One year in the early 2000’s I was invited to teach a prayer and movement class for a faith community in Trenton, New Jersey. There were two forty-five minute classes of mostly older folks and a few kids, dressed in their Sunday best with very limited space to move in. I agreed to facilitate the class and set about the task of creating a movement based exploration.
My intentions for this group were to expand their possibilities of movement when they prayed, to reveal connections between their bodies and feelings, and to have a learning and fun experience. The limits I needed to be concerned with for creating this experience were time and movement/body comfort. I have also experienced, in the past, that groups that have a class imposed upon them have expressed a general lack of interest and a basic discomfort with movement. I decided I needed to create a class that would be safe, fun and a learning experience.
I generally create a basic plan of what I am going to do when I teach, and then I rely on my skill as an intuitive teacher to examine/experience the dynamics of the group/individual and adjust accordingly. The two classes consisted of twenty-two people each. There were ten women over sixty years old, four women between the ages of thirty and forty-five, four girls between eight and eleven years old, two boys of about fourteen and two men around thirty-five. (All ages are approximate.)
At the beginning of both classes, I talked about feelings and thoughts and the relationship to the body. I talked about images and how they could be used as a resource for movement. I mentioned metaphor and how that also could be a movement resource. If I had more time, I would have outlined a brief history of dance in the Christian Faith.
After a brief chat I had participants close their eyes, and I led them through a very brief meditation about their journey of getting to the class that morning. I then had them open their eyes and, one at a time, say their names and do a movement with their hands that expressed how they were feeling at that moment. The class echoed them back by repeating their name and movement with the same voice and movement qualities. When everyone had taken their turns I asked if they felt complete and, if not, they could go again. After a brief pause, an older women said she wanted to go again and did her name and movement with much more vigor and enthusiasm than before.
I felt that all the intentions were met just by this opening exercise. For this group the name game was a fun experience. They began the process of making a connection between feelings, their bodies and movement. After the exercise I spent some time talking about the process of translating the interior to the exterior. I made the connection among the interior of feelings, voice, and movement quality and types of prayer and how they might be reflected by similar qualities.
I got to learn, if only for a brief time, everyone’s name and, as I found out later, so did many of the people in the class. When I was first invited to work with this group I was warned, with love and humor, that this particular brand of Christians referred to themselves as the frozen chosen. I think I might have caused a little life art warming.
Rutkowski, A. (1984). Thesis: Development, definition and demonstration of the Halprin Life/Art Process in Dance Education. Unpublished doctorial dissertation, John F. Kennedy University.
Halprin, A. (1995). Moving toward life: Decades of transformational dance. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.
Chodorow,J. (1991). Dance therapy and depth psychology: The moving imagination. New York: Routledge.
Halprin,D. (2003). The expressive body in life, art, therapy. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingley.
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.