and uses movement to express something in relation to his/her name. In most circumstances, the group mirrors back the person’s name and the movement. This is a very simple exercise, and an easy way to begin movement in a group, and to have participants express with their bodies in front of others. It’s also, the beginning of making a connection between what you are thinking and feeling, your body, and how you are expressing yourself through your body.
The two simple directions, say your name and do a movement, can be opened and expanded in a variety of ways. For instance, you could direct the person to create a movement based on a theme, such as what they are feeling. You can expand further by having the group echo back the name and/or the movement of the person with the same qualities, or with the qualities that are experienced when the name and movement is mirrored back. You could also have the name expanded by using a nick-name or a name that each person wants to use for that moment. There are many ways to expand dependent on the dynamic of the group and/or the intention/theme of the class.
The first obstacle I faced with meeting the intentions was the location. My classes took place in the gym where the teachers would get to the door of the room and literally unleash the kids. All the children, with a great amount of glee, would run forth and play with some abandon as soon as they stepped into the room.
In order to create a smoother transition and to maintain some control, I asked the teachers to bring the kids into the gym in a line (which they used to get them from their class room to the gym). From there they proceeded to chairs which were in a row placed against the wall of the gym. It only took a few times for this new way of entering the room to become the standard.
Having two-year-olds sit for fifteen minutes in a circle on the ground seemed to be something that all of the teachers thought of as a bit daft. As one later confided in me, they thought of me as some hapless expert who had no real life experience in the field. I knew that I had some distinct advantages: I was a man in a facility of all women, and I had a never-ending bag of group process experiences. Granted, these process experiences were designed for adults but I figured I could follow Anna Halprin’s words of advice from years earlier; “….with the life art process you can take any theme and expand or contract it at a moment’s notice to an hour, day or week-long experience.”. Using that bit of advice, I simplified the name game and other process experiences and kept them to their core themes.
In using the name game with the two-year-olds, I decided to keep the options for expression fairly closed. For the beginning of each class, I would have the kids enter the room and sit on the chairs. I would sit on the floor and when everyone was present and focused, I would have them come to me and sit in a circle around me. For the first few months or so, I had the teachers join in the circle.
For the first month, I talked about voices and sound and level of sound, what a whisper is, what being really loud is, and what using your voice in-between is. I asked the kids, one at a time, to say their name in a normal/regular voice. I repeated their name and mimicked their movements/mannerisms that were expressed.
For instance, one child was very shy and cocked her head to the right side when she said her name. I echoed her immediately after by saying her name (with the same voice quality) and cocking my head to the right.
After everyone had a chance to go, I repeated the exercise, but this time I had them whisper their names. The last round was shouting their name and raising their arms up. A few kids chose to stand when they did this and I did not discourage it. I repeated this exercise (amongst others) every week, sometimes expanding it to include the group echoing back, sometimes having them create their own movement.
As the weeks went on, I expanded it further, by including holidays and how that might be reflected in voice and movement quality. From that point I expanded to feelings, staying with happy and tired. Not being a therapist and this not being therapy, I did not want to go too deeply.
The first time in September when I worked with the two-year-olds I had three teachers helping me, sitting on the floor and corralling the kids from running away. By December I had just one teacher helping when needed, but who basically sat on the side and watched. I met my intentions with just the name game. The kids learned about following directions and appropriate behavior with voice and movement modulation requests. I engage them in such a manner that they did not feel a need to jump up and run around (or away from the circle). I helped them to noticed and create connections between voice, movement and feelings. I even had one child, who the teachers had literally never heard talk, one day suddenly stand up and say her name when it was her turn.
Reprinted from my unpublished manuscript: Renewal and Rediscovery of the Self in the Life Art Process: 20 years as participant, assistant and facilitator. By Richard Brunner MA, R-DMT. Copy write 2006.
*Note Photos in this post are generic royalty free stock images.
Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made. Ted Shawn
“There is no such thing as an intuitive person tout court. Intuition is a domain-specific ability.”
The power and fruitfulness of intuition has had innumerable and celebrated champions — from Einstein, Anne Lamott, and Steve Jobs to some of history’s greatest scientists and philosophers. But what, exactly, lies behind this amorphous phenomenon we call “intuition”? That’s precisely what CUNY philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucciexplores in a chapter of Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life.
First, Pigliucci offers a primer on what intuition is and isn’t, compared and contrasted with the history of understanding consciousness:
The word intuition comes from the Latin intuir, which appropriately means ‘knowledge from within.’ Until recently, intuition, like consciousness, was the sort of thing that self-respecting scientists stayed clear of, on penalty of being accused of engaging in New Age woo-woo rather than serious science. Heck, even most philosophers — who historically had been very happy to talk about consciousness, far ahead of the rise of neurobiology — found themselves with not much to say about intuition. However, these days cognitive scientists think of intuition as a set of nonconscious cognitive and affective processes; the outcome of these processes is often difficult to articulate and is not based on deliberate thinking, but it’s real and (sometimes) effective nonetheless. It was William James, the father of modern psychology, who first proposed the idea that cognition takes place in two different modes, and his insight anticipated modern so-called dual theories of cognition. Intuition works in an associative manner: it feels effortless (even though it does use a significant amount of brain power), and it’s fast. Rational thinking, on the contrary, is analytical, requires effort, and is slow. Why, then, would we ever want to use a system that makes us work hard and doesn’t deliver rapid results? Think of it this way: intuitions, contrary to much popular lore, are not infallible. Cognitive scientists treat them as quick first assessments of a given situation, as provisional hypotheses in need of further checking.
Citing recent research, Pigliucci presents an important debunking of the grab-bag term “intuition”:
One of the first things that modern research on intuition has clearly shown is that there is no such thing as an intuitive person tout court. Intuition is a domain-specific ability, so that people can be very intuitive about one thing (say, medical practice, or chess playing) and just as clueless as the average person about pretty much everything else. Moreover, intuitions get better with practice — especially with a lot of practice — because at bottom intuition is about the brain’s ability to pick up on certain recurring patterns; the more we are exposed to a particular domain of activity the more familiar we become with the relevant patterns (medical charts, positions of chess pieces), and the more and faster our brains generate heuristic solutions to the problem we happen to be facing within that domain.
Indeed, this notion of additive progress in developing intuition is the same concept known as “deliberate practice” in the development of any skill or “talent”. Pigliucci writes:
There is another aspect to the question of intuition versus conscious thinking that affects our quality of life, and that has to do with research showing how people get better at what they do or get stuck in it.
An ‘expert’ is someone who performs at a very high level in a given field, be it medicine, law, science, chess, tennis, or soccer. As it turns out, people become experts (or simply, much much better) at what they do when they use their intuition and conscious thinking in particular ways. Research on acquiring skills shows that, roughly speaking, and pretty much independently of whether we are talking about a physical activity or an intellectual one, people tend to go through three phases while they improve their performance. During the first phase, the beginner focuses her attention simply on understanding what it is that the task requires and on not making mistakes. In phase two, such conscious attention to the basics of the task is no longer needed, and the individual performs quasi-automatically and with reasonable proficiency. Then comes the difficult part. Most people get stuck in phase two: they can do whatever it is they set out to do decently, but stop short of the level of accomplishment that provides the self-gratification that makes one’s outlook significantly more positive or purchases the external validation that results in raises and promotions. Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster—further improvement requires mindful attention to the areas where mistakes are still being made and intense focus to correct them. Referred to as ‘deliberate practice,’ this phase is quite distinct from mindless or playful practice.
Given the importance of networked knowledge and “associative indexing” in making sense of information, it is unsurprising that “structured knowledge” is what sets the expert apart from the amateur:
There are a variety of reasons, but two are especially important: one needs to develop the ability to anticipate problems, and this in turn is often the result not just of knowledge of a given field but of structured knowledge. … Not only is there a difference between naive and expert knowledge, but there is more than one way to acquire expert knowledge, guided not just by the intrinsic properties of the system but also by the particular kinds of interest that different individuals have in that system.
We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. Japanese Proverb