article by : Kinga Sáfrány
About therapeutic aspects of Tánceánia
Tánceánia dance company consists of people with and without special needs. The complex program of the company has artistic, therapeutic as well as social and political interests. It provides an artistic realm where people living with and without disabilities can work together as equal creative partners with complete competency. This frame and intention – expressed both in the therapeutic and the artistic aspects of the work – help all participants (and public) to experience each other differently and to draw new conclusions about gaps and preconceptions that separate people of different abilities and needs.
In the past ten years Tánceánia have created evening long dance pieces, several short occasional performances, and has become well-known in the Hungarian art scene. At the same time our program demonstrations received great appreciation and raised interest at professional events, conferences of special pedagogy, psychology, rehabilitation, and hospice. Tánceánia has participated in big festivals (Sziget Festival, Annual Meeting of Theatres in Hungary), and has been presented at the most important forums of Hungarian progressive scene (Trafó, Mu Theatre, Millenáris Teatrum, IBS). In the Hungarian theatre and dance scene Tánceánia is unique in presenting on stage performers of different abilities, including people with severe movement disabilities. In the last years the cooperation with Yvette Bozsik (one of Hungary’s leading choreographers) Bea Palya (internationaly known folklore singer) and other celebrated artists have brought powerful new experience in the the group and pulled more interest towards our work from both the public and the critiques.
By this time we can also see that our complex program – together with other therapeutic activities – may lead participants living with disabilities to improvements which were impossible in certain areas with their former traditional therapies only. For example, their body awareness improved, their movement creativity opened – together with a stronger sense of balance – and in general, they can accept more their physical body. All these result in participants getting more active and mature in their interpersonal contacts, they become more confident and initiating in their everyday physical/body activities. In some cases we even experienced a great improvement in verbal/vocal expression as well. Our program has been developed to apply for all abilities: people with severe movement disabilities, speech loss, visual impair, mental impair, autism and developmental disorder. For some of our members Tánceánia is the only motivating, challenging program in their life, they can’t find any other creative occupational program available in Hungary designed and applicable for their severe disabilities.
Therapeutic Concepts, Methods, Ideas Verbal discussion
Tánceánia practice is built on methods of Psychodynamic Movement and Dance Therapy as developed by Dr. Márta Merényi in Hungary. The methods incorporate verbal discussion (*); experiences of body awareness based movement re-education schools (**); work with interpersonal connections and partnering practice of contemporary dance (***); experiencing space and working in a space of high focus (****). On these four pillars we build performances which are later presented to a larger public.
Our meetings start an end with talking. Often just the social aspects have a great impact on our members living with the most severe movement disabilities. Besides daily organisation topics the main focus is providing a safety container for the feelings and experiences of the movement process to integrate. We recall past and present experiences, give/receive feedback. (Through personal narrative we try to express our processes; authorise and correct our feelings and interpretations; and together we try to understand the group processes, possible transmission and counter transmission relationships.)
**Body Awareness Work, BMC® And SRT®
Key words and concepts:
¨ Perception of physical experience
¨ Experience of special states of mind, dominance of the right hemisphere
¨ Awakening consciousness of physical sensations along certain traumas, and reflecting on them
¨ Facilitating emotional availability by monitoring and becoming conscious of emotions
¨ Activating visual thinking, techniques of visualisation
¨ Perception of self in movement activity
When we start body awareness work – Body-Mind Centering®, (BMC®), release, (Skinner Release Technique) – we enter a new world. We realise how closed or open we are, how much tension we accumulate. ”All the problems we encounter – either physical, mental or emotional – get expressed in a muscle tension.” –F. M. Alexander said. Through these internally focused works we build a direct connection to our body and learn to perceive its messages.
Body Mind Centering® (BMC®) has become an internationally used practice by now for dancers and teachers as well as for people living with movement disabilities. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen – the founder of the method – writes: ”BMC® is an ongoing experimental journey into the alive and changing territory of the body. The explorer is the mind – our thoughts, feelings, energy, soul and spirit. Through this journey we are led to an understanding of how the mind is expressed through the body in movement”…..”This involves identifying, articulating, differentiating, and integrating the various tissues within the body, discovering the qualities they contribute to one’s movement, how they have evolved in one’s developmental process, and the role they play in the expression of mind.”
While BMC® has an emphasis both on art and healing, the Skinner Releasing Technique (SRT®) is more a dance training with a new and innovative approach of Joan Skinner, dancer and choreographer. She started developing the technique in the ’60s after her serious spine accident. She started taking Alexander® classes where she discovered how the freedom of her joints allowed her muscles to relax in certain areas, and how this multiplied the ways of balancing, expanding also the possibilities of shaping the body maintaining an optimal postural tone. Having an extensive previous experience in teaching, after three years of profound study and analysis she constructed her own method. This method allows the body to release tension and the mind to shift in a more alert state.
SRT® implies movement studies and special exercises called partner graphics. Together these liberate the energy flow in the body; allow the body to follow its organic intrinsic principles; and teach us to shape the body relating more to natural biological processes than held forms. This concept takes us to view the bodies and movements of disabled people as being shaped by a network of dynamic and unique energies of the moment, as opposed to consider them as a split body-soul relationship. This inspires us to work along the injuries and limitations which may allow new movements and relationships to occur instead of trying to achieve changes.
In Tánceánia’s body awareness work we usually start with tuning in the body individually, always followed by exercises of touch. The experience of touch and moving together with someone help us to get clearer about who we are and who the other is. Perception is not a passive process, however, it is based on taking information in. Since ”take” is already an active formula in grammar, in dance therapy we consider the response of our spontaneous regulating systems as an activ response as well. The main experience is the mutual relationship of the perception and response processes. So touch itself can be perceived as an active dialogue. As it draws more and more attention, it opens doorways and helps to arrive in the depth of internal space of the body. The person who is listening may learn to focus his/her attention and to follow the changes of the partner. The one who is receiving follows the movements, changes and processes awakened inside his/her body by the partner’s focus.
***Working with a partner, contact improvisation
Key words, principles:
¨ Experiencing mutual presence and respect in connection with each other
¨ Expressing previously not articulated feelings and experiences
¨ Connecting along unimpaired body parts or places of limited functioning and difficulties
¨ Emotional safety bound in a common experience between partners of different abilities
¨ Taking the dynamics of relationships to a conscious level, correction and localising in time
¨ Shaping the relationships of transference, correcting relational issues
Some dancers of Tánceánia have extremely limited expressive chanels, therefore others need to use their intuition and concentrated body presence to stay in communication and partnership, as opposed to substituting or moving/communicating instead of them. Contact improvisation is a great access for dealing with these difficulties, as it provides rich possibilities in partner work.
Contact improvisation – named by the founder Steve Paxton in 1972 – may be looked as dance of touch, nevertheless in moment we pay attention to our weight, pressure, next moment we focus on space around or on the ever moving surface of body contact, etc. Other times we follow our own movement, maybe together with the partner’s movements, or we follow the ways as we give support to each other. It is an active opening process. It is really difficult to avoid opening when you dance contact, because the focus of attention is always changing. You need to open for taking in more and more information, exploring new ways and dance with the very instant occurrence. You touch and you are touched – with head, leg, back or any body surface – sometimes with the full body. The surface of contact where this fine and sensitive communication occurs, always changes. Steve Paxton notes: ”Touch evolves to a physical dialogue. However all participants are equal – there’s no leader or follower in this dialogue – it is not the technique of democracy but survival.”
A very important aspect for us is that through this dance we learn a lot about dealing with gravity: taking and giving weight, and using gravity with courage. This way the floor eventually becomes a safe partner rather than a close or distant enemy of the dancers with movement disabilities. The contact dance practice helps us to master our body generally, and even to regain in certain means or complete limited or missing abilities – and as our instrument: to tune it better.
In this dance sensing the motion internally is primary, the outside look is secondary. As movement experience integrates, we start to perceive things differently and we open up to seeing things differently. This influences the creative process as well as the dynamics of the relationships or even the aesthetics of the dance.
****Creative work in a highlighted (highly focused) space
Key words, principles:
¨ Sharing nonverbal layers of personality in experience
¨ Space focused by the presence of disabled people
¨ Performing a psychological process – presenting a narrative in dance or movement
¨ Clarification and spatial arrangement of an internal relationship
¨ Holding the space by the attention of the group: the experience of a common creation process
Creation is an essential part of dance therapy and is a major activity of Tánceánia since the beginnings. This aspect develops, gets shaped continuously and becomes visible more and more as the group process goes on.
To move in the space where the attention of the others turn is both important as a personal and group experience, and part of the personal as well as the group process. It helps to express the group dynamics, especially when one part of the group moves, performs and the other part observes and takes a chance to look from the outside. Any new perspective helps us to understand the changes of relationships, while our vulnerability becomes more visible as well. It highlights the moments when our patterns which helped us to connect before empty out and we do not yet find new possibilities. At this transforming phase the work with space can strongly support us. The attention may shift from the human contact to the spatial arrangement, and we can easily let us occupy the open space, the silence, the emptiness without any barriers to hold on. Vulnerability is considered as a weakness in numerous cultures, however in dance therapy it is a kind of no-man’s land where new possibilities may reveal. A chance for letting our masks fall so we can redefine ourselves, and discover new unknown, unexpected energies.
In Tánceánia Group vulnerability and defect is an obviously visible and tangible realm. It is a challenge to keep together in such a state. For the dancers with no disabilities it is crucial to meet their own defencelessness and vulnerability. On the other hand these common experiences offer a kind of release to everybody: permission to accept ourselves as we are, and consider ourselves as whole. There is no chance to experience our inner power without stepping over our boundaries and meeting our vulnerability.
Any dancer having strong stage presence has to learn how to be seen as they are. How to become able to melt in any movement and how to be seen in any movement as a whole. So they can give space to observers (audience) to understand the spirit of the body. In this process of aiming the completion the dancer gains the ability to move the spectator too.
Budapest, 26 January 2007.