I just finished a "5 Rhythms" beat-focused workshop and came away with a few lovely experiences I want to reflect on and share. (I learned in some recent reading that movement plus verbalizing it has more benefits than movement only--good to know.)
When I arrived at the studio, I found a wood-floored open room with about a half-dozen strangers wearing ready-to-move clothes like me, different ages, and some chatting while others sat in the space. We began movement without music and I got on the floor and used the opportunity to get in touch with where I would enjoy stretching and releasing, focusing on my hips and back that always enjoy attention.
The music started with very flowing songs that built in energy, and I found larger movements and more energy as we went. When a song with lyrics about "going into deep water" to find something was playing (if I remember right--though it doesn't really matter if I do) I found a movement that will be meaningful for me after today. I have one movement from years ago that I think this one also felt like: releasing a burden. In today's variation on that movement-need being met, I gestured from my head upwards, like lifting a hat above me, then turning my palms out and swooping my hands through the "hat" and out to the sides to be hind me with a bend from the waist and bow of the head. This repeated, as I imagined "getting out of my head." The movement that followed involved different movements from my heart, as I sought to get more into my body and spontaneity. These movements are important to me because I do find it challenging sometimes to stop thinking about what's going on (when this movement first arose, I was trying to label which of the 5 rhythms we were in at the moment) and to settle into my heart and body.
The releasing movement helped, and I found flow that moved me across the floor and had my limbs using the various kinds of space around me. That experience built into staccato, energetic music that brought beats out in my tap-dancer's feet and other parts of me, then chaos of multi-layered rhythms including the chance to bring in some West African broad and swinging movements to a drumming song. Though I had learned styles come through, I found them only as part of a more natural, personal vocabulary, and I felt free of the technical concerns they could be tied to. They became part of my own movement language. Then we moved into lyrical movement, and I felt myself getting tired, before we came to stillness at the end.
As we settled into the final, still moments before finishing, I felt inclined to ask myself if I felt safe. In the past, an experience like this would not always have felt safe for me. I noticed a couple of fears I was still carrying in the very back of my mind, and I mindfully noted them. These thoughts included a lingering fear that the others in the room might judge me for being sweaty after all that movement, so I gently reminded myself that I didn't need to fear the strangers or that judgment; they were here for the same things as me, and sweat was to be expected. Then I felt like I should ask if my body felt safe. I paused before answering myself, and found that yes, it did. As I stood to leave, I grounded my feet, and walked away keeping with me the sense that I brought safety with me, inside, and my body is a safe place to be.
As I got into my car, a song from my days at the UF dance department came back to me:
Here I stand in beauty
Beauty is before me
Beauty is behind me
Above and below me
We would sing it after a warm-up, last thing before beginning our semester-end shows. We'd stand in a circle holding hands, and the resonance of all the voices from my embodied and creative friends and fellow dancers made it a beautiful moment as we repeated the song a few times. Today, driving home, I felt new lyrics come up:
Here I stand as beauty
Beauty is within me
Beauty is before me
And all around me
After all that, it feels appropriate to end with an acknowledgement of connection: namaste.
I've been a dancer all my life, and it has certainly meant many different things to me over the years. Along the way, I've also tried many different styles; every new style I have a chance to see or learn, I do. Recently it occurred to me that they may each mean something a little different to me. When I feel a need to move, I have my own improvisation vocabulary that's developed out of all these experiences, and yet there are definitely differences in the movements I need or discover at different times, and differences in what I've gained from each style over the years. So I thought I'd take some time to reflect on a top few styles and what they are to me...
Tap: My first style, tap is home to me. My studio as a kid excelled in tap, and everyone did it in addition to other styles they learned. It's a heritage connection to my earliest days in dance and to my Midwest roots where tap is strong. Today, tap is also my opportunity to be a little goofy; its a style with a sense of humor and freedom that I'm (ahem) tapping into more lately.
Modern: Modern is the style that taught me to bring myself and to take up space in the most authentic ways, always teaching me more about connecting inside and bringing it more fully outside. It naturally became my self-therapy when I first encountered it in undergrad, and has since been the way my improvisation looks when I need to move to process difficult or deep feelings. Modern is also how I move in prayer. Modern attuned me to my inner impetus to move. It means potential to do anything I need. It also reminds me of the beauty of all body types and ways of moving, including mine.
Ballet: This is the style that taught me to stand tall and proud, with gentle but repeated reminders from my instructor in college. It embraced my enjoyment of paying attention to the tiniest details of my movements to seek accuracy and grace, while also challenging me to let go and try to take up more space and move bigger. Ballet also helped me learn and practice the kinds of care my body needs after a good workout: foam rolling and ice.
West African: This style is the embodiment of FUN! It's free-flinging, energetic, grounded yet airborne, and always moving. Hints of West African pervade my just-for-fun dancing to just about any music style. West African dance also urges me to respect its cultural roots by connecting with others spontaneously in dance circles that follow the traditions of the style.
Those are the styles I've spent the most time in, getting to know myself in them. There are quite a few others... jazz, swing, Irish step, contemporary/lyrical, aerial, hip hop, and a touch of tango and Bollywood. Thinking of these styles, I see how they have been opportunities to experiment and get in touch with new parts of myself that each style highlights, so as a group they certainly represent this. There are many more styles I hope to learn, and I hope to always be dancing and growing through dance, so altogether, to me dance means potential!
Recently I've felt inclined to using nature imagery and metaphors in counseling. I think it is helped by a recent trip to California and some time at the beach this summer, among other adventures in the past few years. While I have been in these spaces, it's been a very embodied experience, so these things come back with me and are rekindled when clients share experiences with feelings that resonate viscerally as I empathize with them.
These images arise naturally as I listen to and feel along with clients, and I look to share them as a form of reflection of what the client is sharing. Knowing that not all of my clients have had the privilege of travel or much time in nature, I try to describe the sensations of the natural image, and verbalize the metaphorical connections to the experience they are describing. Sometimes this is a very brief, passing exchange, and sometimes it is something the client hooks onto and that they may even take home with them to reflect on or expand upon.
One of the things about nature images that feels powerful to me is that it provides some concrete images of our human smallness and lack of power: standing in a dark cave, feeling lost and stubbing our toes looking for a tiny light to hint at a way out; being overcome by ocean waves that pull our body here and there, hoping for just a moment to catch our breath while another wave crashes over. These can resonate with experiences of uncertainty and overwhelm, and might even help me and the client recognize where they need care, or maybe something they can do to help themselves cope in their challenges.
Nature also provides us with calm, peaceful images that can help clients center: imagining ourselves under a warm sunbeam, with soft clouds overhead; feeling a gentle waterfall cascade over us to help the stress fall from our muscles.
I wonder if this is one of the benefits that make time in nature beneficial to our wellbeing. Do we implicitly adopt images that can help us recognize how we feel? Do we internalize peaceful moments to benefit from later? Personally, I do, and I hope I can share some of that with my clients with these images and metaphors.
Something I've sought to convey to my students--be they career clients, res hall supervisees, or students in my classes--is to trust the deepest part of themselves. What I mean by this is that when these fabulous potential-full students feel unable to choose between many possible paths (what I remind them can be considered a "good problem") they can look at the patterns across their life experience to give grounding and direction. Their personality is the unifying thread between even seemingly disparate choices they've made over time.
I was gratified recently to see that someone else was able to phrase this more clearly than I may have been doing! Emilie Wapnick has created this inspiring blog and community, Puttylike, which focuses on the plight and possibility of multipotentialites. That is, people with many options, like my students! Though they may feel they are pulled in many directions, one of the options Emilie suggests for these folks (among a few other great ones) is the "group hug" approach to career, in which someone finds the meaningful intersections of their varied interests instead of just picking one. There's a great, short post by a Puttylike writer on the intersection option here. I agree with other posts on this site that these intersections are a space of creativity and bridging between parts--things I love and am drawn to, but which are challenging, too, especially for some.
The existence or meaningfulness of these intersections is not evident right up-front. It takes time to get to know yourself and to trust the deeper unity in yourself to see the validity and value of these sometimes-odd intersections within our varied expressions of ourselves (interests, values, even our personality). We may need to provide space for some creative wandering and exploration to imagine what these intersections may have to offer. In my experience, it's taken all the self-reflection investment afforded to me by nature of being a practicing counselor and career instructor to figure this out--which is to say, no small amount of time and reflection. (I practice things on myself before trying them on clients or students, so I've career-therapized myself quite a bit, as well as I can.)
I encourage those who feel they are many parts pieced together--like a "Frankenstein" as a client put it once--to seek to get beneath the perceptions and expectations of others (however subtle or well-ingrained in you) and to spend some time with your own self. And let it speak. Give it time to start to make sense, too; when we haven't been listening, these things might be easy to reject at first while we are still encumbered by lifelong lessons of what "won't work" or "is stupid." But these things are from far too intimate and valuable a source to take lightly or beat down. That's your inner compass; in there is YOU. And I hope we all get to meet more of YOU soon.
I hadn't danced in a while, but a couple months ago a friend told me about a place in town that offers low-commitment adult classes. I had previously only taken classes with the department at school, trusting them to teach technique for safety, and to keep me challenged. Unfortunately, grad school has interfered with my ability to keep up with that schedule, so a drop-in evening class is just the thing for me now!
The years of dancing in college was a great time in my life as a dancer, because the challenges the dance professors offered were not just physical, but emotional. And they embraced the challenges I set up for myself, too. I discovered the intersection of my lifelong love for dancing and my deepening commitment to learning and personal growth as part of helping others through an unlikely project. It was unlikely in that it was one of those fortunate accidents I've come to be more prepared for now. Back then, I thought it was going to be a disaster.
You know how the creative process goes... Step 1. This is awesome, Step 2. This is hard, Step 3. This is crap, Step 4. I am crap, Step 5. This might work, (then cycle back) Step 1: This is awesome (and by the end, add: I am awesome).
I experienced that all for the first time in this dance project I proposed. It was supposed to be a sort of empirical study of emotional reactions to dance stimuli (nerd alert!). Unfortunately, my original plan started falling through: audience members weren't responding as I'd hoped in feedback showings, and I realized I was terribly off track. I became anxious and had a constant fear of failure that lived in my stomach (I'd later name that feeling Thesis Guilt when I got to grad school). I was funded to be doing this project, which was a great honor. But that meant if I bailed I would owe back more money than an undergrad cares to part with. That threat was enough: there was no way out but forward. I'm grateful to the dancers who stuck with me through this challenging time, when I hadn't yet built the confidence I have today to manage a creative team or call myself a choreographer or researcher. In spite of that, I stuck to this fantasy of being a scientist-choreographer and gained a lot from it. I hope that I also gave to others through the results of this project.
Though in a very different way than I imagined, I essentially did what I had set out to do: make something in the meeting of my dance-minor and psych-major selves. In fact, I did it twice: I created both the original group work I had proposed to make, and out of all the emotion of that process I created a solo composed about and of personal growth that I'm still proud of to this day.
As my career clients and I often learn, there's sometimes already a name for the thing we thought we invented to fit our intersections. In this case, it's artistic inquiry, a kind of research not taught in my grad programs, but beautifully valuable in my experiences. The whole processes of this dance coming-of-age are already recorded in a blog I wrote during the experience at USPpsychdance.blogspot.com. (For kicks, you can also find my blog from my stint dancing in NYC at my2280pints.blogspot.com.)
After all of this amazing experience with dance, it's so much a part of me and how I've grown that I refuse to give it up. I learn and gain too much from it. It keeps my heart happy and creative, and is healing when I need that, too. So while I'm doing grad student stuff instead of taking morning ballet or mid-day modern in the studios of the UF School of Theater and Dance, I can still connect to the gifts of being embodied through weekly evening lessons at this in-town studio. It's been a perfect opportunity to get beyond technique and move into embracing time, space, motion, fun, and wellness. Those things were always there in dance, but each time school calls for a hiatus and I return, I re-meet dance as a new person, and dance brings me into even more new growth and fullness.
As I like to say, I'm a dancer in my heart and mind, even if I'm not dancing. But these days, I'm happy to say I'm both.
I just got back from the National Career Development Association conference, which gave me many great sessions on career development, with topics that focused on college students, counseling interns, trauma in career, career courses, and private practice! It was a rich three days!
One of my biggest take-aways as a counselor was the Career Construction Interview. I valued hearing it applied to a case study, learning about how clients and counselors react to it, and then seeing it put into action with a volunteer client. I enjoyed realizing how much the technique has in common with the sandtray career sessions I've implemented with Dr. Swank at our career center.
In all, I especially love the qualitative and personal nature of this intervention. I can see how its storying approach can help clients get a sense of themselves in a humanistic way. I agree that it could be of use in counseling outside of career concerns, too. At the moment, I don't think I'll implement it directly with my current clients (since my career work is not as a counselor, and my counseling work is for crisis/trauma clients). However, I think I'll certainly be drawing on the questions and processing considerations, as well as re-grounding myself in some of its underlying principles.
In particular, I'll be thinking about the sense of coherence that comes through considering the client's experience over time. Last night while unwinding after the conference, I read a bit about van der Kolk's work and how his approach helps re-create an internal sense of time for the client that is missing after trauma. I can imagine combining these ideas in my work. Importantly, both of these approaches consider a creative aspect that helps clients connect with themselves in novel ways to process their concerns. The van der Kolk reading emphasized the importance of nonverbal processing such as through creative and body-focused interventions, which I am gradually leaning more and more into. In connection with that, I think that the CCI's strong use of metaphor takes it out of the typical linear-verbal realm into a more symbolic way of processing that has value for processing trauma.
I believe I currently sit in that area, often naturally using metaphor to help clients feel heard and to better understand their experiences. I also use connection to the body (tension, breath) as a way for clients to recognize their reactions within the process, both physical and emotional. With my lifetime of arts involvement and education, I want to keep bringing in more artistic-based creative interventions, too. Something I am working on growing in is my sense of offering trauma-informed care; I have learned so much about this already, and as my learning grows my respect for what I don't know also grows. The needs of clients with trauma are so important, I want to keep improving how I serve them.
I'm grateful that NCDA gave me a chance to grow not only as a career counselor but as a whole counselor. I'll definitely be thinking about what I learned for some time to come, and look forward to sharing resources and ideas with others! What it offered me in terms of my career course deserves its own entry another day...